Zoe Empowers
Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” However, the circumstances of the world’s children bring to the forefront a harsh reality. UNICEF estimates that there are 356 million children enduring conditions of extreme poverty globally. With 356 million children surviving on less than $1.90 daily, children go without access to education, proper health care, housing, sanitation and nutritious meals. These circumstances are often worse for orphans who have no familial support. Regions with a high number of orphans, such as Afghanistan, commonly report rampant wars, natural disasters and epidemics. Without the care of an adult and a way to secure their basic needs, many of these children face exploitation, often becoming victims of trafficking and forced labor. Zoe Empowers is an organization that assists orphans and vulnerable children by providing resources and skills training for these children to become self-sufficient and escape the stronghold of poverty.

About Zoe Empowers

In 2004, Zoe Empowers first began as a “relief mission” in Africa working to help orphans during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe. In fact, the organization’s origins stand as the initial inspiration for its name — Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor. As time went by, the organization chose to adopt the Greek meaning of the word “zoe” — life. This definition is meaningful because of the organization’s mission to empower vulnerable children in “eight areas of life.” The organization’s overall goal is to create a world where orphans and vulnerable children are able to become self-sufficient, productive members of society, able to use their own skills and knowledge to escape the grips of poverty.

The Strategy

Zoe Empowers implements a three-year empowerment program. This costs a monthly amount of $7.66 per child and a total of $275.76 per child over three years. The program includes several core areas:

  1. Food Stability. To create sustainable solutions to hunger, Zoe Empowers gives the children a modest grant and training to start “a husbandry and farming project” in the first year of the program. In the second year, these animals and crops serve as funding to buy more land to expand on these income-generating agricultural projects. In the final year, the program reaches the ultimate impact: The children now have access to two or three healthy meals a day and share this food “with other vulnerable children in the community.”
  2. Stable Shelter. Within the first year of the program, children with the most urgent housing needs receive financing “through housing grants.” In the second year, “individual and group savings account funds” go toward the reparation or rebuilding of the “homes of deceased parents.” In the last year, the children can purchase land and build their own houses with the extra income from their businesses.
  3. Hygiene and Health. In the first year, staff provided training on personal hygiene and children with severe health issues received emergency medical assistance. In the second year, children gain access to “national health insurance.” Alternatively, Zoe Empowers helps children to finance “medical savings accounts.” In the last year, children earn enough from their business ventures to provide for themselves in terms of food, clothing, “access to health care” and other necessities.
  4. Establishing Education. In terms of learning, in the first year, Zoe Empowers provides children with financial assistance to enroll in school. In the second year, “individual and household businesses” finance the costs of school. During the last year, students can also fund the education of their “younger siblings” and plan for their own tertiary education.
  5. Sustainable Income. In order to generate income, in the first year, the children receive training on economic concepts and how to establish a business with small grants. In the second year, the children receive business loans, which are “paid back to the group bank account” while businesses grow. During the last year, these children lead their families, running several businesses and employing siblings and community members.
  6. Human Rights. In the first year, the organization contacts local officials to conduct training on child rights and build relationships with children so that they are more comfortable reporting abuse. During the second year, as business owners, the children are able to secure a higher social status. Therefore, the community welcomes their voices and opinions. In the last year, with a human rights background, children now know how to enforce their rights in the case of violations.
  7. Community Connections. All three years of this aspect of the program revolve around establishing a sense of belonging in the community as children serve as leaders and entrepreneurs in society.

Impact in Numbers

So far, Zoe Empowers works in seven countries: Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Rwanda, Liberia, Tanzania and India. Across these countries, the organization has provided assistance to 124,071 vulnerable children since 2007. In a 2020 survey, SAS collected data from 495 graduates of Zoe Empowers empowerment groups in Rwanda and Kenya. Among other results, SAS reports that 100% of graduates own successful, income-generating businesses, 96% can afford the costs of three daily meals and 91% of graduates can fund the cost of their education.

Zoe Empowers hopes to expand further into other regions. With its sustainable model, poverty can reduce as children receive the resources, training and support to become self-sufficient.

– Shikha Surupa
Photo: Pixabay

Iraqi Orphans
Iraq’s youth stand as one of the most vulnerable yet valuable populations in Iraq’s war-torn nation. The humanitarian crisis in the conflict-ridden country of Iraq has led to a poverty rate of 24.8% as of March 2021. One of the most tragic consequences of the conflict and violence in Iraq is the fact that, in 2012, there were almost “2.5 million Iraqi orphans.” Although these statistics stem from the time of the brutal Saddam Hussein regime, the situation regarding orphans in Iraq remains dire. Currently, Iraqi Children’s Hope indicates that there are 700,000 Iraqi orphans.

