Confession #71: Their Voice : Their Heart : Their Pain

Holding Hands

Yesterday I listed three core problems that I believe Westerns often perpetuate when attempting to help orphans across the globe. They are as follows:

1. Too many of us (although not all) have tried to be the saviors and the heroes for orphaned children in other countries- of which we are not.

2. Too many of us (although not all) see poverty as primarily a material problem (lack of money, food, clothes, housing, water, etc.) and treat it only at the material level- of which it is not and cannot be treated as such.

3. Too many of us (although not all of us) don’t realize the psyche of an orphaned child and how coming just to “love on them” for a week or so at a time or sending them gifts throughout the year may, in fact, be hurting them more than helping.

I wanted to restate these core problems again today before sharing the following anonymous stories from orphaned kids in Haiti. These kids, although raised in Haiti, grew up with the ongoing influence of American teams and sponsors. Many of them have made valuable, long-lasting friendships with visitors. However, many of them have suffered heartache due to broken-ended promises, unfulfilled hopes for adoption, and the reality that in a week or so the visitor always goes back home.

Love Give Cycle

We want to be loved so we love. And out of that love we give. For a child who does not understand completely what it means to give or receive true love, they equate the gift giving with love. They in turn love the giver. The more giving that is exchanged, the more they love the giver. The cycle is problematic, however, in that it does not leave room for the child to receive what they need the most: love. They may be receiving gifts, but gifts are not love. So too often, the child ends up with a skewed vision of love. And when the cycle breaks, meaning the gifts are depleted, so is their love for the visitor. For a child who grows up with this example of “love giving”, working with them is difficult because they believe as long as you are not giving gifts to them, you must not truly love them. And when they become adults they have to learn to overcome this mindset before entering into a relationship with another person or starting a family of their own.

Overtime, I have witnessed a cycle between those of us who serve orphaned children in Haiti (and I presume most of world) and the child. We desire love so we love. And out of that love we give. And for a child growing up in an orphanage and struggling to believe love really exists in the first place, they easily equate love with the wrong actions. For example: This visitor who I don’t even know gave me a toy. This must mean she loves me. From then on out, anyone who gives is someone who must love. And anyone who does not give is someone who does not love.

But take a good look at this cycle and notice something. It is kinda all about us. We want love- so we give- so they love us. But where is there room to fit in the fact that the child is the one who needs love in the first place? There isn’t. So although the child may be receive gifts, they aren’t actually receiving love. And so as soon as the gift giving or the promises for a better future deteriorate, so does their love for the visitor. Why? Because the relationship was never rooted in true love to begin with. And this is why this cycle doesn’t work. And this is why when attempted, you end up doing more harm than good.

This cycle, accompanied by people who come as heroes to help the orphaned child with solely material types of gifts (i.e. food, clothes, education) while ignoring their root needs (i.e. love, family identity, belonging) is how you end up with children who say the following things:

  • I think all the real Christians in America are from __________ church because they give us the best presents. They must love us the most too. (Young boy)
  • What if someone in America wanted to send us money for a motorcycle? Or a laptop? Or an iPhone? Or a car? Or a passport? Or a house of our own? Would you stop them? Would you kick us out?  (Teenage boy)
  • You run this place like a prison because you won’t let _______________ send us phones, computers, and PSPs and they want to! (Teenage boy)
  • You must have a demon spirit in you because you are refusing to help me with money.  (Teenage boy)
  • Is this really all we are getting for Christmas this year? Only two boxes of presents? Last year we had three each. If this is all you are going to give us, we shouldn’t even have to come to the party. (Teenage boys)
  • But they promised me they would pay for my university. They said I have a lot of potential and that they want to help me go to school in America. I had all my hope in them. But now I don’t hear from them for a long time. What am I going to do? (Teenage boy)
  • Why should I even bother trying to do really good in school when I don’t have hope of going to university someday? (Teenage girl)
  • Trades, trades, trades! Why do we always talk about work and trades? Aren’t we all going to go to university? (Teenage boy)
  • It doesn’t matter what you think of me or if I work the program now. I have sponsors who love me and will take care of me no matter what I do. If I leave the program, I will call my sponsor and they will take care of me. (Teenage boy)
  • _______________ always gets all the attention from the visitors. They don’t really like her. She just pretends to be hurt or sad so they will pick her up all the time. But I don’t care. I don’t like visitors anyway. (Young boy)
  • Why do we have to wear more modest clothes than the American visitors? It’s not fair that you have a higher standard for us. (Teenager girl)
  • (Tears streaming down her face after she said goodbye to a visitor) He is going to be my boyfriend. I just know. He will be my Facebook friend and he will write me everyday. And when he comes back next year he will be my boyfriend.  (Teenager girl)
  • She is my mom (referring to a particular visitor) but I don’t know when I will see her again. You know, she said she would help me go to America for university? (Teenage boy)
  • I used to think if I dressed up nice enough when the visitors came that one of them would like me and adopt me. But nobody ever did.  (Teenage girl)
  • When I was a little boy I wanted someone to adopt me a lot. There was a family once who wanted to adopt me and they told me they were going to. But after the directors told me once, I never heard anything from them again and I felt so bad. (Teenage boy)
  • I know that I don’t have any parents and so I now I need to protect myself and be good so people will love me. If I act bad then people will just blame it on my not having parents and they won’t love me. Because I don’t have parents I have to earn my love. I don’t have a mom to love me just because I am her son. I have to be good to have love. (Teenage boy)
  • Sometimes it is very difficult for me to get close to my house parents. I know they love me. But the closer I get to them, the more I get scared of getting hurt. (Teenage girl)
  • It is hard to believe in a loving God when I have never had someone really love me before. (Teenage boy)

