Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) has worked to support orphaned children in Africa, Asia, and the Americas since its founding in 1999. Today, OIWW supports orphan care in a dozen countries located along the equator. OIWW’s long-term goal is to end orphanages globally, eventually placing children in their own extended families. OIWW is committed to spending as little on overhead as possible, and its Global Officers have embraced the motto, “Not a job, but a life” since inception.
By Claud Leandro & Jim Luce
1. What is Orphans International?
Orphans International (“O.I.”) is a collection of not-for-profit organizations (NGOs) comprised of caring individuals in the developed world channeling resources to — and receiving life experiences from — a collection of projects in the developing world, all of which are dedicated to the sole purpose of raising disadvantaged children in small, interfaith, interracial, international, inter-generational, and Internet-connected homes to become “global leaders” – or at least the best children they can possibly become.
2. How is the organization funded?
O.I. began through the contributions of its founder and his family and friends, and continues today through the generosity of over two hundred benefactors from around the world, many of whom have become child or home sponsors. All fundraising is, as required by our charter, in strict adherence to the Better Business Bureau’s Standards for Charitable Giving. O.I. operating expenses to date have been less than ten percent of funds raised, due to the incredible generosity of our volunteer and low-paid staff. In one country, as an example, our director left the U.N.D.P. to work for us at a 40% reduction in pay; in the U.S. our three hired staff work for $1 per year.
3. How do you define an orphan and what criteria are used to accept or deny acceptance to a child?
While we recognize the needs of both “economic orphans” and biological orphans, we have limited resources and thus dedicate ourselves to helping those most at risk: children who are both economically and biologically orphaned. Our official criterion is that at least one parent be deceased, and the other deceased or officially listed as “missing.” In general, children with severe psycho-social trauma such as ‘street children,’ children living with severe learning disabilities, children with severe medical conditions such as MS or AIDS, or children with physical conditions such as blindness, are extremely difficult for a new organization to handle. But as we mature institutionally, we hope to begin to accept children whose youth have been shattered by the hardness of homelessness, disability and/or disease.
4. Do they come to you?
All children of O.I. projects worldwide have been screened and referred by an outside social agency; we do not accept babies left on our doorsteps. In addition, each child is evaluated by a physician, a social worker, and frequently by a child psychologist. As much information about the child — including academic grades, health history, etc. — is retained in O.I. files for each child.
5. How do you identify countries? Are any special reports used for such determination?
We identify the countries in which we hope to be or already building projects by three major criteria:
1) Is the country ranked between the middle and the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Scale (http://www.undp.org/hdr2001/indicator/pdf/hdr_2001_table_1.pdf), 2) Is there a diverse population reflecting different religious beliefs and ethnicities that our interfaith, interracial mission might be specifically helpful to and 3), Is there a significant population from this country living in the New York City area that could assist us with raising awareness and funding to initiate and sustain a viable project there? As a point of comparison, the Philippines ranks 77 on the U.N.’s Human Development Scale, while China ranks 96, Guyana 103, South Africa 107, Indonesia 110, Guatemala 120, Togo 141; and Haiti 146; by comparison, the United States of America ranks 6, Mexico 54, Vietnam 109, and India 124.
6. Do you ever consider children who do not meet the criteria?
Rarely. In the Celebes Island of Indonesia (Sulawesi), we took over an orphanage that housed economic orphans; each child had family living in the village. We thus created “Project Family Reunion” and provided enough funds for food, clothing and education for these families to come together once again. However, in general, we have developed criteria over time and try to stick to it. The scene in the movie Titanic is all too vivid: the lifeboats who took on too many were overturned. The key is balance.
7. What age group?
The easiest age for us to deal with, and therefore the age we prefer to begin with, is between two and six. Much younger takes additional staff, and much older requires specialties we have not yet developed. Within five years we hope to be able to deal with any child between birth and graduation following high school – usually between eighteen and twenty years of age.
8. How will they be educated?
Each campus will, over five years, have its own pre- and elementary school, Affordable Homework Help Online 100%Unique assignments; in the interim our children will attend the best possible local school, whether public or private, Catholic or Moslem. In addition, each initial home has a small classroom and library so that our specially-trained houseparents can continue to enrich the children’s development through participatory activities within an open-learning environment. Each home will be equipped with the materials necessary to provide ample opportunities for exploration and manipulation within this educational environment. Over ten years, we plan to finish construction of our junior and senior academies (high school). Our goal is straightforward: to build the preeminent educational system in each country, and have each of our graduates taught in accordance with both national and international standards; each O.I. graduate should receive the Baccalaureate degree (international high school diploma).
