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Protecting families from being torn apart.

Protecting families from being torn apart. – 11 May 2017

Family First: Markus Köker, International Programmes Manager asks ‘How best to tackle the orphan challenge?’

The Bible often talks of God’s compassion for ‘the fatherless’ and his desire to set the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). Good families are places where children are protected, nurtured and provided for. In loving families, children learn important life skills and feel a sense of belonging. Growing up and living without a family greatly increases our vulnerability.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states: ‘The child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.’

Who is an orphan?

Unicef defines an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents through death. According to Unicef, there are an estimated 140 million such orphans worldwide. But these statistics underestimate the problem and do not include ‘social orphans’. These are children and young adults who have lost any meaningful connection to their family. Social orphans include vulnerable children who may be living on the street, growing up in an orphanage or experiencing separation from their families due to trafficking, conflict or other issues.

In fact, millions of children known as orphans still have one surviving parent, grandparent or other family member. According to Save the Children, at least 80 per cent of children living in orphanages still have at least one parent alive.

Residential care and poverty

Residential care institutions (including orphanages and children’s homes) have often been seen as the answer to the orphan challenge, and many have been set up with the best of intentions. However, some orphanages are run as businesses, where the children are seen as a way of bringing in income. This has sometimes led to children being trafficked into institutions.

In developing countries, all too often poverty is the reason that children end up in orphanages. Parents or family members may believe that an orphanage will give their children food, shelter and education, which they would otherwise struggle to provide. These so-called ‘pull factors’ increase the number of children placed into residential care unnecessarily. For example, although the number of vulnerable children in Cambodia has decreased, the number of orphanages increased by 75 per cent between 2005 and 2010. But no orphanage can provide the care and nurture of a loving, supportive family.

Understanding the negative effects

Research has clearly shown that long-term institutional care is not in the best interests of children. It can negatively impact their lives in many different ways:

  • Serious delays in psychological and social development: Children lack the individual care and attention they need. They are less likely to develop the intellectual, physical, social and emotional skills appropriate for their age. They have less chance to learn the life skills they will need to live independently in the future.
  • Attachment problems: Children grow up with frequent changes in staff, volunteers and visitors. This means they do not develop the strong, lasting relationships they need.
  • Dependency mindset: In institutions, someone else is always responsible for meeting children’s basic needs and making decisions on their behalf. Children are not usually given opportunities to take responsibility for themselves based on a relationship of trust. This makes it harder for them to live independently as adults.
  • Trafficking and abuse: Many institutions do not have child protection policies and may not carry out background checks for visitors and staff. This puts children at risk of trafficking and physical and sexual abuse.
  • Separation from society: Children in residential care usually grow up separated from their family and community. They often struggle to rejoin the community when they leave.
  • Young people are very vulnerable when they leave residential care, and many institutions do not have strategies for supporting them through this process. A long-term study from Russia showed that one in five orphans leaving an institution turned to crime, one in seven fell into prostitution and one in ten committed suicide (Judith Harwin, Children of the Russian State 1917–1995).

A better way

The good news is that around the world people are beginning to realise there are better ways of caring for orphans and vulnerable children. There is a range of options:

  • Family strengthening: We can strengthen and support families, so that they do not place children in orphanages to begin with. This can include providing parenting classes, day care and income-generating activities. It is important to help parents realise that family is for life and that they can usually provide a better upbringing for their child than an orphanage can.
  • Reuniting children with their birth families: If it is possible and safe, the best option is to reunite children who are in residential care with their families. This involves trying to address the problems that led to their separation from the family, wherever possible.
  • Kinship care: If reuniting children with their birth families is not possible, kinship care is an option. Many orphans will have other family members who would be willing to care for them – aunts, uncles, grandparents, an older sibling or another member of the extended family. It is often possible to trace relatives and support them to care for the child.
  • Foster care: Foster care is when a family cares for a child who is not biologically related to them. Fostering can be a temporary measure while efforts are made to reunite children with their family. It can also be a longer-term option. In some countries it can be a way of providing a permanent family for a child.
  • Adoption: When it is not possible to reunite children with their family or relatives, adoption may be an option. This is when parents agree legally and permanently to care for a child who is not biologically their own. Adoption is easiest for the child when it happens within the child’s own country. International adoption is usually a more disruptive option, so the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child considers local adoption or foster care to be preferable.

