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The power of family and community

Creating a different future for the children of AHOPE

Daneal Lightner, content writer

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Family is God’s design. In it, adults, and especially children, can thrive. And at Bethany, we know the best outcomes for children and families come when they can stay safely together, despite the challenges they may face.

And because of that, we believe children belong in families, not institutions.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many children around the world grow up in orphanages or residential care institutions.

Poverty can be a driving force. Many parents living in perpetual hunger without adequate shelter, nutrition, or medical care see no other choice but to place their children in institutional care, where they believe the child will be better cared for.

This is especially true when one or both parents pass away or fall ill, or when a child’s health is poor and demands specialized care and treatment.

This is the reality of the children living with HIV in the AHOPE orphanage in Ethiopia.

The challenges of institutional care

Orphanages are often established with the intention of providing a safe haven for children with no family and no place to go. And in that spirit, the AHOPE orphanage was created. Its purpose is to give care to children living with HIV when their families cannot.

However, institutional care, no matter its great intents, cannot replace what family can give.

Orphanages—often filled with many children with different needs, health challenges, and past trauma—cannot offer the same love, care, and connection that comes from family. When these things are lacking, a child’s mental, emotional, social, and physical development can suffer.

While a child’s basic physical needs can be met in orphanages, the mental, emotional, and social needs of the child can go unmet. In larger institutional care facilities, the lack of individual attention and connection with a loving caregiver can hinder their overall development and self-esteem, causing lifelong damage.

Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General declared loneliness as “the most prominent mental health challenge of our time.”

When it’s preventable, it’s unacceptable to allow children to grow up in an environment without the loving connection they need and deserve.

Human connection is essential to everyone’s, and especially children’s, overall well-being. And nothing provides connection quite like family and community.

There is power in family and community

For years, we’ve seen positive outcomes from programs that focus on keeping children with their families whenever possible. For that reason, in the U.S. and abroad, our work places an emphasis on family strengthening and preservation, working to keep families intact and giving them the tools they need to thrive.

Time after time, we see that when families stay together, children thrive and communities grow stronger. And when that happens, we can change the future for generations to come.

Community is an essential component of our social connection. It plays a crucial role in supporting a child’s holistic growth. Sidisse Buli, executive director of the AHOPE orphanage says, “Community can help connect you, which is essential to our well-being. A child’s acceptance into a community can give them support to grow and be healthy mentally, socially, and in psychosocial development.”

And with that belief, in partnership with Bethany’s global consulting services, the AHOPE orphanage set out to begin reintegrating the children who’d long been isolated, back into their community and families where it was possible.

A hard, but worthwhile transition

AHOPE leadership invited Bethany Ethiopia program specialists to offer consulting and specialized training to their staff in preparation for the new community-focused care model. Together, through training, mentorship, technical support, a fierce love of children, and belief in family, the hard work began.

Bethany consultants provided AHOPE with

Training and understanding of why family and community-based care is critical Creation of a transition plan and mentorship on how to begin Funding to support the transition in partnership with USAID Program evaluation and assessment Guidance on stakeholder and donor engagement Program design and development Creation of processes and tools using industry best practices Grant management assistance and reporting Capacity building and training for the organizational workforce, government agencies, churches, and partner organizations Reporting Workforce mentorship

Through this support, the staff at AHOPE were able to move forward, transitioning children back into life within their families and communities. First, the children’s family members were traced and located. Next, through training and workshops, they were provided parenting tools, knowledge, and skills, and mental and physical health support and education, including good hygiene. Soon parents, grandparents, and other family members were equipped to successfully bring the child back into their homes and lives.

Six children were fully reunified with their families. But because HIV+ medical care is expensive for many families, AHOPE continues to care for most of the children. But each child now spends as much time as possible within the community and developing a close relationship with their immediate and extended families. They attend a community school and AHOPE hosts many community events. Through awareness and a shift in mindset, they’ve become accepted and loved members of their communities.

By connecting children with their community, they find a meaningful belonging that has the power to alter the course of their futures.

But this transition back to connection and community is not always an easy one.

“Integrating the children back into the community after years of separation is challenging.”

The staff at AHOPE acknowledge that caring for the children at the orphanage was easier than caring for them as they integrate into the community and their individual families. A staff member said:

Keeping children in an orphanage is costly, but also easier. Easier to do because you have the children in one place to feed and care for them. It’s easier than keeping them in their own setting. Each child has their own challenges at home and out in the community. Their settings are all different. But having them in a community setting pays back in the long run. The community helps.

The staff at AHOPE have seen the difference. A connection to family and community has helped meet the children’s emotional and mental health needs in ways the orphanage simply could not.

Though the process can be challenging and the new care routine time intensive, the children at stake are worth it.

The children remain in care at the orphanage but are now integrated into the community and surrounded by loving, caring adults, youth, and family members. They now know the feeling of family.

Through a community and family-based care model, the children of AHOPE have the opportunity to self-actualize, learn who they are and where they come from, feel their worth, and become active, engaged citizens.

AHOPE is realizing its mission to provide the best support possible to children living with HIV. They are providing a future of hope for children in orphanages, who were previously left alone with their medical diagnosis. They are empowering families and the community to come around these children and offer them the care, love, and support they need.

The continuum of care approach: Promoting family

Bethany’s approach to working with children, families, and institutions, like AHOPE, puts into practice the continuum of care model, which aims to prevent unnecessary family separation and institutionalization.

Through it, every option for a child and their family is explored, with the goal of keeping the child connected to their family whenever safe and possible to do so.

Using the continuum of care approach, when a family faces a crisis such as poverty, poor physical or mental health, or substance use, a child is not immediately separated from them. Instead, options like kinship care or short-term foster care are considered while parents regain stability.

This approach, keeping children with and connected to their families, has shown the most positive outcomes for children and their families. The model prioritizes the child’s needs and best interests while recognizing the importance and benefits of family and community-based care above all other options.

In our work in the U.S. and around the world, Bethany utilizes, promotes, and offers training on the continuum of care approach as a best practice for child and family welfare.

Children belong in families, not institutions

All children have a right to grow up in loving families—not institutions.

We are committed to working alongside partners like AHOPE, who are willing to push boundaries, tradition, and history for the sake of children and families.

As the global community continues to recognize the importance of family and community-based care, we will be there as a voice and advocate for those efforts. As our work with AHOPE shows, with the right resources, partners, and heart, family and community-based care are attainable, replicable, and sustainable.

Around the world, we continue to bring organizations, stakeholders, and governments together to build quality family and community-based care programs. We work with others to put children and families first.

Because that’s what they deserve. To experience the safety, love, and connection found within a strong, thriving family, surrounded by a community of support.

Together, we can change the way children experience the world. We can make sure it’s just as God intended: children surrounded by the safety and love of family and community.

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