The Forgotten Group: Life After The Orphanage
Author: Astrid de Vries
Astrid de Vries is Founder of Kids Connection Haiti. In 1998 she went to Haiti and fell in love with the country. After having worked for orphanages for ten years, Astrid decided to dedicate her life to orphaned young adults, by offering education and workshops, empowering them to create financially independent futures.
Our hearts melt when we see a two-year-old crying for attention. The “Mother Theresa” wakes up in all of us when we’re exposed to a picture of a malnourished child. Our spirits fill with hope when a handicapped athlete wins a triathlon. But when we see a poor, unemployed young adult, we feel nothing. The orphaned young adult population is a forgotten group.
We think “he made it this far alive, he will make it all the way”. Or: “If she doesn’t have a job right now, it’s probably her own fault.” Or, the worst one: “Too late now to invest my money/time/energy in that one.”
It’s a problem, not unique to one community or geographic region. In Haiti, a country of an estimated 430.000 orphans and roughly 760 orphanages, ‘post-orphanage care’ is hard to find. Management teams of orphanages worry not only about food, education or beds but mostly about the future of each orphaned child and what will become of them. The truth is, only a few lucky ones will find a job, the academically advanced ones will win scholarships to universities, maybe even become part of the management team at the institution where they grew up. On average, orphaned young adults are far behind in school, have no professional networks or skills and – due to the existing stigma of orphans – have no viable job opportunities. The more likely path for these orphans is to poverty.
They have no parents, remember? That’s where it all starts.
Just think of where we learn structure. Where do we learn discipline, trust, and communication? At the dinner table every evening, on evening walks, when tucked in at night, with and by our parents! If all these little moments of one-on-one time with a grown up are non-existent, how would you know that honesty brings you further than slyness, that $100.00 next month is worth more than $5.00 today?
This is not to say that orphanages are failing on all levels. They still provide safety, food, and shelter, which are the basic ingredients for survival. But the next step to a fulfilling, productive, and financially independent life is almost destined to fail if there’s no adult guiding you, loving you, and showing you the way.
Orphaned young adults desperately need our attention as the economic and social status of a parent will define the academic and professional development of a child. Take a moment to imagine what your life could look like if you had lacked a parent. In the developing world, this problem is much more pervasive, and we are now seeing a large population of orphaned young adults struggling for survival. Thousands of NGO’s in Haiti with impressive, sustainable programs are failing in this area. Orphanages could possibly improve in this area by providing adult mentors, and big brother/big sister programs – already put in place by some orphanages. Much more effective would be to support young children within family situations, rather than in orphanages, a trend that thankfully is growing, slowly but surely.
The positive and personal attention of an adult is so powerful that even at this later stage in life, we see the young adult blossom. We see their self-esteem increase. We see their eyes filled with love and gratefulness – because they feel valued, they are seen, and their existence is acknowledged. The undeniable impact will trickle on to their little ones, once they become parents themselves.
We need to take responsibility not just for the babies, the little ones, and the handicapped ones – young adults are our near future! Let’s help them, guide them and love them. They deserve it.
This post is a part of a series on intergenerational mobility hosted by Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) in support of the World Bank’s #EndPoverty campaign. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FAF or the World Bank. To see all posts in the series, click here.