Iraqi Orphans

To put the situation in perspective, one must note that in 2020, Iraq’s age 0-14 population stood at 37.02% of the total population in contrast to 7.53% of the population in the age category of 55 and older. Just as a comparison, 18.37% of the U.S. population is in the 0-14 age range, and, in 2014, more than 34% of U.S. citizens were 50 and older. Because Iraq’s youth make up a significant portion of the population, Iraqi children stand as essential human capital amid a dwindling older generation. Yet, millions of Iraqi orphans often have no support system and no shelter, making them susceptible to the lure of trafficking and a life of crime. This fact coupled with the statistic that almost “3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children [are] out of school” means that support to Iraqi children must become a priority.

However, with Iraqi orphans in mind, three nonprofits are working to alleviate the impacts of the last 40 years of conflict.

Iraqi Children’s Hope

Iraqi Children’s Hope works directly with Iraqi orphans, “enabling them to thrive educationally and economically” to ensure a better quality of life and lessen the impacts of poverty and war. The organization “prioritize[s] orphans who cannot afford to attend private schools or pay tutoring fees” through the Children Tutoring for Success program. The program supports “orphan students in grades 1-8 through homework assistance and various other academic needs.” Iraqi Children’s Hope also focuses on food drives for widowed mothers and orphaned children. For example, during Ramadan 2021, an Islamic tradition in which families fast from sunrise to sunset, the Iraq branch distributed more than 700 food packages to orphan families and other families in need.

The Iraqi Orphan Foundation

The United Kingdom-based Iraqi Orphan Foundation emphasizes supporting vulnerable groups through forms of humanitarian aid and advancing the education of Iraqi orphaned youth. The foundation reaches children across several towns and cities in Iraq. Through its Sponsor an Orphan program that prompts individuals to donate a minimum of £20 per month per child, the Iraqi Orphan Foundation has supported more than 6,000 orphans. In 2019, the organization raised more than £560,000 in donations to support Iraqi orphans. The organization also focuses on direct food distribution for children without sponsors. For Ramadan 2021, the organization distributed “more than 400 food parcels to the families of orphans.”

The Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF)

Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) commits to supporting at-risk Iraqi children “who are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation by criminals, traffickers and extremists.” Its scope includes orphans. One of its unique programs is the Hope Bus where volunteers transform an old bus into a lively, child-friendly classroom. Each bus provides about 50 orphans and street children “with tutoring, nutrition, [health support], social services and childhood fun.” Each child participates in the Hope Bus program for a year in preparation for a traditional school. More than 500 children have attended the Hope Bus so far. The program has provided more than 36,700 healthy meals to students and all 2020 graduates “now have their legal documents.”

ICF Street Lawyers

The ICF Street Lawyers program provides “legal protection for children” to safeguard them from traffickers, criminals and other forms of exploitation. Street Lawyers also “help children obtain legal documents required to enroll in school and access government benefits.”

Children make up 25% of all human trafficking victims. Orphans, often without protection or security, are the most vulnerable to trafficking. About 168 million children around the world end up as child laborers with 50% coerced into hazardous work that damages physical and mental well-being. Human trafficking is difficult to track as less than 0.5% of cases are reported. From May 2016 to April 2021, ICF provided “legal protection and defense” to 1,469 children.

An example of ICF’s extensive impact is the story of Ahmed. Ahmed and his widowed mother earn an income by selling milk from their cow. One day, instead of selling the milk, he shared the milk with the Hope Bus children. This type of generosity despite poverty is a testament to the impact of ICF’s work.

The impacts of Iraq’s political turmoil affect Iraqi children most severely, especially Iraqi orphans. However, there is hope as nonprofits commit to addressing the void in government efforts by supporting the nation’s children, ensuring a brighter future for the youngest generation.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ orphanages in IndiaIndia’s people have long struggled with poverty as a developing country, despite being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Coupling overpopulation with a lack of resources, poverty is a common sight on India’s streets. Circumstances of poverty particularly exacerbate the conditions of girls’ orphanages in India.

Poverty in India

According to a 2016 report from the World Bank, one in five Indians suffers from poverty, totaling 270 million people. These Indians have less access to water and sanitation, job opportunities and education in comparison to their wealthier counterparts. A ramification of this level of poverty is that there exists an entire untapped population of Indians who could be contributing to the economy and the country in several ways, but instead, are forced to live on the streets with their basic needs unmet.

In the last few years, India has made some progress in addressing one of its greatest issues. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported that, from 2006 to 2016, India’s poverty rate almost halved from 55% to just 28%. Since then, India has been working toward lifting more people out of poverty and adding jobs to its economy.

