The Sunrise journey began back in 2004, when a young Australian woman took a huge leap of faith, giving up a corporate career to follow her dream of working with children. Like many, her love of travel drew her abroad, and within a week of arriving in Nepal, Emma Taylor knew she had found something worth devoting some time to. Initially she spent 3 months volunteering in an ‘orphanage’ in Kathmandu – which she now advocates against (read why here)– but it was this experience with a group of extremely inspiring children that led to the creation of Sunrise in mid-2005. Emma, along with volunteers, discovered very quickly that most of the children were not orphans, and need not be living in the appalling conditions that they were.
Emma partnered with a team of local Nepalese who were also determined to set these children on a much brighter path. After initially setting up a home where these and other children at risk of abuse and exploitation could be cared for, the team then began to focus on preventing children being unnecessarily separated in the first place through various education and empowerment programs. The team also started working on tracing, reconnecting and reintegrating children back into their families and communities and supporting them there where necessary. 15 years on, Emma is still deeply involved, and with the all-Nepalese team on the ground in Nepal, continues to work to strengthen vulnerable families and give children every opportunity possible to grow up safely with their own families.
Read more about SCAI’s journey, including why these children (and many more) were in orphanages, why SCAI reintegrated most of them back into their families, SCAI’s preventative approach to child protection and where SCAI is now.
Where SCAI began
SCAI’s foundation came as Nepal neared the end of a decade of political turmoil – a conflict between Maoist and Government forces that left over 17,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of others displaced, mainly from poor rural areas, before a peace accord was signed in 2006.
In such difficult circumstances, it’s easy to understand why some parents left with no means of support might seek a better life for their children by handing them over to others, believing they’d be taken to homes or institutions in Kathmandu where they would receive food, education and a better future.
Sadly, this was not always the outcome.
“Some children ended up in well run homes where the children were well cared for, educated, and where there were genuine attempts to re-connect and re-integrate them back into their families. Others sadly ended up in institutions where their basic rights and needs were not met and where the children were exploited and used to earn money for orphanage owners. Other children were sold to child traffickers, and ended up working in brick factories, as domestic house helpers, in local hotels and in massage parlours. Thousands were also trafficked to India to work in brothels. Most of these children came from remote villages, where education and awareness about these risks is low. Many were and still are totally cut-off from their families, sometimes for years and in some cases permanently. – Emma
SCAI supported the local team to run the home for a couple of years before establishing SCAI as an International Non-Government Organisation (INGO) in 2007, and Emma moved to Nepal to run the INGO. Through working more closely with the children, the local team and local authorities, SCAI gained greater insight into the issues facing these vulnerable children and their families, and started to expand its work into prevention and reintegration.
Whilst the children seemed to be happy and flourishing under Sunrise’s full time care, we realized that regardless of whether the home is called an orphanage, children’s home, residential child-care home or another similar name, and whether the children are well cared for, it doesn’t make it the right place for a child to grow up. Children should not be separated from their families due to poverty and a lack of education. Decades of research shows that growing up in any type of long-term residential care institution can restrict a child’s development and well-being, and can cause psychosocial issues in the future. – Emma
Read more about SCAI’s Reintegration Program.
Prevention is better than cure
Knowing the main reason that so many children were being sent or enticed away from home was for an education, SCAI started a range of education scholarship programs in 2007, which enabled children to receive support for their schooling and some other basic needs whilst staying with their own families in their own communities.
Initially we provided basic materials the children needed to attend school with dignity and pride, including school uniforms, bags, books, stationary and fees. We were thrilled to see attendance and results improve, and children staying in school long enough to graduate, and the windows of opportunities that having an education opened up for them.
However, naturally it takes time for children to grow up, graduate, get jobs and be able to support themselves. To strengthen families and empower both the children and families a lot sooner, we started helping families build their capacity and resilience through skill development and income generation support, which would enable them to fulfil their parental role of providing for, caring and protecting their children themselves. – Emma
Where we are today
SCAI has come a long way since 2005, shifting its focus from providing residential home care to focusing on supporting children in their families and communities, and helping them build sustainable futures.
- The family-based Residential Child Care Home/now Transit Home, comprising four self contained flats, houses 11 children (May 2020), with 84% of children previously under full time care having been reintegrated back into family.
- The Reintegration Program currently supports 58 children
- The Education Scholarship programs support almost 450 children and their families
- SCAI has provided skill development training for over 640 adults through community training centres, and in 2020 aims to provide small business and skill development training and financial support for all families of the children in the education scholarship programs Education Scholarship programs.
Where we are heading
There are still far too many children being kept in orphanages and other institutions, working as labourers and separated from their families unnecessarily. Families continue to send their children away due to poverty, education and a lack of awareness about the risks. Traffickers continue to prey on vulnerable families from rural areas, and continue to bring children to orphanages and children’s homes, often with the aim of attracting donations from kind-hearted visitors, volunteers and donors.
Tourists and volunteers continue to visit and spend time in orphanages and children’s homes, which is inadvertently creating a demand for orphans and orphanages. Their well-intended donations unfortunately continue to help the orphanage industry thrive. It is no coincidence that around 90% of orphanages are located in tourist areas in Nepal.
If there were less fee-paying visitors, volunteers and donors, there would be far fewer children in orphanages and more children with their families where they belong. If vulnerable families had the resources to provide their children with the care they deserve, they would be more resistant to traffickers and wouldn’t need to send them away to orphanages or to work.
SCAI will continue to focus on preventing the separation of children from their families through our education scholarship, income generation and other empowerment programs. Where children do not have any immediate options for safe care within their own families, we will continue to provide temporary, safe, family based care while we work to find permanent solutions within their wider family networks.
You can be part of our journey.
A final word
SCAI strongly urges anyone looking to support children in Nepal or other developing countries to do their homework thoroughly, and look for opportunities that help strengthen families in sustainable ways, that is, those that not only address short term needs, but also look at the root causes of the issues, and how the negative cycles can be broken long term. Lastly we encourage visitors, volunteers and donors to consider as their rule of thumb – treat all children the way you would want your child to be treated.
We are happy to talk to anyone about the global orphanage crisis that SCAI and groups like ReThink Orphanages are working to overcome. Trends like voluntourism can potentially cause much more harm than good for thousands of children, and there are better alternatives for people wanting to help. Read more here or contact email@example.com for more information.