Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mission of Orphans International

My brother’s literal death-bed wish was that I join Toastmasters, the public speaking club that had helped him so much in his own career. My organization by this time had the goal of raising global citizens, and Toastmasters forced me to come up with a memorable mission statement.

At the College of Wooster I had a professor by the name of Dr. Ishwar Harris, who encouraged me in the creation of Orphans International. For him I wrote the paper that would lead me to create the mission statement of Orphans International. In it I discussed my thought that all people are climbing the same mountain, just using different paths and experiencing different views on the ways to the same summit.

Our mission is to help orphaned and abandoned children grow into solid citizens of the world through a sound institutional structure that is interfaith, interracial, international, intergenerational, and internet-connected. Interfaith, because there are many paths up the mountain; Interracial, because there is but one race - the human race; International, because our neighbors are our family; Intergenerational, because there is much to learn from our elders; and Internet-connected, because the world today can be at our fingertips.

The concept of unity in diversity is expressed by Orphans International’s emphasis that girls are equal to boys, that ethnic Chinese-Indonesians or Chinese-Guyanese are as worthy — and as Indonesian or Guyanese — as native Indonesians, or Guyanese of African or Indian descent; that Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus are all equally valued, that neither the developed world nor the undeveloped world is “better,” and that all children should grow up free of bias.

OI is not just an “orphanage” but actually a “world peace project”, as the organization’s primary objective is to teach tolerance, the essence of global citizenship. I said to the audience that I could not personally solve the problems of Palestinians and Israelis, Arab- and Afro-Sudanese or Tutsis and Hutus. I, single-handedly, could not re-build Haiti or eliminate extremism in Indonesia. However, we would work to raise children who embraced differences from childhood, who would become future leaders of their countries, and who could bring about global change, peace, and justice to our world.

The scriptures of many religions have much in common, including an emphasis on the need to care for orphans. Psalms 82:3-4 of the Talmud states “Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” The Talmud also states “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” In the New Testament of the Bible, James 1:27 states “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The fifth pillar of Islam requires that a portion of one’s income be given to eight groups listed in the Koran, one of which is orphans. In Surah 2:215 it states “They will ask thee what they are to expend in alms: say, ‘Whatsoever good ye expend it should be for parents and kinsmen, and the orphan and the poor, and the son of the road; and whatsoever good ye do, verily, of it God knows.’

Eventually, we hope to build all of our projects as intergenerational institutions. Although I createdOrphans International specifically to help children, bringing seniors onto our campuses will help our children, as they grow up in an intergenerational setting, as well as provide security and care to a small number of our world’s elderly.

The digital divide is growing between rich and poor nations. We are bridging this divide by wiring our campuses to the web. In the future, education will advance through the Internet and the availability of enormous databases and libraries. Even one-on-one tutoring and guidance will no longer be the exception, but the standard. We will use this technology for the benefit of our children.

Discrimination of any sort, whether based on gender, ethnicity, immigration or socio-economic status, religion, or sexual orientation, is not tolerated by Orphans International Worldwide or its national affiliates. Our staff is comprised of at least 50% women to provide strong female role models for the children. Both single mothers and men, two groups of people who are often unwelcome in developing countries for such roles, are encouraged to be houseparents. Girls and boys are encouraged to excel in all fields and take part in activities that traditionally were pursued by the other sex. Young girls may dream of, and work towards, becoming Secretary General of the United Nations.

The motto of each branch of Orphans International also reflects this emphasis on unity in diversity. The motto of Orphans International Sulawesi, borrowed verbatim from the Indonesia national motto, is “Gotong Royong” – “Working Together”. This echoes the motto of the United States, e pluribus unum, or “from many, one.” In Haiti, the national motto is: “L’Union Fate La Force” - “In Union There Is Strength.” Guyana’s national motto is “One People. One Nation. One Destiny.”

Until that point I had worked in either the World Financial Center with Merrill Lynch or Rockefeller Center with the Rhône Group. I was spending fifty hours a week being paid to help the world’s richest people, and then another fifty hours a week spending time and money to help the world’s most destitute: poor, biological orphans from the least developed countries in the world, many of whom had just survived a natural disaster, be it a Tsunami, a hurricane, or the AIDS epidemic. I had never thought that starting an international organization to provide relief to those in need would be easy, but I could no longer keep up with both of these jobs.

Events related to Orphans International were now occurring not only in Sulawesi, Sumatera, and Haiti, but the beginnings of efforts that would hopefully soon launch Togo, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Togo, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. I realized as I submitted my resignation at the investment firm that I was changing my life, and the life of my son Matt, irrevocably. I was apprehensive. But tremendous forces had been unleashed as we had begun to help the young needy of the world. It was now or never. I would ride the tiger.

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