Defining an institution or orphanage
In its broadest sense, an orphanage can be defined as an institution that takes care of children without parents or who are separated from their parents and family, living with a large number of unrelated children in the same building/compound, until they can be adopted.
You can read more about how to best define an institution / orphanage here.
The problem with orphanages /residential care
Children in orphanages or residential care are generally isolated from their extended families and communities. Orphanage staff are often unqualified domestic workers, who are instructed not to give any one child more attention than another. At best they are given food and shelter, at worst they are neglected and unloved.
Evidence has also shown that living in institutions harms children’s health and emotional development.
However, there are hundreds of thousands of children all over the world who have no one to care for them, and the only recourse is to take them off the streets and give them shelter in an orphanage. This is not ideal, but in many cases it is the only option the state might have.
Where we send our volunteers
We send our volunteers to work in communities or with organisations whose aims are to raise children in foster families or to give them a family home, whilst keeping them as closely connected to their families and communities as possible.
Kitezh and Orion Children’s Communities in Russia are pioneering villages of foster families who have taken children out of institutions and raised them as part of families within a community setting. The children receive the love and security they need to grow up into confident, caring young people. The Kitezh School has become widely recognised as a successful, experimental school. Over 100 children have lived with families in Kitezh and Orion since it began in 1992.
In Kenya, the mission of the Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH) is to keep orphaned and vulnerable children in the community where they grew up, preserving their network of support. They can continue to attend their local school as well as keeping their close relationships with extended families, whilst housing, food and funding for education are provided by the Amani Home family.
Community members contribute to various aspects of its running in order to ensure integration with the community as well as sustainability. It is set up to be self-sustaining through its network of cottage industries. International Peace Initiatives (IPI) itself was founded by Dr. Karambu Ringera and it is dedicated to supporting and funding initiatives that mitigate the effects of poverty, disease, discrimination and violence. Karambu’s vision was to set up a grass-roots community-building project, with a particular focus on improving the lives of vulnerable children.
The fine line
There are circumstances when a child cannot live with extended family – families destroyed by war, HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, alcohol and substance abuse and worse. There are not enough grandparents and potential foster or adoptive parents to care for all the children who are suffering as a result of losing the care of their parents. Who will take children off the streets if there is no government support to help them?
A holistic, humanitarian approach is one that considers all circumstances and commits to caring for a child with love and attention, while maintaining his or her connection to their communities and families wherever possible. This can also mean providing skills trainings to family members to enable them to take care of the children, or simply paying for school fees for children whilst they continue living with family members. In some cases however, it can be in the child’s best interest to live in a safer, more secure environment.
In the case of Kithoka Amani Children’s Home in Kenya, children are kept as closely connected to their extended family and community as possible. At Kitezh Community in Russia, many of the children regain contact with their natural parents or siblings as they grow older, and are the richer for their positive experience in Kitezh.
We encourage our volunteers to interact with all the children in our projects naturally and to realise that these children are the lucky ones! They can learn, they can play and they can benefit from knowing someone from another culture. That understanding will make the world a more peaceful, harmonious place to live in.