26 September 2007

Orphan Care

I think I’m a safe distance away… 10 time zones… to share some thoughts about Americans and orphans.

Now I’m no expert but I lived on an orphanage property for a year with 55 orphans and now I live in a village where American donors sponsor 100’s of orphans. I’ve feed them, played with them, caught one stealing my shoes and stopped a few from setting our village on fire. I also have had the privilege of visiting countless orphanages; interacting with orphan caretakers and seeing or hearing about countless “orphan loving” short term teams.

I think visitors at times have the potential to do more harm than good:

1) It’s like a visit from the grandparents… load the kids with sugar, presents, hugs and kisses and leave for your cruise or in this case safari after 10 days. Parents have any of you ever experienced post-grandparent syndrome? Here are 2 symptoms if your not sure: 1) The children act out… sugar over-doses and too many presents are common causes of this syndrome and 2) The parents can’t compete… their money goes to school fees, food and health care while the grandparents only need to buy presents to be loved. In one orphanage very dear to my heart they can’t get the orphans to do their chores anymore because one visitor had the brilliant idea of paying the children for doing their chores the week he was here… thanks… as if feeding, clothing and paying for school fees wasn’t enough… now the orphans are demanding an allowance!

2) Westerners don’t understand the culture. 1) In Uganda children eat with their hands and its okay… they have this brilliant thing called washing their hands with soap and water… I’ve never tried it but my doctor said it would be a good idea. Give some money for food before you buy a new set of silver spoons or judge the staff letting them eat this way. 2) In Uganda it is still okay to spank a child… and it works… its not abuse… it’s the caretakers doing their jobs. So don’t tell the children its abuse while you’re here and instead consider affirming the discipline the caretakers give… you might spare your sponsor child from a few extra spankings after you leave… or the caretaker from being thrown in prison or fired because you called it abuse!

3) I don’t understand the hug n’ love trips. I see some teams that just want to love orphans and give them all the affection they are missing out on. My question is “what are they missing out on?” Most Ugandan parents aren’t affectionate with their children... because they don't have the opportunity. Most children supervise themselves for 12-16 hours a day while dad is working and mom is plowing in the field. In Uganda 5 year-olds have a special name… babysitters. Hug n’ love trips just give the orphans an impression that they are missing out on something… that in their culture doesn’t exist. I'm not against showing love and affection... but telling them that this is how it should be is imposing American culture to a Ugandan context.

4) Orphans need love BUT so do their caretakers.... give them a day off, bring them presents, offer to sponsor them as well, and find out if they want you giving presents and sugar before you pull it out of your over-stuffed bag. Those orphan workers love the children much more than you ever will… because love is more than 10 emotion packed days of hugs and games.

5) It cost much more than $30 a month to care for a child. God Bless World Vision, Compassion International and the other big dogs of child sponsorship programs but the reality is that they get countless donations from individuals not interested in sponsoring a specific child. As a result the market price is set and an orphan will only cost you $30 a month when in reality it is $100 - $150 a month to cover food, school fees, healthcare, facilities and care takers but no one wants to give $100 a month so an orphanage can have electricity. So while the World Vision workers cruise around in brand new white Toyota Land cruisers and Tundras your friendly native orphanage worker is waiting for the next taxi.

6) Every orphan sees about 10 visiting teams a year and goes through the same VBS each time… try something new!

I know I’m no expert… and I know that the intentions of these orphan loving teams are pure and good … so I'm not saying the trips should stop... just change... because if you do love those orphans would you want to do more harm than good?


Rachel said...

Thanks for the dose of reality, Jeff. We need to understand what it's like on your end after the "grandparents" leave. Well put.

Teenietinyt said...

One thing I took away from my time in Uganda was this desire to show them the beauty of their culture.