Monday, May 28, 2012

What's the big deal?

This week I passed along an article on Facebook that a friend of mine had posted. It was entitled, "Voluntourism: 'A Misguided Industry.'" (Click here to read the article) I did wince just a bit, because I know I have friends who have done this with a genuine desire to make a positive difference and I don't want anyone to feel that I am pointing an accusing finger. I have also been involved in similar activities in the past. I have experienced some recent revelations, though, that have caused me to re-think what is really in the best interest of children and I want to encourage others to give it some thought as well.

A page on the Friends-International website describes the situation really well:
Myths and Realities about orphanages in Cambodia 

Let me sum up a little of why I feel like this is such a big deal:

1. I want people to realize there are alternatives. It really is more cost-effective as well as generally much healthier for the children and families involved to help families access the resources they need to stay together. These programs are being developed, but if the bulk of the resources continue be poured into orphanages they will continue to draw children out of families who want to care for them but feel that they are unable to do so.

2. People have many misconceptions. I know that a lot of my misconceptions are being blown away as I learn from the people around me. We may think that if families "abandoned" their children in the first place then to reunite them only puts the children at risk. We don't take into account the lack of support systems available to these families. I'm getting to see that just getting what they need to make it through a crisis can sometimes be all it takes to keep a family together.

3. Children need love and stability. The best orphanages are those which operate as a placement of last resort and who make attempt to reunite families or refer them to alternative services whenever possible. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Cambodia issued this statement: "The principle that institutional care should be a last resort and a temporary solution has not been fully engrained in the general mindset in Cambodia, where the number of institutions and children living in residential care continues to rise each year. The increasing trend of opening and placing children in residential care facilities is of great concern. International research demonstrates that institutionalization of children impacts negatively on social, physical, intellectual and emotional child development and that non-institutional care is recognized as providing children with a range of benefits compared to other forms of residential care. Moreover, institutionalization of vulnerable children when family and community-based options have not been explored, does not comply with the Royal Government of Cambodia 2006 Policy on Alternative Care for Children." (From With the Best Intentions - A Study of Attitudes Toward Residential Care in Cambodia 2011)

I am not a Pollyanna (okay, maybe sometimes I am a little bit), but I can see that community based care works because it is what CIF does!! Where we have had the opportunity to be involved, kinship care and foster care have been working well!! I'm longing for those with the resources available to effect change to see how much better we can do for these valuable images of God. How? Start with the recommendations listed by the Friends-International page and, if you are currently supporting an orphanage, ask them about their policies to see if they are serving the best interests of children in their care. If you would like to start helping children in need, please look for organizations which value community-based options.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Praying in Tongues

Last week one of my Khmer teachers asked me at the beginning of my class if I knew how to pray in Khmer and, when I said that I didn't and that I wanted to learn to pray in Khmer, she taught me a simple prayer. I hadn't posted any clips from my Khmer lessons in a while so I thought it would be fun to post this one.

In the clip she walks me through, filling in words that were new for me. If you wonder about the long pauses where I am repeating the is because I write each word in a phonetic alphabet that I learned at the PILAT language acquisition training I went to in Colorado before I came. So helpful! As you can hear, some of their sounds are a little different from ours!

So here is a translation of the prayer:
Lord Jesus, I thank You for today, that you have blessed me with this very good opportunity to learn Khmer here. Lord, please bless me with strength and wisdom. Help me to remember more. I thank You, Lord, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

(Disclaimer: Khmer does not really transfer word for word and I think I got the meaning of all of it but I may not be quite 100%)

Want to hear it? Here's the link:
Learning to Pray

It's really such an appropriate prayer and I appreciate that my teachers recognize, as I do, that I do need the Lord's help for this task.  Please "aht ti tahn" (pray) for me to continue to press on with diligence and in the Lord's strength.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating Mothers (& Families)

Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful moms out there! I'm so very grateful for my own incredible mom as well as for dear friends and a dear sister who are working hard at this critically important job. I also have friends who have lost their moms and I think of you on a day like today as well. I hope that you are comforted by good memories of those special ladies.

Moms are so important. Families are so important. That's why Children in Families exists, to support families here in Cambodia in meaningful ways so children can grow up in a loving home rather than in an orphanage or worse. Many people do not realize that many children in orphanages here in Cambodia, as well as in many other developing nations, are not truly orphans. Why in the world would a family put their own child in an orphanage? Well there can be a number of reasons and some may surprise you. In one of our CIF staff meetings recently I heard of one reason. There is a mother who desperately needs to work to support her family, but child care for her children would eat up almost her entire salary, leaving too little to meet the family's needs. We might be shocked at the idea of leaving young children unattended, in the care of an unsafe person, or dumping them into an orphanage, but sometimes families just don't know what to do. It may surprise you to know that well-intended donors from the West actually may be contributing to Cambodian parents' choices to "abandon" their children. Many people from the West support orphanages because they feel like they are helping kids, but families are then inclined to believe that their kids might be better off in an orphanage than staying at home because that's where all the resources are - food, medical care, education, etc. By supporting orphanages well-meaning people are sometimes actually, in a sense, creating orphans. We can and should help children in Cambodia and around the world in Jesus' name, but we need to explore how to help in the best way possible. How can we support families and improve their lives in order to improve the lives of their children? I am glad that a number of people are starting to recognize the need to address this question. Please pray for, support, and encourage organizations which are addressing the real needs of families and working on sustainable solutions for people in need around the globe.

Click here to read a really good post about this issue from another blogger. I don't know this lady but I've gone through a number of her posts and she really "gets it" with regard to this problem.

Click here to read an article about the investigation of Cambodian orphanages due to concerns expressed by UNICEF, including the fact that nearly 3 out of 4 children in Cambodian orphanages have at least one living parent.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


You may or may not have noticed that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page there is a link that says, "More Pictures." I finally posted some Cambodia pictures on there, including pictures of our apartment and of the construction going on nearby. There are currently several big apartment buildings being built right next to ours, a couple of them literally a stone's throw from our back balcony, from which I took the photo above. Since our kitchen windows have only screens (no glass), there is construction noise echoing down our hall throughout most of the day. When I saw how closely the buildings are being built I thought, "Wow, we're going to have some neighbors living really close by." What somehow escaped me back then is that we already have neighbors living just outside our back door. I had noticed that people were sometimes washing clothes or rinsing themselves off back there, but it didn't occur to me that they were actually living there. Often building projects employ people from the rural provinces. Since these people have left their homes in the province they have to make themselves at home in the unfinished buildings while they are working on them. In this picture if you look down at the bottom, on the right side of the corner are a couple of cooking pots over an open flame. To the left of the corner there is what appears to be a kind of a cot for sleeping. It's kind of wild - we live so close, yet we live so differently from one another. It reminds me that entering into their world requires a lot more than just entering their country. God grant me the grace to continue work toward entering in.