By Elli Oswald, Executive Director, Faith to Action Initiative
For Neema, life was a struggle in rural Tanzania. She and her husband were grateful to have just had their first child and found it difficult to even put food on the table.
Like millions of others living in poverty around the world, Neema’s family was especially vulnerable to being separated from one another. This is because poverty is the most common underlying reason children end up in orphanages.
Surprisingly, 80% of children in orphanages and children’s homes have at least one living parent, and almost all have other family members. The reason most children end up in orphanages is not because they do not have family, but because their families are struggling to care for them.
Often, parents who are already struggling to meet the most basic needs of their family may experience a crisis in the form of illness, disability, divorce, job loss, natural disaster, or conflict that leads to their children being placed in an orphanage. In many parts of the world these parents turn to orphanages out of desperation and with the hope that their children will be better cared for.
However, decades of research have proven that family is vital for the healthy development of a child. Families provide the love, belonging, and identity that children need to thrive.
While orphanages and children’s homes can provide for physical needs like food, water, and shelter, they can’t provide all of the developmental, social, and emotional support a child requires to thrive long-term. Separation from family and community, which are essential in developing healthy relationships and outcomes into adulthood, can lead many who grew up in orphanages to experience increased rates of unemployment, homelessness, sexual exploitation, and unhealthy relationships.
The best way to meet the needs of vulnerable children is to alleviate the strain of poverty and to strengthen the capacity of their families and communities to care for their well-being. When provided with the right support and access to basic services in their community, many families are able to keep children in their care.
Neema heard about savings groups at her church from a volunteer facilitator who had been trained by HOPE International. She decided to join and began asking God what she could do to provide for her family. Two months later, she took a loan from her group to start a business selling cooking oil, used clothing, and other household items.
Economic strengthening empowers families to care for their children and prevents children from being placed in orphanages and children’s homes.
There is a growing global movement to shift the way we care for orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. Organizations and governments around the world are prioritizing family strengthening and addressing the root causes of family separation and institutionalization of children.
Christians have a vital role to play in this movement by praying and directing funding and support to efforts that strengthen families and address poverty. HOPE International’s mission is to invest in the dreams of families, and Christians can support Christ-centered financial services like microfinance and savings groups that are changing the lives of families every day!
Additionally, it is important to share the realities of orphan care, to open the eyes of others so that orphanages and children’s homes are no longer the default response, but support is directed toward the factors that lead to separation of children from their families.
Today, Neema’s business is growing. Her family has the food and clothing they need, and she even purchased a bicycle so she can travel to sell her goods at other markets. Most importantly, her son has the opportunity to grow up in a safe and loving family.
Featured image above: Nduwarugira Theoneste and his family, livestock owner, in Burundi.
Elli Oswald is the Executive Director of the Faith to Action Initiative which seeks to promote best practices in global orphan care. Prior to this role, she served as Director of Mission and Outreach at Bethany Community Church in Seattle and as the Children in Crisis Research and Communications Coordinator for World Vision International. She has a B.A. from Pepperdine University and a M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies and International Development from Fuller Theological Seminary.