My name is Deborah. I am 23 years old. Less than a year ago, I was standing at the gates of an orphanage about 15 minutes away from Abide. I had my two daughters with me, Lydia and Martha. My husband died in a traffic accident when Martha was only 18 months old. After he died, I looked everywhere for a job.
My landlord had finally kicked us out because I was six months behind on rent. He was generous to let us stay that long. That day, I decided to take my girls to an orphanage.
I stood with the few things we owned, packed up in plastic bags. I knocked on the gate of the orphanage. Tears welled up in my eyes.
An employee at the orphanage walked up to the gate. I told her my story. Ever since my husband died, I became used to this look of concern, of pity. But I had a plan. I would leave my girls here while I looked for a job. They would be cared for and I could get them back when I had a way to provide for them and a home to keep them safe again.
After we finished talking, the woman at the orphanage got up and walked into her office. She brought back a form and explained that she wanted to refer me to another organization called Abide Family Center.
I asked her, “Is this because you are full? Are you sending me to another orphanage? Will they be able to help me?”
“No”, she said, “This place will help you keep your children.”
After that, a social worker from Abide came and met with me. The social worker didn’t look at me with pity but with hope. She comforted me and told me that they could help me keep my daughters.
I moved into Abide’s Emergency Housing that day. Food and shelter were provided to us while I received the training I needed to get back on my feet.
I found hope at Abide.
During my stay at Abide, my girls were cared for in their Child Development Center while I attended classes. This service would later be available to me when I started working full time.
Abide provided me with the training and resources I needed to start up a businesses and make an income to take care of my family.
I now live on my own with my girls, they are in school and I work during the day.
I am thankful that God brought us to Abide and I pray that more families get the chance to stay together.
Deborah’s story is just one of more than 90 families that Abide has walked beside, helping them stay together. We have supported more than 300 children to remain in their families, instead of being placed in orphanages. The dream for Abide began after Megan (my Co-founder) and I had volunteered at an orphanage that we still partner with today.
While we volunteered, we began to see families visiting their children. We started to wrestle with the fact that many children living in orphanages are not totally orphaned or abandoned. We started asking more questions, meeting with child welfare stakeholders in Uganda and digging into research around child welfare in the developing world.
All of the research and many of the professionals in the field were saying the same thing. We decided to listen and apply what we were being told: Uganda needed (and still needs) more family support, not more orphanages. Read the Faith to Action Initiative’s Summary of Research here.
It is estimated that 85% of the children living in orphanages in Uganda have families. Most often, vulnerable families are not provided the support they need to keep their children at home with them.
The Antioch Group helped us establish our roots and launch us to where we are today. While we were still small and just launching our pilot phase, it was incredibly helpful to have The Antioch Group and Christ Our Shepherd Church in D.C. stand alongside of us in prayer, through administrative help and in financial assistance. What an incredible way to see the Church partner with and support a global orphan care initiative!
In addition to The Antioch Group, we have engaged a number of national stakeholders. Our strategy sets us apart. We intentionally partner with orphanages, Ugandan government officials and other organizations for referrals. These partners refer at-risk families. They assess and refer families who would otherwise be giving up their children simply because of poverty, not because they do not love them. In order to actually keep children out of orphanages when possible, it is critical that we partner with the very stakeholders responsible for placing children in care. Orphanages have and continue to be our best partners, sending us families who truly want their children but cannot afford to keep them any longer. There are other cases where children cannot remain in their families because it is not safe or the family does not desire to take responsibility for them. We partner with orphanages so that they can refer children to us who can remain in their families, while leaving room for children who cannot.
Each story we tell helps set the stage for a conversation and paradigm shift. We must not enter orphan care with passion and good intentions alone. We must be willing to ask the right questions, remove our assumptions and challenge the status quo. This is the way we will see true justice delivered to the orphan and the widow.
Why orphan prevention? Because poverty should never be the reason a child has to grow up in an orphanage instead of their family.
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Kelsey Nielsen attended Temple University for a degree in Social Work. During her Social Work career at Temple, she began traveling to Uganda. It was through volunteering at an orphanage and coming to understand the high numbers of children in care who had families that Kelsey became passionate about preserving families and preventing orphans. Kelsey Co-founded Abide Family Center, alongside of Megan Parker in 2012. The heart and soul of Abide is to protect children and ensure that every child has the chance to grow up, safely and securely, in a family.