Learning in Jaffna

 Photography + Written by: Whitney Runyon

Photography + Written by: Whitney Runyon

“You see this boy, you see his cuts? He cuts himself all the time, everywhere, his chest, his arms, he was so depressed when he came here he began cutting himself and even ran away to try and go home. He wants to be with his mom.”

I pushed back, I didn’t understand. If this boy was so saddened by being placed in a children’s home and living away from his mother, why on earth were they forcing him to stay?

The local authorities ordered that the young boy of 12 be placed in a group home, away from his mother and brother because they were deemed unfit and dangerous for the boy’s development. His mother had been traumatized by the 30 year, civil war and was an addict, and his 18 year old brother was in a gang, stealing, teaching the boy to steal, and giving him alcohol and cigarettes. The police found him at home, not attending school, with an absent minded mother and no father, so they ordered that he be placed in a safe children’s home.

I still didn’t get it.

“But why can’t you work with the mother to help her eventually care for the boy? Where is the mental help she needs?” I asked.

And that’s where the orphan crisis gets complicated.

You see, the help for this boy’s mother does not exist. So as it is now, unless a miracle occurs, she will never receive the mental help needed to regain custody of her child, and her son will grow up in this group home until he reaches the legal age to exit.

In this particular home he receives an education, is taught rules and responsibility, and is held accountable for his actions. The parents, staff and board members of the group home are kind and loving, and genuinely seeking the best for the children in their care. Some of the staff and board members even grew up at the home and are giving their adult lives to pour into the next generation of vulnerable children in northern Sri Lanka.

So here I was, interacting with this young boy who was basically stuck in a group home because there were not systems and support set up to help his family. And it hit me, this is all over the world. Even in America, land of the free.

80 percent of the children living in group homes around the world have one or both living parents, but until our societies advocate for family preservation and community support for vulnerable families the orphan crisis will only continue to grow.

So why did we come up here? Why were we in the one of the most northern points on the island of Sri Lanka?

Well, like we discussed last week, Kidz Net supports group homes like these. This boy and his 50+ comrades would be living in much harsher conditions if Kidz Net did not exist, so we came to visit one of the homes they support to see their work in action.

As I walked around the peaceful property (and believe me, it was oddly peaceful), I battled with myself. ‘Why can’t the finances used to support this place be put towards family and community preservation efforts?’

And I would answer myself, ‘Well Whitney, in order to start a movement to help the vulnerable families here, most of which have deep trauma caused by war, there would need to be a lot of research, social workers, mental health aides, economists, rehab facilities, educational opportunities, and more, all the while, the children would still need to be cared for while all of this was set into action. So this home would still need to exist because these children are all here out of very real and harsh circumstances. But until more people get involved who have these qualifications, not just people who care about “orphans” the longer this crisis will continue to exist. So what Therese and all of the caregivers are doing currently is good, the world just needs more people to understand how they can use their gifting to help work towards eliminating the orphan crisis.

Kidz Net is doing the best they can with what they have where they are. Which is all we can really ask of anyone. They are taking a hard situation: children’s homes in Sri Lanka, and raising the living conditions so that the vulnerable children of the next generation in Sri Lanka can have a better quality of life. They are working towards ending the orphan crisis by raising children in group homes in a healthy way, so that hopefully these children can provide for themselves and their families when they are older.

So as I thought back to my new friend and his scars, I was saddened. But I also had a hope for him. He was taken out a hard situation and placed in this home that will push him to receive an education and hopefully respect himself and his peers. He will have the opportunity to go to college and receive job training to support himself. He is being given all of the tools to break the cycle of orphanhood in his family. And while he is sad now, my hope is that he uses his pain to push himself to be better for his children. And with the help of Kidz Net and the supportive and involved staff of his group home, I believe this is possible.

 

LEARN MORE

Click the image below to learn about:
The History of Orphanages

Click the image below to learn more about:
KidzNet

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Click the image below to learn more about:
Family Preservation Efforts

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