Tag: Orphans

In Kyrgyzstan Poverty Creates False Orphans

Here’s an astonishing statistic: only 6 percent of the children in Kyrgyzstan’s orphanages are true orphans. How can that be? The majority are there because of poverty.

It’s a story I see around the world and it never ceases to make me cringe. What’s more, the situation is not unique to Kyrgyzstan  it is only now being spotlighted there, as poverty erodes what little social safety nets there were and children are the first to suffer.

Child Rights Information Network reports that in Kyrgyzstan, NGOs and policy analysts have criticized the government for funding children’s homes (often referred to as orphanages) over investing in low-income households. Aiding low-income families would help keep children at home with their families, but currently the government allocates 6,000 to 11,000 soms ($126-$231) to children’s homes per month, per child. In striking contrast, low-income parents—who often migrate abroad for seasonal work to make ends meet—only receive 500 soms ($10) per month, per child. Critics of the system say it makes parents “compete” with state-run institutions, so they are eventually forced to place their children in outside care. Shockingly, of the 11,000 children living in Kyrgyzstan’s 117 “orphanages”, approximately 10,300 actually have at least one living parent!

What is the main driver for parents placing their children in care outside the family? Poverty, plain and simple.

With government doing little to create viable jobs, unemployed parents are not able to afford their children and are forced to migrate for work—while the government pays orphanage 12 to 23 times as much to care for a child as parents receive! This just doesn’t make sense. Add to this situation well-intended foreigners who want to “help orphans” and send even more funds to support these homes, and you have a global problem, where orphanages are the only viable way for parents ensure that their child will receive food and, typically, an education.

The issue is not new, but it does not seem to be getting much better. I’ve written about this before; see The Myth of Orphans & Orphanages.

When you choose to help, do your research. Who will you help? How will it help them? How long will this help make a difference? Is this type of help what the child needs most? HHI focuses on building family and social cohesion, all while bettering child health, development, nutrition and education—wherever the children are! The secret ingredient? There are two, actually. One is providing useful/meaningful information to caregivers—things that they can do, regardless of their resources, to better a child’s life. The second ingredient is LOVE—once awakened, it is a lasting, sustainable resource that builds health, relationships and community.

When you give to help better the lives of others, we ask that you give LOVE!

Read the whole story from Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan: Labor Migrants Leave Behind “Social Orphans”

Another similar story is being shared regarding Haiti, where an estimated 80% of children in orphanages have living parents and most children are placed in orphanages due to “dire poverty”.  Read the New York Times article, Campaign in Haiti to Close Orphanages Where Many Are Not Orphans at All


HHI’s India Fan Club hosts HHI in Bangalore

- Contributed by: Nishant Vatsal, IFC President

HHI’s India Fan Club was born almost two years ago, from the enthusiasm of a few, it has grown to now become a supportive group to HHI’s core work and mission.

Somewhat spontaneously, the IFC got put into action by HHI and was asked to organize and host HHI’s first ever training in our home city of Bangalore.  From day one of July, the India Fan Club (IFC) commenced reaching out to a matching set of adoption agencies and orphanages in the city. Next thing we know is that our proposal was accepted by Vathsalya Charitable Trust – the best match possible!

Trust me hosting the event was as easy as it sounds, with merely a few exceptional events, which proved to be the ultimate brick walls for IFC, seemed to demand response to questions like, “how badly we wanted to get a breakthrough; to what extent were we willing to persist and persevere to make this event possible?” – and we believe that we did answer the questions courageously, with a lot of enthusiasm and precision at the same time.

We had a dream and we protected it to realization. And we are really very happy that we could.

HHI’s two-day, free training on early childhood development (ECD), kick started on July 21st with 20 foster moms at Vathsalya Charitable Trust with an introduction session and a note of thanks from the President of IFC. It went all day, with breaks for light refreshments and a lunch break. Folks from IFC with help from administrators at Vathsalya Charitable Trust closely monitored the training site to make sure everything was in place.

