The Mushrooming of Orphanages in my Community

2013-07-28 14:20

The Mushrooming of Orphanages in my Community

If this commentary is a bit negligent on my part, please forgive me in advance; the intention is not to destroy but to build and speak of my growing concerns. In this opinion piece, I simply intend to share my growing concerns for the mushrooming of orphanages in my community, and how these seem to further erode the already eroded genuine traditional family institution, such as extended family units, that used to absorb the orphaned.

Obviously, I am mindful of the fact that the market economies have radically altered means of survival from hunter-gatherer societies to other related forms of making a living. Nevertheless, I am still of the view that though traditional family units had some problems of their own, their caring was more legitimate than the modern orphanage system, and orphans were not fabricated for the sake of funding. Therefore, I contend that the empowerment of these kids in need shall take place within such traditional family circles if genuine interest for their empowerment exists. However, I leave a room to be corrected and advised accordingly.

My concern is that every time I go home after my travels, there is a new orphanage nearby, a situation, which is totally acceptable given the ever-growing number of orphans because of the spread of HIV & AIDS and other dysfunctional family institutional dynamics. However, a couple of years ago, I began to worry about the booming nature of the orphanage industry because it seems to be one of the viable not-for profit businesses in the country, if not around the developing world, attracting lots of donor funding.

In my view, this funding is partly present because donors who are largely western or westernized in their thinking find it unthinkable to grow up without parents, let alone to be without a shelter of some kind and without other fundamental necessities. To this end, my parochial assessment of the situation suggests that the lack of these basic necessities generates emotions that make it almost impossible for those who have necessary materials not to respond to the apparent or carefully manufactured needs or to speak into the emotions and hearts of the potential donors and other individuals seeking therapy through helping the needy. The giving aspect in this regard is not only a response to the need but also good enough to generate "feel good factors" for those doing the giving, a situation which, again, is totally acceptable against the backdrop of doing good. Moreover, it is imperative that readers of this piece understand before casting judging on my parochial views that I am by no means against donor funding and that I am also a development practitioner whose focus is more on empowerment than handouts and other dependence-inclined approaches. Obviously, this empowerment approach does not seem to generate enough sorrowful emotions to trigger the inflow of the most needed funding for the eradication of future social ills through empowering the disempowered.

Again, this paper is also not an attempt to advocate solely for the certain form of development initiatives at the expense of others. However, I am concerned about the upsurge of and the mushrooming of orphanages in my valley and other developing worlds for a couple of reasons:

A) There are many fabricated needs that are not necessarily arising from a place of genuine interest for those in need of caring, but the interest of those who have identified the gap in the market. I am told that, in the context of South Africa, some of these "orphanage founders" go around collecting kids from relatives who are obviously happy to be relieved from the financial burdens imposed by ever-expanding family units in the face of unemployment.

B) The collection project of these kids to fill the falling apart houses in order to generate enough sympathy result in the rebuilding of new homes or orphanages, a situation which then creates a platform for funding inflow for the alleged orphanages and founding members. The lives of the founding members improve greatly, from simple lives to extravagance with little improvement (if any) on their products (orphans). The founding members' advancement is not a by-product of their private businesses or personal development but is the result of the inflow of donor funding. Perhaps this problem is not a huge one if they work hard enough and invest most of their time and funding to the improvement of the supposed beneficiaries. It is also important to note that some of these kids are legitimate and that others have experienced the worst in their short lifetimes. Therefore, anything that is a little bit better than their former environment is highly appreciated.

Furthermore, this is not to say that all orphanages are bad because I know a few that are doing a great job in terms of addressing the needs of the orphans. However, I am wary of the backlash of the institutional nature of family units or prison-like settings. As you might be aware, institutions are characterized by different dynamics and atmospheres that produce particular kinds of behaviors that are sometimes counterproductive to the development of broader communities in question. Therefore, such might compromise other development efforts. Perhaps this situation is one of the reasons why the government of South Africa is shifting from the traditional orphanage dormitory structures to what is so-called homes with smaller family units with housemothers. I remain unsure if fathers are part of the mix. Nonetheless, any orphanage setting, in my view, is an understandable compromise and begs need for improvement or pursuit of alternatives, such as going back to the traditional extended family units to cater to the needs of the concerned parties and focus all the development efforts on the empowerment of these traditional institutions.

Again, my attempt is not to upset the development of these most needed and great initiatives, but just to wave the flag so that, at one level, investors seek expert opinions and investigate their potential projects before responding emotionally to overwhelming needs as emotional development seems not to be sustainable. At another level, my attempt is just to speak to the interest of the most vulnerable and protect them from the advent of orphanage entrepreneurship.

@vwkweyama

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