MARLENE ALLEN's Mission Blog

Archive for the ‘World Without Orphans Conversations’

Well-meaning but Damaging Visits to Orphanages


The above picture is the only one I can think of to

introduce what I want to share with you today.   

        Have you ever visited an orphanage or have hopes of doing so one day? For those of us who have, it really was a moving experience. The children were usually very receptive to visitors. Even if our visit was only for one week it ended up being life changing for us. Some of us even made promises to return because we felt we could make a difference there. The children loved us. We even touched Heaven together as we prayed and worshipped. We made them smile. They cried when we left and our hearts were bonded for life.
This is usually how a visit to an orphanage goes but there is a sad part that needs to be revealed. We were usually the only ones who came away feeling good about the visit. In reality … we could have only fed into the already unhealthy emotional life of an orphan. Hear me out before you stop reading.
I started a children’s home and we were so excited to see the visitors. It meant a lot of work to prepare for the teams but we loved it. We prepared special food that even the children did not eat because it was too expensive. We prepared excursions to give them an incredible cultural experience and put on a show to display our talents. We allowed them to interact with the children and when they left the children cried like babies. Then a month or two later another team would come through and the cycle was repeated.
There were only a few children on the property who did not cry. Some might have questioned the emotional coldness of these few but in reality they were probably the healthiest ones. Wasn’t it strange that these other children allowed the visitors to hold them on their first encounter with them. Wasn’t it strange that they even wanted to sit in their laps by the second day? A healthy child takes days  to warm up to such intimate contact.
You see what we experienced on practically every team visit was another disappointment for children who were already struggling with what is called an attachment disorder. One of the symptoms of an attachment disorder is the ability to develop unnaturally close bonds with strangers.The attachment to the original caregivers for this child, birth parents, had been interrupted. Because it is critical that children form a strong bond with a primary caregiver for their cognitive, social and emotional development the staff of children’s homes try their best to form these bonds. This process is hindered when loving, good hearted people show up for a week or two and then go about their lives.
What are we to do? No longer send teams to the orphanages? Not by any means. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them carry the Word of the Lord for that season in the children’s lives. Lives are being touched by incredible teams filled with God’s love but we now need to help these children set healthy boundaries with strangers. We can volunteer more in programs like English, sports, life skills and activities. We can bring what we carry to help equip the long term workers, the staff. We can assist with websites, gardening and other hands on projects. And we can pray that the healing process is completed in every child.
Some orphanages do not accept visits from ‘non-stakeholders’ and this is upsetting to those who send teams world-wide. My only question for them is, “Who is this about anyway?”
        As an advocate for orphan reform this is what I get to talk with people about. Would you join me as I bring more conversations like this to the table to see orphan care reformed in Southeast Asia? 
May the cry of the orphan always be in our ears and their names in our mouths as we pray.


(more info on the picture above can be found at