It’s been 10 years since we took the big step of incorporating The Charis Project as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Before then, we were operating as a ministry of Foothills Church in San Diego, California. Many of you have been supporting us since then and remember those days. This is our story, but it’s your story too. This is what your care and consistent support have accomplished over the past decade.
Our heart and mission from the beginning of The Charis Project has been to protect vulnerable children from trafficking and abuse, and make sure that they grow up safe and healthy to become strong adults who make their world a better place.
At first, that looked like a children’s home. Our journey began shortly after we were married when we went to Mexico to visit an orphanage. It was beautiful and well run, and everything that could be done to give the children stability and a family setting while living in an institution had been done for them. Coming home from that trip, we knew that our direction as a couple would be toward protecting and caring for vulnerable children. In our minds it would be something similar to what we had seen, a children’s home that gave love and care and education to abandoned children.
While we worked to figure out how to do what was in our hearts to do, we started having children of our own. Today we have 6 children, ages 4 – 18.
When our third child was still a baby, Aaron traveled to Thailand to meet with a hill tribe community whom his brother Wayland had connected with. They invited us to come and help them. We partnered with these local leaders here on the Thai/Myanmar border who were trying to help children go to school and give relief to their families, who struggled to feed them. A home run by caring people, food to eat, and a local school that they could attend were infinitely better choices than selling children or abandoning them. Especially when the children were able to go home on school holidays, and the family still had contact with them during the year.
But we soon realized that “better than nothing” is not good enough. If we were struggling to care for our children, financially, or otherwise, we would still outright reject the idea of placing them in the care of strangers, in a home full of other children, no matter how caring and loving those strangers were. If our solution to the problems we kept seeing wasn’t good enough for our children, it wasn’t good enough for anyone’s children. [Because Families Matter]
We were pulling children out of the river, to save them from drowning. But it was time to go upstream and find out why they kept falling in. As we got to know the children and their stories, we realized that there was always a point before a children’s home became the best of bad choices when their families could have survived together if they had received the right help, at the right time. [When Abandoning Your Children Seems Like the Right Thing to Do.] We realized that helping families stay together was a much higher leverage, long term sustainable solution than working to care for children whose families had already weakened to the point of falling apart. Not all families falling apart can take their children to nice homes run by people who care. Those children end up exploited by the people their parents trusted: sold, trafficked, and turned into slaves to pay off a parent’s debt.
We turned our focus and strategy toward strengthening and healing families. [Supporting Families Keeps Them Together] That is the work we still do today. A strong family protects its children. We protect and strengthen families.
The vision to protect children and strengthen families has taken many practical forms over the last decade. We had an organic teaching and training farm for a while, to teach families how to grow food in sustainable ways that didn’t damage the land, or their bodies.
We’ve given business loans. We’ve taught classes. We’ve set up savings groups. We’ve driven pregnant women to the hospital when they are in labor. [Fat, Happy Babies] We’ve visited families in crisis with food, every week, giving them counseling and support. We’ve provided breastfeeding support for new mothers, at home and in the clinic. We’ve carried fathers who are too sick to walk through the rice fields from their house to the road to take them for medical attention. We have had desperate women ask us, “Will you take my baby when it’s born?” We’ve responded with food and support instead and given them the gift of hope and the ability to care for their own children.
We don’t take care of children that aren’t ours any more. We equip their parents, the people God gave them to take care of them, with the strength and resources they need to do it well. This is how we protect children now. We build strong families and strong communities.
Today, 10 years after becoming an official non-profit foundation in the US, we also have an official Thai Foundation named Shade Tree. We have a team of 21 Thai and Burmese national staff, and 10 international volunteers. In our office, team members switch between 5 or more languages, conversing in English, Thai, Burmese, Chin, and S’gaw or Poe Karen. We have conducted thousands of home visits to vulnerable families and given emergency supplies to hundreds of families to help them through a crisis. We have taught hundreds of family education classes in migrant communities all around Mae Sot. We have started 34 Village Savings and Loan Associations impacting approximately 500 families, and giving them a secure savings structure that allows them to save and invest in their family’s future. We have published peer reviewed research detailing the positive impact of our maternity education and nutrition support initiatives between 2014 and 2017.
So far we have never seen a parent who was planning to abandon their child follow through with their plan after receiving the support and resources we provided them.
Looking forward to the next 10 years, our goals include:
It has been an amazing journey so far. Together we have learned so much about what it takes to protect vulnerable children, and we have journeyed together a long way in our understanding and approach. Through it all, you have been with us in consistent love and care for these children, and with us have broadened that love and care to include their families as a whole. [The Part You Play] With your help, we are giving families the help and support we all would want if our family was in crisis, and our children were suffering.
It requires a strong family to raise a child with a bright future.
With your continued help, we will equip thousands of families with the wisdom and courage to establish their homes as the safe places where their children can grow up to be the heroes they were born to be.
Thank you for taking this journey with us,
Aaron and Carrien Blue – Founders of The Charis Project