When you mention the number of orphans in the world, people undoubtedly have a mental image and perception of what that means. This will be shaped from the images they’ve seen in a magazine, on the internet, on a television special. It may also be shaped by their own experiences. Perhaps they took a mission trip to serve children internationally. They may extrapolate that to be the same circumstances in other countries.
In our ten years of doing a hosting program, we have seen many of these perceptions collide with a different reality when the children arrive to spend time in the home of a host family for 4-6 weeks.
Because despite being an “orphan,” these are kids. Kids who go to school. Kids who want to be viewed as “normal.” Kids who see the same propaganda via television, billboards, signs on buses. They want to fit in, to be cool, and have the same things as their peers.
Some common misconceptions that many host families face:
The kids are materialistic and ask for name brand things.
Yes, just as children in your community ask for name brands because that’s what they so desire. This comes up in discussions about hosted and adopted children as well as when the annual Angel Tree requests are posted for the holidays. While these may feel like unjust demands from children, it is important to remember that we get to determine what we are able and willing to provide, but that the children are not being purposely disrespectful in asking – despite their circumstances.
The kids have very nice cell phones.
This is one of the most heartbreaking things for me to observe. Often, the children receive these phones from a family member or “friend.” The phones may have been stolen. They may have been purchased. But what we have learned with years of experience is that these items being gifted by the family unable to care for the children actually destabilizes their understanding of love and relationships. This reinforces the fact that things equal love.
The children aren’t grateful for what we do for them as a host family.
These children have a past of trauma, neglect, abandonment, and often-times, abuse. They are navigating a new situation in a foreign country. They don’t know your family norms. They spend the first week recovering from the travel and the newness of a new environment. They are studying your every move to assess if you are safe. They have come to spend time in a family environment, to see something new, to have new experiences. And yes, they want the fun to be all-day-every-day. Yes, they want fun new clothes and things to take back and show their friends. They feel special to be on the hosting program and it feels good to be doted on. They are not aware of the financial committment a family has made to bring them and they shouldn’t. They should be met with an unconditional acceptance and love. We do these trips for the kids to meet them where they are and give them hope and understanding that they are wanted. Whether they say thank you or not.
The children have nice skin, nice hair, and possibly even braces on their teeth.
The caregivers in our hosting countries do their best to care for the children and provide quality care. Often, children with significant orthodontic needs – and with a foster family or orphanage director with great connections, can get services donated for little to no cost to help the children. This is something we celebrate when there are caregivers standing in the gap for kids.
It must be remembered that while these children may look very typical in their styles, their asks, their wants – they still lack the fundamental need of being able to live in their families. This is no fault of their own and not something they chose. We serve them because we see their amazing value in both our eyes, their caregivers’ eyes, and most importantly, those of their heavenly father.
The scars their backgrounds have left on them make them slow to trust, easily overwhelmed when asked to make many decisions, resilient in ways we would never want another human to have to be, brave to come visit our families in America, and my true heroes.