Why Cherish is not an “Orphanage”?

Why Cherish is not an “Orphanage”?

Augustine, a social worker at Cherish receives a phone call from Mulago, the largest referral hospital in Uganda. The staff member on the other end of the phone says, “We have an HIV+ boy named John (named changed to protect identity) that needs somewhere to go. His mother checked herself into the hospital with complications associated with HIV/AIDS. She had her 6-year-old son John with her because she said there was no one to leave him with back in the village. She died and he has been wandering around the hospital stealing food to survive ever since – that was 2 weeks ago.”

Augustine heads to Mulago to talk with the hospital staff and meet John. Sure enough, his HIV test comes back positive, we have an available spot and we take John into our care. Before Augustine leaves the hospital he gathers as much information as possible about John and his mom as possible.

John comes to Cherish and is not doing well. His physical body is weak, his face expressionless and he is full of fear and a lack of trust. This first day at Cherish consists of a medical check-up by our medical staff, a good bath, new clothes, and an introduction to the mom and brothers of his new home. Not only is this his first day in a Cherish home, this is also the first day of John’s resettlement. Not resettlement into Cherish, but resettlement back to any extended family that he may have, or into a family that will love and care for him.

John is one of the 8 million children in institutions worldwide, one of the 8 million children whose circumstances have pushed them out of a family into an institution. These circumstances include poverty, disability, ethnicity/tribe, behavioral issues, child abuse and neglect.

Of the 8 million children who live in institutions, 80% of them are not orphans. Poverty is the leading reason worldwide, for children to be put in institutions, and this often happens at the hand of that child’s family. They feel like they can’t care for their children and leave the care to an institution, thinking they can do a better job.

This is where Cherish is different. At Cherish, we do not “recruit” children and we are not endeavoring to become the permanent home of the children that end up in our care. We have loving staff, nutritional food, quality medical care, good educational opportunities and, most importantly, spiritual discipleship is our highest value. But we are still an institution, not a family, and the best place for a child to grow up is a family. So, what happens to boys like John?

Like I said before, day one at Cherish also starts the resettlement and family reunification process. Our Homes Team, Medical Team and Education Team start the rehabilitation process with John. A care plan is put together and we start the trajectory towards healing and hope. Meanwhile, social workers are figuring out where John came from. They are searching for any extended family members, understanding the circumstances that led to us receiving John and figuring out how we change the story of John and his family. We desire to educate the family and empower them to be re-unified. We want to support families so they can provide the loving care their children desire and deserve.

Children need families, not orphanages. We also know there are times when a middle place like Cherish needs to step in help get a family back on track. Thankfully most children will never need a place like Cherish, but there are some. Some like John who need to have a bit of a reset. This is why we don’t call ourselves an “orphanage”. We are not that place where a child comes, lives out their life until they are 18 and sent out into the world to make something of themselves. We are more of a place where children with HIV who have been discarded come to get their story re-written, a place where they come to find a hope, a future and a family.

Sometimes we can’t find any extended family for a boy like John. Sometimes in the searching we come up empty-handed. At that point we move to fostering or adoption. We find a family that can care for that child like their own. We find a family that can be family to those children who just don’t have one, with our first choice being a local Ugandan family. We believe that Uganda can and should care for it’s own. We believe that with some leadership and training children that have been kicked to the curb can end up in a family that will love and cherish them. We don’t endeavor to be a ministry that has a lot of graduates, which have gone through our “program”, but a ministry that has placed kids into empowered and loving families.

We have found that we are stronger when we work together – all of us. Whether it is our staff team on the ground in Uganda, volunteers that come out to serve alongside of our team, financial partners from all around the globe, or a foster family in our village, Cherish really is a game-changer for so many children... and families.


Written by CEO, Brent Phillips

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