By Cameron Talbot
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
Connecting isn’t always easy. In fact, relationship can even feel cumbersome, especially when you work at an orphanage. Most of our energy and focus are spent on those beautiful children that have been placed in our care, or directing staff to ensure that the whole orphanage stays operational. Building new relationships with other orphanages, directors and caregivers isn’t usually high on the priority list.
Maybe this is one of the reasons that our orphanages often seem to exist in isolation from one another. Everyone has their own routine, their own policies, their own fundraising base, and their own way of raising children. There are too many variables to work around, and not enough time for all the relational effort. Besides, what would the benefits be in maintaining relationship between local orphanages?
Recently, we’ve been considering these questions ourselves. We discussed this with several other orphanage caregivers and directors, as well, and believe we have come up with a list of reasons why connection is worth the effort. As you read through the list, consider the homes in your area, and how a renewed or fresh connection could mutually help sustain the mission you both have in common.
1. We Will Quit Competing
When my wife and I first envisioned Oak Life, we discussed our plans with some friends who had also begun a nonprofit organization. We were looking for advice and wisdom. They shocked us when they replied, “Be prepared for everything to become a competition. It shouldn’t be this way, but the moment you begin, other organizations you consider friends will turn against you.”
We thought they were crazy. They were right, and it was almost an instantaneous effect.
What is it about working parallel of each other that feels like a race? Like two small boys who start climbing stairs at the same time, we can’t help but glance at one another, push a little faster, glance back, and all out run. No one announced a competition, it just happened.
Let’s be very clear in reminding ourselves—this is not a competition. We are not out to take each other down. My pride should not be wounded when you do something better than me. My jealousy should not flare when you receive more funding. My feelings should not bend towards isolation when you have something valuable to teach me.
In connecting, we can kill the spirit of competition. This requires teamwork and community.
2. We Will Take Back The Narrative
Whether orphanages come together and help each other or not, the world outside is already gathering and discussing orphanages. Currently, haphazard statistics and alternative plans, based largely on feelings, are dominating the conversation about orphanages. Concerned organizations and individuals now use the disappointingly obvious slogan, “Children don’t belong in orphanages” to actively work towards defunding (and, by extension, shutting down) children’s homes, both internationally and indiscriminately. You can read our article on that argument HERE.
If you haven’t heard the argument to defund orphanages, you can find one example HERE.
Of course, none of us would insist that we’re doing this work perfectly. As research on childhood trauma and the developing brain expands, there’s room for improvements, large and small. But that’s why orphanages should be connecting together now more than ever. Within ourselves, we should be discussing, arguing, sharing and learning how to create better homes for our children together.
For the sake of our children, we should be having those important discussions, before well-intentioned individuals, with little orphan care experience or sense of pragmatism, do so for us. In connecting, we can take back the narrative.
3. We Will Share Information and Strategies
How each orphanage structures themselves and works with the kids is going to be different. How many caregivers do you use? How do you communicate and connect with child services? How do you discipline your children? How do you fundraise? Sharing the answers to these questions amongst ourselves, though, is going to resolve a lot of headache for everyone.
Currently, there’s no “Running an Orphanage for Dummies” manual out there. Orphanage directors and caregivers around the world are searching for answers, and attempting to find them by observing other homes from a distance (Or is that just us?). Like getting tossed out into open waters to learn to swim, figuring out how to best operate a children’s home can be lonely, isolating and even dangerous. We can do better!
It could be as simple as gathering orphanage workers together for monthly coffee and advice. It could be as complex as beginning an annual conference with key speakers on important topics. However we choose to implement change, the season of “figuring it out alone” should definitely come to a close. Connecting will result in shared information.
4. We Will Raise Standards
And one of the outcomes of sharing information, policies and strategies with one another is the natural raising of standards across the board. Each home shares their areas of greatest success, and those that are struggling learn new methods that will work. In community, everyone is lifted to a higher place, as the capacity of what each home is able to accomplish is increased.
And this benefit is ultimately for our kids! As we share what works and how to solve common problems, our kids are directly impacted. Connecting will raise everyone’s standards and capacity.
5. We Will Remove Ourselves from Isolation
It doesn’t matter what area of life you’re discussing, this is a basic truth: Isolation destroys intention. We were not designed to function effectively alone. We do not construct, develop or truly discover by ourselves. You might have all the funds, read all the books and work long hours. In isolation, it will be for nothing, because good things are weakened or even go astray without the accountability, encouragement and strengths of others walking beside you. It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a community to sustain an orphanage.
Our greatest intentions will be made obsolete if we do not connect. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s true.
6. We Will Encourage Each Other
We should connect and gather because we have the tools to encourage one another. Kind words and prayers from someone on the outside is always helpful. But nothing can replace the understanding, encouragement, aid and friendship that is possible from someone who is walking the same path.
This is especially true when discussing a potential victory. If I am going through something difficult, I want to be around people who conquered the same. In losing weight, we watch success videos. In developing our skills in a sport, we seek out a coach. In accountability and growing life skills, we find encouragement towards victory in the wisened and those who went before us.
The same is true for the encouragement necessary for victory in orphan care. Seek out the wisened of the field, not just those well-intentioned friends and family members you respect.
7. We Will Pave the Way
And finally, if we can accomplish these things—if we can connect, share information and experience, raise our standards, take control of the narrative and quit competing, we just might develop fertile ground for future orphanage workers to go above and beyond us.
And that is exactly the vision behind Oak Life. We want to create space and opportunity for the education and empowerment of an international collective of orphanage directors, caregivers and advocates. Our School of Orphan Care is designed to train the next generation of orphanage workers to be the best of us, and to be connected. That is something we all want and need, because we share the same mission: the holistic care and love of abandoned children.
And at the end of the day, we are a collective. We are all fighting for the same mission, pushing for the same victories, struggling with the same problems. As each of us is unique and brings different strengths to the table, it is only at the table that we will connect and pull each other higher, building a better future.
Our kids become acutely aware of the family they do not have during “the most wonderful time of the year.” But there are things we can do to remind them that they are truly loved, and have an adopted family in our community.
When a child has responded to a situation in a hurtful, self-defeating, and/or disregulated manner, a “redo” is in order. But what, exactly, is a redo? And should the adults try it, too, perhaps?
The way the world takes care of its enormous population of abandoned children is changing. For those of us working with and for orphanages, it is important that we understand the shift, listen to criticisms carefully, and assess where we can be a part of this forward-motion.