Later in the afternoon, Laura (an immensely great personality / founder of HHI) and Florence (a very accomplished professional / HHI’s Program & Grants Manager) arrived in Bangalore.  Laura was driven to the training site by Nishant (President of HHI IFC / a mechanical engineer turned IT professional), where she met and thanked everyone. The story of HHI and Vathsalya were explained and appreciations exchanged, resulting in a new amity between HHI and Vathsalya Charitable Trust, Bangalore.

The same schedule was modeled on day two except that we finished an hour sooner for it was a Saturday and mommies had requested for it. Moreover, we also had the graduation ceremony in the cue for the day. Can’t deny, in Bangalore we take our weekends a little too seriously!!

On day two, the excited foster moms along with Laura, Florence, folks from IFC and Vathsalya Charitable were all in attendance. As the president of IFC, I was present on both days of the training actively observing. Personally, I greatly appreciate the interactive nature of the ECD educational programme, which really dwarfed the requirement of the understanding of the language of instruction, which was a bit complicated by the use of multiple langauges.

Of all the modules I was able to attend, I think I got it all. I am through and I have a feeling, my future wife is certainly going to be proud of me when I will share my HHI’s mind blowing knowledge of ECD with her! Well! ..sorry to be so dramatic!

Two days, 8 modules, 18 HHI certified mommies, 700 photographs, a ton of goose bumping feedback, several new friendships and lot of love in the air later, HHI’s first ever early childhood development (ECD) educational training programme in the city of Bangalore concluded.

Did I tell you what the average number of kids that the participants at HHI’s Bangalore training had fostered so far? Well! Its 24! The lowest number of kids fostered being 11 and highest, a whooping 44. And the average number of years since these mommies have been fostering the kids was 9.16.

Looking at these data points, as I said at the outset, Vathsalya Charitable Trust was undoubtedly the best match possible as a recipient of HHI’s training!

And the feedbacks that goose bumped all of us at HHI were these –

“Despite fostering so many children for so long, there are things we learnt in this training, we never knew. We now feel that we simply didn’t know nothing”. (Translated from Kannada and Tamil)

Another foster mom said, “ …the foster moms will now be able to give their children the best care possible”. (Not translated)

Also, we were unanimously told by the participants that that two of the most appealing elements of the HHI training were the baby massage techniques and the cogency, incisiveness and  lucidity rounded by brilliance in our India lead trainer Sujatha’s conduct.

Goes without saying, it was great time and huge honor for the IFC.

Thank you Laura for giving us this opportunity and all that you have done for us and the world!

We are proud of you!

Best regards,

Nishant Vatsal

President | HHI India Fan Club

India Fan Club of the Hands To Hearts International (HHI) is a tiny urban support group of seven members (mostly IT professionals), based in Bengaluru, engaged in the exceptional task of spreading the much needed awareness in the country about the great contribution that HHI is making in India and other challenging regions across the world.An eminent city doctor and an established musician cum fashion expert – who was also a writer at Rolling Stones magazine, India between 2007 and 2008 – are the pro bono advisors of the club.

P.S: On Sunday, July, 22nd, Laura hosted a celebratory dinner for the IFC at a famous Indian restaurant in Bangalore.

Please follow the following links for the photos of HHI’s July event in India:


HHI page on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/HandsToHearts

HHI IFC page on Linked In:


We Did It! Another 10,000 Children!

I wrote a post on November 10th with the dream that HHI could touch the lives of another 10,000 children in the last 2 months of the year. Well, we did it!

Our partners in Uganda, Medical Teams International, were able to successfully lead HHI trainings in 145 villages. They trained 4,507 parents – men and women – and they are each caring for an average of 2-3 children below the age of five, meaning that HHI reached another 9,014 to 13,521 children!!!

The team reported: “in the first week of the training, parents and children were unkempt, but in the last week; when summarizing with baby massage and baby cues, hygiene and neatness was at its maximum signifying that there was adoption and putting to practice what had been learnt!!!! And the peer educators vowed to continue training those that require the knowledge during their own free time!!!”

These are just the first of the outcomes, and they are of huge significance! The parents stated that they enjoyed learning new information and they liked it even better when it comes via someone who is of their own community, which is how they received HHI’s education.

