I was fifteen when I first visited an orphanage. We piled in rickety tuktuks to the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’d heard stories of the orphan crisis all my life, yet the up-close reality of hundreds of kids crammed into one building was confronting and heartbreaking. And I knew it wasn’t just this orphanage. It was the reality for millions of children across the world.
But there was something I didn’t know.
Fast forward ten years, I was part of a non-profit organization dedicated to training people to impact the crisis like I saw in Cambodia. I’d even got a teaching degree because I was so passionate about seeing children cared for and empowered.
Then one Sunday morning, I tuned into The Send, a stadium event, inspired by the collaboration of national ministries. For the first time, I heard the story of an “orphan” who wasn’t an orphan at all. I found out that, on average, 80% had a living parent. And I learned about Agape in Kenya, an orphanage which confronted this statistic—and transformed into a family reunification center.
That means 4 out of 5 kids I saw that day in Cambodia weren’t orphans at all.
The vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent grandparent, or other family member. 80% of children living in orphanages have a living parent willing to care for them. If not a parent, a grandparent or aunt or uncle, who really does care about them deeply. But in effort to do what’s best, they put their child in the one place with guaranteed food, shelter, and education. An orphanage.
Children belong in families, not institutions.
Not only does the research confirm this for me, but I’ve seen the impact on kids first hand during my time in Cambodia. So when I heard of 1MILLIONHOME, a global collaborative initiative committed to supporting the transformation of orphanages to bring one million children home—I was in.
HOW IT WORKS
See how one transformed orphanage can help hundreds of kids go home.
But being “in” looks different for every person.
Two years after hearing about 1MILLIONHOME, I’m not back in Cambodia or transforming orphanages (not yet, anyway!). Instead, I’m in a middle-class suburb in New Zealand, working as a preschool teacher.
The daily grind feels far from heroic—yet every day, I’m learning to love wisely. I get to see first-hand that children thrive in family—and I’m privileged to participate in their journey. I also have the opportunity to donate a small amount monthly. It doesn’t always seem like a lot, but I’m learning it makes a world of difference.
Kayla Norris is a writer, artist, and teacher based in Tauranga, New Zealand. She has a Bachelor of Education (Primary) and has worked with children and youth across the globe, including Cambodia, Fiji, and Australia. With ten years of blogging experience, Kayla is passionate about sharing stories that empower others to take action, right where they are. www.kaylanorris.com @kaylanorrisart