However, COVID-19 has set the country back in its poverty alleviation efforts. As one of the countries particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the Delta variant, India has taken a step backward as more people descend into poverty.

Girls’ Orphanages in India

Because of gender-based cultural bias and economic pressures, the majority of orphans in India are girls. According to UNICEF, India is home to 31 million orphaned children. The Times of India reports that nine out of 10 abandoned children are girls. In some parts of India, parents view girls as burdens because, for one, their dowries for marriage are costly.

For this reason, some girls face abandonment and are put into orphanages, adding to the already high number of existing orphaned girls. Shockingly, “nurses have been known to accept bribes to exchange baby girls for baby boys.” Furthermore, activists draw attention “to eight million missing girls” — the estimated “number of female fetuses” possibly “aborted over the past decade due to their sex.” Due to the extensive number of orphaned girls, orphanages often do not have enough resources to adequately take care of the girls.

Association for India’s Development

One organization is doing the important work of helping India’s most impoverished. The Association for India’s Development (AID) has programs throughout different sectors in India, with a network of volunteers helping to uplift and empower Indians.

One of AID’s programs, in particular, surrounds helping girls’ orphanages in India. The Borgen Project spoke to AID’s Project Manager Sid Muralidhar to talk about his experience and how individuals, and the nation at large, can better address poverty in India. “A few of the biggest factors that contribute to India’s high poverty rate are social inequality and lack of access to quality education,” Muralidhar says. “There are very rigid class divides and remnants of the caste system still exist,” which limits social mobility. Without intervention or aid, an individual that is born in poverty is typically likely to remain in poverty.

As project manager, Muralidhar worked with an all-girls orphanage in the village of Badlapur to provide the girls with resources and raise money for the organization. He says the orphanage has suffered negatively from demonetization and the girls live in poor conditions because of the lack of resources.

Taking Action and Hope for the Future

When asked about what steps to take to address poverty and help girls’ orphanages in India, Muralidhar provides a comprehensive answer. “Poverty in India is a pernicious problem that requires broad-based and creative solutions.” Further, in spite of India’s status as “one of the fastest-growing global economies” before COVID-19, “the economic gains” are not “shared equally,” he says.

Muralidhar explains that the Indian “government can attempt to alleviate this widening gap by boosting social welfare programs as well as investing in public education.” He suggests that, in the meanwhile, “people interested in the issue and those who want to be conduits of progress should continue to educate themselves and others to grow the grassroots effort.”

Despite barriers to progress, Muralidhar adds that there is still hope. He said one of the most striking observations he made was the girls’ “extreme resiliency” and “eternal optimism” despite their situations. While COVID-19 has no doubt exacerbated the country’s poverty and negatively affected girls’ orphanages in India, AID exemplifies that there is still potential to continue previous progress made.

– Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

education system in MoroccoThe education system in Morocco has struggled for decades. In part, this is due to historical turmoil involving education accessibility. However, Morocco has recently taken a new approach to reverse this damage and improve its education system.

The “Decade of Education”

In 1999, Mohammed VI became the king of Morocco. He deemed education one of the main sectors in need of immediate action. Therefore, the years 1999 to 2009 were named the “decade of education.” During this time, reforms would take place under new guidelines, with the main goals to decrease illiteracy and upgrade the quality of learning. In addition, King Mohammed VI pledged to enhance private education and fight gender-based inequality.

The monarch’s involvement also resulted in a restructuring of the curriculum. To do this, King Mohammed VI replaced five years of primary and seven years of secondary education with nine years of the former and three years of the latter. He also introduced books that contained pedagogical principles.

These lessons targeted students’ needs and increased critical thinking skills. Through this reformed method of education, children learned how to develop a democratic mindset and thus the importance of human rights through science, technological and educational advances.

The Education Revolution

This new curriculum involved information technology studies and the integration of new subjects. Courses such as “Introduction to Education for Citizenship” in primary school, adding French and Amazigh language classes to the curriculum were all improvements to the former education system in Morocco. Exam schedules to ensure fairness and quality were revised and additional training in technology was provided to teachers. Overall, the changes during the Decade of Education shifted the way Morocco’s schools were administered. However, work to ensure the brightest future for Morocco’s children was still needed.

New Education Strategy Vision 2030

In 2014, the Minister of Education proposed additional revisions for the education system in Morrocco. In this vision, titled “New School for the citizen of tomorrow” the new education system allowed schools to appropriately provide all students with a high-quality education. The program allowed for increased Arabic classes, foreign language courses and learning vocational training.