There is sometimes a place for residential care (for example, this may be needed for a child in crisis while other options are being investigated). But in most cases this should be seen as a last resort and not as a long-term solution. If residential care is necessary for a time, it should be as ‘family-like’ as possible, in small group homes within the community rather than in large orphanages.

Those in charge of a child’s care should work through this range of alternative care options to see what is best for the child.

National policies are changing

A growing number of countries are now putting these ideas about alternative care into practice and making them their official policy. For example, in 2012 Cambodia announced a new policy aimed at keeping children out of institutions and preferring family-based care. As well as being better for children, these principles make good financial sense. In Uganda, for example, a study showed it costs up to 14 times more to run an orphanage than to care for children within the community (Unicef).

What can we do?

The church can play a powerful role in changing the way we care for orphans and vulnerable children. The World Without Orphans movement has united Christians, churches and organisations around the world to work together towards family-based care. Beginning in the Ukraine, it has initiated national movements in more than 26 countries. As a result of its work, the number of children being fostered or adopted locally has increased.

There is a number of things individuals, churches and organisations can do to improve orphan care. Individuals can consider becoming foster or adoptive parents, and encourage others to do the same. Churches can develop programmes to strengthen families and support orphans within their churches and communities. Directors of residential care centres can explore ways of transitioning to provide family and community strengthening services. We can all advocate to our governments for policies that prioritise family-based care. By uniting with others who have the same vision, we can work towards a world where every child has the chance to grow up within a loving family.

By: Markus Köker, International Programmes Manager, Tearfund Ireland

Tearfund Ireland is developing its niche area of expertise in Family First Alternative Care interventions and is currently supporting alternative care projects and family reunification in Cambodia and Zimbabwe.

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Join the Fashion Revolution

Join the Fashion Revolution – 27 Apr 2017

This week is Fashion Revolution week and we are asking our supporters to ask ‘#who made my clothes?’ The people who make our clothes are often not paid a fair and living wage, they can be forced to live and work in unsafe and hazardous conditions. The campaign Fashion Revolution was started when over 1000 people were killed in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013.

This campaign, started by fashion designers who are passionate about both fashion and people calls on everyone working in the fashion industry to ensure that they run their businesses ethically. That they ensure that safety, protection and fair wages are visible throughout all of their supply chains right down to the workers who sew and produce the clothes, often in countries far from our local high street store where we buy our clothes.

Tearfund Ireland supports Fashion Revolution week and needs you to hold your favourite stores to account. To make sure that they are producing ethical clothing, that they are paying their factory workers a fair wage and are ensuring their safety and health. Often times the people forced to work in clothing factories in unsafe conditions, earning a meagre wage are those who are the most poor, the most vulnerable and the ones with the least choice. The people that Tearfund Ireland serve.

So find your most favourite piece of clothing, take a photo of it, check what shop you bought it from and ask them who made it. You can Tweet them, send them an email or a Facebook message. Ask them over Instagram-whatever works for you. But don’t let this week go by without asking this really important question- “Who Made My Clothes?”


For more information go to the Fashion Revolution website.

For more info on what is happening in Ireland this week visit Fashion Revolution Ireland.

For an ethical guide to your favourite brands visit our friends at Tearfund New Zealand.

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Stories from Syria

Stories from Syria – 4 Apr 2017

Jaydah is a Syrian refugee living in Jordan since 2013. She was married when she was 13 years old and her son Muhammad was born a year later, she is now 45 and Muhammad is 21. Muhammad lost his leg in an explosion that also took the life of his father, 12 year old younger brother and his uncle. The explosion was near their home in Syria early in the morning when they were on their way to work .

‘My 12 year old son wanted to work with his father that day so I let him go. When I heard the explosion I ran out to the street and I saw their bodies on the ground, first my husband, than my bother and then my son, there were bodies everywhere’.  

