Orphans in Belarus
In 2008, an economic crisis hit Belarus causing over 25,000 orphans. In addition to this, the effects of Chernobyl are still causing birth defects in children. Limited resources have put these disabled, Belarusian children into orphanages which contributes to a large number of institutionalized children without proper care.

5 Facts About Orphans in Belarus

  1. Economic Crisis: In 2008, an economic downturn caused over 25,000 children to become orphaned. In many cases, the government separated Belarusian children from their families because it deemed their families’ homes unfit, especially since many did not have the financial ability to care for children with disabilities. The ChildFund is an organization that helps work with communities in order to help Belarusians deal with neglect, poverty and misconceptions about orphaned and disabled children. Childfund states that, as a result of its efforts, three of five piloted communities have stopped placing children in orphanages.
  1. Disabilities: According to UNICEF, about 35 percent of institutionalized Belarusian orphans are living with some form of disability. Belarusian disabled children lack the care and education necessary to facilitate their growth and improve their well-being. UNICEF is currently working with the Belarusian government in order to make disabled Belarusian children a priority.
  1. Worst Conditions: Nearly 100 children and young adults were starving in Minsk orphanages in 2017. Some weighed under 35 pounds with one 20-year-old weighing under 25 pounds. The director of children’s hospices said that staff treat many children as plants. A full criminal investigation launched and many people lost their positions. UNICEF opened in Minsk in 1997 and is working with the Republic of Belarus in order to create a healthy and safe environment for every child.
  1. Adoption for Americans: From 2001 to 2004, Americans adopted hundreds of Belarusian children. In 2004, President Aliakansandr Lukashenko imposed new restrictions on adoptions and this has put a hold on the number of adoptions between Belarus and America. Still, in 2019, this hold is in effect and has prevented Americans from being able to adopt Belarusian children, even if they are living in Belarus.
  1. How to Help: There are several fantastic organizations that are helping children in Belarus. ChildFund International has implemented a program that allows people to donate vitamins to help disabled orphans in Belarus. It has also established a Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children program which allows people to sponsor and donate to orphans in Belarus. UNICEF is also supporting orphans in Belarus by defending their rights. World Without Orphans is another organization that helps orphans in Belarus and has offered support for children and families since 2012.

A lot has been accomplished in Belarus in order to help Belarusian orphans, however, the changes are slow and require everyone to do their part. More awareness, a release of holds on potential parents and financial assistance should end the increased influx of Belarusian orphans in Belarus. In addition to this, children with disabilities should receive the proper care they require.

– Lisa Di Nuzzo
Photo: Flickr

South Africa has blossomed in the 21st Century into a diverse economic powerhouse. Cape Town, its second-largest city, has become one of the largest trading ports on the continent. Like all countries though, South Africa has its share of problems. One of its most overlooked problems has to do with its orphans. These 10 facts about orphans in South Africa will help outline the current situation and the efforts being made to improve it.

    10 Facts About Orphans in South Africa

  1. One of the biggest factors contributing to the number of orphans in South Africa has been the AIDS epidemic. In 2013, around 3.85 million orphans had lost one or both of their parents to the virus. That is more than 62 percent of the total orphan population. AIDS affects orphan rates by varying degrees. In urban centers that have access to better medical care, it is less of a problem. However, in more rural areas, AIDS is more widespread.
  2. One effective way to fight HIV/AIDS is through Antiretroviral Drugs (ARVs). These drugs help slow down the multiplication of the HIV virus. In South Africa, there has been a decrease in HIV mortality rates in communities that have received these ARVs.
  3. The number of orphans in South Africa increased by over 1 million between the years 2002-2009. It was at this time that the South African government recognized the problem and began to take action. It began introducing ARV treatment to the population. As a result, there has been a decrease in the number of orphans over the past couple of years.
  4. By 2017, at least 2.8 million orphaned children in Africa. This includes children with only one biological parent still living. That is roughly 14 percent of all children in South Africa. Although this number is high, it is slightly lower than the year before.
  5. Because it is one of Africa’s economic and cultural hubs, many migrants arrive in South Africa’s urban centers. Some of these migrants are families traveling together. Others are young children who are coming to the country by themselves. These orphaned children are subsequently placed at great risk of being exploited by criminal gangs and trafficking rings.
  6. UNICEF is working with the South African Department of Social Development and civil society in three main ways. First, it is using research to help inform policy-making. Second, it is creating and supporting community safety networks. Third, it is coordinating other services for orphaned children.
  7. South Africa was one of the first countries to embrace the regulation of the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention is an international treaty that sets strict standards and protections on intercountry adoptions. The guidelines aim to prevent the trafficking of orphaned children and increase the number of safe adoptions.
  8. Many rural communities have taken a proactive stance to create innovative solutions to the orphan problem. Organizations like Children of the Dawn have been created to give financial aid to these rural community groups. Part of this aid is dedicated to reducing HIV cases in rural communities.
  9. Another organization that has done great work with regards to helping orphans in South Africa is the Oasis Haven of Love Foundation. The organization seeks to provide safe housing for abandoned children waiting for adoptive care. It also works to help orphaned children get adopted.
  10.  Jo’Burg Child Welfare is an NGO based in Johannesburg that provides many adoptive services. The organization also engages in advocacy and legislative work and has been serving the greater Johannesburg area for more than 100 years.

