Aid for orphans in Malawi is a popular activity. Plenty of NGO’s have started an orphanage. The amount of orphans here is incredibly high, partly because of HIV/AIDS related deaths. Precise figures can be found in this Unicef publication: http://www.unicef.org/malawi/MLW_resources_childprotecstratsum.pdf. Unicef is not in favor of orphanages. Guiding principles for Unicef are (amongst others) that the family is the first line of defence for the protection of children and that community child protection practices are the heart of any child protection system.
The Malawian government is also not happy with orphanages and wants to abolish them if possible. Arguments in favour of that are for example:
– children are taken away from their family and community context, and thus derooted and alienated from their origins, relatives, values and traditions; it harms the children’s development
– for the price of 1 child in an orphanage, 8 children can receive help in a community
– most of the children living in institutions have a surviving parent or close relative, and they most commonly entered orphanages because of poverty, not because the parents or relatives do not want to take care of them
– research has shown that cash given directly to families is more effective than subsidies given to orphanages
– creating orphanages serves the donors more than the children
See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/world/africa/06orphans.html?_r=1
The last argument is exactly why the change of policy to abolish orphanages and work directly with communities is difficult to accept for NGO’s. It is more easy to find donors for a single child support than for a community. And it is more easy to work with children only and not with entire communities. Also, an orphanage gives NGO’s and donors the possibility to control the complete situation of a child, to offer the education the NGO thinks is important and eventually ignore their background.
In an orphanage like Kondanani – where Madonna recently got her children from – children are obliged to speak English only . They get a very good education in a merely western environment; a good kick-off in life, is the thought. Kondanani has been led thoroughly during many years and lots of donors contributed to create a world in its own, with fences around it to protect it. After primary education, various kinds of secondary education are offered and now even a Kondanani university might start on the premises. Is this kind of closed and safe environment for children, from baby until student, good or bad? One thing is sure, now that a (donor/NGO)dream that started almost 20 years ago is coming to its completion, the idea of ‘offering aid for orphans within their community only’ will not be received with a warm and open mind… This is just one example out of many. The Stephanos Foundation that also runs an orphanage in a compound is the first to be willing to cooperate for change – Unicef considers to make a pilot out of it.
Intriguing is the fact that donors/NGO’s do not automatically see the government of Malawi as leading when it comes to policies for Malawi children; they do not seem to consider their own position as supportive or additional to Malawi policies. Do they have the right to resist the government (and UN), for example by the experience and expertise they have about what works in practice, or by the money they raise, or because of the responsibility they feel for the children they are caring for in their orphanage already? Or can their attitude be considered as arrogant and postcolonial, as an ‘addiction to help’ like Dambisa Moyo describes in her book Dead Aid?
Nothing is easy here in Malawi. Yesterday’s newspaper mentioned the opening of a new road made by China and a new bridge made by Japan. It is difficult to take a government serious when it does not even make its own roads and bridges or when the members of parliament are on strike (really!) for a 137% increase of wages. However, by not taking the government serious for sure there will be no structural, sustainable change and orphanages will be needed forever (which, of course, is good news for the addicted-to-aid part of the donors/NGO’s).