Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can We Fix It?

Bob the Builder… Can we fix it?

Keely's words of wisdom

Bob the builder, yes we can!

I don’t know if Obama and Bob the builder had a feud over this little phrase or not. But either way, I think that they are both onto something. It’s the question that I ask myself everyday and hope, oh how I hope, that the answer is in fact- yes we can. There may be some of you that have heard my “shpeel” but I am pretty sure that most of you have not. The shpeel I refer to is my way of explaining my intentions, my interactions, the big picture that I dream of for these institutions that I am working with: to help the many many children in this world living without parents. So here it goes:

The Problem:

We are currently living in a world with almost 145 million orphans. A number that may be deceiving because often the term “orphan” refers to children who have lost their parents to death, abandonment etc. But the figure more than likely does not include the millions of kids (even in the US) that are living parent-less (or family-less is perhaps a better way of putting it) because they are under protection of the state. It’s a daunting figure. I have always said that kids are a unique population because they are one of the few that can not advocate for themselves. They rely on us, on adults. This is a problem that we, as adults, should not/can not ignore.

There are many groups of people/organizations/governments who are fighting for these kids. The efforts to address this problem is and must be multifaceted. There are organizations working to bring peace to war-torn regions, others improving health care, education on pregnancy prevention, micro-financing and economic stimulus, and much more… all huge factors contributing to the problem of family-less children in this world. You have adoption agencies (both domestic and international) working to bring some of these children to loving families. BUT, you still have millions of children living in institutions, a number growing every year. While all other groups fight from the outside in, it seems to me what is especially important about the work that I am doing here, is working within the system…. fighting from the inside out. We are working inside these homes, to make them supportive environments where children can grow and flourish.

Don’t misinterpret me… I absolutely believe that a loving family is better than and institution. But for many children in many countries, institutionalization is the only option. So we have to make this option the best it can be. And hopefully one day, it will not have to be an option anymore. Until then… the war has been waged.

So whats the point?

The point is that if we can love these kids, teach them to love, to trust, to learn… if we can help them become productive citizens that contribute to society. Help them become responsible, healthy, employed people then maybe the next generation will have less parent-less children. The alternative?– they get kicked out of an orphanage at 18 have no life skills, limited empathy, no idea how to handle money or live on their own… spend everything they have and end of having to make money in horrible unimaginable ways such as war, drugs or prostitution– having 6 babies, the next generation of orphans is even larger than the last… I think you see where this is going.

The breakdown (or build-up)– how do we help these institutions? We are building a house, a home, a life, for these kids (This is where the Bob the Builder analogy comes into play).

We start with the foundation: The foundation is the basics of keeping the kids alive- health care, nutrition, safe lodging, diapers, weather appropriate clothes, clean drinking water, etc. It’s the bare minimum. And you can’t build a house on a rocky foundation. You can’t invest in quality of life projects like education and career training, if there is not enough formula for the babies that last few days of every month. Money must first be invested here to make future projects sustainable.

Next is the walls: this is the developmentally supportive care. In Spanish they use the word stimulation to describe this pro-active care. Basically it is giving kids the attention, affection and opportunities that they need to learn. Huge amounts of research and millions of governmental dollars are invested in improving the early years of life in the US. We understand this sensitive period of development is hugely important to setting the stage for learning and succeeding later in life. This is a HUGE part of what Super Kids invests in. And it is basically as simple as this: you have to experience to learn. You have to be spoken to in order to learn to talk, you have to be out of your crib in order to learn to walk, you have to be loved to learn to love…. we help orphanages develop programs and infrastructure to allow, and hopefully even encourage, these kids to learn.

A huge part of building the walls, includes teaching caregivers and staff how to work with the children with disabilities. Often there are large numbers of children in institutions who have physical disabilities (not just talking about “orphanage delay” here, but chronic disabilities) for a variety of reasons. And often these children experience very little personal interaction. Not because the caregivers are cold… but because these kids require SO much assistance– there is just not enough time. These women are taking care of 30 kids, it’s just a pure matter of resources. They do not have the time or equipment to keep these kids engaged often leading to very stiff little bodies that barely move, sickness, and definitely unrealized potential. We work hard to educate, dispunge stereotypes about abilities of children with special needs, equipment provision and training to allow these kids to participate with their peers.

The windows: the windows are education. Yes, we are building a house. But it is CRUCIAL that these kids begin to understand that there is a world, a society, with very different rules outside the walls of their institution. An education is very important to the overall goal (remember what that was after all my rambling?… to make productive citizens). Many many institutions work hard to help children across the world recieve an education and this population of kids should not be forgotten in these struggles.

The roof: The roof is life skills training. At 18 (in some countries it is a little older) The doors open and you are forced to leave your home. The institution you have been raised in. And you are expected to know how to survive. The problem is– orphanages themselves are a culture. They have very different rules, norms, than society at large. Some examples: There is no money in orphanages… these kids have no idea how to budget, understand saving and spending. Limited independence… they are cared for on all levels and so often do not know how to cook, clean, etc. because someone has been doing it for them (this is can be the polar opposite in some places with children helping with daily chores… but this is generalized for example purposes). And they definitely do not have a trade skill. They often don’t leave with any tools to help them get a job or keep a job.

So the roof is thus finding ways to teach these adolescents these skills. And the REAL success is when the roof can help protect the rest of the house- when it can lead to self-sustainability. For example: teaching adolescents to garden and using the food to feed the orphanage, teaching them crafts and selling them to support the projects, training adolescents to be caregivers etc. AND giving them opportunities to experience the outside world by going on trips, learning to navigate the bus system, learning to go shopping. Just think for a minutes about all the things that you do in a day– how did you learn how to do them? who taught you? if you lived in an institution with 100 kids and never got to leave beyond the gates… would you have these skills?

So that is the house. And when you have all these aspects fully incorporated, with sounds structure. Then you can really protect and nourish the kids inside of them. Can we fix it? I sure hope so.

Thanks for reading

KO