These 10 facts about orphans in South Africa show that, while many problems remain, the country has been making improvements in recent years. With continued NGO and government support and continued progress in reducing HIV, the number of orphans in South Africa will continue to decline.

Henry Burkert
Photo: Pexels

Orphans in Tanzania
Team Nelson is a nonprofit organization based out of Atlanta, GA that works to send orphans in Tanzania to school. In 2017, there was a 79 percent net enrollment rate in primary school but only a 23 percent net enrollment rate in secondary school. After primary school, many teenagers have to find work to help provide for their families, so retention is a huge issue in secondary school. Many of the orphanages in Arusha, Tanzania lack the funds to send their children to school, so McCrea O’Haire and her board began to raise money to send the first boy she met, Nelson, to school. From there, it grew.

Team Nelson has been successfully raising money and awareness in order to send more Tanzanian orphans to school. The organization also encourages kids to prioritize their education and reap the greater benefits of completing their education instead of leaving to find work. The Borgen Project had the opportunity to interview McCrea O’Haire about Team Nelson about sending orphans to school in Tanzania.

Who is Nelson?

Nelson is one of the first kids that O’Haire met in Tanzania and the inspiration behind Team Nelson. Upon first meeting him, she recalls him having a reserved and shy nature, as he was just trying to blend in with the other children. It was not until she learned of his situation that she saw him for who he really was and “realized how important it is to help the invisible children that people might not notice.” She eventually decided to transform Team Nelson into much more than just one child. Originally, she did not intend to do anything other than sending Nelson to school, but she received an outpour of support from family and friends which snowballed her intentions. Once she felt the support around her, she had the inspiration to do more.

The Future of Team Nelson

In running this nonprofit, O’Haire cites two main challenges. Firstly, everyone in the organization also works full-time jobs and have careers, so there are many difficult compromises that it must make. Secondly, there are always language barriers and cultural differences her team encounters when they visit Arusha. She cites their desire “to help people living across the world while not interrupting their cultural flow or offending anyone,” noting that this is not always easy.

Within the next five years, O’Haire hopes the organization continues its current trajectory. In the past year and a half, it has been able to send 18 children to school, so in five years, it would like to send around 50 or more kids. One of her favorite things about Team Nelson is the “one to one love” that they currently have. She wants to help as many kids as possible but also does not want the program to include thousands of kids that members of the organization have never met.

Addressing Systemic Issues in Tanzania

AIDS killed Nelson’s mother and alcoholism afflicted his father. His family alone represents a larger, systematic issue resulting in the death of many parents and caretakers in Tanzania, which has left about 3.1 million orphans in Tanzania. O’Haire cites this problem as one of the main reasons she and her team decided to create Team Nelson; “A lot of the problems in Tanzania revolve around offering more opportunities for education and helping the children further their lives with increased resources and tools.” She emphasizes the importance of sexual health education that children receive in school and the need for recurring doctor’s appointments.

If the government continues to receive pressure to employ more top-down approaches, she says, there will be drastic improvements in health and education. Fortunately, the Tanzanian government recently decided to make all lower-secondary education free in order to retain more students, as there are currently 1.5 million adolescents that are not in school.

Although it is quite difficult to live in rural Tanzania right now, O’Haire underscores the positivity of everyone she has met there. Prior to her trips there, she prepares herself to be the beacon of hope and energy that they may need but quickly reminds herself that Tanzanians are a happy group. In hard times, she reminds herself of the objectives of Team Nelson, which is sending children to school. She must often turn down requests but notes the importance of staying focused on her organization’s goals and trust in that impact.

