Imagine you are in your house going about your daily tasks and you hear an unexpected knock at the door. You open the door to discover three young children who ask you for food because they are orphans and have no one to take care of them. What would you do? Well, of course, you would give them food and begin to pull together all the resources you could gather to ensure these children would be cared for in the days and weeks to come! Unfortunately, this is not how the story goes in many parts of Africa and India where more children than you or I can possibly comprehend are daily trying to survive in dire conditions. According to data collected by UNICEF in 2015, there were nearly 140 million orphans globally with the largest numbers of those in Asia and Africa. Orphans in these locations would more than likely be met with no one answering the door when they knock or the door closed in their faces. Even relatives reject these children due to fear (most often unfounded) of catching whatever disease killed their parents or they simply do not have the resources to take in more children. In fact, most of them will wind up being exploited for work and physically and sexually abused. Now before you close this out and go running for the Hallmark channel for something lighter because I am killing your holiday spirit…I promise if you keep reading there is a happy ending!
In 2010, I was introduced to an orphan empowerment ministry called ZOE. ZOE once stood for Zimbabwe Orphan Endeavor but it grew worldwide and lucky for them, ZOE is Greek for life…how divine! This program uses a unique three-year model that moves children from poverty to self-sufficiency in only three years. The model was created by a Rwandan social worker aptly named Epiphany who herself is a genocide survivor and has endured great hardship and trauma. The model that she introduced to ZOE allowed the children to create groups which would serve as their new families and training ground for success. This program also allows children to remain in their family home with their siblings, as a family therapist, I found this so important and wonderful. The head of the household, typically the eldest child, learns a trade such as a farmer, tailor, beautician, or business owner. In addition, the group together has a business venture, typically farming, and they share the labor and proceeds. The greatest thing about this model is that once they finish the program these children never need financial assistance ever; they will even hire other orphans in their businesses! Well, I am proud of many of my skills, but I am very proud of my skeptical skills. I have yet to buy anything sold to me on an infomercial and I am still very concerned about what is going on with my information in that cloud thing. So, since I had to see this for myself, guess what I did? I went all the way to AFRICA and before this 8,000-mile adventure, I had never been outside of the US except the Bahamas and that one time I accidentally crossed the Canadian Border!
What I learned after THREE trips to meet these amazing children is that this model is no joke and as a matter of fact there will never be a media campaign that can accurately portray how this program changes lives. To date, they have empowered 72, 270 children (insert applause emoji)! I have witnessed children at every stage of this program from beginning, middle, end and years after graduation and they grow into confident, successful young men and women. Greater than that, they are becoming the force of change in the very communities that shunned them. The amount of grace and compassion that these young people bestow on other orphans and even the very people who took advantage of them will absolutely blow your mind and inspire you to live a bolder life. I know that is what they did to me!
So this holiday I invite you to open not just your door but your heart and join in partnership with these amazing children. We are all blessed with so much, this year consider giving a gift that will help a child to Never Need Charity Again! Head on over to wearezoe.org to see all the ways to give from chickens, goats, and even latrines! As promised, your happy ending …you may now resume your Hallmark channel!