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Why start an orphanage?

Posted by on March 20, 2013 | 9 comments

Why start an orphanage?

Imagine a sick child whose parents take to the clinic to see the doctor with a cough, fever, vomiting and some belly pain. How does a doctor go about taking care of this child? Let me first tell you something the doctor would not do. He wouldn’t say to himself “Sick kid, give him medicine.”

His first goal is to assess the child. Is this sickness critical? Is the child’s life at risk? Is this something I can take care of in the clinic or do I need to send the child to the emergency room right now? Doctors and nurses call this triaging the patient. If the doctor determines that the patient is stable enough for him to treat in the clinic, then he proceeds.

His next step is to find out what is wrong with the child. This is called making a diagnosis. He wants to diagnose the child or have a very good idea of what is causing those symptoms before he can appropriately treat the child. Medicine is going to come later, not immediately. It is not smart to give medicine to a patient when you don’t understand the patient’s condition well. A good doctor must know the disease and also know the side effects of the medicine before giving the patient.

So he takes a history and does a physical examination. By history, the doctor asks questions from the parents and gets to know the family. Information about the grand parents and sometimes the great grand parents is very helpful at this stage. His goal is to find out things in the child’s genetic make up, family history and living conditions that will help the doctor understand what may be occurring in this child.

Then the doctor wants to know who else has been sick; If the child goes to the daycare where he may have contacted other children who gave him the bacteria or virus that may be causing the disease. As the doctor does all this, he is searching for the cause of the disease, he is turning every stone and looking in every hole. Then after he is done with the history, he actually examines the patient. He looks in the eyes, ears, nose, listens to the heart, chest and lungs and the stomach. He checks the child’s pulses and temperature. When he is done with the history and physical, he proceeds.

Then next step may be to order some lap tests. These lap tests will give the doctor information that he will combine with what he learned from the history and physical examination to determine what is wrong with the child. That is to diagnose the disease. Treating the disease is usually easy, making the right diagnosis is the hardest part.

The thing that makes treating children difficult is that every child is different; Every child has different genes and different living conditions. Some parents smoke, live in houses with allergens while others don’t. Some children go to daycare while others don’t. You cannot treat all children the same way. A doctor cannot simply have one medicine that he throws at every child who comes to their clinic with symptoms of cough, fever, vomiting, and belly pain. Even for the same virus or bacteria, children will respond to it differently; even if they are the same age, gender, size, weight etc.

The problem that we have with orphan care is that we consciously or unconsciously see all orphans as being the same. We see them as suffering from the same disease and we throw the same medicine at them. Put them in an orphanage, give them food, clothing, and some love. That can work sometimes, but it’s not the most effective way to care for children with such complicated past. Current research from top universities like Harvard is showing that institutionalization (i.e. putting children in orphanages etc) causes irreversible harm to children.

Orphanages may offer some utility especially as transitional homes, however before we start one, or put a child into one, we need to diagnose their disease. Many children will benefit from an orphanage if it’s done well. But many children also are harmed by being put into an orphanage. So we must learn to find out, what is the best solution for this problem? We must make the right diagnosis before we can provide the right treatment. Making the right diagnosis is the hard part, but that is the most critical part.

The good news is that this can be learned. If we are going to serve orphans in the name of God, then before we rush to go, we owe it to God to equip ourselves to be the most effective people we can be. You can do this by working as an apprentice with someone who is running an orphan care organization well with godly principles. Another way is to read the blog posts on this site and search the internet for other helpful information. If you are interested in getting formal training, then a great way is to get training from a college like Austin Bible College which offers certificate and degree programs in orphan care & management.


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  8. Learning this has changed my life! I have a huge heart for orphans but completely over looked any sort of training before decided to go “help” them. The analogy to a doctor is perfect! If you want to become a doctor, you don’t just go out and start treating people. You have to learn; go to medical school, complete residency.study under somebody who’s experienced. I hope that more people surrender their immediate desire to go and serve and acknowledge the fact that they need training before they can do it effectively.


  1. Whose dream am I trying to fulfill? | Orphan Care Movement - […] prayer is that we would seek the dream of the orphan and fulfill it. My article titled “Why start…

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