Adoption and orphan prevention are both integral parts to holistically caring for the orphan. Johnny Carr convicted me with his words in Orphan Justice: “Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” There are those of us who will choose to grow our families through the journey of international adoption. Then there are those of us, like Megan Parker and Kelsey Neilson with Abide Family Center, who will choose to travel the ocean to discover the root of the orphan crisis and what can be done to prevent the social orphan from becoming another number in the system.

While in country for our personal adoption, I became aware of my limited view of orphan justice. Meeting these precious institutionalized children, I began to dream about what it would look like if we could turn the country we were in upside down in their structure and beliefs and help equip and encourage interested families to keep their babies with special needs in the first place. I stumbled across the cutest Instagram feed of a little boy #hotmessMoses at Abide Family Center, and I realized I had found someone who shared a similar dream but for Uganda. And the best part was she was actually living it out! I am excited to have the opportunity to share my interview with Kelsey and spread the word about her heart and work for at-risk children and families.

Abide Family Center

The Abide Family Center located in Bugembe, Jinja, Uganda, opened its doors in June 2013 with the goal to reduce the number of children living in orphanages in Uganda and empower families to stay together. Beyond keeping families together, the staff at the Abide Family Center, comprising local Ugandans and expats, works together to help families move from surviving to thriving—equipping them with resources to develop the means and lifestyle to provide for their families and parent their children well.

How long have you and Megan known each other, and how did you meet? Tell me more about how the idea for Abide originated.

Megan and I met while volunteering at an orphanage five years ago. We both started asking similar questions during our time there. We both believed that orphanages should not be the ending point for any child. We got to witness a few “gotcha days” for children we grew to love. We saw families from America meet their children for the first time. It was so sweet. I remember tears of joy as I saw a child orphaned, without anyone to call “mom” or “dad,” finally in the arms of their adoptive parents.

I remember thinking that every child in the orphanage deserved a “gotcha day”—until I began to see biological families coming to visit some of the children in the home.

We started to speak with the staff, and we came to find that at least half of the children living in the home had families, which meant they could not be placed for adoption. These children were living in the orphanage, separated from their families, watching other children leave with their new adoptive families, while left to wonder where their families were.

We were really fortunate to work with an orphanage that believes children belong in families. They believe in resettlement if children have family who loves them, and they believe in adoption for children who have been abandoned who cannot be safely kept in their families. We spent another year working with the orphanage to resettle children back with their families. We learned a lot during our time with them, and we still partner with them today.

The reason we started Abide was because we saw an incredible need for prevention work—something that was not being done, not with the strategy and approach that we began to dream up. We saw a need to create a model that would respond to the needs of the families who love their children but are placing their children in orphanages because of poverty.

How many families do you have receiving services from your center right now?

We currently we have around 70 families on our caseload. This includes families receiving direct services as well as follow-up services. We have eight parents enrolled in our business and parenting classes, seven parents learning tailoring from our Stitched Together program, and a number of parents who utilize our Early Childhood Center for the care of their children while they work during the day. We only have one family in our emergency housing, currently. We have served over 85 families and over 200 children among those families in the last year and a half.

How do you hear about the families?

We receive referrals from the local government, police, orphanages, and partnering organizations. The best referrals tend to come from orphanages that have agreed to partner with us, as the families approaching them truly would have placed their children in orphanages had Abide not intervened.

Are there times when you still seek out some type of domestic or international adoption for the children?

We exist and support a continuum of care within child protection here in Uganda. We are a first line response, and we work to keep children with families who love them and who can provide them a safe home environment. We have worked on cases where we provided all services possible but, with follow-up, were able to catch abuse or neglect that warranted the removal of the child from the home. Although we do not work directly with domestic or international adoption, when we see the need to remove a child from care, we refer children to the most appropriate organization. If we believe adoption could be possible for the child, we refer the case to an orphanage that prioritizes children in families.

How do you stay funded?

We are mainly funded through monthly supporters, one-time donations, our internship program, as well as fundraising events and campaigns. These funding avenues have made our start-up and first year and a half of operation possible. As we continue to evaluate, we are seeing incredible success in our program model, which has opened up consideration for growth within Uganda and even internationally. To see this kind of growth, we need the right people to come alongside our vision and we need larger, more substantial funding sources. In 2015, our big focus is moving toward corporate partnerships and securing funding from businesses that believe in and align with our value of family.

These young ladies have big visions and ideas for growth in the years ahead. Conversations are already in place to replicate this model of a family center in the capital city of Kampala, and they have begun consulting and supporting similar organizations possibly being developed in Haiti. Many of these future plans will depend on the continued and additional finical sponsoring to come alongside Abide to help it grow. They are confident though that the model they have developed in Uganda can be tailored to prevent orphans around the world.

If you are interested in learning more about the work being done through Abide Family Center in Uganda, or how you can partner with them, check out their website.