Working in partnership with local initiatives is an effective response to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Preventing family separation, and children being welcomed into new loving, safe, and stable families is what success looks like in this type of work. In communities all around the world, church partnerships play a vital role in upholding the importance of family and supporting care of orphans and vulnerable children. An organization doing such critical work is World Orphans. The US-based nonprofit works to empower the church to care for orphans by partnering with churches and facilitating direct church-to-church partnerships to support family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children in 12 different countries.
Those who work in the world of missions, international development, or relief know that effective models and interventions can do well in one place, but not as well in others. They can also be appropriate for short-term solutions, but not for the long term. Over the past 20 years, World Orphans took seriously the expanded child development studies and evidenced-based research around institutionalization, pointing others toward more effective and holistic models of family-based care, which partnership falls under.
In 2007, World Orphans embarked on a thoughtful journey from their origins as a private foundation funding orphanages and church-based children’s homes, toward their work today. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the organization met with pastors who told them that the many orphaned children they knew of were already being taken in by families in the community. Another pastor shared that after the earthquake, 370 orphans gathered in front of his church in need of care. Many of those children found refuge in families in his community, with the support of World Orphans.
Based on an assessment from that experience, World Orphans developed the Home Based Care Program, in which a US church supports 20 families to continue caring for 20 children, including biological families struggling to keep their children. The organization works to select appropriate church partners abroad that are already engaged in orphan care. The program serves to establish relationships between local churches and at-risk families in the community.
Faith to Action’s resource Journeys of Faith (pp. 46–49) discusses “principles of partnership,” which are apparent in the work of World Orphans. Financial support and evidence-based guidelines are provided to the local church, which are used in part to assess which families will most benefit from the Home Based Care Program, with the best interests of children being the focus. When it is needed and requested, World Orphans provides training for churches through local and outside experts. When it comes down to making difficult decisions regarding a child’s care, World Orphans prioritizes respect and honor of local leadership, deferring to their local church partners.
Several years ago in Ethiopia, World Orphans encountered a particularly driven woman named Belginesh. She was the volunteer director of the Home Based Care Program in a church they had partnered with. She was so committed and had such success at taking a small donation and growing it that she now serves World Orphans as the Ethiopia director of Home Based Care, overseeing seven churches in her community. She has fostered financial savings and investment groups that meet over coffee, pray together, and discuss entrepreneurship opportunities. Belginesh has seen families realize the power they have through saving money, even seeing families who learn to save begin to donate to their neighbors. In this instance, World Orphans was able to build on the assets of the community, through “the local initiative and sense of ownership that are essential to sustainable and transformative change” (Journeys of Faith, p. 48).
A woman who benefitted from participating in a financial program in Ethiopia is Selam.* She is a single mother who was struggling so much that she could no longer provide for all her children. Desperate, she took her four-year-old son to an orphanage so that he would at least be able to eat and survive. Over two years she visited him there when she was able, but he eventually started to not recognize her. The sadness of her family’s situation felt inescapable. At that point she was identified by a World Orphans church partner and given a small loan so that she could start her own teashop. This enabled her to be reunified with her son and remove him from residential care. Selam now works and provides for all of her children, while the church provides medical care and school fees to her family. She is currently in the savings program, supporting and strengthening her family and grateful to look forward with hope, knowing her experiences of family separation are in the past.
The example of World Orphans work is evidence that God works through partnerships, near and far. The Church body must recognize the potential in its unity and take seriously the biblical commands to care for orphans and vulnerable children around the world. The Church Partnership model of World Orphans is one clear path forward toward such unity.
*Name has been changed.