If we are going to make a dent in the orphan crisis and have a long-term positive impact, it is vital that our efforts are supported by in-country partners and governments. We must work tirelessly to keep children in families and out of orphanages by offering critical support. This means strengthening families in developing countries by providing not only food and medicine, but also access to education and job training so that families can move from dependence to independence, thus laying the foundation to break the cycle of poverty. To ensure that these initiatives take hold and thrive requires the commitment of local organizations and governments because, ultimately, they will be responsible for continuing to develop and implement such programs in the future.
With critical support from the local government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Bethany Christian Services began working in Ethiopia in 2007. Two very important programs, among others, that we have focused on during that time include: family preservation and foster care. Many Ethiopian families are extremely vulnerable due to poverty – they simply are unable to care for their children and unless something is done to help them, their children will likely end up in orphanages or on the street. Working in partnership with the government and other stakeholders, Bethany is equipping these families with the means to become self-sufficient, so that they are no longer forced to depend on assistance but can regain their dignity by being able to care for their families.
No matter how strong the support of local governments and organizations, the sad reality is that there will always be instances where children can no longer receive care from their biological parents – whether because of an untimely death or abandonment. Even in these cases, however, local partnerships can positively influence lives. In Ethiopia, for example, the government’s commitment to creating a sustainable foster care system has been vital in moving children out of orphanages and into loving homes. Working with Bethany, the country is recruiting foster families within their own community who are receiving training in preparation to welcome children into their homes.
The concept of opening one’s home to a child that is not related is foreign in most African cultures. However, given Bethany’s success in Ethiopia, I’m happy to report that a number of governments in developing countries have already asked Bethany for assistance in creating and implementing similar programs.
With more than 153 million orphans around the world, real change will only be achieved when governments make the necessary commitment to vulnerable children and families within their country. Fortunately, as demonstrated in Africa, as well as China and Haiti, more countries are making such a commitment