Monday, November 23, 2009

What If?



This home has been netting pigeons to eat so there is enough food this month.
This home has been netting pigeons to eat so there is enough food this month.
It was the year 2001, we had been married less than a year and we were at the Door of Faith Orphanage in Mexico talking to DJ and Lynette, the couple who run the whole place. A month earlier we made the choice together that someday, somehow, we wanted to take care of kids who had no one, in a long term meaningful way. Of course, the first thing we thought of was an orphanage. We were there to learn.

I will never forget what DJ said that day.

"The truth is," he said, "I spend most of my days fund raising, trying to raise enough money to keep this whole thing going. We hire people to take care of the kids, because we don't have the time."

Sadly, this is the truth about most orphanages round the world. Those who care enough to devote their lives to such work find most of their time filled up with activities that are not intrinsically valuable to the care of the children. They are constantly dependent on donor money, never knowing if there will be enough.

Needless to say, this reality was less than exciting for us. We wanted to give love and care, not become professional fundraisers.

It's been almost a decade since that day. Today we are really excited, because we think we may have found a solution to this perennial problem. It started with the idea of helping the children's homes to become less dependent on donor money and more self-sustaining. Especially since we started this in a downward global economy.

Plucking the birds before cooking them.
Plucking the birds before cooking them.

If they could just grow enough food to feed themselves and the kids, their situation would be much more stable. But wait, what if they could sell a little bit of the extra and pay for school fees and medical bills too? Maybe even a truck to get the kids safely to school everyday on roads with no sidewalks. With a little bit of investment, time, and some training, children's homes could function more like family units usually do, working together to live. Beyond that, they could actually run profitable businesses that support them and provide value to the community. People would be hired to work in the businesses that support the homes, rather than to care for the kids.

All kids have chores and responsibilities. The orphanage kids especially need some practical work experience in the types of things that they will find to do as adults to stay alive and support their families. Of course they should learn to grow rice. They are from and will most likely live all their lives in a rice growing culture.


But what if they also learned how to start and run a small business? What if they gained the life skills and tools that would serve them all of their lives?

Are you catching the idea?

Here, I'll lay it out for you.

We want to create an orphanage model that not only supports itself but also supports and transforms it's surrounding community through employment and social benefit through the businesses it runs.

making a pre-dinner snack
cooking a pre-dinner snack in the yard
Our vision is to take the throw away children of the world, and have the stability to love them and the educational structures that train them to be the leaders that create tomorrow's economy. The very social business structures that provide stability for the kids also provide them an education and the means to long-term stability for themselves. Fund raising, which is a hand to mouth existence, becomes part of the life of the home whether we like it or not. It can cause lifelong dependence and helplessness in the children.

With our model, instead of spending energy and time going out and fund raising, we're harnessing the means of fulfilling the economic requirements for the home as something that is intrinsically valuable to the children. The business structures turn the achievement of financial stability into something that is of great long-term value to the children as well.

Wouldn't that be cool?

Of course, we're not there yet. We need resources to get this all in place. In February the Charis Home in northern Thailand, with 35 Hmong children who are Burmese refugees, will try growing it's own rice for the first time. We need seed money for this project. Also we would like to purchase land to build and farm on rather than rent. Then they can raise animals as well. If you'd like to help please go to our donate page to find out how.