If you would like to help Team Nelson and the orphans in Tanzania, O’Haire encourages a monthly donation of just $10, which directly contributes to getting children an education. In the case that providing a financial contribution is not possible, she hopes that “people will spread the word about this cause and really care about the problems our world is facing.”

To learn more, please visit https://www.weareteamnelson.com/.

– Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr

Orphans in Zimbabwe

The landlocked country of Zimbabwe in southern Africa is known for its diverse wildlife and sprawling, gorgeous landscapes. What many might not be aware of is the crisis taking place within the country. Young children and those under the age of 18 are the sole providers of their households because of circumstances causing them to become orphans. The 10 facts about orphans in Zimbabwe listed below demonstrate the severity and seriousness of this issue taking place in this diverse and culturally rich country.

10 Facts about Orphans in Zimbabwe

  1. HIV/AIDS contributes largely to the number of orphans.
    In Zimbabwe, there are more than 1.3 million orphaned children, and HIV/AIDS is the culprit. According to the National AIDS Council (NAC), over 50,000 households are headed by children under the age of 18 who have lost parents to this deadly infectious
    disease.
  2. Children are born with HIV/AIDS.
    Adults and parents are not the only victims of HIV/AIDS. This infection can also be passed from mother to child by way of pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. In fact, 180,000 children were born with it. As a result, these children are highly vulnerable, and often face social prejudice.
  3. Orphans can go to next of kin, but that is not always an option.
    Traditionally, those orphaned in Zimbabwe are taken in by kin living in surrounding areas. This kin often involve aunts, uncles and grandparents of the orphaned children. Because of the destruction of families that HIV/AIDS causes, this network system is under severe pressure. It is predicted that between the years of 2020 to 2030, orphaned Zimbabwean children will not only have to deal with the loss of their parents but also will not have support from grandparents or other family members.
  4. Many run away after becoming orphaned.
    In an Evaluation Report completed by UNICEF in 2001 concerning orphans and other vulnerable children in Zimbabwe, it was reported that children dealing with AIDS in some form of their life were highly mobile. This means that nearly 50 percent of children had
    left their homes after the death of their parents. They headed for rural areas to ease hardships involved with living in the urban areas of Zimbabwe. Many children in this study ran away, never to be heard from again.
  5. Their education is poor.
    Education of those orphaned in Zimbabwe is lacking and in dire need of improvement. Adequate education in Zimbabwe for orphaned children is not easily accessible. Orphaned children, especially young adolescent girls, are often unable to regularly attend school. These children are missing out on key skills needed to be a functioning member of society, as education is considered a “social vaccine.”
  6. Poverty is certain.
    In addition to the loss of parents, many orphaned children struggle with extreme poverty. Poverty is destructive to all children of Zimbabwe and the world, but it is especially devastating to orphans under the age of 18 who have become the head of their household. They are exposed to a multitude of risks. These risks include poor health, poor educational opportunities, delays in development and a lack of emotional or social support.
  7. Many are not given a birth certificate which prevents them from accessing education and health care.
    In Zimbabwe, a high amount of children never receive a birth certificate. As a result, it becomes close to impossible to secure a spot in any school. This reduces their chances of adequate and sustainable education. In addition to this, never receiving a birth certificate can make seeking medical attention, especially for orphans living with HIV/AIDS, extremely challenging.
  8. Pathways offers services specifically for orphans in Zimbabwe.
    In July of 2018, USAID announced the launch of Pathways. The program was designed to provide nutrition, health and psychosocial services for orphaned and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe. This five year, the $35 million program will provide support and offer services to 250,000-HIV/AIDS infected orphans and 59,500 households of Zimbabwe.
  9. There are programs dedicated to keeping families together.
    SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe has been one of the leading organizations offering support for orphans since 1983. Goals and the work of SOS Children’s Villages are working to support and strengthen families by providing necessities and ensuring that they stay together. If families are unable to remain together, SOS Children’s Villages can place vulnerable children into SOS families. Additionally, SOS Children’s Villages in Zimbabwe also works by way of providing education and advocacy.
  10. CAMFED is helping young orphan girls gain educational opportunities.
    CAMFED Zimbabwe, an organization launched in 1993, has been working tirelessly to increase educational opportunities for orphaned female adolescents in Zimbabwe. By providing scholarships for poor girls in rural areas, building hostels to shorten long distances girls must walk to school (walks are dangerous and tedious for young girls), chances for academic success for young women in Zimbabwe is improved and attainable. Nearly 104,000 young, orphaned girls have been given secondary scholarships by CAMFED Zimbabwe.

