There is something that has come up in a few conversations recently that I feel I should make clear.
We often refer to Ban Saeng Sawan, the home in Tak Province Thailand where we are, and have been for several years, developing a model for entrepreneurially based care and empowerment for at-risk children as an “orphanage.”
This is unintentionally misleading.
In the minds of most people when they hear the term “orphanage” in pops a picture of a crowded, cold, impersonal institution. An institution that, if it avoids abuse, maybe at best gets as good as mild neglect in what passes for the care it provides for the resident children.
That picture doesn’t come to mind for anyone who has been to Ban Saeng Sawan. This is true for both local people and international visitors. The first factor is that our primary house-parents are parents. Judah and Saeng Chan have two children and another on the way and have adopted a fourth. Judah’s brother Jonah and his wife Dao Saeng are the second house parents and they live there with their two children. Judah and Jonah’s parents live in a neighboring village and are often around helping and spending time with the kids. There is a number of other people, cousins, aunts, uncles of the staff and children who come over and help out with repairs and upkeep on the house, with cooking, with spending time with and passing knowledge on to the kids.
When we are talking about Ban Saeng Sawan we are not talking about some institutional gulag. Rather, we are talking about an integrated community, a group of people that cares and supports, an extended family where there is always room for one more. And, far from being personally or emotionally stunted, the children are very literate in compassion even to people they have just met (here is a link to a blog post by Carrien Blue, see the last few paragraphs for a little story that illustrates the emotional maturity of the children of Ban Saeng Sawan.)
There is a lot of talk in some circles, and much debate, as to the best way to help and care for orphans. We at The Charis Project firmly believe that the first thing to try in terms of orphan care is to empower that child’s community, wherever possible, to care for that child themselves. This goes far beyond providing aid money, which is often actually counter-productive to our end goal, it goes to empowering communities to help each other. When we talk about teaching communities to become entrepreneurs, to bring change and effective solutions to the situations they live in every day, we are not just talking about economics. We are talking about building more communities such as the one at Baan Saeng Saiwan. We are talking about how to build that integrated, caring, and supporting community in which children whose own families have broken down have the love and support of an entire extended family that is invested in seeing them succeed.
Building a community, starting with caring for children, and doing it from the in-side-out, sure seems to be working here!
This is an option that we urge those who want to be on the effective side of rescuing and caring for orphans to take up the cause for and do everything in your power to make more available for children and communities all over the world.