Jaydah carried Muhammad to the hospital in her arms to try to save his leg but they could only provide basic first aid. A month later Jaydah left Syria and moved to Jordan. Jaydah now lives in Madaba which is about 40 minutes from the capital Amman with Muhammad, her daughter and her younger son.

‘Muhammad didn’t leave the house for a whole year after we arrived here. I used to cut his hair myself because he wouldn’t go outside. He is doing better now but he doesn’t have any friends.’

Jaydah describes Muhammad as a ‘bright boy’ and she would love to get him a computer. Muhammad is her main concern. The family survive on the small income her younger son gets from working at a local bakery and some cooking that Jaydah does.

Last week, Jaydah and her daughter attended a trauma care workshop in Madaba supported by Tearfund. This was the first time that Jaydah got to share her story with others about what had happened to them in Syria and to meet other Syrian women who live close to them. At the workshop she learned about coping with grief, how trauma can impact families and what to do if they are experiencing violence at home. Jaydah spoke about the relief she felt in being able to share her story with others and how she would like to attend more workshops and thought it would be good if there were workshops for everyone in the family.  

To donate to our Refugee Crisis Appeal please follow this link

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Famine Declared in South Sudan

Famine Declared in South Sudan – 24 Feb 2017

Famine has been declared in South Sudan. This is the first time in six years that anywhere in the world has reached this level of food insecurity. In 2011 260,000 people died in Somalia as a result of famine.

Earlier this year the monitoring group FEWS NET warned of four looming famines; in Yemen, Somalia, North-Eastern Nigeria and South Sudan in 2017. South Sudan is now the first to be declared.

As the world’s newest country, the situation is set to worsen as food stocks become depleted. More than three years of conflict combined with the continued devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound, acute malnutrition, difficulties in transporting aid, and below average harvests, have brought about this scenario.

In 2015 Tearfund Ireland started a programme in Northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan, with the support of Irish Aid, to provide emergency food relief. Malnutrition rates in the area were critical as people were displaced by the fighting and unable to plant crops.

Markus Köker, Tearfund Ireland’s International Programmes Manager, visited the project in its early stages and witnessed the complexities involved in reaching the most vulnerable people, protecting the local market so that it continues to function and equipping the local church to find long-term sustainable solutions to hunger and malnutrition.

In this current situation Tearfund Ireland’s response is to provide much needed food vouchers and cash to the most vulnerable families, while building the capacity of local groups towards increased resilience to future shocks and disasters. Tearfund Ireland continues to partner with local faith based organisations and collaborates with​ other International partners​.

Please give what you can to our South Sudan Appeal.

Photo Credit: Markus Köker, Tearfund Ireland, South Sudan.

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Love wins in Ethiopia

Love wins in Ethiopia – 14 Feb 2017

Ethiopia is a beautiful country steeped in culture and history, it is known as the cradle of civilisation. As you travel through it you can go from mountains that sit 4,300 metres above sea level where you lose your breath not only from the thinning altitude but from the miles of magnificent beauty surrounding you. To the noise and bustle of 6 million people making their way around Addis Ababa, weaving in and out of outdoor markets and shops. It is formidable and somewhat unique in culture and history. But as with all countries it is not without its problems. Over 70% of the population live on less than $2 a day, it has recently suffered drought and famine as a result of the weather phenomenon El Nino, leaving 10 million people in desperate need of food security.

However in the midst of this and much like its beauty there are stories of transformation and change springing up all around. They are hard to ignore and in some cases even harder to believe. Families and communities are being lifted out of poverty, children who once went hungry are having three meals per day and attending school, relationships between husbands and wives are being restored. Communities and government representatives are coming together to work together for the good of the community.

Tearfund Ireland has been a part of these stories through supporting Self Help Groups and as we travelled through Ethiopia in October last year visiting with these self help groups we experienced all of this and more. The material and economic difference in the lives of the women and men involved in self help groups is nothing short of a miracle. But what stands out the most, what cannot be captured so easily is the restoration that is taking place. The change in relationships and marriages. The love and transformation that is so evident you can feel it deep within your soul.

