By Danielle Hance
We have all seen the dismal images of bellies bloated by malnourishment. We have cried at pictures of shoeless children and children who are smaller than healthy children half their age. According to UNICEF, there are more than 150 million orphans worldwide. What can we do to make a dent in such a large number?
Some people respond by adopting an orphan. While that is a noble calling, not everyone can do this. But most of us can live out the call “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).
Here are 10 ways you can support orphans without adopting:
1. Sponsor a child.
There are plenty of child sponsorship programs out there that allow you to select an orphan to support. When you sponsor a child, you can send monthly financial assistance, as well as encouragement via letters, gifts, or even a visit.
• Christian Missionary Fellowship: www.cmfi.org/childsponsorship/
• Mid-India Christian Mission: midindiamissions.org/sponsor-a-child/
2. Help a family in crisis.
When parent(s) hit hard times, they are sometimes unable to provide adequate care for their children. Situations, such as addiction, unemployment, illness, and poverty, can cause situations where children are put in the foster care system. Programs like Safe Families for Children provide a temporary host home for children while their parents receive extra support to prepare them to care for their children again. You can volunteer by becoming a host family, advocate, or support for a family. Simply providing an occasional ride or tutoring session can help keep a family intact.
Nearly 400,000 children in the United States do not have permanent families, according to AFCARS (the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System), and foster parents are needed to care for these children. Some of these children will be reunited with a family member or a relative, and others may eventually be eligible for adoption. Check with your local agency to start the process.
4. Provide respite care.
Sometimes foster parents need a break to rest and recuperate so they can be the best parents possible. Respite care often takes place over the weekend, and providing such care can be an option for working professionals who want to help without having full-time caregiving responsibilities.
5. Foster an unaccompanied refugee minor.
Many refugee children are orphans when they enter the United States. Many have lost their parents to war, political turmoil, malnutrition, or illness. Some have fled gang violence and drug cartels. In fact, nearly half of the world’s refugees are children, according to the National Catholic Register. Foster parents provide a safe haven for a child, who may be permanently or temporarily separated from his or her family. Stays range from a few weeks while relatives are located to years. No parenting experience required.
6. Sponsor an adoptive family.
Adoption is a lengthy and expensive process, so families often must raise funds to support their child’s adoption. If you don’t know any families in your area trying to adopt, places like Project Hopeful match adoptive families with nonadoptive families who would like to support them on their road to adoption. Project Hopeful focuses on children who are often overlooked—older children, children with special needs, and children in large sibling groups.
7. Lend a helping hand to an adoptive family.
The process of adoption doesn’t end when a child “comes home.” Adjustments must be made to a new home and new family members, and this can drain a family’s resources. Reach out to an adoptive family. Suggest and plan a coffee date or play date, bring over a meal, serve as a mentor or confidante, or mow the lawn. Your help will set up the family for success for years to come.
8. Support orphan graduate programs.
Not all orphans will be adopted, and every year many of them “age out” of the system. These children are vulnerable to becoming homeless, addicted, or exploited. Orphan graduate programs like Orphan Outreach help these teens gain basic life skills like finding a place to live, buying food and cooking, and even pursuing higher education.
9. Fight human trafficking.
An estimated 26 percent of people who are trafficked are children, according to the International Labor Organization. Orphans are often targeted by traffickers. Organizations like ZOE International are involved in prevention, rescue, and after-care efforts for trafficked children. ZOE offers many ways for people to join their efforts, including child sponsorship, volunteering, and opportunities for children to help.
10. Bridge the gap.
Children become orphans due to a whole host of factors rooted in social and political issues. Stand up for issues surrounding families, parents, and children. Volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. Sponsor educational efforts and medical intervention in AIDS-affected areas. Keep your ears and eyes open and spread the word. Together we can fulfill our call to care for orphans.
Danielle Hance is a writer, editor, and translator living in Germany. Read her ministry blog at lifephors.weebly.com.