Moreover, the project focused on encouraging openness and skill-building. With these overall advances, achieving greater  levels of education and the encouragment entrepreneurship allowed Morocco’s youth to learn important life skills. The ministry will also open centers for languages, culture and sports. The Ministry declared that during 2011-2012 and 2014-2015, there was an increase of more than 325,000 students enrolled in public and private schools.

In 2019,  The World Bank announced that it would contribute $500 million to the 2030 project. The grant will allow Morocco to extend access to quality education, especially pre-primary schools. It will also significantly increase teachers’ skills and competencies as improving human capital for children.

Hmemsa Organization: Education Program

Another group aiming to improve the education system in Morocco is Hmemsa. This organization is a successful Moroccan non-profit in the United States. Its main goal is to help low-income Moroccan households with essential needs and social issues. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Wafa Bennani was able to share more of the organization’s aspirations and achievements.

Bennani shared that currently, the Hmemsa organization is sponsoring two education programs. The first program involves exchanging engineering expertise with American students. Thus, Hmemsa is cooperating with the American Society of Engineering Education and other universities in Morocco to engage in an ASEE universal seminar in Morocco.

The second program is dedicated to orphans and impoverished children. Hmemsa’s Orphan Education Program is teaming up with the “Kafala Tifl Association” in Morocco to support and assist vulnerable children ages 5 to 18. The program has helped alleviate the financial burden of education from impoverished families and orphanages by providing children with necessary school supplies. Overall, the Orphans’ sponsorship program consists of $500 a year toward a child’s education.

Hmemsa’s Success Stories

Bennani also explained that the organization has been working with two orphanages in Meknes and Fez for more than 6 years now. They are planning to extend the program to include different orphanages in other cities as well. Success from Hmemsa’s work has been plentiful so far. Bennani expressed that two orphans have recently graduated high school with excellent overall grades. Additionally, Hmemsa sponsored one of the students to visit the U.S. and learn English at Western University. After this experience, the student went back to Morocco and secured a high-paying job.

Bennani also explained that when it comes to the challenges, mental health in orphanages is an issue Hmemsa sees frequently. With a shortage of special needs education, Hmemsa is looking for ways to provide counseling therapists and added support. With previous success in advocating for action against PKU, they are optimistic about their efforts in mental health advocacy.

Education and Poverty’s Future

In recent years, Morroco has made enormous efforts to boost its education system and make it accessible for all children. From the “decade of education” strategy to the 2030 vision, Morocco has always been striving for a better way to educate its children. With the help of The World Bank and non-profit organizations like the Hmemesa organization, the education system in Morocco is significantly enhancing education for all Moroccans.

– Zineb Williams
Photo: Flickr

orphans learn life skillsNestled at the base of the Santa Bárbara Mountain in Honduras lies Santa Bárbara, a city known for producing sugarcane, coffee beans and livestock. The city is also home to El Jardin De Amor y Esperanza, also known as the Garden of Love and Hope. An orphanage that opened in 2011, the Garden of Love and Hope takes in children that have outlived their parents or whose parents cannot provide for them. This orphanage, though small, has an incredible impact on children through its ability to rescue them from destitute situations. Orphans learn life skills that will prepare them to be successful in life outside of the orphanage. One way the orphanage accomplishes this is through the use of its Selva Café, which helps the orphans learn real-world skills.

The Garden of Love and Hope

The Borgen Project spoke with Lukas Dale, a volunteer that traveled to the Garden of Love and Hope with a group organized through Olivet Nazarene University. Dale describes a home visit he did on his final volunteering day, giving him the opportunity to “experience the kind of conditions the local people live in.” The home “was a tiny 7x7x7-foot clay and mud box that had no plumbing and only one bed. It housed a family of grandparents, a mom, five kids and a dog.” Dale says the experience gave him “a new and more accurate understanding of the situation people in impoverished countries must live in.”

Though much of Honduras struggles with poverty, the Garden of Love and Hope works to give orphans the best resources and education possible. Its primary mission is to provide the children with food, shelter, clothing and medicine while helping them with school. Footsteps Missions significantly supports the orphanage. A nonprofit organization, Footsteps Missions works to send volunteers to Santa Bárbara to assist the orphanage.

Dale shared more of what he witnessed at the orphanage, explaining that the children were treated well by staff who are “happy to volunteer their time to care for the kids.” Furthermore, he explains that “There were many children and teenagers who didn’t have any tangible hope for their futures. A lot of the teenage girls had been raped and either had children to take care of or were just working through their trauma, for example.”

He describes the orphanage as “a very loving, accepting environment that focuses on giving the children hope for the future by equipping them with practical skills.” By providing children with safety from their former circumstances, the orphanage also supports the children’s futures.

