Saturday, January 1, 2011

Notes on Orphanage Care

As if I needed it, I got further acknowledgement of the various and real benefits of the model that Michael created in Achungo.    I finished reading a book called “The Urban Halo” by Craig Greenfield about his experience helping HIV/AIDS orphans in Cambodia.  Craig did a lot of research (UNICEF, UNAIDS, USAID, Yale University study, study by Yule and Raynes, research by John Bowlby and work by several other psychiatrists and psychologists) and came to the conclusion that the advantages of community-based care for orphans are overwhelming as compared to institutionalization.   
In his words, children/orphans are better off even in “bad” homes than they are in group homes.
  • Children in the community, whether living with family members or with others within their home community, experience significant social development and personal development gains over children from group homes.
  • They tend to experience fewer emotional and behavioral problems and are generally better adjusted
  • They tend to be happier with their lives  (for example, they don’t feel locked up or prevented from leaving as can be the case with children in group care situations.
  • Community-based care is far less expensive than group homes (various estimates are that it is anywhere from 6 times to 100 times less expensive)
  • Children in group homes are not prepared for reintegration into society and in many ways lack the life skills for coping with reality when they age out and are released from the group home.  Children in community-based care have the advantages of living within a family unit and within the community, so do not need to “reintegrate”
  • The group home breeds dependency and fosters loss of independence. 
  • Abuse is less likely in community-based care, especially because there is more community support and more of a sense of belonging.
I’ve been impressed see with Achungo’s community-based care and this book only reinforced my appreciation for Achungo as a very impressive model compared to many other orphanages I’ve seen or heard about.  As opposed to a western organization with US or European management and western-style buildings and programs, Michael’s Achungo is very African, run by local Kenyans with a structure, program and even buildings that fit into the local culture.

In Ethiopia we saw a very western orphanage – as well-intentioned as it certainly was,  it seemed very out of place and could not help but emphasize the difficulty their children would have re-integrating into their society.
Billy and his grandmother/guardian

Achungo could hardly be in a more rural environment and that definitely makes it easier to provide community-based care than it would be in a very urban location.  The children live with families in the community (often relatives but sometimes just caring neighbors that are good Samaritans) – they have not been isolated but are part of the local society and grow up as healthy socially as one could hope.

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