19th century Physician, Dr. Thomas Inman said it well, “First do no harm.”
He meant it about medicine, but it applies well to the orphan crisis too. Let me explain what I mean by offering real life examples of good efforts, well intentioned efforts that brought harm rather than good.
First do no harm – don’t show up with T-shirts that say, “Bringing Jesus to ________.” I have a feeling He was there before you were born and will be there long after you leave.
First do no harm – don’t bring in supplies that could be purchased locally. By bringing them in, you deprive local people who desperately need an income the ability to provide that income.
First do no harm – treat the local people with dignity. Don’t take their pictures without asking. Treat them with respect. Follow their customs whenever possible. Respect their local traditions and honor their efforts.
First do no harm – “Don’t ever make a child “love” you more than they love their parents.” If you want to give a kid a gift (a soccer ball?) give it to their parent and let them be seen as the provider.
First do no harm – don’t give a child a bike if by doing that, you are setting them up for being beaten, robbed from, traumatized and felt to be even more needy and vulnerable than before.
First do no harm – take your lead from the long term people as to what is best and what is needed. You don’t know better in one day than what someone else learned in 10 years.
First do no harm – demand transparency from the organizations you are going to support. Make sure that they are doing what they say they are. Make sure they have policies and actual practices in place that protect those they are attempting to serve.
First do no harm – ask questions about the methods that the organization uses to help orphans. Educate yourself and your church about the dynamics of institutional living. Realize and react to the fact that spending time “loving on orphans” can actually be harmful to their long term emotional health.
First do no harm – a team of 12 construction workers can come in and get a lot done – but if it could be done by locals, you are depriving many people of the opportunity to feed their children.
First do no harm – don’t foster a spirit of dependency but instead foster a spirit of assistance and a spirit of a hand “up” during a rough time.
First do no harm – a church can make a big difference in the orphan crisis – but they need to know and understand the dynamics of what they are walking in to and how they could be doing harm rather than good.
There’s a lot of good that a church can do to battle the orphan crisis. But there’s also a lot of well intentioned good that can end badly.