Improvements Are Still Needed

Overall, the 10 facts about orphans in Zimbabwe listed above are important in understanding the severity and prevalence of this issue in Zimbabwe. Though many vulnerable children have been supported by a variety of organizations dedicated to orphans in Zimbabwe, a significant amount of work is still needed to truly relieve the burden that orphans in this country must take on.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: Flickr

Romanian orphanages

In January 1990, Daily Mail reporter Bob Graham was one of the first British journalists to visit a Romanian orphanage in Bucharest.  This trip unraveled the troubled history of Romanian orphanages. “Usually, when you enter a room packed with cots filled with children, the expectation is lots of noise, chatter or crying, sometimes even a whimper,” he said in an interview with Public Radio International in 2015. “There was none, even though the children were awake. They lay in their cots, sometimes two to each cot, sometimes three, their eyes staring. Silently. It was eerie, almost sinister.”

“They were inhuman,” he continued, recalling the living conditions of those he saw. “Stalls where children, babies, were treated like farm animals. No, I am wrong — at least the animals felt brave enough to make a noise.”

Journalists like Graham began to expose the nightmarish history of Romanian orphanages in December 1989. Their reports broke the hearts of the international community. As the haunting details of such places began to emerge, so did numerous charities, fundraising activities and adoption efforts.

The impassioned relief effort provided things such as blankets, powdered milk and toys. However, little improvement was actually made in the decade following the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Much of what defined the old, corrupt regime bled into the new government. Consequently, this interrupted any progress and left the abject conditions of orphans unaddressed.

When Emil Constantinescu was elected in 1997, however, a period of greater reform ushered in. Under his government, services were implemented that helped his countries’ parentless, such as establishing a new Child Protection Authority and promoting foster care. Since then, the system has made vast improvements. However, the living conditions of orphans remain problematic in Romania and throughout Eastern Europe to this day.

The ‘Decret’

It all started with a decree.

The last Communist leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceauşescu, took a page out of the 1930s Stalinist dogma and enacted pronatalist laws to fuel his belief that population growth would lead to economic growth. In October 1966, Decree 770 was enacted. It forbade both abortion and contraception for women under 40 with fewer than four children.

Children born during these years are popularly known as decreței. Decreței comes from the Romanian word “decret”, meaning decree. Ceaușescu announced, “The fetus is the property of the entire society … Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity.”

After the decree, birth rates rose significantly from 1967 to 1969 to catastrophic numbers. Coupled with Romania’s poverty, this policy meant that more and more unwanted children were turned over to state orphanages. There, they were subjected to institutionalized neglect, sexual abuse, and indiscriminate injections to ‘control behavior.’

By the end of the 20th century, over 10,000 institutionalized children were living with AIDS due to neglect and failure to sterilize medical instruments. “Children suffered from inadequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, lack of stimulation or education, and neglect,” a report by nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch stated.

Disabled children suffered even worse conditions and treatment. Many were malnourished, diseased, tied to their own beds or dangerously restrained in their own clothing. When Western psychologists entered the mix in the 1990s, they noted stunning developmental problems in institutionalized orphans. Their traumatic experiences served a tragic experiment, showing what happens to children denied normal human relationships.

Brain Development

The Bucharest Early Intervention Project launched a 12-year study following 136 infants and children who had been abandoned in Romanian institutions. They discovered institutionalized children more slowly acquired language skills. They also lacked problem-solving and reasoning skills, compared to children raised in foster homes. Moreover, the study noted the brains of institutionalized children were smaller and they had lower IQs. Similarly, they had increased rates of psychiatric disorders, particularly emotional disorders like anxiety and depression. Institutionalized children also displayed abnormal social development. This supported the theory of a ‘sensitive period’ of acquisition–the narrow time frame for the development of particular skills to occur.

“For children being raised in any kind of adversity, the sooner you can get them into an adequate caregiving environment, the better their chances are for developing normally,” says Charles Zeanah, a principal BEIP investigator. Unfortunately, adopted Romanian orphans are still suffering in adulthood to this day.

Romanian Orphanages Today

Today, only one-third of Romania’s children are housed in residential homes maintained by the state.  Historically, Romanian orphanages had little to no recourse. Today, there are a few different ways they can receive the tender love and care they deserve.

Many of the problems today can still be traced back to Ceausescu. In aiming to create a race of Romanian worker bees, his policies precipitated the abandonment of thousands of children each year. Because parents could not afford to raise children, the state orphanage system grew. Many parents believed the state could better take care of their children. And unfortunately, such a mentality, especially among the poor, remains today.

The majority of Romanian children in the state system are in foster care. The state pays Romanian foster parents a salary to rear children. There are also ‘family-type’ homes, where five or six children grow up together. In regards to the more problematic, remaining institutional buildings–called placement centers–the government has made a public commitment to close them all by 2020.

Ultimately, many countries in Eastern Europe are fighting to decrease their orphans and orphanages. In Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, the orphanage population has dropped from 11,000 to 2,000 since 2011. In Georgia, the number of state-run orphanages dropped from 50 to two. Additionally, Bulgaria has focused its reforms on children with disabilities, finding family-style care for all in state institutions.

While it was once the region with the highest rate of children in orphanages, Eastern Europe leads the movement to empty them today.

William Cozens
Photo: National Archives of Romania

10 Facts About Orphanages
UNICEF defines an orphan as “a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death.” The United States and various other Western states have largely phased out orphanages — institutions aimed at caring for and housing children who have lost or been separated from their families. Parts of the developing world continue to use them, however. Keep reading to discover 10 facts about orphanages.

10 Facts About Orphanages

  1. The physical shelter of orphanages is a benefit for children who have become separated from or lost family, however, they need much more than that. Orphan children require affection, figures they can look up to and a sense of emotional security to ensure they reach their fullest developmental potential. While many orphanages have not provided this care in the past, the United Nations’ implementation of the “Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children” in 2009 calls for the strengthening of social services programs. Additionally, this document calls for the prioritization of family-oriented alternatives.
  2. For tourists looking to do some kind of service work abroad, volunteering in orphanages may not be the best way to do it. Throughout South Asia, human trafficking continues to plague many countries and can lead to the separation of children from their families. To continue attracting high paying tourists, many “orphanages” actually contain children whose parents or families are capable of taking care of them.
  3. Globally, the main reason for children winding up in orphanages is not due to parent loss. Rather, children often become separated from their parents due to poverty, which restricts parents from giving their children the care they need. In Sri Lanka, 92 percent of children in private institutions had at least one surviving parent, but these parents were unable to provide adequate care for their children.
  4. Many children who live in orphanages end up staying for extended periods of time, which can cause developmental delays in their social, emotional and intellectual developments.
  5. The number of orphanages is increasing, particularly in Asia, even though the number of orphans is decreasing. People’s living conditions are steadily improving around the world, and because of this, families are forcing fewer children from their family homes. Orphanage volunteerism, however, is a profitable market, which unfortunately means that the children’s wellbeing is often placed on the back burner.
  6. Oftentimes, the volunteers at orphanages are short-term, meaning that the kids living in the orphanages are not able to form healthy, long-term caretaker relationships. The best option would be to have qualified locals work in the orphanages, which would ensure that relationships last the duration of the children’s stay.
  7. A study conducted by the Bucharest Early Intervention Project found that if children under the age of two years old moved from institutional care to a foster care situation, they had a significantly higher chance of making developmental gains than those who stayed in institutional care.
  8. Donors and governments are usually well-intentioned while setting up orphanages but fail to see the long-term negative consequences that arise when children are in these institutions for prolonged periods of time. Creating a space in which disenfranchised children can exist together seems easier than helping an entire society of impoverished families create sustainable households.
  9. Children who end up in orphanages due to family separation do so because of natural disasters, displacement, economic hardships and other forms of conflict. Allowing them the chance to reunite with their families if possible is an effective way to ensure they do not suffer the negative effects of staying in an orphanage long-term.
  10. NGOs and governments often overlook children in institutions such as orphanages. SOS Children’s Villages, however, is an organization that focuses almost exclusively on orphaned children. Hermann Gmeiner founded the organization in Austria in 1949, because he saw the devastating effects of World War II on children firsthand. Today, SOS Children’s Villages works in 135 countries and villages. Instead of simply institutionalizing orphaned children, SOS Children’s Villages works with various communities in order to provide education and as close to family bonds as possible for the children.

These 10 facts about orphanages shed important light on what people largely think is a positive industry. While there are positive intentions behind the construction of orphanages, many do not provide children with the tools or developmental skills necessary to maintain long-lasting, healthy relationships. However, with help from organizations like SOS Children’s Villages, hopefully orphaned children will have a better future.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: Flickr