Selva Cafe

One of the most pertinent ways that the Garden of Love and Hope helps children learn life skills is through Selva Café. Owned by the orphanage and Footsteps Missions, the small coffee shop’s funds support the costs of caring for the children at the orphanage. The café also employs children from the orphanage. By running the cash register, preparing food and coffee and serving customers, children gain work experience.

Dale reflected on his experience when he visited the orphanage. He said, “Footsteps Missions was also in the process of opening a café near the orphanage that would help fund the orphanage and give the children a place to gain work experience. Since the café was in the process of opening, we helped with some physical labor projects they had around the property, taught the owners how to use financial programs on the computer and set up a cash register for them to use.” The Garden of Love and Hope works to help orphans learn some of the life skills needed to succeed in the world outside the orphanage. It does this while serving the community through the production of coffee and baked goods that can be purchased at the café.

Importance of Helping Orphans Learn Life Skills

The concept of “life skills” means a young person possesses the qualities needed to succeed, such as confidence and personal and social skills to interact with others. The Garden of Love and Hope realized children needed to have both formal and life education, the latter of which only comes with experience. Traditionally, the family unit teaches life skills. However, since orphaned children do not always have a family to rely on, it is more difficult for them to acquire the necessary experience to succeed. By establishing Selva Café, the Garden of Love and Hope fosters a place to learn skills. Teaching children life skills will also give them the desire to serve their community, including those also in poverty.

Though it is small and relatively new, the Garden of Love and Hope and its partnership with Selva Café give the Honduran children of Santa Bárbara hope for their futures. By equipping children with valuable life skills learned through serving tourists and their community in the café, these children have the potential to rise above their life circumstances and grow into capable adults.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Pixabay

South African Orphans
In 2005, Michelle Potter traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, as a volunteer football coach. Some of her players on the team were homeless and resorted to begging on the streets to get by. Having left home at age 16, Potter was able to relate to the loneliness of entering adulthood without familial support and she wanted to help. In 2008, SAYes Transition Mentoring began. SAYes is a Transition to Independent Living (TIL) program that assists young South Africans, either living in or recently out of children’s homes, who are on the precipice of life on their own.

What SAYes Transition Mentoring Does

Governmental assistance for young South Africans living in children’s homes ends at age 18 and many do not have anywhere to go. SAYes Transition Mentoring pairs each participant with a highly trained mentor to offer support during this vulnerable transition period. Participants range from 14-25 years of age, giving priority to older youth, as they are the ones who are soon leaving or have already left residential care. Mentors work one-to-one with mentees for at least an hour a week during the nine-month program. The role of a mentor is to be a stable and non-judgmental ally. In many cases, this is the first positive relationship participants will have with an adult.

The Situation in South Africa

In 2019, South Africa ranked as the most economically unequal country in the world. This essentially means that the economy does not benefit all its people. In fact, the richest 20% of South Africans have control over almost 70% of the country’s resources.

SAYes is a program that emerged for those who are not fortunate enough to be in that top 20%. Many participants have had to leave their homes as a last resort because of abusive family situations. Some suffer from neglect, addiction, prostitution or an array of other adversities.

How SAYes Transition Mentoring Works

SAYes TIL care is specific to each participant depending on their age and developmental needs. The mentor offers guidance in education, housing, employment, personal development and community reintegration. One mentor, Mashudu Matshili, described the importance of mentorship with an old African saying: “If you want to know directions to a place, you need to ask those that have already reached the destination.”

The first few weeks, they get to know each other and find common ground. If the mentee is interested in a specific career field, the mentor might help facilitate an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. The mentor is a friend first, and then a guide to building the skills to live responsibly and independently.

Speaking fondly of his mentor, participant Destino Nzonzidi said, “I always say, I can forget away my pains, but not forget Tony for what he has done.” Many of the SAYes participants continue their relationship with their mentors long beyond the nine-month program and consider them family. More often than not, charities focus on young kids, not young adults. The benefit of SAYes Youth Mentoring has been huge and the proof in the success stories. SAYes Transition Mentoring serves over 100 young South Africans a year.

– Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

Scofield orphanage
Scofield Orphanage, located in rural Kenya, is home to about one hundred orphans. Ben and Emily Okello, the Kenyan founders, instill in each child that they are capable and worthy. They dedicate their lives to this ethical endeavor and invest in the self-sustaining future of each child despite the ongoing difficulties caused by food shortages and the pandemic.

A Self-Sustaining Future

The Borgen Project spoke with Patty Congdon, a longtime volunteer who works alongside Ben and Emily Okello. Concerning the start of Scofield Orphanage, she said “Most of them, the parents have died of HIV, and therefore, they are seen as unclean, and people just leave them to die, and so, he just couldn’t stand it anymore…he said, ‘Emily, can I bring ten children home?’ And she said yes… and that was the start of Scofield.” After starting the orphanage, Ben and Emily realized that they would need to provide an education to the children. By doing so, they invest in each orphan’s self-sustaining future.

