Is there a place for orphanages in today’s world?
There’s been a lot of discussion about this lately in the orphan care arena, with many people advocating to close them all down. “Reunification with family” is the answer, they say. Institutions are harmful. Many orphanages are scams, just looking to separate big-hearted donors from their money. Many orphanage leaders are corrupt or abusive. These are the headlines that make the news.
But as part of the team that is running the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, a large Indian orphanage, I would like to suggest an alternate narrative. Because “Shut ‘em all down!” may sound good, but in my experience it misses the point in a few real world ways.
Throughout the world (and I’ve seen this with my own eyes, my own heart), there are committed people filling desperate gaps in a broken system with boundless love and tireless energy. These people are heroes not villains. They are providing hope in hopeless stories, shining a light in the darkness, sacrificing everything so that a few children can shine. They are part of the solution, not the problem.
And I know that I and everyone at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission are also part of that solution, too.
Sure, orphanage care is not as perfect as the “nuclear family” ideal we’d all hope for—but this ideal is a fantasy for many. The world is crowded, right now, with abused, vulnerable, orphaned, abandoned, unloved, unwanted children who need an answer today. They do not need our debate or our indignation. They need love and care and a place to belong. They need hope, and that is what we can offer.
The Mission sits eight hours east of Delhi on the Nepal border and has been operating since 1948. It was started by my grandfather. There are currently seventy-five children in our care, ages four to eighteen, and they come from a variety of different backgrounds.
About 20% are actual orphans, but others come from equally desperate situations.
One young girl was delivered from her abusive home where she was being prostituted for groceries…three small children were admitted not long before their mother was murdered by their dangerous father…starving twins were offered at the gates like unwanted loaves of bread by a desperate mother with ten other hungry girls at home.
Some escaped poverty so crushing they arrived mere days from death. Others with severe handicaps were brought by police when they were found abandoned in the street. No children are taken casually to fill beds. Local authorities need to petition the courts on behalf of desperate children before we welcome anyone.
Beyond that, all money we raise is used to better Mission life for all, not line the pockets of greedy directors. In every way, we strive to be the opposite of the wicked stereotype most orphanages are portrayed to be.
Are we perfect? Of course not. But we try with all of our hearts and all of our capacity to love to give these children a childhood worth remembering and a future full of potential.
Caring for the world’s vulnerable children is a complicated challenge. Yes, families should be kept together whenever possible. But all families, like all orphanages, are not the loving stable homes we might wish them to be. In our work to ensure that all children thrive, we need all options on the table. Reunification when healthy and possible; adoption; foster care; and yes, even group care when led with love and dedication. Painting all orphanages with the same evil brush dishonors the good ones that are out there. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater…and the bath tub…and the bathroom…and the house that the baby lives in.
All of this said, it is my sincere prayer that one day The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission will not be needed. In our local community we are already working to uplift parents who are struggling to support their children. To keep a family together is always preferred, but not all families are safe places for children.
It may not make the news and it may defy the current mood in the orphan care community…but until all children have a loving home…until there is no sexual or physical abuse…until alcohol or drugs or other addictions no longer destroy lives…until crushing poverty or disease have ended…until there is no bias against girls or a preference for boys…until there is a foster care system in India or social services in place…our gates and our arms are unapologetically open wide.
The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission