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

children in Ecuador
A simple Google search for “Ecuador orphans,” expected to provide factual information, instead it presents a plethora of pages touting orphanages to donate to, opportunities to volunteer in Ecuador, children to adopt and personal fundraising pages. Even with some keyword tweaking, clearly orphans in Ecuador have abundant needs, but very few scholarly or news articles provide coverage of the issues. In an effort to fill that apparent statistical lack, orphans in Ecuador relate to the country’s poverty and crime rates in eight factual ways.

Eight Facts About Poverty, Crime and Orphans in Ecuador

  1. Ecuador is part of a global crisis for children born in poverty. Of the children who live in orphanages worldwide, about 80 percent have at least one living parent. Since AIDS took the lives of so many parents, UNICEF changed its definition of an orphan in the 1990s to children, those under 18 years old, who have at least one deceased parent. Under this new lens, there are about 140 million orphans worldwide. Many of them, unsurprisingly, are located in some of the poorest countries in the world. Asia has 61 million orphans, and Africa has 52 million. Ecuador falls into the geographical location in third place for most orphans, as Latin America and the Caribbean have 10 million between them. The most common reason cited for living parents placing their children in orphanages is an inability to afford food.
  2. Developed countries have responded to poverty and orphans in Ecuador incorrectly because of this nuanced terminology. Countries like the U.S., that only consider children with two deceased parents to be orphans, tend to interpret global statistics about orphans as reflecting the number of children who need homes. Many well-intentioned efforts then provide for the needs of individual children instead of combating the poverty in their families that sent them to orphanages. Thus, parents continue sending their children away to these homes because that is where the resources are funneled.
  3. Ecuador’s government had historically attempted to respond to poverty by channeling money in the wrong places. It too has tried to help needy families by funding orphanages instead of providing social programs for individuals and families to eventually be able to take care of their families without having to send children away. This would prevent perpetuating the orphan crisis by discouraging parents who believe their children will be better provided for in orphanages than at home.
  4. Institutionalizing children has proven to have negative effects on their development behavior, causing many to remain in poverty after they leave their orphanages. The government makes little effort to monitor harsh punishments and sexual abuse, leaving children psychologically damaged and creating a barrier to fending for themselves. Even for those who do not live in abusive situations, orphanages often constrain children socially, keeping them insulated among a relatively small group of peers, and then release children suddenly into the world, with little training and life experience to prepare them emotionally or academically for obtaining jobs and housing.
  5. Restore17 connects orphans in Ecuador with the country’s crime rates. Restore17 is a charity that does not pop up in the initial onslaught of Google results for “Ecuador orphans,” but deserves to be highlighted. Their mission statement reads: “Restore17 seeks to prevent boys from being exploited by providing them with hope and a future through holistic Christ-centered care.” Tangibly, they do this by working with orphans in Ecuador at a children’s home because 70 percent of males who grow up in orphanages eventually become criminals as well as face elevated rates for suicide and depression and heightened risk of involvement in human trafficking and gangs.
  6. Restore17 seeks to interrupt this progression from orphans in Ecuador to criminals by partnering with a children’s home for boys to provide holistic care. This involves attempts to meet spiritual needs, providing hygiene products, meals, healthcare, help with homework, technical training and attempting to give them a fun childhood with outings and birthday parties. Restore17 is also attempting to provide for male orphans in Ecuador after they turn 18 by building Casa Esperanza. This home will allow them an opportunity for transition past when orphanages will house them, giving them time to enter full adulthood. The vision is to help both the truly parentless young men who still need a place to live and those who have moved back with their families. By providing a space where wifi, school supplies and tutoring and mentoring are available, Restore17 hopes to reduce the necessity of turning to lives of crime.
  7. The total rate of orphans globally is declining, and Ecuador has contributed to this by allocating more funds relieving poverty through different means than funding orphanages. Since estimates about the number of orphans peaked in 2001, the rate has decreased on an average of 7 percent a year. Ecuador has shifted to combating poverty at its root instead of after children that have already been affected to such an extent that they end up in orphanages. A government spokesperson specifically cited efforts to make homes safe for those who could not afford to do so independently. The United Nations has applauded their commitment of resources, and the numbers seem successful. The country’s poverty rate has dropped by 14 percent since 2006. Extreme poverty has decreased by 50 percent since then, boding well for the creation of fewer orphans in Ecuador.
  8. However, orphans in Ecuador from rural regions that face higher poverty rates remain at a disadvantage. Poverty is concentrated in rural areas in Ecuador, where 70 percent of the population was poor in 2000, as opposed to 13.7 percent of the urban population. The numbers of children in poverty in these rural regions are staggering. For example, in the province of Bolivar, 91 percent of children and adolescents are poor, with Chimborazo and Esmereldas following close behind. This reveals the need for Ecuador to keep addressing poverty at the source for the sake of all of these children who could become part of the orphan crisis.

Clearly, such a system that inadvertently funnels non-orphans into institutions and perpetuates poverty must be directly combated. However, organizations like Restore17 enter into the present reality to provide stable homes and equip boys to overcome poverty as men. It is a good beginning. Such efforts should help create a new financially capable and empowered generation that will be able to raise their children at home and above the poverty line.

– Charlotte Preston

Photo: Flickr


After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, an influx of international aid entered the country. This relief funded the construction of many orphanages housing about 32,000 children.

Out of 760 orphanages, roughly 80 percent of these children have living parents who want to take care of them, but lack access to adequate health, education and social services.

Shelley Clay and her husband moved to Port-Au-Prince in 2008. They were looking to adopt a child but quickly discovered the overflow of children whose parents still continued to visit them. On one block, according to Clay, there were 20 orphanages which essentially operated as 24/7 day-care services.

Clay found famished young boys were stealing eggs from their equally impoverished neighbors. Single mothers were looking for work, but the market was limited.

To provide context, here are some more facts on poverty in Haiti:

  • Haiti ranks 168 out of 187 on the 2014 Human Development Index, according to UNDP.
  • The World Bank announced 59 percent of the population lived on less than $2 per day in 2012.
  • Over two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs, according to the World Factbook.

In 2008, there were 380,000 orphaned Haitian children. Clay found many of the missionaries wanting to make a difference by investing in the construction of orphanages fueled a larger problem. With public housing services, feeding programs and food aid, the problem is never corrected, Clay told Deseret News.

She realized creating jobs would start to solve the issue one family at a time, so she launched a non-profit program called the Apparent Project. Clay saves many children from orphanages, keeping families together, by providing them work and a roof over their head.

Over the last couple years, she has helped 220 people gain income by transforming Haiti’s garbage into an object value — jewelry. Clay provides jobs to local women by recycling these natural resources for basic life necessities.

Now the artisanal jewelry is sold in home tupperware-style parties and small partnerships with stores, such as the GAP and Donna Karan. In December of 2011, The Apparent Project sold $100,000 in jewelry. This moved Haitian employees from conditions of poverty to middle class status while saving children from orphanages.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

orphanage tourismIt is thought to be an admirable and charitable act to engage in orphanage tourism in Southeast Asia. Those who hear of the desperate plight of children are often inspired to help.

A collection of orphanages allows tourists to come and view the children, a practice known as orphanage tourism. This type of tourism is contributing to the well-being of the tourism industry, albeit as “pet-an-orphan” type entertainment. Poverty-stricken children are often the subject of endless attention from tourists, and the attention is damaging.

Even with the increased traffic to these homes, one thing remains: children who live in orphanages still live in poverty. Orphanages have become a financially lucrative business.

Upon seeing advertisements, tourists may opt to participate in pre-arranged tours to visit either a few different orphanages or one specific orphanage. These tours are often booked through intermediates: hotels, taxicab drivers, tour companies and even at airports. In addition, those affiliated with the orphanages can be seen waving signs on the street that say “visit our orphanage.” Some are seen dragging “sample” children throughout the streets of tourist-filled bars. At night, they attempt to illicit business for the following day. Some tours are straightforward about the fee, while others advertise free orphanage dance shows, yet demand donations.

The orphanages typically charge an entry fee or a mandatory minimum donation which is collected by the tour company. Visitors have the option to bring gifts for the children they especially like. Prior arrangements are made between the tour company and each separate orphanage to receive a certain price per tourist. There are no visitor restriction policies that pre-screen individuals on the tours.

The ability to pay becomes the only requirement that needs to be met, despite the industry standard requiring background checks on all orphanage visitors in most countries prior to any contact with the children. Usually, unethical orphanages are hidden fronts for child abuse and child sex-trafficking. An orphanage that does not require a background check for a tourist prior to interacting with the children places the children directly at-risk.

Most of the children in the orphanages are not orphans. Countries, where malnutrition is rife amongst the population, have many parents who do not earn an income that will enable them to support themselves or their families. Desperate parents renting or selling their children to orphanages is a growing epidemic throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, research indicates that some parents are not suffering from extreme poverty yet still choose to sell their kids, treating their children like materials goods. This year in China, a father of three sold his sons for 30,000 yuan, or $4,797. He arranged the potential buyers before the children were even born.

