What are “Poverty Orphans”?

Poverty Orphans

In 2011-2012 there was severe famine in the Horn of Africa. Every evening the news would show more pictures of people suffering and migrating in hopes of finding provision. One particular evening I saw something that moved me to tears and has stuck with me ever since. After the crowd moved down the road, a tiny baby remained. The news reporter explained that the parents may have died and no one wanted to take on a baby, or the child may have been abandoned by parents who had nothing to give the baby but didn’t want to watch him die. Doesn’t that break your heart? If the parents survived, they must be living with guilt over that choice. And what became of the child? Did the news crew film him and then pick him up? They undoubtedly had water and food. Honestly, when I think about that I get upset at the news crew way more than the parents. The news crew had resources. I hope they did the right thing.

That was my first encounter with the truth of poverty orphans. Poverty Orphans are defined as children surrendered or abandoned as orphans but who actually have one or both parents living. They are given up because their parents can’t feed them and they believe that it will be best for their kid(s) to go to orphanages, churches, hospitals, or maybe even new families where there will be food to eat and safe water to drink. Other poverty orphans are surrendered because they require expensive medical treatments or have special needs, and desperate parents truly feel that they have no other option than to give their child to an organization that can care for him or her. Giving away a child and never finding out what happened to them is the most crazy desperate thing I can imagine. It’s horrifying that these parents truly have no other options. If they don’t surrender their children, they watch them die. It’s that simple and that ugly.

There are no accurate statistics on the number of “orphans” who actually have parents. A large number of the abandoned kids are too young or too sick to tell anyone if they have parents. Often a surrendering parent will tell the organization that they are an aunt, uncle, or neighbor and that the parents are dead with no one to take the kids.

I know this is a heavy topic, and I have promised over and over that Food Shelf Friday is not about guilt and sadness, but hope and resources. So here’s the good news: a number of charitable organizations have been developed to reduce the incidence of poverty orphanage. Their goal is to reach families in crisis before it becomes so desperate that they give their children away. These organizations employ local people at a fair wage, provide micro finance loans so the parents can start their own businesses, provide relief for children in the form of food distribution, or provide medical services so the parents don’t have to make that desperate choice.

I personally struggle to balance my budget with my social and environmental concerns. It seems that if something is fair trade, then it’s out of my budget. If I find something affordable, it’s tested on animals. My consumer habits are a big tangled mess of concerns that often conflict. I find it can be really overwhelming, but my friend Heidi reminded me of two quotes: First, “Do the next right thing.” (Michael Hyatt) And second, “Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou)

So I decided to take some baby steps:
– My chocolate and coffee choices are fair trade. I’ll be eating less chocolate because the fair trade-grown chocolate is expensive, but the coffee is not. We’re Keurig users, and the fair trade cups are the same price as the others. So that’s an easy step to take. If you’re brewing grounds you may have to spend more for fair trade.
– After seeing a video in class about birth defects and working conditions for banana growers, I reduced our banana consumption so we could switch to organic bananas. My “right” to something should not trump another’s right to be safe.
– I get a monthly subscription box from Fair Trade Friday and purchase things from Noonday Collection so that I can give gifts I feel good about. I may have to give less to stay in my budget, but it’s worth it. We can pare down our luxuries to provide others with necessities.

I know I have a long way to go and an abundance of things I could be doing better. I’ll get there. But this is my “next right thing” and as I learn more about global systems, I’ll do better. No parent should be so desperate that they have to give their child away. I want to be part of the solution.

How about you? What is your “next right thing?” What businesses or non-profits do you support for their efforts to keep families together and fed? Share in the comments so we can all “do better.”

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