There has been a lot of negative discussion about orphanages and children’s communities recently, especially those here in Cambodia. Some of the negativity is deserved… but for many of the programs it is not. It takes a special calling to work with children and fortunately there are many people who answer that call all around the world. Most are unsung heroes who work for little or no pay… trying to salvage what remains of broken and neglected spirits. The work is not easy and there are few rewards other than knowing that what you are doing is the right thing.
Are there abuses? Of course there are. Are the children exploited at times? Definitely, making money off of children is a racket almost as old as the sex industry… however that doesn’t discount the fact that there are many children in orphanages and children’s communities that are doing very well… even better than many children forced to live in abusive homes with their natural parents. How does one tell the difference between a good and a bad orphanage? This can be difficult but the best way of knowing is to visit it and talk to the children. Ask to see the financial books and check the files. Today in Cambodia all children’s programs are required to have hard copy records on each child they care for. These files include recommendations from medical or social service personnel, and confirmation of need from local and district officials. If an organization is hesitant to show you their documentation and financial records be hesitant about supporting them… however, if they can produce the records and the children appear happy and well cared for, by all means support them.
Before any child comes to us, a home visit must be done. Local and district officials are called in to confirm the need and that placement with us is in the best interest of both the child and their family.
There are many reasons why a child may be referred to us. Some because they are true orphans with no one to care for them. Others may come from abusive homes or homes where the medical needs of a child are not being met and the child’s life is in danger. Many do have relatives but because of poverty or sickness of the caregiver, the child is forced to stay at home and not attend school. Other children, especially those who are HIV positive find that the discrimination in the community toward them and their family is too much to bear and so they stop going to school. Regardless of the reason for their coming to us, close contact with family members is always encouraged and when ever possible children are returned to their homes when conditions improve.
And so the next time you hear some big celebrity spouting off about how bad orphanages are, ask them to back it up with some measurable evidence before withholding your support… because thousands of lives are depending on you.