Schools Of Thought: Can an orphanage be a sustainable solution to poverty?
At the beginning of my internship at A4ID I was asked to give a presentation about my experiences volunteering at a Tanzanian orphanage during my gap year. It may sound like a rather typical thing to do during a gap year but the reason for my trip, and the presentation, was that this orphanage was far from typical.
A couple of years earlier a girl from my high school had travelled to Ghana to work at an orphanage through a volunteer agency, only to find that more than half the money she had raised had gone into the pockets of the agency, that the orphanage had actually been declared illegal by the government, and that it was so badly managed that the children were not even fed properly.
She returned home disappointed and angry, arguing that such orphanages are far from being a sustainable solution to poverty, and supporting a different approach in the form of foster care.
Unfortunately, foster care can also bring its own challenges especially in countries with little infrastructure: there may be no sufficient background checks on foster families and no system of checking the progress and health (physical and mental) of the child. Further, foster care still does not solve the problem of poverty if the child does not receive an education or other skills. By the age of 18 they may return to living on the streets.
Can an orphanage be a sustainable solution to poverty? In my experience, yes.
I heard about the Hananasif orphanage and their HOCET Secondary School (HSS) through a friend. What made this orphanage so different from others was the vision of the man who started it, Hezekia Mwalugaja.
As well as giving children food and a roof over their heads, he wanted to give them the appropriate tools to overcome poverty and become agents of change in their local communities. He wanted to do this by giving them an education but also training in entrepreneurship, agriculture, and IT, all free of charge.
The most amazing aspect of this school is the way in which the children are able to put these skills to everyday use through the school’s Micro-Business programme.
One example is that each student is given a plot of land (the school is located on 300 acres of land) to grow their own vegetables as part of their agriculture training. These crops are then used to feed the children and whatever is left is sold at the local market for a profit.
The school also has a poultry farm which works in much the same way (in February 2011 it generated its first profit).
The upcoming completion of a student-run Solar Kiosk will provide energy related services- phone-charging, cold drinks etc- in a nearby village which has no access to the national electricity grid (the school already has several donated solar panels on its roofs which the children have been taught to install themselves).
In this way, while providing business skills training to students, the school also provides quality goods and services for the community.
How does all this fit in with what A4ID is trying to achieve? The key word is sustainability. Not only does the school tackle the issue of poverty at this very moment but it is also combatting future poverty. Educated children grow into educated parents.
In a similar way, A4ID helps its Development Partners and their beneficiaries in the short and long term when it provides free advice and training in how to use the law as a tool for development. The idea is that once this training has been given to a grass root organisation, it can put it into everyday use and will lay the pavement for future generations who will build on this knowledge. The solution is not to throw money at the problem for a quick fix but to invest in initiatives which will last for a generations.