Tag: Working Together

The new creative tensions for change

Written by on July 9, 2014 in The Blog with 0 Comments

Appreciate these thoughts from David Brooks in this NYT op-ed. Consider (bold added):

Sometimes creativity happens in pairs, duos like Lennon and McCartney who bring clashing worldviews but similar tastes. But sometimes it happens in one person, in someone who contains contradictions and who works furiously to resolve the tensions within.

When you see creative people like that, you see that they don’t flee from the contradictions; they embrace dialectics and dualism. They cultivate what Roger Martin called the opposable mind — the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time.

If they are religious, they seek to live among the secular. If they are intellectual, they go off into the hurly-burly of business and politics. Creative people often want to be strangers in a strange land. They want to live in dissimilar environments to maximize the creative tensions between different parts of themselves.

Today we live in a distinct sort of creative environment. People don’t so much live in the contradiction between competing worldviews. We live in a period of disillusion and distrust of institutions.

Disillusioned. Distrusting institutions. Hopeful??

Some creative people dive into these contradictions. I get that. I feel like I’m swimming in them and being buffeted by the waves, and what next!?

This has created two reactions. Some monads withdraw back into the purity of their own subcultures. But others push themselves into the rotting institutions they want to reinvent. If you are looking for people who are going to be creative in the current climate, I’d look for people who are disillusioned with politics even as they go into it; who are disenchanted with contemporary worship, even as they join the church; who are disgusted by finance even as they work in finance. These people believe in the goals of their systems but detest how they function. They contain the anxious contradictions between disillusionment and hope.

Can we relate this to development work and to working with vulnerable children and families?

“Some withdraw back into the purity of their subcultures.” Check. We see this all the time. Organizations and individual leaders pull into shells in the name of differences (or to preserve uniqueness). With support from donors and those who align with them they may continue that way indefinitely.

“Others push themselves into the rotting institutions they want to correct.” It’s not so much “rotting institutions” in the developing world. We have fresh but corrupt and incompetent institutions, and we have organizational/religious/philosophical fiefdoms.

But some cross the lines to engage with seemingly contradictory forces, because they hope for change.

For me this means having friends who are orphanage directors or involved with orphanages and partnering with others to raise awareness about family-based care. It means caring about what is right and best for children and engaging as a learner and partner with people who think differently, because the best hope for real change is many different kinds of people working together.

What does this look like for you?

No easy answers

Written by on July 8, 2014 in The Blog with 2 Comments
The 4-year-old girl chained inside a house in Koh Kong

The 4-year-old girl chained inside a house in Koh Kong

Yesterday I read about a Cambodian “mother” in Koh Kong who chained up a four-year-old girl in her care for eight hours a day while she went to work.  She said it was to protect the girl from drowning or wandering away while she was at work. The girl had been handed over to the woman years ago by her biological mother as collateral for a loan.

When informed of the woman’s arrest, her years of chaining the girl to a post, and the 4-year-old’s move to a children’s shelter, the girl’s biological mother, who lives in Preah Vihear province, said she could not take back and care for her daughter…

The article is about child abuse in Cambodia and an overall lack of concern and awareness. That the girl had been signed over as collateral on a loan wasn’t even central to the story. Variations of that happen all the time, usually involving domestic work in return for food and lodging and, in the best cases, attending school. This was a worst case situation.

After reading about this girl, I turned to another troubling article in The Guardian, Virginity for sale: inside Cambodia’s shocking trade.  This article is about  rich and powerful men who prey on helpless girls.  It’s easy to label that evil and other choice words. But then there are the parents who sell their daughters, desperate for money, presented with a pot of gold. Enough money, some might imagine, to buy a new start for their families. Some don’t seem to comprehend the enormity of what they are doing.


Then I read an article criticizing the wave of orphanage closures starting last year in Cambodia, including efforts to reunify children from the closed orphanages with their natural families.

The author wrote about a Cambodian girl whose orphanage was closed.

Pisey is one of thousands of young people our research team has worked with around the world. She is 17 and working in a karaoke bar in Battambang, Cambodia. There she serves drinks and is required to exchange sex for money. She longs for her loving family.

Pisey had such a family a few years ago, but it wasn’t with her parents. Her mother and father were alcoholics who abused Pisey and her two younger sisters, leaving them to eat from a garbage pile. A social worker finally intervened and persuaded the parents to move them to a local orphanage. The orphanage provided what the girls had been missing: love and security with a consistent caregiver who lived with them, along with food, clean clothes and schooling. The girls found a loving family there.

Unfortunately, not long ago Cambodia began shutting down orphanages to reunite children with their biological families, so the three girls returned home. Pisey was not allowed to continue with school but rather had to begin earning money for her parents and her sisters’ school fees. Being young and without a degree, her best available option was to become a karaoke girl.

 The essentials ring true. Most children in orphanages are not orphans, but they do come from poor families, and many of their families have problems. When an orphanage is closed and the children and youth are sent home, there are obvious risks. The Cambodian government has had organizations working diligently in cases when orphanages are closed to guide and monitor the reintegration process, but it’s extremely challenging work. Many children are smoothly reintegrated, but not all.