A population-based survey conducted in Kenya found that 93.9% of school-aged single orphans had never attended school. Orphans in rural parts of Kenya struggle to complete an education, and many of them never have an opportunity to attend school; without passing the national exam and acquiring a university degree, orphans struggle to acquire a job that lifts them out of poverty. Additionally, without a supportive community, orphans are at risk for exploitation, life-threatening food insecurity, medical complications and a variety of other dangerous circumstances.

Education in Kenya

In Kenya, students must pass eighth-grade national exams to advance into high school education. From there, they must pass twelfth-grade national exams to acquire university education. Patty Congdon shares that over this past decade, every single student at Scofield Orphanage has had a 100% pass rate in the eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. During the pandemic, children in Kenya faced school closures and many lost access to educational resources.

The loss of education especially affected vulnerable children in rural areas. This is attributable to the fact that remote learning is not an option in many isolated locations. Vulnerable children in rural areas are at much higher risk for food insecurity as well as exploitation. This is especially true when they lose access to the resources provided to them by schools. The pandemic heightened the struggle for children located at Scofield Orphanage in Kenya. However, they continue to find ways to provide education, food and shelter to each vulnerable child they house.

Fighting Educational Disparities

Due to the influx of young people pursuing higher education, many universities have increased their standards for grade point averages. Whereas students could previously apply to college with only a C+ average, many universities now require a B average. This heightened expectation has not diminished the opportunities available to the industrious orphans at Scofield.

Patty Congdon said, “Right now, not only are our kids going to university, but they are going to university for engineering, for medical, for computer science. They are going for high-level professional skills, which has just been the other thing that has just been unbelievable because Ben sets such a high standard for them from the minute they can walk on that they are capable. He just instills in them that they are capable, each to their own skills, and that they are to be professionals, and so, they don’t just want to be successful, they want to be successful at an incredibly high level, and it’s just amazing. So, every kid that we have right now who’s in school is going for all these advanced professional degrees on top of it and doing well.”

More than 90% of Kenya’s orphans do not attend school; meanwhile, the orphans housed at Scofield Orphanage have a 100% pass rate on both eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. Furthermore, those that have advanced to university are studying in prestigious fields. This is a meaningful step toward ensuring the self-sustaining future of each child. It also proves that, with proper support and education, the lives of orphans in Kenya can realistically improve.

The Challenges of 2020

Though Scofield Orphanage continues to succeed, it faced significant difficulties during the pandemic and locust invasion of 2020. Kenya’s government shut down all motor vehicle travel. As a result, no vehicles could come in and out of towns and villages. Additionally, Scofield Orphanage’s teachers were sent home; Ben and Emily Okello oversaw approximately one hundred children’s education.

Concerning the food shortages and travel bans, Patty said, “Ben had to go by foot to try to find food in villages that had been decimated by flood, drought and locusts.” She continued, “He had been able, in the past, to go over the border to Tanzania to try to get food. Borders were closed, and as he tried to go wider and wider—he’s doing all of this by foot— someone finally gave him a donkey cart. Can you imagine going forty miles with a donkey cart to look for grain? And then finding it and coming forty miles by foot with a donkey cart with, you know, ninety pounds of grain? It’s a lot, and everything is very expensive. So, everything’s been really difficult. Thankfully, none of the children have come down with COVID.”

Scofield Orphanage endured the food shortages as well as the pandemic, but Patty Congdon continues to advocate for consistency on the part of donors who contribute to Scofield Orphanage. Scofield needs consistent support so that they can afford food, necessities, medical treatment, teachers’ salaries and education.

The Need for Support

When asked, “What are the biggest needs facing Scofield right now?” Patty Congdon said, “Consistency in funding and at levels that are sustainable is still the number one challenge. A big goal that we still have is trying to get them solar power because they still don’t really have lights. They don’t have running water, and from a health perspective, running water would be a game-changer, and being able to have things like computers to study, it all goes back to electricity, and right now they don’t have that.” She continued, “Basics like lights and running water and being able to plug in a computer, those things don’t exist. Those are the big challenges right now.”

Scofield Orphanage faces immense difficulties and is in need of consistent support. Nevertheless, it continues to transform the lives of orphans in rural Kenya by investing in the self-sustaining future of each child. The ethical role model it provides demonstrates how to effectively help vulnerable children.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

World Forgotten ChildrenWith poverty rates rising in developing countries, raising a family can be financially taxing. As 10% of the worldwide population lives on less than $1.90 per day, there are millions of individuals who cannot provide basic necessities for their children. When a child has a physical or cognitive disability, parents face an additional barrier when addressing the children’s needs. In dire circumstances, some parents are left with no choice but to place their children in orphanages. The World Forgotten Children Foundation (WFCF) focuses efforts on helping impoverished orphans, especially those with disabilities.

