Kimberly Quinley is is Director of Families at Risk Programs with Step Ahead Integrated Community Development (www.stepaheadmed.org), based in Bangkok, Thailand.
I can still see the tears streaming down her face, the hopelessness in her eyes, and the burning sting of defeat that grew with each tear falling onto the toddler she clutched close.
The weary widow stood on the steps of our child development center, aptly named Brave Seedlings of the Andaman Sea by survivors of the 2004 tsunami that devastated the coastal regions of southern Thailand.
“It takes courage to make the right decision to give your child away,” the Christian missionary orphanage director said, confident and calm,assuring the weeping widow her precious son would never know hunger again.
Carrying a clipboard with paperwork and photos of a beautiful cement home, the director came prepared for this young mother to sign her child over. Every three months she could visit her son, and he would have the opportunity to complete high school and possibly attend university.
I arrived with the ink still wet on the orphanage registration form. As I realized what was happening, my righteous anger turned ugly.
“How dare you show up here asking to meet with vulnerable parents?” I yelled at the orphanage director. “Do you really believe this is the best alternative for this mother? No mother should have to make the decision to give her child away because of poverty. What she needs is hope and help.”
The director knew we deliver free daycare, lunch, healthy snacks and trained teachers using a good curriculum to help children develop in all areas of life. Our center provides a place of peace for struggling single moms, grannies and aunties all raising children on their own, so they can work without worry, knowing their child can learn and play in our compassionate care.
A few hours after asking the orphanage director to leave our property, a head teacher in another one of our child development centers in a different district called me. She told me the orphanage director visited her center earlier that morning, asking to meet with families struggling to care for their children.
“Such audacity, such ignorance,” I thought. Did she really believe she could do a better job of raising the poor than their own parents?
The UN states that 4 out of 5 children in orphanages worldwide have family, but poverty stands in the way of these families staying together. I knew about orphanage recruitment, but having now witnessed it first hand, my soul stirred with commitment to make changes in our own organization.
This was the day we moved from providing daycare for children to providing family care and began our Step Ahead Keeping Families Together(KFT) program. The widow on our doorsteps that morning was the first to receive support from us so she could keep her child.
At the heart of KFT’s vision is a desire to see communities caring for their own vulnerable orphans, widows, and families at risk, led by the local church and empowered and transformed by God’s love to change their nation.
The program is a partnership of Christian churches, NGOs and government agencies whose mission is to mobilize and strengthen local communities through holistic development trainings, economic initiatives, educational opportunities, psychosocial support, health access and spiritual transformation.
Our greatest joy is when we see the countenance of weary widows change from sadness to joy, from fear to security and from despair to hope.