Because we want to give (because we want to be loved) and because the child wants to receive (because it is a way to feel as if they are loved) we can easily start running through the three problems I listed above. We can easily come in with loads of gifts and feel as though we are the heroes to poor little children across the globe. But we can be giving to poverty only at the material level (i.e. a backpack for school, a new pair of shoes) and be missing the underlying needs of the child all together. And as we come and go, we can often fail to see the orphaned girl taking off her pretty clothes as we leave her orphanage home as she realizes once again she isn’t going to be adopted.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, I want to continue this discussion, but perhaps take it one step further. After hearing some of their own words today, tomorrow I want to share the major setbacks, developmental delays, dependency issues, and relational difficulties I have witnessed in the teens I have work with over the years. From there, it may become easier to connect the dots with how Westerns can potentially enhance some of the underlying issues as we visit, give, and leave.

~ Jillian

Post 1: We Have Been A Crutch

Post 3: We Are Handing Them The Line

Post 4: The Healing Process

11 Comments on “Confession #71: Their Voice : Their Heart : Their Pain

  1. Pingback: Confession #70: We Have Been a Crutch (Part 1) – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

  2. Powerful words Jillian. I think for most people this is a hard concept to grasp.
    I have tried to shift my thoughts/actions over the past few years away from these damaging things.
    Honestly, don’t you think most Christians don’t want to dig this deep because it’s easier for us to just pop down give a gift maybe a hug or 2 , take lots of pictures, take the tax write off then move on?
    Your words and voice are so powerful for those of us who need to be challenged to think past a week stay.
    I can’t wait to read more.

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  3. I feel like I need to reply to this. I appreciate what you guys are doing as well as those who are in other parts of the world. I am not in the position to do a whole lot. One thing I do is make hats and scarves for orphans in the Ukraine. I don’t do this to make them love me. I do this because I love God and I love those children though we have never met. Be careful when you judge the motives of others, you truly do not know what is in their heart.

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    • I think you are doing as we’ve been commanded (see scripture to follow). I think that is not what Jillian means: she seems to be addressing the concept that some people give the orphanage children an excess of material things, a sprinkling of love…making them associate gifts as love…so that the kids become helpless, unmotivated “give me this, do that for me” adults. Your providing clothes for needy children out of your love for God, and for them, is much different, a good gift! 😊

      Matthew 25:36-40 (ESV) confirms your actions…
      36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

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  4. Thanks for sharing these direct comments from those children and teenagers who’ve experienced the broken promises and disappointment from expectations of love from visitors. I don’t work with orphans, but I’ve heard a lot of these same things from young adults here who’ve put too much hope on the good intentions of visitors who meet them for a week and say things like “Oh it sure would be nice if…” or “I wish I could…” and then it gets interpreted as a guaranteed gift to the ones who don’t have hope for such things from anywhere else. And it’s really unfortunate that the visitors don’t ever realize the difficult positions that they put you in then, looking like the bad guy to the kids. I understand that it’s easy to think, “What can be wrong with giving an orphan a gift?” But the real motives behind them always get a lot murkier and complicate things on this end. I’m appreciating this series from you! Looking forward to the rest of the week.

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  5. Thanks for the quotes from the kids, Jillian. I have noticed that my Haitian staff also misunderstand when I say “if” or “I would like to”. I am now writing lesson plans for my children’s home to explain what these words really mean.

    I look forward to hearing more helpful suggestions from you.

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  6. Pingback: Confession #72: We Are Handing Them The Line – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

  7. Hi

    I was reading your blog and just want to offer a short perspective of my own. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic and there have been a lot of “aid groups” which come in for a week, give gifts or things, and leave. I never understood (or really liked) those people because their efforts were so much more ethereal than a PC volunteer (we stay for two years)

    Do you think that a Peace Corps style initiative, where a volunteer goes into a community, identifies strengths, and empowers members of the community in how they want to transform their lives would work better than this model? How do you think that could be incorporated into your current work? It is not perfect, too many things fall apart even after 2 years, but I am just curious what your perspective might be from across the Haitian border where PC volunteers are not allowed to go.

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    • I love that model! It is helping the Haitian people help themselves. They would take ownership of their progress and work and use us more as mentors along the way. It is ideal. I’m going to look into the PO model more. Any sites you can direct me to?

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      • you can start at peacecorps.gov. That is the general website of the Corps, and you may see more information or find somebody to contact through that.

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  8. Pingback: Confession #73: The Healing Process – Jillian's Missionary Confessions

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