Orphans Living in Poverty

Globally, there are 153 million children who are orphans and a large portion of these children are found in developing countries. Additionally, it is estimated that eight to 10 million children with disabilities are living in orphanages. Orphanages in impoverished areas often lack access to adequate resources, especially for children who need extra care for specific disabilities. The facilities fall short on appropriate education, economic stability and infrastructure.

The World Forgotten Children Foundation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on addressing the link between poverty and orphaned children, with an emphasis on helping disabled orphaned children in developing countries. The organization understands the value of also addressing the needs of the community rather than simply targeting the orphaned children.

Helping Children Affected by Cerebral Palsy

In 2017, the WFCF supported the International China Concern (ICC), an organization that takes care of more than 350 children and young adults with disabilities across China, many of who have been abandoned since birth. In China, approximately two million children have cerebral palsy. This group of disorders is the most common motor disability for children and prevents an individual from properly moving and maintaining balance and posture. Children with cerebral palsy struggle to straighten their bodies enough to fall asleep due to spinal postural deformities and those with severe cases are at risk of more serious health issues if they are unable to sleep in an adequate position. Between 23% to 46% of children living with cerebral palsy suffer from sleep issues due to pain, discomfort, seizures and skin ulcers. Also, sleep deprivation can cause development problems.

The ICC’s mission is to use postural management to protect the body shape and to minimize life-limiting deformity. The WFCF funded $10,277 to provide custom-fitted sleep aid systems for 14 children. The sleep aid systems improved the children’s physical and emotional health and well-being.

Handicapes en Avant Project

Handicapes en Avant is a French charity group based in West Africa focused on improving and facilitating the everyday lives of those with disabilities. The WFCF partnered with the Dokimoi Ergatai program of Messiah College to fund $7,800 worth of equipment. Through the partnership, the project provided physically disadvantaged children with hand-powered tricycles, enabling the children to have increased mobility. Additionally, visual assist items for computers were purchased in order to support children with visual disabilities in West Africa. Also, in Burkina Faso, funding was provided for the development of the first electric tricycle for the handicapped children of the Handicapes Avant facility. Additionally, blind orphans at the Handicapes en Avant school were provided with drawing boards to make relief drawings, Braille writing tablets and several other educational materials.

Improving the Lives of Orphans

The World Forgotten Children Foundation recognizes the many challenges of orphaned children, especially those with disabilities. The organization works to amplify the health and welfare of these disabled children. Plans for more support projects are in the pipeline. One project at a time, the Foundation is improving the lives of orphans in developing countries.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

GiveLight FoundationWhen Alfin Nur was 11 years old, he lost his mother, father and one of his siblings in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Two years later, the GiveLight Foundation found Alfin and began to invest in his life. He studied at a boarding school in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, which GiveLight fully sponsored, while also providing him with love and emotional support. In 2015, he graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

The GiveLight Foundation

GiveLight Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides orphans with stability so that they can rise out of the cycle of poverty. Its mission is to build quality homes for these children and support them in receiving proper education that will serve them long-term. It emphasizes raising children in a loving and supportive environment and providing a sense of belonging.

“GiveLight Foundation is one big home for all orphans,” described Fatima Jaber, the founder of the GiveLight Baltimore Chapter, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

The same disaster that destroyed Nur’s family, hit and devastated the hometown of Dian Alyan, in Aceh, Indonesia. The tsunami killed a quarter of a million people overall, leaving many orphans. Alyan decided to build an orphanage called Noordeen Orphanage. A year later, with the help of friends, family and generous donors, the orphanage was housing 50 orphans. Through that, the GiveLight Foundation was founded.

It now has orphanages in many countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, providing a loving home for around 1000 children.

The Baltimore Chapter

GiveLight provides opportunities for people to start “chapters” in their own city. The chapters focus on raising funds and sponsoring the orphans of GiveLight. Most of these chapters are located within the United States in cities like Chicago, Southern California, Seattle, Baltimore, New Jersey and Orlando. GiveLight is also beginning to focus on opening chapters internationally. Currently, there is one in South Africa, Paris and Toronto and there are efforts to open chapters in Istanbul, Sydney, Brussels and Dubai, UAE.

Jaber, the founder of the Baltimore Chapter, talked about how she opened up the chapter in Baltimore around three years ago. “I heard Dian Alyan’s story when I lived in California in 2012 and knew I wanted to be involved. After moving to Baltimore and meeting supportive friends and a generous community, I thought it would be great to start a chapter here.”

