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"What do you want to be?" (#ServeOrphansWell)
by Rey Diaz
Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016
One of my favorite things to ask kids as I travel around the world is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question that lets kids use their imagination and dream about the future. It helps them see beyond their current circumstances, which are usually at best dire and at worst tragic.

It’s a question that is part faith and part works.

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What I have noticed is that most children everywhere - every social class and culture and ethnicity - usually answer pretty much the same thing. I’ve heard everything from the typical “doctor, lawyer, teacher, pilot, police officer, and president” to the surprising “Robot maker, Pokemon Trainer and My Little Pony.”   Kids in private schools in the USA answer the same as kids living in the slums of Kenya or gang-infested neighborhoods in Honduras.

All of these kids have something in common. They all dream of becoming something they currently are not. And between their reality and their dream, you’ll find a gap. How will these children cross that gap and achieve their dreams

My son wants to be a video game designer. I’m sure he’ll change his mind before long. but he can rest assured that he will have every opportunity to become whatever he wants to be. Standing in the gap between his current reality and future dream are a loving and supportive family, a great education system, a vast network of friends, a church that will encourage him, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and on and on and on. His gap is full of people willing to stand there to make sure he has every opportunity available to him.

But here’s the unfortunate truth for the orphans and vulnerable children we serve: between the current reality of these children and their future hopes and dreams is not just a gap, but an ever-expanding chasm. There are so many things push at the space between the present and the future – a culture that says “not you” to certain segments of society, a lack of family, a struggling education system, or learning challenges that aren’t addressed with wraparound care.

One of the major bridges that helps children cross the gap is education. Serving orphans well must include education as part of the strategy. Poverty and education are inextricably linked, because people living in poverty may stop going to school so they can work, which leaves them without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to further their careers. Their children, in turn, are in a similar situation years later, with little income and few options but to leave school and work.

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Education offers a way out. There have been countless numbers of studies that have show that education is a key indicator for children because of the following:

Education improves food security

Education reduces malnutrition

Education improves standards of health

Education reduces spread of communicable diseases

Education improves gender equality

Education prevents sexual abuse

The first boy I ever met at the Tegucigalpa garbage dump was Rene. I asked him what he wanted to be and he answered “a garbage truck driver.” I was struck. It was the first time I had heard that answer. I asked why and he replied “because then I can leave this garbage dump.” Since that day God has done a miracle in his life and Rene, despite all odds, has shown grit and tenacity like no one I have ever met. Today he is at the university study computer sciences. Education has opened up the doors for him so that he doesn’t have to continue scavenging through the garbage.

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Education is at the core of what we at Orphan Outreach offer when serving orphans and vulnerable children. Christ centered education. We do not settle for simply enrolling children into schools because many have found that poor education is just as detrimental as no education. We place a heavy emphasis on quality education.

We have a focus on education for girls beyond 6th grade. There is a steep decline in attendance in middle and high school for girls, especially in rural areas. Middle school girls were recently asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, and even they struggled to find answers. For most of them, the expectation is marriage when most girls in the United States are going on their first dates, and a life that focuses on tending to the home. Yet we know that educated girls and women tend to be healthier, have fewer children, earn more income and provide better health care for themselves and their future children. These benefits also are transmitted from generation to generation and across communities at large.

We also work with children who have special needs. In many countries, discrimination, social attitudes, poverty, lack of political will, and poor quality of human and material resources leave children with disabilities more vulnerable to being excluded from education. It is essential that societies adapt their education systems to ensure that these children can enjoy their basic human right without discrimination of any kind.

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Irene, the founder of the Down Syndrome School in Guatemala City is changing culture for children with special needs. She and her husband sold their home to start the school years ago, and they have been committed to providing accessible education and life skills training to children and their families. She says, “This school is a welcoming place for the children. Some can communicate well, and some have significant challenges. But they understand each other, help each other, love each other. God has allowed us to be part of a good future for the children.”

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Elizabeth, the social worker at ACK Madeleine School in Bungoma, Kenya, says she’s watching the children at her school be transformed through the power of Christ-centered education. And she knows the changes happening now will impact lives long into adulthood. Her words are an encouragement to me.

“Our children are very good advocates to their families, and parents come back to me and share what they have learned. And that makes me happy. And I want this place to be even more comfortable for everyone who gathers here. I see a place flying high above the standard here – a place where children are proud and lives are changed and our community is changed because of it. Oh, and in my dream, these children learn and grow and then come back to be a great help to their own parents. They become business leaders, and they become teachers. They uplift the lifestyle at home of their families, making homes safer and improving the environment and ensuring safety.”

In Ezekiel 22:30, God said he looked for someone to stand in the gap, but could not find anyone. That is not the case today. If God were to look for people willing to stand in the gap for the orphans and vulnerable children we serve in the seven different countries, he would find a dedicated community of Christians who are standing for these children. In each country, Orphan Outreach partners with national ministries, coming alongside to help support the physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs of the vulnerable. And we know that as we stand in the gap for these kids, more and more of their dreams and God’s plans for their lives will become a reality.

 


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