Orphanage tourism is cruel, not compassionate, to the children. The children of these orphanages are economically exploited and vulnerable children are precious only because of their economic value.

– Erika Wright

Sources: Born to Bunk, China Daily, Huffington Post, CNN
Photo: Flickr

blessing for children
Intsikelelo, or “blessing” in Xhosa, was the name designated to Nick Grava by a local community in South Africa, and with good merit. In 2012, Grava made the choice to skip his flight home while visiting his brother at the University of Cape Town to instead help children and orphanages in the country.

Guided by both his passion and vision, Grava and his brother Chris decided to start a U.S based non-profit to help orphaned, HIV-infected, homeless, abused and neglected children. They partnered with government corporations and charities, raised awareness and drastically improved conditions in various orphanages.

Currently, the brothers are working with a Home of Safety in Khayelitsha to improve its operations and help it ultimately reach stability and independence. This entails improving various resources at the orphanage including a learning center, purchasing transportation vehicles and developing a new housing facility.

The Grava brothers are taking a stab at one of the largest crises in human history. According to the organization’s website, there are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa, about half of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The average adult HIV infection rate is nearly 20 percent; in poorer regions it is as much as 50 percent.

It is estimated that by 2015, South Africa will have 5.7 million children who have lost one or both parents.

Not only are the Grava brothers building relationships, serving as mentors and providing sound homes, they are transforming the lives of hundreds, hopefully one day thousands, of children. They are building phoenixes- children who have the potential to rise from the fire and flourish despite adversity.

The future of Intsikelelo is bright. They recently raised over $16,000 after launching a Crowdrise page, which will allow for new beds, kitchen supplies and a computer lab for the orphanage. They aim to capitalize on their relationships and connections to gather more funding and more momentum.

Hopefully within the next couple of years Intsikelelo will have replicated the results at Home of Safety in Khayelitsha effectively throughout all of South Africa.

The United Nations Milennium Declaration states that in addition to our responsibilities to our respective societies, “We have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.”

As leaders and individuals, we must protect the future of those most vulnerable, especially children. Intsikelelo is spearheading this notion.

-Samantha Scheetz

Sources: Intsikelelo, The Huffington Post
Photo: Intsikelelo

It took the 2009 report of an eight-month-old boy being raped in an Accra care-house to alert Ghanaian officials that all might not be well with their country’s orphanages. Investigators of the rape discovered to their shock that, of the 32 children living in the orphanage, 27 were not orphans.

Since then, the Social Welfare Department has reported that only eight of the 148 orphanages currently in operation throughout the country are licensed, and that as many as 90% of the 4,500 children living in these homes have not lost both parents.

Young children are highly effective for fundraising. Ghana’s non-profit Child Rights International (CRI) estimates that a small orphanage could pull in as much as $70,000 a year with the vast majority of their funding coming from international donors and NGOs. However, CRI suggests that as little as 30% of yearly earnings are spent on child care.

Ghana isn’t alone in supporting a gross exploitation of children – roughly 28% of the 12,000 Cambodian children living in orphanages have lost both parents, and in Sierra Leone the number of true orphans living in a care-house is a minuscule 7%.

CRI’s Apiah explains that child-collectors target impoverished and rural communities where they “exploit the poverty and ignorance of parents” with promises of cash and an education for their children. There is a practice in some West African countries where poor families will send their children away to be cared for by relatives or caretakers who have the means to provide more for them, and many orphanages exploit this practice by having illiterate parents sign documents that sever all legal rights to their child.

“The problem stems from…systemic failure, which encourages the proliferation of unlicensed and unmonitored orphanage,” Apiah said. “These problems will be there as long as we continue to lack a firm social safety net to support poor parents to raise their children.”

Fred Sakyi Boafo, the National Coordinator of Orphanages and Vulnerable Children (OVC) has been pushing for placing children back in homes, whether with parents or surviving relatives, or with trained Foster Parents. He claims that when children stay in an orphanage rather than with a family unit it actually costs more to send them to school and provide care.

Joachim Theis, UNICEF head of child protection for West Africa, agrees when he says “A range of solutions, from safety nets to foster care to community care, have been shown to work, and re much cheaper than putting children in orphanages. Putting children into institutionalized care instead of a family setting must always be a last resort.”

It is also the responsibility of foreign donors and NGOs to thoroughly research the organizations they give money to as blind generosity is capable of causing more harm than good.

Lydia Caswell

Sources: Irin News, Ghana Web, Ghana Web
Photo: Orphan Aid Africa