*Koku is a ten-year old boy. He’s an orphan by local definition. His mother died. His father remarried, and Koku’s new stepmother had little inclination to care for another woman’s child. Day after day she told Koku’s father, “Your son refuses to obey me. He is lazy. He has disrespected me.” Grave charges in this culture. Maybe they were true, and maybe they weren’t, but one day, Koku’s stepmother forced her husband’s hand. “Either he goes, or I go.”
So Koku became a street child, struggling daily to survive and facing a future that could include crime, being trafficked or exploited, or prison.
“La Solution” is an orphanage, but it isn’t what you expect. It wasn’t even what I expected. This orphanage is not a permanent residence center. It focuses on kids like Koku, and it’s primary goal is the restoration of Koku’s relationship with his family.
This orphanage looks for kids like Koku. “We go out after nine o’clock,” one of the orphanage staff explains. “That’s when you will find the children. They sleep next to gas stations and under the tables in the public market.” This was where the staff found Koku. They offered him food, clothing, a place to sleep, if he was willing to come with them.
Trained staff, licensed by the state, visited Koku’s parents. They explained that Koku was safe with them. They explained the law- that Koku’s father has forfeited parental rights for three years, but both Koku and his family will be offered counseling and education, and a chance at reconciliation at the end of that time.
Koku moved into the boys dormitory. He was welcomed into a community with friends from similar situations and adults who understand the unique needs of rehabilitating street children.
Today, Koku is fed, attends school, receives medical care as needed, and is expected to participate in daily chores. Deliberate attention is paid to making sure that Koku hears about the love of Jesus, and that he is given every opportunity to allow Jesus to transform his life.
At the end of three years, another reconciliation will be attempted with Koku’s family. Will it be successful? I do not know. But the success rate after three years must be high, since this particular orphanage has had nearly 500 children come and go in the last 15 years. It currently houses 40 boys and 33 girls between the ages of 5-18, and has a waiting list of 45 more children.
A Sheep Pen:
But what does any of this have to do with a sheep pen? Stay with me and I’ll get there.
This program sometimes doesn’t have food to feed the children. “I can explain it to the older ones,” the director told us, “but the younger ones just cry. They are hungry and they don’t understand. It breaks my heart.”
This program struggles to pay tuition fees. “We can’t send street children to public schools. The children don’t adapt and the schools won’t adapt. So we have to send them to private schools. It costs 2,600,000 cfa (about $4,500) to send all of the children to school for a year. We never know where it will come from.”
This program constantly struggling to pay for basic health care for the children. “There is a clinic just around the corner. The woman runs it out of her home. She treats the children, for free when she can, and on credit when she can’t- something nobody else will do. But we owe her 450,000 cfa. (About $785) She needs us to pay her even just a little bit of that because she is out of medicine. But we don’t have it.”
I know what you are thinking. You are already reaching for your wallet. I even commented to Phil, “this is the kind of thing that makes me want to empty my pockets.” But let’s rein it in for a moment. Is a one-time donation the right solution for this project? It might solve an immediate need, but what happens next week, or the week after?
This orphanage is not a missionary endeavor. It was started by Togolese people for Togolese children. That is a good thing! It represents local people creating their own solutions, and ownership is the beginning of sustainability.
Sustainability is the ability of a project to maintain its own operations, services, and benefits, without dependency on outside help.
This orphanage depends entirely on donations: local churches, alumni, local people, and the occasional outside organization. None of these are stable sources of income. Donors are hit by recession and can no longer afford to give. They lose their jobs. They change their giving strategy. Or they just get bored and give to a new cause. For whatever reason, when the donations stop coming in, the program will suffer. Until La Solution has a stable source of income, it will always be vulnerable.
How can we help projects like these? You are generous. You are ready to give, but this isn’t intended to be a fundraising post. It’s intended to be an illustration. Sometimes the best way to help projects like “La Solution” is not the glamorous way.
The orphanage is building a sheep pen. It is just one of several projects they are working toward to generate their own income. Their plan is to buy lambs and raise them, breeding them and selling them year after year. The annual income will help keep the program running. Most of the project is complete- they have purchased land and they have built a shelter for the animals. But they only had half of the roof on when their funding ran out.
the best way to help a street child like koku may be to help the program supporting him achieve financial independence. It may be to build a roof on a sheep pen.
As a missionary of 18 years, I can tell you from experience that some things are easier to raise funds for than others. Raising funds for food, for school supplies, or for medicine is easy. Raising funds for a roof on a sheep pen is harder. It’s not glamorous. It doesn’t tug on our heartstrings.
But my hope is that the next time you are making a decision about giving, you will remember the sustainability principle and consider how giving to an unglamorous project, like a tin roof on a sheep shed, might be the best way help a street-child like Koku.
*Koku’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.