Bravo Uganda!!!!

Voices From The Field: Part 3, The Mommies

A three-part series highlighting different perspectives of women involved with Hands to Hearts International.

Part 3: Ugandan community leaders Florence Okun and Norah Awio use the skills they learned during the HHI training when caring for their own families.

By Laura Barker

“To be a child in Uganda is not easy,” explains Norah Awio. Especially in the north, where decades of war have forced millions of people into refugee camps, being a child means having to endure countless hardships. Because “children. . . have no right to speak,” sexual and physical abuse is common. They work hard fetching water, collecting firewood, digging, and selling agricultural products. Their families often lack the funds or proper clothing to send them to school. In a place where “child labour is the order of growing up,” the education and training provided to parents and caretakers alike through Hands to Hearts is refreshing and widely welcomed.

Norah, 36, and her husband live with their five children and several more dependents in a modest one-room home in Kampala, Uganda. She works six days a week as a legal officer for the Locan Rebe Women’s Group, resting only on Sundays, when she attends church and catches up on housework. As a leader in her community, Norah works to mobilize women and tries to promote HHI training. It’s a difficult task, as many Ugandans are skeptical of help from outsiders, assuming it will cost them money to participate in their programs. But Norah knows firsthand the positive effects of HHI’s services and works to recruit more women whom she knows will also benefit. Although these women might initially be wary, once they attend the training, they too sing HHI’s praises. Some women can’t stop talking about it and soon begin to recommend HHI to their own friends and family members.

Florence Okun is another community leader and past participant of the HHI trainings. Her grown son is now studying at Makerere University in Kampala, but she continues to care for many people in her house: her brother, her mother who is paralyzed, and 8 other children that she has taken in. Some are orphans and others are the children of family members who are unable to care for them. “I decided to take some of these orphans because their parents are extremely poor and single mothers,” she says. “Secondly, I have a kind heart and. . . only one son.” Florence, 42, is also a member of Locan Rebe, a group formed by internally displaced women from northern Uganda “as a result of war and poor living conditions.” She is the Local Council 1 for her zone, a low-level government position responsible for general cleanliness in the area. In addition, she owns and manages a small hotel in the city.

Florence HHI’s new video – Share this YouTube with your Friends!

Like Norah, Florence is very appreciative of the early childhood development education she received through HHI and says she acts differently with her family because of it. She spends more time with her children, who are now more likely to tell her stories and bring their friends home. She learned that children develop all their senses as they grow and that they “require love, close attention, and encouragement by [the] parent.”

Norah, too, has learned to make more time for her children. “I used [to] think that giving children food was enough for them,” she says, “but during HHI trainings I learned that having time for your child [is] very important. . . and you become not only a parent to that child but also a close friend.” Because her work is exhausting, she never felt she had enough time to give to her children. But now she says she carries the younger ones around “with love” and chats with the older ones about how they feel and what is on their minds.

In addition to changing the ways in which they respond to their children, both Norah and Florence emphasized the positive change HHI has brought to their community as a whole. The women have become closer through discussions about the best childrearing practices. Being involved with Hands to Hearts, they said, has “restored their relationships.” “HHI brought oneness in our community,” says Norah. Florence agrees, concluding that “the level of love has increased.” In a country where the atrocities of war have touched the lives of every citizen, this is indeed a powerful statement.


“Children are the sum of what mothers contribute to their lives.”


10,000 Kids by Christmas!

Dear Friends,

I am just bubbling over with joy, pride, love… this comes from learning that via HHI’s partnership with Medical Teams, there are now 300 new HHI villages trainers in the war-torn area in northern Uganda. In just the next 6 weeks, they will lead trainings for parents in 145 villages – meaning before Christmas or Hanukkah, HHI will contribute to the healing of about 3,800 parents, and almost 10,000 young children!!!! (beyond the 6,000+ women and 36,000 children we’ve already touched).

This is the power of HHI’s model — we teach and support other groups to apply HHI within their own programs, in their own communities where the healing is most needed, and in this way our reach is exponential!

Please help me tell the world – beautiful things are happening!!!

With love and gratitude,