But here are a few thoughts.

  1. Very few orphanages have been closed in Cambodia. An orphanage has to have significant and serious issues going on to earn that distinction. To say that Pisey had a loving family in an orphanage slated for closure is leaving out lots of information. It was likely a bad place.
  2. The author says Pisey was 17. Her choice to become a karaoke girl calls into question what was happening with her identity and character during those years in the orphanage. She may have been pressured by her family, or she may have balked at a regular job or wanted more money than she could normally earn.  It’s troubling what she did. Perhaps she succumbed to family pressure and the reintegration failed. Once again, we have the broad outlines of her story without the important details. “Her best available option was to become a karaoke girl.” Give me a break.
  3. It isn’t supposed to happen like this. Nobody wants to close an orphanage and take responsibility for all the children inside. That’s why only the very worst ones are forcibly closed. Closing an orphanage is a worst case scenario and nobody wins. Ideally, to reduce the overabundance of orphanages in Cambodia, responsible orphanages will voluntarily phase themselves out by not accepting new children and finishing the job with the ones in their care. The government has asked such orphanages to transform themselves into non-residential community and family-support centers.

All of these articles are about poverty and families making poor choices. There are no easy answers.

Cambodia has deep-rooted problems affecting children and their families. Orphanages are not easy answers.  Family-based care is not an easy answer either.  Reintegration. Restoring families. Prevention. Not easy. It’s going to take a lot of people working well together to put things right. That includes families and leaders in communities, organizations of all kinds, and government.

One thing is certain: things will get better only as Cambodian families and communities become stronger.


When institutions get it right

Written by on June 19, 2014 in Featured Posts, Voices from the Field with 0 Comments

This inspiring story of working with childcare institutions in Uganda to resettle children and prevent family separation will encourage you and surprise you. We really can see changes that improve the lives of children and families even in the most vulnerable situations.


teddy-and-sonTeddy and David are the newest residents in Emergency Housing at Abide Family Center. They were referred by a local orphanage whose director has decided to partner with us. Our shared goal is to keep children out of the orphanage and with their own families as often as possible.

I help run Abide Family Center, a NGO working on family preservation located in Bugembe in Jinja, Uganda. Someone told me recently that Jinja has the highest number of orphanages per capita in the world, which didn’t surprise me. My own impression is that I hear about a new orphanage being started almost every week.

Jinja is a nice place to live. We’re two hours from Kampala, Uganda’s capital. We live between lush, rolling green hills and the source of the Nile River on the shores of Lake Victoria (and it’s seriously beautiful). You can go to the pool, sip a latte in a café, and “rescue” poor children from poor families by placing them in a state-of-the-art orphanage in the afternoon—all in a day’s “work!”

I have, in the past, treated orphanages as the enemy. Our most common hashtag on social media is #FamiliesNOTorphanages, because we believe all children deserve a family and that no orphanage should ever be considered as the first option or as a substitute for a family.

While I still believe we need to fight for every child to have the love, support, care and protection only a family can provide, I have become a lot slower to alienate potential partners and a lot more willing to listen to where folks running orphanages are coming from. I have had my own views challenged and I have come to realize that there are many people who run childcare institutions who are doing it right.
When we developed our program, we decided to focus on more than just family preservation services. We wanted to be part of building a larger system with child protection and best practices are at the forefront. We did not want to empower just any needy family we came across, but we strategically targeted families with children who were at-risk of being placed in orphanages. We wanted to help vulnerable yet loving parents support their families and stay together.

Unlikely Partners?

We realized that to effectively keep children out of orphanages, the best people to partner with are the very ones I would have written off a few years ago: folks running childcare institutions.
We see a change among many childcare institutions here. Increasingly orphanage directors and staff are recognizing that residential care should not be the default option for vulnerable children and that children should only be placed in their care as a last resort.

We are seeing more childcare institutions developing preventative services and/or referring children to other appropriate organizations. Some orphanages are starting resettlement programs and treating residential care as a temporary, transitional space until better, more permanent solutions are found.

Celebrating Six

I want to highlight six specific child care institutions and celebrate the desire I see in each of them to serve the best interests of children. They give me hope that more orphanages will get on board for the change that is coming. They encourage me to believe we will continue to see gains in child welfare and child protection even in regions and situations where orphanages are being most misused and overused. In no way do these examples include all the childcare institutions doing it right; they are simply a few examples to shine a light on the progress being made.

1) Child’s i Foundation

One of our closest partners and allies in the fight for best practice for orphans and vulnerable children is a childcare institution. Child’s i Foundation has a Babies’ Home in Kampala called Malaika. They also have a social work training program (where we send our own social workers), and they run an ongoing campaign called Ugandans Adopt. The Ugandans Adopt campaign is promoting domestic adoption for Ugandan children who cannot stay with their biological families.

