My horror and shame

Forget Me Not

My first experience at an orphanage was in 2013. I was in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. It was equal parts beautiful and heartbreaking. But the people I met and the moments we shared have played a huge role in who I am today.

I always wanted to help people – even when I was very young, from the age of eight it was one of my non-negotiables. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and find a way to love, nurture and care not only for those around me, but for people in underprivileged communities.

So when I recently discovered that more than 80% of children in orphanages aren’t in fact orphans, but children who have been taken from their parents on the promise of a better life and further education… I was broken. And for what? So children traffickers can line their pockets.

To say my world changed that day is an understatement. I felt sick. A deep pang of horror, disgust and heartbreak took hold deep in my gut and I can’t shake it. How did I get it so wrong? Not only do I feel incredibly naive, but mortified that all those years ago I was there, in the thick of it, and did nothing. I knew nothing. Because what I thought I knew back then was an entire fabrication, a form of modern day slavery hidden from sight that continues to this day.

But I’m going to help stop it.

We need to shift the way we think and that has to begin with educating all the well-meaning people out there who are generously donating to orphanages – I was one of them. We think we’re helping children when in fact all we’re doing is adding fuel to the fire that is the Global Orphanage Crisis.

But supporting Forget Me Not Australia is one way I’ll be working to keep the flames at bay. Their entire focus is on ending child trafficking into orphanages and ultimately putting a stop to the demand for ‘orphans’ through grassroots education and empowerment programs. They’re currently working in Nepal, India and Uganda, where they help families become self-reliant so they have every opportunity to stay together. Their holistic, child-focused approach covers five key areas: prevention, rescue, reunification, advocacy and research – so please, take the time to check out their website where you can read about it in more detail. They are doing such incredible work but, as you can imagine, the costs to run such an organisation are truly lean.

Next, I’m going to focus on the positives. I now know the truth – and you do too. And there is still so much we can do to help Forget Me Not build brighter futures for children by amplifying what we know. Shout it from the rooftops and gather like-minded recruits because I’m on a whole new mission and need all the back-up I can get.

So consider this moment my call to all change agents. Talk to me, talk to each other. Together we’ll create the kind of ripple effect that will make a very real, a very honest difference to the lives of hundreds. Together we can help banish this sickening cycle for good… and maybe then, this pang of pain, guilt and shock that’s resting deep in my core will slowly begin to ease.

Khara Williams