Help Two Regular People Change Orphan Care in Thailand
[Editor's Note: BlogHer Carrien from She Laughs at the Days has long had a dream of moving to Thailand with her family to build a self-sustaining orphanage in the hill country. Now, she and her husband are taking the plunge next spring to move overseas with their four kids to do the work they've been dreaming of. Read on for Carrien's story and some information about how you can help. --Grace]
Sometimes saying yes to someone in need will take you down very unexpected paths.
Children in Need
In 2008 my brother in law met some people in Northern Thailand, near the Burmese border, trying to take care of kids who had no parents, or whose parents weren’t able to take care of them. (Many people live deep in the jungle and smoke opium and their children grow up in the most abject conditions. Some of the kids had been rescued from situations like that.) All of the kids were refugees from the turmoil in Burma. They were making a thin rice soup for the kids to eat, because that was all they had.
He did what he could to try and help them, but when it was nearing the end of his stay in Thailand and he needed to return to the US he decided to call us and see if we were interested in figuring out how to help these kids long term. He knew that we had an interest in orphan care, and had even visited orphanages in the past with the thought to run one some day, you know, later, when we were ready.
My husband, Aaron, flew to Thailand to meet the kids, and the people caring for them and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need. We had to do something to help these kids.
We started by asking my blog readers. The response was overwhelming, people shared, and donated, and we had enough to at least feed them all for a month or two.
Fundraising is Hard
But then of course they needed more food, and there were medical expenses for the sick kids, and school fees and uniforms and all the things that kids need to have their basic needs met.
We tried everything we knew. We hadn’t ever done any fundraising before. Now we learned everything we could, exhausted our networks, all in an effort to keep these kids safe and alive. The alternative for them, life on the streets, or worse, in brothels, was so dire that we couldn’t rest knowing that their survival depended on us..
But it still wasn’t enough.
We gave everything we could spare as a family, buying a little more time.
But the lean times continued. The adults in the house were going out every day to catch pigeons, in giant nets, so there would be some meat on the table. They picked their little garden completely bare. Still they were barely surviving and it was only a matter of days before these kids would have nothing left to eat, and no hope of anything coming in anytime soon.
(The kids helped pluck the pigeons for dinner.)
We were overwhelmed, and out of our league and totally without anything left to offer these kids. We thought. It was time to bring in someone who knew what they were doing, who could really help in this situation.
I started calling every international aid organization I could find that was in the business of helping kids, every orphanage I heard of, every friend of a friend, trying to find a good place to move the kids in our care.
It was the same everywhere I called. The person on the phone was informative, sympathetic, and concerned, but, no, they didn’t have any programs available in that area, which is extremely remote. “We would love to help, but we don’t have anything set up in that region.”
Some nearby orphanages were willing to take on extra kids, not all of them at once, but 5 or 10, if they had funding that went with them, because they didn’t have enough without more funding. Since lack of funding was exactly our reason for needing to relocate the kids this option wasn’t going to work out either.
If We Don’t Do Something, NO ONE WILL
At the end of that week of calling I realized that this was another of those situations where if we personally didn’t do something, nothing would be done. There was no one else who was going to help these kids.
So we had a choice. Give up and abandon 40 kids to their fate, or figure out what to do to help them.
We chose the latter.
Eventually, feeling like we fought tooth and nail for it the whole time, we reached a point where enough people came together to give a small amount monthly to make sure there was at least enough food. Others gave one time gifts of things like school uniforms and fees. Even beds.
We had a moment to breath.
But the feeling of relief was only momentary, followed by one of dread.
Evaluating Our Impact
We had adopted these kids, and taken responsibility for their wellbeing, and it was just beginning to dawn on us that the end was nowhere in sight. It would be years before they were adults. Years!
More years of begging for money from every source we could discover to cover the basic needs of these children no one else cared about. And in the end, what difference had all this work made?
Obviously, the kids would still be alive, have some sort of education and be able to enter into adult society. They would also be totally dependent in their mentality, believing that they couldn’t make it without someone from the west giving them money, just like most people in their culture.