Raising Funds for Orphanages

The Baltimore Chapter raises funds by hosting galas, game nights, scavenger hunts and walkathons. Soubia Balkhi, one of the other members of the Baltimore Chapter, told The Borgen Project in an interview that the last two galas had been very successful, with the team raising more than $10,000.

Because the cause is so broad, beforehand the team decides which GiveLight project the funds will contribute to. They typically like to focus on where the need is the most for that year. “For example, this year Bangladesh needs it the most and so the money from this year’s fundraiser will go to building an orphanage in Bangladesh,” said Balkhi.

The funds are then sent to the headquarters which has on-site representatives distribute the money specifically where it is needed.

Despite the limits due to COVID-19, the Baltimore Chapter continues to raise funds. Jaber discussed its latest event, taking place next month. “I’m excited to announce our next virtual scavenger hunt event! It is a fun and interactive social event where families can join, create teams and still follow all COVID-19 protocols.”

Empowering Orphans Alleviates Poverty

GiveLight is not a typical orphanage that solely provides children with a place to stay. It ensures that the orphans under its care are given a home and a proper life. The strategy that GiveLight uses allows the orphans to become self-sufficient through education, enabling them to be independent and to be able to give back. This is especially important considering that education is proven to positively contribute to reducing poverty.

Alfin Nur was not the only orphan who was able to graduate due to the opportunities that GiveLight provided for him. Rahmat Mico is now on his way to become a scientist and  Nursawami is a working mother who continuously gives back to GiveLight.

With more time, orphanages, chapters and supporters, GiveLight will be able to broaden its support in the qualitative manner that it has been doing since the very beginning.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Open Heart OrphanageIn the midst of COVID-19 sweeping through Uganda, six children at Open Heart Orphanage have died. However, it was not the virus that claimed their lives. The tragic deaths were a result of hunger and fever, collateral effects of the pandemic.

Food Struggles During the Pandemic

The people of Uganda must fight to stay healthy during the pandemic as well as combat food insecurity. The issue of food affordability is not only an organic result of the pandemic. Back in April, four Ugandan government officials were arrested for conspiring to inflate COVID-19 relief food prices. The effects are far-reaching. According to UNICEF, 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in 2020.

The Hidden Victims

Uganda has consistently ranked among the countries with the greatest number of orphaned children in the world, and it has not gone without its controversy. Last year, VICE reported that there are at least 300 “children’s homes” operating without government oversight. Four out of five of these orphans have at least one living parent. Questions arise over the exploitation of these children and the quality of the care they receive. During the coronavirus pandemic, the children are even more vulnerable. Orphans are oftentimes the faces of Facebook scams targeting donors from Western countries.

Children are the “hidden victims” of the virus. They are not particularly susceptible to contracting the disease, but they will be the ones to bear its effects on the social and economic systems. Domestic struggles within the family, surging food prices and a shortage of available medical care have led to malnutrition and displacement, especially in developing countries like Uganda. The result is many children are being left in orphanages.

Open Heart Orphanage

The Borgen Project interviewed Hassan Mubiru, a pastor at Open Heart Orphanage in Bulenga, Kampala, Uganda. Its mission is to help orphans experience a full and productive life. Currently, the organization serves 175 “needy” or orphaned children. The Christian nonprofit aims to provide these children with education, medical assistance, housing, clothing, food and water and the love of God. Due to the pandemic, there have been some obstacles in achieving these goals.

“Coronavirus has crippled most of our activities because we were absolutely unprepared when the lockdown was announced,” said Mubiru. The pastor explains that the organization has always worked below its budget and did not store supplies ahead of time. When COVID-19 hit, they did not have enough resources to sustain themselves.

Even more challenging was the shortage of volunteers. Mubiru stated, “Those who used to individually help are no longer helping. We cannot guarantee salary or their payments.” Unstable payments met with mandates to stay in quarantine have deterred many volunteers from coming to Open Heart Orphanage.

Mubiru says that the biggest issue for Open Heart Orphanage is the lack of available food. “It is extremely difficult or impossible to get food as prices went higher and almost nothing was coming into us. We have so far lost six children due to hunger and fever since the pandemic started. These are things we would have prevented if we had enough food and means of getting treatment in time.”

Open Heart Orphanage strives to help children reach their fullest potential. The nonprofit is a stepping stone for the children and not a final destination. Mubiru believes that children are better off in a home than an orphanage, especially in these times. Mubiru emphasized, “We encourage families to adopt even if this is another crisis because the law governing adoption is tough and high fees.”

Miska Salemann
Photo: Flickr