01 April 2011

The Trouble with Orphanages

Saundra over at Good Intentions are Not Enough put together a listing of short quotes from reports which highlight the problems associated with orphanages. In order to stem some of the usual comments which follow from such posts, Saundra posed these questions to potential commentators.
I’m afraid there’s just too many people that take advantage of how easy it is to raise funds for an orphanage who are not informed and may even have very different motivations. It happens far too often.

So here’s my first question for all westerners working in an orphanage – why are you there? Why is there not a local person doing your job? If local people cannot do whatever it is that you’re doing, then what are you doing to train them to do the work? How are you working yourself out of a job?

Second question, if you’re one of the leaders of the orphanage, what’s your background and training in social work or child development that ensures you understand what mistakes could be made and the consequences of those actions? If you’re one of the people working with the children, how fluent are you in their language and what’s your long-term commitment to these children? Having a revolving door of volunteers that will bond with them, then abandon them (which is how the children will perceive it), is not in their best interest.

Third question, does the orphanage incorporate religious teachings as part of being in the orphanage? If so, another strike against the organization. All too often one of the orphanage’s goal is religious conversion or salvation. Now imagine that it’s your child being taken away from you – often due to poverty – and then being converted to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Atheism, or whatever religion you are not. How many of you would want that? The requirement of allowing the child to practice their parent’s religion in local religious houses is one of the international standards.

Fourth, what other efforts does the organization undertake to meet the needs of the children before institutionalizing them? Are there attempts to support the families, including financial help and help from social workers? Are there efforts to support fostering the children in other families- again with adequate support and supervision provided? Have there been efforts to create small community care facilities? If the only solution the orphanage offers is institutionalization, then that’s another strike against them.

Finally, are you already familiar with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children? If you are not familiar with these standards, then chances are you aren’t following them.
Although specific to orphanages, Saundra hits of some of the most import questions surrounding volunteering, supporting programs and DIY aid. A significant obstacle exists when it comes to the idea of 'doing something.' How can people be effectively convinced that every intervention not only does not work, but could be causing harm? I feel like asking that has become redundant as it circles about within a space where most people are already wrestling with the question, but it is a continuing concern of mine.