True Orphan Care in India
By Joe Knittig
Our education of orphan care in the Indian context continues. I’ve been able to hear from more than a dozen Indian subject matter experts on children’s outreach in India. From pastors, to non-profit leaders, to caretakers, to business leaders, I’ve benefitted greatly from a collective pool of wisdom in Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. I want to highlight some key points.
Segment 1 Children Grossly Underserved
If you’ve spent some time around GO Project, you know that we emphasize the need for true orphan care. That’s our calling: empowering the local church to care for true orphans at the very end of the line, those that need the radical intervention of 24.7.365 care. We call these children Segment 1 children.
Imagine that you go to a remote village in India. And that you are able to place the children in that village into a line with three segments. Segment 1 consists of the kids at the very end of the line. They are the children with no adult champion in life, whether due to parental death or abandonment. They’ve no extended relatives able or willing to undertake their care. They are in the most vulnerable position, and require the most radical (and expensive) 24.7.365 care intervention. Segment 2 consists of children who do have a willing champion (whether both parents, a single parent, a caring relative), but the weight of poverty crushes the family’s effort to care for the children. Physically, Segment 1 and 2 children are often on a similar level. The key distinguisher is whether a child has a day-to-day adult champion, a parent figure, willing to try for her. Segment 3 children at the front of the line are the children in the healthiest, most stable families. They’re doing well compared to Segment 1 and 2 kids.
GO Project is a Segment 1 ministry. We expand the capacity of the local church, as a community, to become family to left behind Segment 1 children. At the same time, we usually facilitate some Segment 2 programs (often education based) through the local church. We call this “bump up and out” ministry. We help the local church humbly and modestly “bump up” Segment 1 children into a secure family setting, without leapfrogging their material trappings way beyond their peers. And we like to “bump out” by having Segment 1 and 2 children in the community receive similar help, such as education assistance. This prevents parents of Segment 2 children from abandoning their kids in the hope that they’ll get ahead as “orphans,” and keeps children and communities better integrated.
In other places where we serve, we find many ministries and global humanitarian orgs that help “vulnerable children,” including “orphans.” But when we look deeper, we find that their focus is actually on Segment 2 kids. Why? Because you can do school programs, feeding programs, etc… that I call “come and go” programs. Most big child sponsorship organizations promote “come and go” programs. Parents bring their children for assistance, and then the kids go home. These are terrific interventions for Segment 2 kids. They are inexpensive, scalable, and not very risky, because the primary accountability in such programs remains – as it should – with the parents. The problem is: such programs don’t work for Segment 1 kids, who have no one to champion them in such programs, and no meaningful “home” to go to when school is out. In fact, what we’ve found around the world is that very few – I mean very few – people get involved in the messy, irrational, unpredictable realm of Segment 1 ministry. Most organizations avoid it like the plague. It’s the dirty little secret of the global childcare landscape.
Listening to the experts here in India, I found that there’s nothing new under the sun. Lots and lots of organizations and ministries engage in the Segment 2 space. Virtually none enter into the Segment 1 space, though these children are many. That’s a disaster for the Segment 1 kids. But it’s also a great opportunity for the local church to go after the Ones. That’s exactly what the Church should be doing.
City, Slum Relocation, Village
I’ve found three very distinct settings for Segment 1 care, which will likely drive three different models.
First is within the densely populated cities. Here, there is no land available. Housing for poor families is found in apartments and multi-floor buildings. Housing for the poorest brothers and sisters is in the squalor of slums. Based upon discussions with experts here, my view is that an urban setting will drive a local church based “school and hostel” model, as mentioned here. This means working with local church partners established in the city, with the ability to go vertical in construction on top of an existing facility. If we have to buy land for such construction, the price will likely be a deal breaker.
Second is within slum relocation contexts on the outskirts of cities. As the pressure of economic development and population growth continues in the cities, the government is desperate to do something about the large slum areas. What we’re seeing is a bunch of “lift, clean, and place” efforts. Basically, the government allocates a bunch of land on the outskirts of the city to slum relocation, and then moves slum dwellers to little shanties on little plots of land at the relocation site. Or to apartments in what looks like the Indian version of public housing in US cities. Many savvy church planters have established thriving local churches in these relocation sites, where many thousands of the poor are moving. There’s an opportunity in some of these settings to do “mini villages” for Segment 1 children, that can include small little homes and also some land for small scale economic / agriculture development.
Third is within the village settings. The village setting will drive quiet, small scale, micro sites that really blend in with the community. And the village setting can include some truly fantastic agricultural development work, Segment 2 opportunities, and community integration and improvement work where orphan care truly becomes a community blessing. There is a big push by the Indian government to promote rural development projects, even if it’s a Christian based project. If there is some economic / agricultural development component – or a component of rural infrastructure improvement – then there’s much more tolerance and latitude in who is leading such work.
As we launch into India, I would like to see us pilot three different projects, one in each of the above settings. We shall see.
Land Prices Forcing Grassroots Ministry
The cost of land in cities and their outskirts has skyrocketed. And this skyrocketing is forcing what I see as a great thing in the movement of the Church in India. Here’s what I mean…
As elsewhere, one can see the missionary compound influence among some of the older, mainline Indian churches. These are urban churches, very centralized, with big, beautiful buildings. The downside of such churches as that many up and coming church planters see such churches as the goal – to have a huge congregation in a big building. One challenge (among many) of such a goal is that escalating land prices have changed the dynamic since the time that the old guard churches were started. The economics are different. This reality has forced many churches to focus on more grassroots methods of church planting. Village to village. House to house. “Church” no longer carries the connotation of buildings, but of people.
In terms of our ministry, this is a very good thing. Blending into a community, integrating into a community, promotes healthy Segment 1 childcare, and makes local sustainability (in terms of people and economics) more likely. Local churches interested in buying expensive land and building expensive buildings – while impressive looking – are not good local church partners for us. Local churches interested in ownership, grassroots evangelism and development, and a humble love for the community are ideal for us. And there are so many such churches here in India.
Increased land pricing is, in many ways, a blessing to the Church in India. And a positive opportunity for our ministry in India.
Hyderabad – Where We’ll Begin
I’ve spent my time in three cities: Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. All in the south. For reasons I’ll further detail in Part 3 of my report, it’s clear that the Lord is directing us to set up shop and start in Hyderabad, with Bangalore as the first ring out from the start. The local church network (as well as many child focused Christian non-profits) in Hyderabad has already organized together around a God inspired burden for Segment 1 children. The leaders involved in this organized network are gifted, passionate, wise, and selfless people of vision and courage. We need only plug into what God is already doing here in Hyderabad, not start from scratch, and let the Lord carry our work from the inside out as He desires.