This post was originally published March 6, 2016 on Project 143’s blog and is being reprinted with permission.
EVERY COUNTRY HAS ORPHANS . . .
The United States has orphans, but we call them foster children. Foster children, unchosen for adoption, typically stay in the system and in school until they are at least 18 years old. Once they are legally adults, they are free to make a choice about their life but can continue to get financial, educational and medical assistance. This is not the case for most orphans globally.
In Eastern Europe, most orphans leave the orphanage after completing the ninth grade or 15 years old. At that point, they usually have two options, either enroll in a trade school or get a job. Neither is a great option for a 15 year old child. Trade school is a dormitory type setup designed to teach children to become a cook, beautician, cashier or mechanic. However, there is very little adult supervision or accountability in this setting. Imagine sending your 15 year old away to ‘college.’ Getting a job can also prove difficult because a 15 year old orphan has no work experience or higher education. This defining moment of transition for an older orphan is when drug and alcohol use rises and sexual activity increases which springboards into crime, unplanned pregnancy, prostitution and suicide. Most orphans who age out of the orphanage at 15 years of age, without anyone to help, guide or mentor them, won’t make it. Orphans create more orphans, perpetuating the cycle. Older orphans truly carry the burden for their own daily survival.
I have teenagers of my own and I know that neither of them is mature enough to handle the responsibility of life on their own at 15 years of age. At that age, kids should be still in school, hanging out with friends and learning life skills from parents before they are ushered (yet still with our guidance) into the adult world. You may be asking yourself, why host an older orphan when I really want to host a younger child? Of course, the younger children look super sweet and we all know teenager can be, well, difficult. Maybe you already raised your kids and don’t really want to deal with teenagers again. These older teens need you the most.
Teenage orphans KNOW they are aging out soon and will leave the only security they have known. Most feel scared, unloved and completely unprepared for the future. They are afraid and aren’t sure where they will lay their head at night or when they will eat their next meal. What aging out orphans need most is a caring adult in their lives, one that will walk the journey alongside them. You can be their light in the darkness, hope, inspiration, their mentor and friend. When you host an older orphan, you have an opportunity to use hosting to impact their immediate future by teaching them basic life skills like cooking, laundry, shopping, money management, goal setting and time management. You can help them make decisions about their future, where to go to school, what to study and remind them of the importance of education.
Older orphans crave unconditional love and acceptance. You can help them heal emotional wounds, learn to love and trust again. Orphans have the same needs as every other child in the world, to know they matter to ‘someone’ in the world. Hosting an older orphan comes with its own set of challenges but also great rewards. God’s greatest blessing for you might be just outside your comfort zone.
With the dozens of teenage orphans who remain unchosen on our photolisting, we are hoping you will consider hosting with a different goal in mind this summer. Prepare and equip an older orphan with the life skills that no one has taken the time to teach him or her. Invest in a relationship that can continue across the thousands of miles and be a lifeline for an older orphan who is about to transition into an adult world… whether they are ready or not.
Thank you to Project 143 volunteer, Alyson Wallace, for her role in caring for older orphans and contributing to this article.