9. Isn’t such a high standard of education elitist?
No, because our school system will make ten percent of our seats available to non-orphaned children on a reduced-fee or scholarship basis. Elitism occurs through exclusivity; ours strives to become the best –but not at the exclusion of the local community.
10. How are health issues dealt with and do you accept handicapped children?
We have retained a visiting nurse and doctor for each campus until we have the critical mass to open our own health clinic on-site. All children will have full medical treatment and plans are already underway to create liaisons with domestic AIDS institutes, and international visiting nurse and doctor programs, etc. Thus, we presently do not accept children with disabilities (“handicapped”), but we want and need to. We are anticipating this step as we create a sounder funding base.
11. What religion will be taught?
Thomas Paine once said he was a ‘citizen of the world,’ and that his religion was ‘doing good.’ This sentiment is mirrored in O.I.’s mission. In some countries in which we operate, however the religions are categorized and officiated by the government. Indonesia, for example, has five recognized faiths: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Our goal is to raise each child in the religion of his or her biological parents, and if unknown, in the majority tradition of that country. Each child is thus placed in a “Protestant House” or a “Buddhist House, etc., with a houseparent from that same tradition. If space limitations preclude placement in the most appropriate home, we will allow the child to be raised in another tradition. In this case, the child will be made aware of his or her original faith and have the option to worship in that faith when he or she reaches twelve.
12. How much does it cost to build and maintain a small home?
A small home, housing four children and a houseparent, costs approximately US$7,500 to build in each country where we operate. We are learning how to vary building materials to meet our budget and local architectural traditions, but each house – no matter where – will have the same basic floor plan and space requirements. We are actively exploring the use of the highest quality earth blocks in several nations as an alternative to more expensive lumber.
13. In what way is O.I. interfaith, interracial and Internet-connected?
Indonesians comprise multiple ethnicities, and five recognized faiths. In Haiti there are three major faiths. In Guyana there are also multiple ethnicities and a broad spectrum of religious tradition. Our mission is to raise our children with great respect and tolerances helping them grow into global citizens. To further this growth, we aspire to maintain Internet connectivity in all O.I. buildings – including our small homes – even if this requires satellite linkage due to inadequate telephone and cable access. For example, our project in Haiti features Apple Macintosh systems in both English and French, donated by our generous supporters.
14. For how long/until what age does one sponsor a child?
Sponsors commit themselves to a one-year relationship, and are encouraged to actually interact with their child. Letters, e-mails, gifts and actual visits are actively encouraged. Each child is supported through graduation from high school, typically to the age of eighteen to twenty. At this point, they are given the means to move to either higher education through scholarships or college loans, or into a trade through a structured apprenticeship followed possibly by a micro-loan to begin their own business. Sponsors are welcomed to continue sponsoring their child until their child leaves our campus, if they are able to do so. All sponsors are invited to visit their child for one week per year; each small home has a guest room to welcome our sponsors.
15. When do they leave and what happens to them when they do?
We will do our best to place our children into colleges around the world, including in their home country, on scholarship or educational loans if they are able to move to this level of structured learning; we will support them to the best of our ability as far as they can go, through a Ph.D. program. For those who wish to enter a trade, we will use our network to place them into the best vocational apprenticeship – from computer technology to building construction – followed by helping them begin their own business through micro-loans. Again, it is our goal to assure the success of each and every O.I. graduate – not only for the good of the child, but for the good of the child’s country.
16. How will your projects interact with the local community?
Integration with the villages where we operate projects is an integral part of our mission. Unlike other gated international projects operating in the developing world, we aspire for transparency through hiring local people, buying food from local merchants, planning to make our future thrift shop full of U.S.-donated clothing, etc. open to the village, as well as our future health clinic, auditorium and other facilities. We will balance our children’s need for privacy with the public’s need for participation. Above and beyond being beneficial to community relations, a strong local presence helps ground our children in the reality of their country.
17. How is sexual activity monitored?
The same as in any family across the globe: with care and great love. Our houseparents are specially trained to raise our children with respect for others and our children are not permitted to engage in sexual relations. That being said, family planning and safer-sex counseling and materials will be available as needed in our health clinics.
18. Are living quarters sex segregated?
Each O.I. project around the world will answer this question according to its own local standards and traditions. However, sex-segregated housing awards O.I. less flexibility in matching children to homes, and deprives our children of an authentic small home upbringing.
OIWW is a 501(c)3 organization incorporated in the State of New York.