Worldwide, there are over 160 million orphans.

Ask most of us to name one of these parentless, homeless or abandoned children, and we can only remember celebrated story book characters such as Oliver Twist or Anne of Green Gables. Famed writings such as Little Orphan Annie offer us charismatic personalities and engage us in story lines that make for triumphant best sellers. However, the utter quandary of our global orphan crisis is not portrayed by these heart-warming tales that soft-pedal the plight of the oppressed.

Our conscience is eased when the characters in such narratives are liberated of social injustices through fanciful fairy tale endings. Globally speaking, this same happy ending is an unlikely outcome for the majority of orphaned children.

Our world has a crisis: more than 160 million children are orphans today. These children belong to the human race. They belong to us all.

One of our world’s orphaned children is Carmen. I met Carmen at an orphanage in Baja, Mexico in May 2005, just a few months after her parents were killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Carmen and I formed an exceptional bond during the short time I volunteered in the Baja, after which I made a decision to sponsor Carmen. This required a small ongoing monthly financial commitment, but even more important to Carmen and me was the role I played by becoming her Tia, meaning “auntie.”

I exchanged letters with Carmen, sent gifts on her birthday and at Christmas, and made repeated trips to visit her at the orphanage—all things that have been meaningful for us both.

Carmen needed to know that somewhere, there was someone who cared about her; someone who loved her, or someone to whom she was special. Carmen is still special to me. Although she is now old enough to live outside of the orphanage with older siblings, I will always be her Tia. Carmen changed my life, giving orphans all over the world a name.

This is the plight of the orphan.

The word “plight” describes a messy situation. It means: dilemma, jam, tight spot, predicament, or troubles. The word well-depicts some of what it means to be an orphan in 2012. And yes, it’s a predicament at best.

Who acknowledges these children? Who cares about them?

Karen Hauptfleisch makes the world a better place for vulnerable children. Karen is the founder and hands-on heart of a South African organization called SOAPkidz. The acronym “SOAP” stands for Sunrise On Africa’s Peaks.

Karen and the volunteers of SOAPkidz empower vulnerable children by connecting them to nature through outdoor activities such as orienteering, hiking, mountain climbing, alien plant eradication, cycling and tree planting. SOAPkidz events and outdoor programs are structured to make the children feel special. They learn about respect for themselves, others and nature; and they learn to experience love and personal growth by developing positive values and attitudes.

Karen says, “We empower the children to look after themselves, take responsibility, make good decisions and confidently find their place in our society. SOAPkidz enriches the lives and shapes the values of both the kids and the volunteers who run the programs.”

Do you and I care enough to do something? What can we do?

There are countless organizations that offer orphan care, and there are many ways to personally and positively impact a child’s life. Each of these ways will require us to take initiative and to give of ourselves.

Give your time.
Contact local or foreign orphanages to identify their current needs and offer your help; or visit a regional or international orphanage. Partner with organizations committed to orphan care. Inquire of your district’s department of social services to see how you can engage to effect change in your home community.

Give your money.
Be big-hearted and open-handed alike. There are lots of charities, organizations, ministries, sponsorship programs that support orphan care. The bottom line is that our individual financial contributions can greatly help to relieve the orphan crisis.

Give your voice.
It’s troubling, to some extent, that our society takes such keen interest in global concerns, spotlighting the interests of our planet: global warming, water pollution, oil and energy sources, or the “plight of the rhino.” We converge for such causes (noble as they are) rather than weighting our cry for the wellbeing of its vulnerable population.

Many of us resist the idea that orphaned children are our liability. And for some reason, it’s much easier for us to take the platform for the extinction of a species than it is for us to mobilize to care for babies and children.

To bring about societal change we must not sidestep the crisis, but instead hasten to address orphan care. Creating and participating in events that create awareness is one way to advocate for those who have no voice.

Give your life.
It’s one thing to send money in an envelope or visit an orphanage overseas. However, opening our homes, and more importantly our hearts, is a calling that most of us will inevitably forfeit. Adoption provides a solution for some children, but the reality is that most orphaned children will never be adopted or belong to a family. In fact, we can approximate that only 1 percent of the world’s orphans will be adopted – ever.

In foster care homes and orphanages word wide, there are despairing children desiring to be adopted. However there is a paucity of parents willing to accept these children; especially those with diagnosed disabilities, or those children who have aged beyond babyhood.

Consider adoption or your role as a foster parent, or find ways to connect to families who are currently pursuing the channel of adoption or fostering. There is always room to offer these families respite care, or simply brave the road with them through our teamwork and goodwill.

What responsibility are we going to take on in the orphan crisis?

It’s remarkable how our perspective changes when we personalize our obligation, not only to our planet, but to its children. These are our children. We must not neglect, discard or spurn our orphans.

It is up to us meet their needs, and to show charity and compassion. It is up to you and me to defend their cause, jump life’s hurdles along side of them, and raise this generation of motherless and fatherless children.

Again I wonder what guardianship you and I will assume in the orphan crisis-and will it change our world?


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