November is Orphan Awareness Month in the United States, and so I will reflect a little.
In Cambodia (and perhaps in other places as well) orphanages have become a hot tourist destination.
In fact, you can even book tours from the West that include a “humanitarian day” at a local orphanage.
Everybody chips in a few bucks, pass it on to the orphanage director, and goes home with peace of mind that the issues have been solved relatively easily.
The reality is much more harsh.
You can read a lot more about it here and here, but the summary is that in fact orphanages may often be used as a money-generating business for the more unscrupulous, taking advantage of cute and vulnerable children and the pity they induce in the wealthy in the name of helping the children.
All this while children are distanced even more from a family and community oriented structure in which to live life and learn to love, build healthy relationships and function in society.
During my very short time in Cambodia, I was privileged to interact with a number of young people both living in orphanage settings as well as those living with their family.
Interestingly, nearly every single child in the orphanages we encountered was not truly orphaned–most had at least one living parent–but abandonment, divorce and poverty played a large role in their current situation.
Children living with their family (parents or other relatives) are, however, not necessarily guaranteed all the basics either.
We were told verbally that perhaps half of the school age children in some of these communities cannot afford to go to school, and many roam around the neighborhoods unsupervised while the adults are trying to make ends meet.
These kids are especially vulnerable and at high risk of going down the road of addiction, abuse, mental illness, child labor, child prostitution, human trafficking and more.
In the spirit of children everywhere, here are some images from this trip to Cambodia.