What’s an “older orphan” anyway? We are often asked why we use that term to describe the young people who are the very heart of our ministry. We've struggled to find just the right term to describe this group of kids. Part of the struggle is knowing when or if they cease being orphans.
Every summer, approximately 15,000 children across Russia are required to leave their orphanages. They are typically 15 or 16 years old when they “graduate” or are emancipated. The term “graduate” might imply they have completed some sort of formal education or training. This is not true. They will be sent out, woefully unprepared, to find their way in the world. They have not been raised with necessary life skills to succeed on their own. Many have special needs such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism and Down Syndrome. Although some may attend a vocational or trade school, the majority of these teens fall prey to drugs, alcohol, crime or prostitution. The outlook for these “graduates” is bleak.
Abandonment creates lifelong trust issues. Living in a regimented institution promotes dependence and a lack of self-sufficiency. Orphans struggle with many other issues: maintaining healthy relationships, anger management, getting and keeping jobs, parenting their own children, household responsibilities—and the list goes on. Orphan issues follow them throughout life.
Orphan’s Tree works with older orphans after they leave the orphanages, assisting them in their difficult transition and helping them integrate into their society. Our wide range of programs teaches, trains, and supports this vulnerable group of teens.
At what point does one stop being an orphan? When Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, died at age 69, he was still referred to as an orphan. He led a very successful business and donated millions of dollars to children’s causes, yet “orphan” was still a key part of his identity.
Kids who leave orphanages want to shed the negative label of “orphan.” That’s understandable, especially in a society in which orphans are likely viewed as second-class citizens. But regardless of what they call themselves, until these young people deal with the orphan issues that have shaped their lives, they will continue to struggle to become healthy, productive members of society.
The good news? There is hope!
“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.”