How Some Orphanages Are Doing It Right
Orphanages as governmental institutions, more often than not, have a stripped-bare objective: Shelter and feed children who are without a guardian. The unfortunate reality of this motivation is the ugly side of the “18 and out” rule. A child reaches their 18th birthday and they suddenly find themselves right where they began — on the streets with little to no help, no accountability and no real opportunities.
A quick answer might say, “Why do they have to leave? Let them stay in the orphanage until they are ready for the world.” The fact is, this is tricky and often illegal. However well-intentioned, states’ and children’s homes alike have recognized the dangers that can arise from permitting young adults to remain living in the home of 20+ children.
So, the question becomes, how do we help our soon-to-be young adults thrive and prosper in the world without creating a scenario that puts anyone at risk or in a dangerous situation?
Good orphanages around the world are working hard to find the ideal answer to this problem, and Oak Life wants to highlight THREE unique solutions within the framework of some incredible homes.
Method #1: Build a Transition House
Orphanage: Hope House
Location: Ixtlahuacan, Mexico
The first method to answer the “18 and out” question? Build a Transition House. It has taken many years of dedication and hard work on the part of the staff, directors, children and volunteers, but Hope House boys’ home has developed a secondary housing unit across the street from their original. Designed as a set of apartments, their young adults will still have a place to live in when they age out, should they wish to stay.
An on-staff “caregiver” will have a unique responsibility at the transition house, operating more as a life coach. They will dedicate their time to helping the boys find a job, learn to cook, get a drivers’ license, etc. This is especially perfect for young men that might still have child siblings in the orphanage and don’t want to leave them, or who aren’t quite ready to go it alone. This option provides both support and accountability.
Find out more about Hope House here:
Method #2: Skills Training
Orphanage: Save the Young Girls Foundation
Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone
Investing in a child’s future means first considering their quality of life once you are not the primary caregiver. How will they support themselves and, eventually, their families? Are they bound to a life of poverty and lack, or will they have the means to stand on their own?
At Save the Young Girls Foundation, these questions are their top priorities. In order to help their girls develop a better quality of life after 18, they train them in tailoring and sewing. These skills will afford them the opportunity to support themselves, maintain self-respect and integrate into society. Susan Sesay, orphanage director, says, “We want to prepare these girls to be the future leaders of tomorrow; we want to empower them with education and skills to be self sufficient in Sierra Leone and the world at large.”
Find out more here:
Method #3: Be a Family
Orphanage: Youth Ranch Home
Location: Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Lastly, and most importantly, there is no method like family. This in particular is a defining feature that Oak Life looks for in partnering orphanages. It is, quite possibly, the most difficult and respect-worthy quality one can find within the culture of an orphanage. When a home functions as a family and offers familial love and support, even to the children who have aged out and moved on, it fulfills its highest purpose.
Those young adults who need a mother or a father long after childhood (as we all do), are fortunate when they find it in their former caregiver or home director. Mark Wakefield of the Youth Ranch Home is one such director who has gone above and beyond in paternal relationship with the adults who were once in his care. “We have a lot of guys come back after 3, 4, or 5 years, or after they have their first kid. And they will often say, ‘You’re the only dad I’ve ever known.’”
The value of this can not be underestimated, nor the challenges that come with continuing to love the few, then dozens, then hundreds of children that come through and find safety in your home. If you find a caregiver or director that operates this way, self-sacrificing to be a loving parent instead of an institutional worker, they deserve your prayers and support.
“18 and out” is an unfortunate reality that too many abandoned children have to face, or have looming over them in the near future. Consider the orphanages that you are connected to and check out their methods of age-out preparation. A home that not only maintains the living standard of children today, but also engages in the child’s future — that is a good home.