Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The hug-an-orphan approach to charity ...

Do I just want to make the kids happy, or do I want to change their world? Do I just enjoy the embrace, or do I think it through to what's going to make a difference?

Voluntourism, a setback for South Africa Aids Orphans

Studies suggest that spending a couple of weeks working in an orphanage overseas will make you feel better, but it may contribute to the sense of abandonment those precious children already suffer.  Wonderful intentions and a tender heart perhaps aren't enough by themselves to finish what's needed.
Generally volunteers will only stay at the orphanage [or school] for a few days, weeks, or at best months. While at the orphanage most volunteers seek to build emotional bonds with the children so they can feel they made a difference. Unfortunately, although well intended, this leads to a never ending round of abandonment for the orphans.
An open-door, unrestricted policy on filming, photography, and volunteering to anyone who shows up is often not in the best interest of children and is more about making the volunteer feel good about themselves.
Unless ...
The UN guidelines for the alternative care of children points out the need for reliable long-term relationships.  It suggests to me that if you want to love such a child, either adopt them and take them home, or establish a long-term relationship with them that has regular, dependable expressions of love and, most importantly, practical help.

The director of the NGO I work with in Africa sat me down rather insistently one day to talk about the 'save the children' approach to helping.  It's a great focus point, sponsoring a child, but taken too literally, it's nonsense.  Sponsoring just one child isn't what's needed.   

World Vision and others, fortunately, know better and use the child sponsorship focus to do family and community-based work that really does help.

So, then, here's the tough question of the week for us all:  do I respond so I'll feel better?  Or because I want to have a genuinely good heart toward my brothers and sisters.  Why am I so deeply stirred by the little faces? Why have I committed resources?  What am I hoping to make different?

What am I going to do with what I know?

The precious little girl is such an attention getter. Bright, cheerful, and in a difficult world. It's her family that could use the help, though. Dad lost his arm and his job. Friends in the US have helped out a bit, so for now, they don't go hungry.  They're getting help starting a family garden and some pigs. The kids are in school; they walk 2 miles to Guadalupe for class.

Every one of us would want to embrace this child.  Do better; embrace her family.  Want to lend a hand?  They could certainly use it.  I'll be glad to send your contribution along with ours to the NGO that we're working with there.  They're tax deductible, if that helps.

When I set up the sponsorship for our first two kids and their families, our teacher friends came and told us there were five more at the school, orphans in real hardship, that needed help too.  It hurt badly to say I couldn't afford more.  We have six families now; my daughter helped one of them buy their home.  

Update on the family mentioned above: with a little help, they've come a long way from when we first met.  Dad has recovered his health and is working again, and the kids are doing well in school.  It's encouraging to know the difference you can make.

Update 2015: With the help of friends, we now have eight families and their children plus another 90 kids or so on education assistance projects, single moms on developmental education projects, and point-of-need projects as they've occurred.  What a joy to be part of such things.  Oh, and two college grads, so far; pretty impressive considering few kids get to go beyond the sixth grade.

Update 2016:  ... and three of our girls are at the very top of their high school classes.  This is in a culture where girls don't usually go to high school.  More to come.


Rhema said...

Great article. Being able to see the potential damage we westerners can do is a new concept for many of us. Too bad the issue is complex. It would be nice to think healing comes in two weeks of hugs and smiles...but that is just not how it works. Thank you for your insight. :)

TexasEx said...

If we can figure out how to do something longer term than just a visit, we can make a big difference. That's what pleases me about World Vision and the other organizations I get to work with. Even better, I get to visit the family mentioned here along with four others in June. Working with the NGO there, we're going to try to beef up the assistance program a bit. My friend Roberta, the coordinator at STeP UP is aiming for 100 more kids and their families. :)

joseph levinson said...

The great humanitarian work for the care of orphan children, thanks for the work. I'm am really inspired...
Joseph Levinson

Brian Dickerson said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Joseph. Updates on the one family at the links below if you're interested. Exceptional people.