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 vulnerable children. Within a week of arriving in Nepal, Emma Taylor knew she had found her calling. She spent 3 months volunteering in an ‘orphanage’ in Kathmandu (which she now advocates against), and was so inspired by the group of children she worked with, and appalled by the conditions some of them lived in, that she joined hands with two other volunteers who shared the same vision, to establish SCAI Australia. They partnered with a team of local Nepalese initially to provide a safe, nurturing home for these and other children who had no option for care within their own biological families.
SCAI has come a long way since then, and whilst SCAI still provides a temporary home for children rescued from abusive or illegally run orphanages/children’s homes and other situations of abuse and neglect, it focuses heavily on preventing children being unnecessarily separated in the first place and tracing, reconnecting and reintegrating children back into their families and communities as soon as possible.
Read more about why these children (and many more) were in orphanages and why SCAI reunited most of them with 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 are well cared for, educated, and where there are 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 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 come 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
Initially, in response to a need at the time, SCAI and its local partners set up a children’s home, a nurturing environment for children who could not be cared for within their own immediate family, or who needed rescuing from situations of abuse or neglect. Some of the children the founders first volunteered with were included in this group. In 2007 Emma established SCAI as an International Non-Government Organisation (INGO) in Nepal, and moved to Nepal to run the INGO and the home, in conjunction with the local team. Through working more closely with the children and local authorities, SCAI gained greater insight into the issues facing these vulnerable children and their families, and started to expand its work.
Whilst the children seemed to be happy and flourishing under Sunrise’s full time care, over time 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 necessarily 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. With this deeper knowledge, we started reintegrating children back into their families wherever possible and supporting them there. – 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, it took time for them to grow up, graduate, get jobs and be able to support themselves. We realized we could strengthen families and empower both the children and families a lot sooner by taking a more holistic approach to the children’s overall development and well-being. One important aspect of this was to help families build their capacity and resilience through skill development and income generation, so they can fulfil their parental role and be able to care for and protect 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/Transit Home (originally called an orphanage), comprising four self contained flats, housed 16 children in May 2019, with 84% of children previously under full time care having been reintegrated back into family. In June 2019, 19 more children were provided a temporary home after being rescued from an illegal children’s home by the government of Nepal. 17 of these children have been successfully reintegrated back into their families and are now under SCAI’s reintegration support program.
- The Reintegration Program currently supports almost 50 children
- The Education Scholarship programs support almost 500 children and their families
- SCAI has provided skill development training for over 640 adults through community training centres, and in 2019 aims to provide small business and skill development training and financial support for almost 400 families from the Education Scholarship programs.
Where we are going
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 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. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.