As it has been every year since 1993, May 15th is the United Nations “International Day of Families” - a day “to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.” Families are where we first learn about ourselves, about our value (and values), about where we fit in the world, and about what is possible. It is not overstating it to say that our lives are shaped by our family - and the environment we grow up in because of it. Positive or negative, our families have a life-long impact on each of us.
Without neglecting or minimizing the negative impact a wounded family can have, let’s for a moment take a look at the positives of being part of a family. Parents, when at their best, provide for our physical and emotional needs, along with modeling what a good person looks like. Our siblings and/or extended family help us learn important life lessons. Our family also gives us a sense of belonging, long before other institutions do. This is why I think our hearts break for children who do not have a family.
According to a 2017 research study*, 80+% of the children in orphanages in Haiti have at least one living parent. And for the vast majority of these children, the reason they are in an orphanage is that their parent(s) are financially unable to care for them. The parents simply don’t have the money to feed, clothe, and educate their children. Adding even more heartbreak to the situation, there are many “entrepreneurs” who see this as an opportunity to profit from a child’s vulnerability and an outsider’s desire to help**.
Many people come to Haiti to help an orphanage in some way - by building and repairing structures, providing health or emotional care, teaching, or a multitude of other ways to show love to these children. Many are motivated by James' words about orphans: “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (The Message, highlighting mine). And followers of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 years have taken care of, provided for, and advocated for orphans.
In our work in Haiti, we often are asked how we’re helping the plight of orphans. We have built an orphanage and we continue to train orphans. But most importantly we are providing mothers and fathers with employable skills so that they can provide for their families and keep them together. This is the reason we talk about our training programs as being “in the business of orphan prevention.” What orphans need the most is to be with their families, and for that to happen these children’s parents need jobs that provide a living wage.
On this International Day of Families, join us in praying for - and offering economic opportunities to - families in Haiti. That they may be together, grow closer to each other and God, and thrive.
* See Funding Haitian Orphanages at the Cost of Children’s Rights, LUMOS, 2017. https://lumos.contentfiles.net/media/documents/document/2018/01/Funding_Haiti_Orphanages_Report.pdf
** For a penetrating look into how too many orphanages in Haiti are being used to profit off of vulnerable children and their impoverished families, see: Orphanage Entrepreneurs: The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children, LUMOS, 2017. https://lumos.contentfiles.net/media/documents/document/2017/12/Haiti_Trafficking_Report_ENG_WEB_NOV16.pdf For a very personal, eye-witness account as an example of this, please read our previous blog post “How can we help Haiti? 4 Reasons Mission Trips Could Be Harmful.”)