When we finished the long road of raising these children there would likely be more orphans in their part of the world than when we had started. Helping them, we would have done nothing to change the fundamental circumstances that caused them to be orphaned in the first place.
Does everyone do it this way?
While realizing that this is the way orphan care is done almost everywhere in the world, we had no desire to continue in this same direction. We didn’t sign on to be professional fundraisers, throwing more money at an ever increasing problem without actually doing anything to solve it.
Unlike many people we encountered in development work, we weren’t there to make a job out of it. What we really wanted to do was to work ourselves out of a job and make it so we weren’t needed any more.
So we started trying to figure out ways that we could continue to care for the kids and do something about the communities they came from and the economic and social factors that made so many children vulnerable and disrupted so many families.
It took a while, but after a year of work we were able to conceive and begin to implement the concept of a self-sustaining orphan care model.
This video explains it rather succinctly. You could watch it. I’ll wait.
A Self Sustaining Orphan Care Model
The basic idea is orphanages that fund themselves through running entrepreneurial businesses that provide for basic needs in the community and often employ the surrounding community. It empowers people to find their own solutions, and to provide their own funding for the orphans in their own communities. It empowers the kids to grow up seeing people innovating and running businesses and providing for them in that way, and our end goal is to give each child a business loan at the age of 16, for a plan that they conceive, and send them out into the world at 18 with a fully functioning business that they started and run.
It’s a lofty goal, but it’s a much better option. At least to us it is, because it’s actually changing things. It already has changed things in the village where we started. The home is running a transport business with a truck we helped them buy, taking village kids to school, farmers to town for market days, and generating extra income. They have planted coffee seedlings and in a year when those mature should have a cash crop to sell at profit. They are growing their own food to eat, and getting better at it all the time. They are planning to set up a village internet café with the computers that the kids use. All of these are ideas generated by them, and that are run and managed by them. In a very short time they won’t need us any more at all.
Which is exactly as it should be.
In the meantime, we have received a grant in order to begin a second childcare community in a nearby city. This time instead of transitioning a traditional orphanage model toward being self sustaining, we get to build a child care community from the ground up, starting with business development and entrepreneurship and being self sustaining almost from the start.
The goal is to be able to teach this to any organization or struggling orphanage, and empower impoverished communities to care for the children in need among them.
We Need Your Help
If you’ve read this far, thank-you. If you are wondering why I’m telling you this story today, wonder no farther. You see, to do this, to get the first home totally independent, and to set up the second child care community, we actually have to be there. It’s far to inefficient to keep trying to do this with a couple of trips per year and over email and long distance calls. It needs more time, and more hands on attention to bring it to completion and so our family is moving to Thailand in the spring. We need your help to make it happen though.
Because we will be working full time on the orphanage, for 2 years, that’s our goal, we need help to pay to live in Thailand. We have never collected any wages or gained in anyway from The Charis Project in the 4 years we’ve been doing this. It’s all been volunteer and in our spare time as we work day jobs and do our other life. But that needs to change in order to move forward in any significant way.
So we’re asking you to help us this next year, and the year after, to do this work well. What we offer you in return is the chance to say that you were in on the ground floor when a world changing new idea that will forever change how orphans are cared for was implemented. You can say you were part of that.
It is our intention to have 2 working prototype models for self sustaining orphan care systems by the end of 2014 that can be applied anywhere on the planet. Then we plan to take those models anywhere else that they are needed so that more kids and communities are helped.
We have already been asked to teach what we are doing in Nepal, Latin America and Haiti, and we will, once we are ready to do so. This is just the beginning.
Will you help?
Along the way we did incorporate as a non-profit called The Charis Project with 501c3 tax deductible status. So all donations are tax deductible. Plus we have a great board of directors made of people who know what they are doing and stuff.
Also we have a brand new iPad 3 to giveaway. Entries are every donation of $20, every share of one of our fundraising posts on twitter with @charisproject in it, and every facebook share that tags our facebook page so we can see it. Drawing is December 1st.
Carrien homeschools 4 kids and runs a non-profit from the kitchen counter.