The Meaning of Orphan
While we don’t claim to be experts on the topic of orphan care, we have learned a few things over the past 3 years. And because people often ask us several of the same questions, we wanted to share some of the important things we have learned along the way :)
First, we would love to define who actually qualifies as an orphan. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a true orphan as a child whose parents have passed away. However, UNICEF’s (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) stats include “single orphans” which refers to a child who has lost at least one parent to death.
Where then does the phrase ‘153 million orphans world wide’ come from? Does that mean 153 million children in the world have lost both parents? The short answer is no. According to the US Government and UNICEF only about 17.8 million of these 153 million orphans have lost both parents. Only when we combined both single parent and double orphans do we get the total number of 153 million. And suprisingly many of that total are living with relatives or other community members. Also, we recently discovered that not all of the children living in orphanages or institutions are counted in the above numbers; neither are street children (because how the heck could someone accurately count all of those?!?), child soldiers or children who have been trafficked.
So if most orphanage and institution children aren’t a part of the 153 million orphans, then who are these children? In short, they fall into a category called orphaned AND vulnerable children. Vulnerable children are children who do not have the necessary means to be cared for by their living family. This can include their biological mothers and fathers in cases of extreme poverty and illness.
Ideally the orphanage/institution that the OVC (orphan and vulnerable children) are living in is temporary until a living family member can be found to care for the child. If a relative desires to care for the “orphan” (again, either a true orphan or a vulnerable child) then the institution or orphanage must evaluate if they are able to care for the child. If the relative is able to care for the child, great! If not, some homes will walk with the relative and teach them how to best care for the child. While the family member is learning how to raise the child and earn a living, the OVC will stay in the orphanage/institution; thus making many institutional/orphanage living situations temporary. If the living relative decides they do not want or cannot care for the child, then the child will be put up for in country adoption or fostership. If no one in the OVC’s country chooses to care for the child, then international adoption may be an option depending on the country.
As you can see, whether a child is a single orphan, double orphan or vulnerable child, 153 million children need someone like you caring for them. So what should our response be? How can we help? Dr. Corenl West says it best, “None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” So we are challenging each of you to ask big questions about what caring for OVC might look like for your life. It may look totally different than your best friend or your neighbor, but I can promise you that your help is needed and it will make a difference.
We will be sharing some organizations and creative ways to care for OVCs over the next week or so and would love to encourage you all to check back to find out how you can get involved!