Stephen’s first trip blog from Myanmar
“I remember saying, ‘If we can get just 50 children back into families, I’ll be satisfied.'” Joney Thawng Hup reflected as he and I reminisced over coffee and Oreos in Yangon, Myanmar about our first efforts to return orphanage kids to their families back in 2015.
The Orphan’s Tear Ministry first started trying to meet the needs of orphans way back in 2003. We thought, as most everyone did at that time, that supporting Christian orphanages was the best way to do that. Joney started an orphanage in 2007 for the same reason. He took in 24 children, and the Orphan’s Tear Ministry was one of the first organizations to support his well-intentioned efforts.
That all changed in 2010, when we were challenged by social worker Mick Pease of SFAC (Strengthening Families for Abandoned Children), who said orphanages were actually hurting children. The best environment for a child, he convinced us, is in a safe and loving family. Being raised in an orphanage can cause serious harm to a child’s physical, social-emotional, spiritual, and psychological development—and the effects can last a lifetime.
Wanting God’s very best for the children we serve, Orphan’s Tear Ministry brought Mick Pease to Myanmar to teach orphanage directors about foster care and other alternatives to orphanages. Although Joney wasn’t totally convinced at that time, it got him thinking. The main objection to Mick’s “revolutionary” ideas was that they were Western, so they wouldn’t work in Myanmar. (Ironically, the orphanage concept was originally imported from the British when the country was a colony.) Mick replied prophetically, “One day family-based care for children will exist in Myanmar!” Little did I or Joney know at that time that we and Orphan’s Tear supporters, like you, would be part of bringing this to pass!
A few years later, Mick Pease introduced us to Australian Christian Churches International Relief (ACCIR) which had developed a program that placed children from orphanages back into families—exactly what we wanted to do!
The Kinnected Program, as our joint effort was called, started with monthly working group meetings with the orphanages we supported, including Joney’s. At these meetings ACCIR staff shared about the rights of children and families, children’s emotional, social, physical, and psychological needs, why orphanages aren’t can’t and don’t meet these needs, the process and obstacles in reuniting children with families, and many other things. After several meetings Joney said, “If we really care about children, then why won’t we agree that families are best?” Not only did Joney agree to reunite the children in his care with their families when safe and possible, but he also agreed to join our Myanmar Kinnected Program staff.
In the 4 years since then, the Kinnected Program in Myanmar has grown to 8 indigenous staff and has already placed more than twice as many children in families that Joney was originally hoping to achieve back in 2015!
This program has been praised by professionals for its high quality and pioneering work, and it is the very first program in Myanmar to reintegrate children from non-government, faith-based orphanages into families. Joney has been instrumental in successfully reintegrating children from orphanages, including his own, back into families. At the time of this blog, he only has two remaining children in his care. And this has all been possible because you care about these children!
Family, we hope you’re honored and blessed to be a part of helping return children to families. We know it’s been a journey of re-education for many of you as well, and we’re so grateful you’ve stuck with us through this vital transition. And get this: your generous partnership is helping to fulfill Mick Pease’s prophesy about family-based care coming to Myanmar. And we’ve really only just begun!
In my next blog I’ll be sharing about my visit with one of the children who has been reunited with his family. Please watch for that exciting story!
Director, Orphan’s Tear Ministry
“Children Belong In Families”