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Whose Dream am I Trying to Fulfill?

Before you or I start an orphanage, it’s important to ask and answer this question:

Whose dream am I trying to fulfill?

Is it my dream or the orphans dream? That is,  is it my dream to start an orphanage or is it the orphans dream that an orphanage be started? Do I have a dream to start an orphanage or do the orphans have a dream to live in an orphanage? Whose dream am I working to fulfill? Is it my dream or their dream. This question is important to answer.

Dream of living in an orphanage

Photo: Children at the Shaping Destiny Orphanage in Cameroon. I (Kenneth Acha) founded this orphanage in 2005. We graduated our first group of orphans in February 2014 and have shifted our model of orphan care due to new research findings. We still maintain the orphanage but over the last three years have  intentionally gone from 85 children in the orphanage to less than ten children right now. Our focus now is to put children in local homes. That is extremely more effective and also cheaper to do. It costs 10 times more to put a child in our orphanage than with a loving local family.

What is the dream of orphans?

Think with me. Use your imagination. Is it possible that there are any suffering orphans out there that are dreaming of an orphanage to live in? Perhaps there may be some. If there are, it’s probably because they’ve seen an orphanage before and what they love about it is perhaps not the orphanage itself but the friends that they could find there–other human beings (children) who understood and shared their pain. Research has shown (and my experience corroborates) that orphans dream of living in a home with a mother and father. They dream to have back what they’ve lost. That’s expected.

Take for example, an Indian orphan. Before, he used to have his Indian mom and dad. Guess what his dream is? He wants them back or he wants other Indian parents to take him in and love him as his parents did. They don’t dream of living in a foreign home. [NB: I favor international adoption and our organization does them for free when it is the right thing to do in a particular case].

The idea of international adoption or someone from abroad coming to take care of them has never crossed the minds of most orphans. What is on their minds is the desire for a home in their village to live in and parents in their village or country to love them. They want someone like their mother and father. Is their desire a prayer to God? I think so. Orphans don’t hate their villages or towns or cities or countries. In fact, almost ALL of them have someone they know and often care about. They simply dream or desire better circumstances, not a change of venue.

My dad was fatherless and motherless at birth and was named “orphan or abandoned.” We were fatherless and poor when I was nine. I’ve served orphans full-time for the last 10 years. Yet, I’ve never seen or heard of an orphan who dreamed of living in an orphanage for the sake of the orphanage. I’ve never seen an orphan who would prefer an orphanage over loving caring local parents. Some are happy in an orphanage because that’s the best they have. They don’t have a loving family that would treat them as one of their own children and provide their basic needs as well as inspire hope for a better future.

Whose dream am I trying to fulfill? Whose dream are you trying to fulfill?

Another similar question is, “What is God’s dream for the orphan?” I will write about this in a different post. My prayer is that we would seek the dream of the orphan and fulfill it. My article titled “Why start an orphanage?” is a good one to read with this post.

Changes we have made in our organization

Our organization started off as an orphanage but because of our growth, maturity, and understanding of the true needs of orphans, we now do most of our work outside the orphanage, helping put orphans in local homes, supporting local Christians and local churches to care for orphans. Our orphanage right now has very few children and will continue to exist but serve more as a transitional home, not a long-term solution for orphans to live there for many years. Research from Harvard and other top universities has shown that institutionalization (as in an orphanage) causes irreversible harm children. I’ve often said that an”orphanage is one of the worst places for an orphan to be in today.” This emerging research supports that claim even further than I’d expected. Orphans do better in a local home with a mother and father that loves them. That can be done in any country in the world. Local people love the poor like we do, they just don’t often have the financial means or the thought of doing it. If we support them to do it, the work is more effective, transformative, and God honoring.

Is there any place for an orphanage you may ask? Yes! However, we need to know where and how an orphanage fits into the grand picture of orphan care. When used correctly, an orphanage provides a great temporary option for orphan care that would enhance other methods of orphan care. I pray that none of us every holds a method more dearly than the call to do what’s best for orphans. An orphanage is only a method. We should be willing to throw any method out or bring another one in if we find evidence that doing so will be in the best interest of orphans. Orphans still need help. There are between 150 and 200 million of them. Let’s not relent until God has served them all!


Question: What can we all do to ensure that the God-given dreams of orphans, not our own are being carried out in our orphan care work? We are bigger and stronger than them and so can easily make them believe and accept our dreams for them. What steps can we take to make sure that our influence and power doesn’t sway them away from their God given desires and dreams? 


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  1. I think it is important to continue to evaluate the work that we do when serving orphans. To be extremely intentional in prayer, always asking God to reveal to us and teach us the best way to care for his children, and like you said ” We should be willing to throw any method out or bring another one in if we find evidence that doing so will be in the best interest of orphans.” We should always be thinking what method or actions are best for the orphans, not what will be easiest or benefit us the most; that wouldn’t be pleasing to God and your work would be useless.

    • I agree Danielle, it’s not about us. It’s about God and them!

  2. I think one step we can do to make sure it is the orphans dreams we are making a reality, and not our own, is to seek council and advice from others. Like you Dr. Acha, I too have done research on the effects of institutions have on children. Much research proves that children are emotionally, mentally, and socially harmed after being in an institute setting where they get no or very little one-on-one love and nurture. I have worked with orphans in the past, and have a huge heart for Africa. I have asked the children I have met in orphanages what is it that they really want. And most of them agree with what you have said, they want a family! And who can given them that family? Can I!…A young American with very little parenting skills or experience? Or can a local African who knows the culture, can relate to the child, and speak their language? I want to see local families being empowered and equipped to take in the abandoned children of their own land and raise them up to love their own country and give back to their community!

    • Awesome Stephanie! I love the way God is growing you and the heart that shows in your comments!