Tag: Poverty

Can’t we support her to raise the child herself?

Written by on August 20, 2013 in The Blog with 2 Comments


Does it surprise you that eighty-percent of children living in orphanages worldwide have at least a living father or a mother? Research shows the majority of children in orphanages are there because of poverty.

It’s relatively easy to open an orphanage and fill it with kids. If you promise clothing, food, and an education, they will come, orphans or not.

It’s harder to restore families. You have to put in time to build relationships with the parents and community leaders. You need a team that includes qualified locals who can help families solve problems themselves, rather than relying on your resources to pay for quick solutions.

It’s much easier to start an orphanage. So why bother to support mothers and restore families instead?

The weary widow: when orphanages recruit kids

Written by on May 16, 2013 in Voices from the Field with 0 Comments

What happens when orphanages have beds to fill and and warped priorities?   

wearyI 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 while the ink was 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 later, after I had asked 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.

What about those poor children at the dump?

Written by on May 16, 2013 in Voices from the Field with 0 Comments

Most people don’t have a good image of the families of “dump kids” of Phnom Penh. Here is one organization that has set out to prove them wrong.

Say Son lives in the Stung Meanchey area of Phnom Penh and has a child studying at Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF). She said that living in Phnom Penh is really hard for her as she was used to living in the countryside. There she lived with her family. They grew what they ate and didn’t have so many expenses. Now she has to earn a salary to cover rent, food, education costs, and healthcare and to pay off some of the debt she has from moving to the city.

She spent two years working as a cleaner with a private company in Phnom Penh for $60 a month. She said that her work at this company was extremely hard as she was required to work full time 7 days a week. She was also put under great pressure, and the employer was not particularly nice to work for. When the stress started to affect her health, she left the job.

In November 2012 (after her child had joined ISF’s program) she learned that ISF was partnering with another local organization that provides training and links to dignified jobs for its trainees. She applied for a course and passed the test. She received further training and was provided with a cleaning job in one of the International Schools in Phnom Penh.

In her new role, she only works in the mornings from Monday to Saturday and gets public holidays and annual leave with pay. She receives $90 per month and says the employer is much easier to work for and the environment is much friendlier. As a result, she has more time to spend with her children at home and more income for her family.


Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) works with the “dump kids” of Phnom Penh (Cambodia). We have 315 kids who access our two education day centers in Stung Meanchey and Chbar Ampov. No children live at either of the centers. We have one social worker per fifty kids in our organization. We are very familiar with their families and their circumstances, and I believe we have established trust and healthy lines of communication with the families we work with. We have dealt with cases of drugs, gambling, alcoholism and domestic violence with them.

In the last 5 years we’ve only had two cases where a child was at risk to the extent that we needed to call the authorities and have them remove the child. In both cases, we monitored the child (who went to live with relatives), and we worked with the families to deal with the issues with the intention of reuniting family and child. Both cases involved abuse where the child was at risk.  We always work closely with families to alleviate issues they are facing, and we involve other organizations with expertise to deal with specific challenges. In those cases, our staff work alongside to learn those skills themselves.


The parents of our students will tell you that they don’t want to give up the responsibility of raising their children to organizations. They only make those decisions when they believe there is no other alternative. When they come into our program and understand how it works, it’s clear they are capable of raising their own children. In fact, everything that we do with the children who come to ISF is reviewed with the parents before we do it. They are heavily involved in the decision making process whenever it affects their children.


Sure these families live in extreme poverty, but that is not an adequate reason to take their children away. I find it shocking that at least seven organizations that I know about in our area remove children from their families and put in institutions less than a kilometer away, because they will tell you the children are ”at risk.” How can we be working in the same community and not have the same high statistics that they have? Sure it’s a bigger job for us and much more challenging than if we just took the kids out of their hard situations, but how can they ever learn to deal with reality themselves with this solution? If we don’t do something to bring about real change in the community and within the families we work with, the overall situation remains the same.


Originally submitted as a report from Indochina Starfish in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Photos used by permission of ISF and the individuals shown