Malaika Babies’ Home is unique due to the average length of time babies remain in their care. When a child is abandoned and referred to them by local authorities, social workers from Malaika are in the field within 48 hours searching for relatives and investigating the child’s case. More than half of the children referred to Malaika are resettled within their own extended families. Only when children cannot be resettled, then the Child’s i staff work relentlessly to get each child adopted by a loving Ugandan family. Child’s i Foundation really embodies what Uganda’s Alternative Care Framework is all about, working to address each vulnerable child’s unique needs for care and services. On a side note, advocates for international adoption seldom mention the good news that Ugandans are successfully adopting Ugandan babies into loving homes!

2) Amani Baby Cottage

My Co-Director and I started off as volunteers at Amani Baby Cottage, which is also located in Jinja. The Director of Amani put much experience and care into developing a model organization. Amani has consistently fought for each child’s best interests, whether reunification or adoption. This is a childcare institution working hard so that children may be raised in families. They treat their Babies’ Home as a transitional facility while they search for a better, permanent option for every child. Amani allowed us to learn from them in the areas of resettlement and family preservation, and they partner with us by sending prevention and resettlement cases.

We trust Amani to refer a child there if needed. We had to do this for a preservation case we were working on. Our staff worked hard to keep the baby and mother together, but it became clear that no amount of good social work or services could keep this child in her own family. Although we like to focus on successes, it’s important to talk about those times when we work hard to preserve a family and it still doesn’t work. This can happen anywhere in the world, so we can’t leave such setbacks out of the conversation. We believe in following a best practices framework, which means valuing and having a place for all alternative care solutions as long as they are being used appropriately.

3) Ekisa Ministries

Ekisa is an excellent home for children with disabilities located here in Jinja. Although Ekisa has a residential care facility, they pour much of their time and energy into community and family support. Ekisa works to keep children with disabilities in their own families whenever possible, supporting and equipping families so they can raise their own children. I always tell them that they have one of the hardest jobs I know, working to promote family preservation for children facing serious stigmas and barriers that threaten to tear their families apart. Ekisa is actively working to tear down the barriers and reeducate people in order to remove the stigmas. Ekisa could very easily keep all of their children in residential care, rationalizing it with the legitimate challenges the children face at home and the greater access to medical services the children would have in their care. Instead, they have chosen to walk side-by-side with the families, lifting them up as capable of caring for their children.

4) Arise & Shine

Arise and Shine is a babies’ home in Jinja that refers both prevention and resettlement cases to us. Arise and Shine offers family preservation services, however, some cases are more complicated and they have asked us to help with those. They are also treating their facility as a last resort for children who truly cannot remain in their families.

One case stands out to me. A young mother came to their gate wanting to place her two daughters in their care. This young mom had just gotten a job as a house girl for a wealthier family. They told her she could have the job, but she could not bring her daughters with her. Having had no source of income for quite some time, she was desperate. She went to Arise and Shine looking for a solution so she could work. Countless children are in orphanages for similar reasons. But the director referred her to us. She and her girls moved into our Emergency Housing for two months while she enrolled in our business and parenting classes and got back on her feet.

5) Baby Watoto

Watoto is one of the largest childcare institutions in Uganda. We happened to be attending a workshop in Kampala that some Watoto social workers were attending. After hearing about our programs, one of the social workers pulled me aside and asked if she could make a referral to us. There was a teenage mother of triplets whose three girls had been placed in Watato’s home for babies in Kampala. This mother frequently visited her girls, and the social worker could see that she loved them but was unable to provide for them. We had one of our social workers do an assessment and coordinate with the Watoto social worker to create a transition plan. The young mother was given the chance to raise her own girls because the social worker chose to focus on her strengths and her potential rather than her poverty.

It would have been easy, in another orphanage, with a different social worker, for the girls to remain in institutional care or even be adopted internationally. This was a young single mother living in poverty. Many would have automatically set the odds against her. Instead, Watoto chose to view her as capable and as the best and first option for the long-term care of her girls. Since making this initial referral, Watoto has continued to send us both prevention and resettlement cases.

6) Sonrise Babies’ Home

Sonrise is our newest orphanage partner. Sonrise called us about a young single mother who was struggling to keep herself and her son safe. She approached the Babies’ Home to see if they would take her two month old baby boy. When the director asked her how she would be able to sleep at night without her son, she began to cry. (So many children are dropped off at orphanages by mothers in tears.) The orphanage Director realized this mom very much loved her son. She was just in a very desperate situation. When I went with two of my social workers to perform an assessment for this mother, I also with the director, and we solidified a partnership. She told us that she believes there needs to be “Many more Abides in Uganda, not more orphanages.”

I wish more people listened to us in the field before opening childcare institutions. Even the people running orphanages are starting to admit we don’t need more of them, and that we must increase efforts to support vulnerable families before they give up their children to orphanages or adoption.

All six of these childcare institutions “get it” or are on their way there. They are working to do what is best for orphaned or otherwise vulnerable children in Uganda. They remind me of the importance of working together so we can build up systems that protect children. Alienating orphanages and painting them all with a broad brush is not helpful. Truly, for each of the good ones, there are many more that are poorly run and misguided. For my sanity and the sake of optimism, I am going to choose to celebrate those who “get it” and hope others will catch on as donors become aware and standards are raised.