The Cycle of Orphanages

Author: Megan Word, MSW, Haiti Mama

Good orphanages exist. Places that provide the essential care for living: nutritional meals, safe drinking water, formal education, clean beds, protection day and night. Can I suggest that institutional care outside of a family, especially a mother and father, will create lasting negative effects? Can I also suggest that an orphanage can provide all the necessary and good things to a child BUT the child can still miss something? For example-appropriate social interactions, independent living skills, and strong cultural knowledge. Even the best orphanages endorsed by reputable NGOs like Unicef and World Vision, unintentionally develop children with no critical thinking or future.

Here is a real example:

Baby born in hospital

Hospital reports baby as abandoned because mother does not return after 1 week

Baby is taken to orphanage #1 (for adoption)

Baby is not accepted for adoption because legs are not developing properly

Age 2, baby is moved to orphanage #2 with the new diagnosis of HIV positive. After arriving, baby tests negative.

Age 8, child is changed from formal education to vocational education

Age 17, child ages out of orphanage and presented work opportunity

Child shows up late several days to work and is fired and asked to leave residence

Age 18, child is living on the streets

Age 20, child finds Haiti Mama

My take on this story….This sweet boy was most likely born to a loving mother. For unknown reasons (work, other children, sickness, lack of transportation money) she did not return to the hospital for him. The first orphanage most likely put this sweet baby boy in a crib, alone, without proper stimulation and wallah! a leg disability suddenly appears. The families adopting during this decade desired healthy babies, not a neglected and “disabled” 2 year old. He was then moved to the second orphanage under the guise of an HIV diagnosis. This orphanage specialize in the care of orphans with HIV. Can you believe that he tested negative after arriving? What a miracle. It may be unfair to make assumptions--but it is the only evidence that remains now.

Last week, he didn’t even know his birth date or accurate age. This 22 year old heard his story for the first time today. As we sat across from the orphanage director, he asked with timid eyes, “Do I still have HIV?” We left the orphanage with his birth certificate and 4 baby photos. He hugged his orphanage director for a final time and I watched this man (child) cry like a baby. She is, perhaps, the only “family” and attachment he knows.

Here is the cycle, my friends. A great orphanage cared well for this child. But he never learned independence. He learned to be quiet, keep his head down, and follow the system. He was never informed of his story or given self-determination. He was never asked the (american) standard “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He received food, water, medical care, and school. When he was turned to the streets at 18 years old, he did not know how to survive.

There is hope. We will be locating his first orphanage and hospital. We will be tracing his family. He is in safe housing. He is in vocational education. He is learning about how a family loves. Because that is Haiti Mama.

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Augustine- after receiving his personal information and learning his story at 22 years old.