On our last day in Ethiopia we met Woynishet. Woynishet has a remarkable story, a story of restoration and redemption, of a journey from isolation to partnership. Woynishet did not work, she raised her children and used the small amount of money her husband gave her to feed their family. Her children had never had breakfast before she joined her self help group. But joining the group required more than just turning up to meetings. Her husband was completely against it and Woynishet had no confidence or self-esteem. She felt powerless and useless but she knew she needed to do something to provide for her family. Ethiopia is a patriarchal society, gender inequality is widespread and domestic abuse can be common. So she and two other members began to meet in secret. All three of them had to hide what they were doing, one of them also experienced ongoing domestic violence and so they had to be particularly careful.

However as time passed and their income grew as a result of saving with their self help group so too did their confidence. They became stronger and more assertive, they realised their own potential and strengths. But they did not want to continue in this journey alone and separate to their husbands so they told them about the self help group and what they had been doing. All three of their husbands were furious and barred them from going to their group. However, the women courageously carried on. And as time went by their husbands began to notice that their economic situation was improving, they noticed that there was now more food for the family, that the children were able to attend school. That there was a difference in their wives. They each individually asked how this had happened and so the women explained that it was a result of their self-help group.

Woynishet said that from that moment, their lives and relationships changed. Her husband began to look at her in a whole new light, he saw, for the first time her value and worth. That she could be an equal partner in their relationship and home. Each husband then insisted on the women always attending their self-help group and often took care of the children so the women could attend their meetings. They completely transformed, Woynishet went from being a woman, completely alone in her marriage, undervalued and powerless to being an equal, with a partner who respects her and consults her about everything in their life together. This is not a conventional love story but it is a story of how transformation can happen, of how love can grow from the most unusual and difficult of beginnings.

Woynishet and her self help group went on to hold a big ceremony in their community where they advertised the benefits of joining a self help group, using their own personal testimonies to encourage others to join. But she said that the most powerful testimony of all was when their three husbands stood up and with tears streaming down their faces, they told their community, their friends, their government representatives how they used to disrespect their wives, how they used to beat them and hurt them but how now they love and respect them. They spoke of how now they honour and support their wives, how their wives lifted their family out of poverty. How they love them, how they are partners in life and for life. Theirs is a story of true transformation, of the power of healing and forgiveness. And it is a story of hope, hope that change is possible, that all circumstances can be turned around for good. That love can in fact, win.

‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ 1 Corinthians 13:13

To support Self Help Groups in Ethiopia please follow this link.

Photo: Woynishet NIgussie, Nazret, Ethiopia. Credit: Gavin Leane, Tearfund Ireland
Words: Gemma Kelly, Tearfund Ireland

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Syria, a Christian Response

Syria, a Christian Response – 21 Dec 2016

The news coming from Syria is horrific. More and more stories of the horror people are facing in Aleppo are beginning to be told. As we know, Syria is one of the most complex and dynamic humanitarian crises in the world today.

This Christmas around 65.3 million people around the world will be far from home, living as refugees due to conflict or persecution.

Syria’s conflict has contributed to the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War. The suffering of the most vulnerable, especially women and children experiencing war, poverty and injustice, is astounding. Over 250,000 people have been killed since 2011 and over 2.4 million Syrian children are out of school or at a risk of dropping out. 11.3 million Syrians have fled their homes and 9 children die every day in Syria. These numbers are overwhelming and the need is great.

Tearfund Ireland has been responding to this crisis since 2014. We been working through local partners with the aim of meeting the humanitarian needs of people affected by this conflict. Focus has been on: food assistance though cash, food parcels or vouchers; provision of essential non-food items (NFIs) such as cooking utensils, bedding, hygiene kits, blankets and heaters; formal and non-formal education as well as Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs); physical, mental, psychosocial and trauma care services; and support for housing as large numbers of refugees reside in urban areas, rather than camps.

We will continue our work in this area and in continue following Jesus right to the centre of the darkest places on earth, supporting people whose need is greatest.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5

Photo: A mother holds her baby at a 3 day trauma workshop in a church in Jordan. Image: Stella Chetham/Tearfund

References: UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOCHA, withsyria.com

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