Hamilton’s Therese Osland says her upcoming move to Kenya was inspired by an experience half the world away, 13 years ago.
“I went to Kolkata, and I went to an orphanage. What I saw there was at the heart of my journey,” she said.
“I saw that food and shelter isn’t enough.”
Ms Osland’s realisation occurred during a ten-year period she spent working overseas for Oxfam and ChildFund, providing health education in Sri Lanka, the Solomon Islands, India, East Timor and the Philippines.
The moment, however, prompted her to go to Cambodia and eventually come home.
“Cambodia is an extraordinary situation because there was a proliferation of orphanages by well-meaning foreigners, particularly Australians,” she said.
Ms Osland witnessed a “tipping point”, she said, in which children of poor families were growing up in orphanages because the institutions were seen as better resourced than their own communities. Orphanages encouraged children to stay to attract donors and volunteers.
“Children are often away not only from their family but their culture, friendships, learning how to operate in their community - like how to go buy bread or catch the bus. They are living in a false environment,” she said.
Ms Osland said the orphanages were unable to provide children with the attachment of a stable relationship and undermined the development of government-run services.
Inspired to learn more about best practice for the care of children in vulnerable circumstances, Ms Osland returned to Newcastle develop expertise in foster care, adoptions and family restoration. She currently recruits and trains carers.
“Wherever we can we keep children in their families and support them,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a family here, a family in Cambodia, India or Africa, strengthening that family is always what we’re trying to do first.
“Children want to know their identity and culture and family, and have that sense of, ‘Where do I belong?’ We know those answers are best met just being with family.”
In the past four years Ms Osland has returned to Cambodia, Sri Lanka and India as a volunteer to assist governments, community leaders and orphanages in making the transition from institutional to family-based care.
“The role focuses on building their knowledge and understanding of the need for children to experience the continuity of care needed to secure, lasting attachment with a primary caregiver,” she said.
Over three trips to the Thailand-Myanmar border Ms Osland has helped an orphanage locate the relatives of children, find and train “forever families”, as well as build the capacity of their communities to provide for younger generations.
On Thursday afternoon CatholicCare, Ms Osland’s employer in Newcastle, is hosting a barbecue to raise funds for her next trip to Ndaragwa in Kenya in January, where she will stay for six months.
The event begins at Carrington Bowling Club at 4pm, with African Acholi Larakaraka dancers performing at 5pm.
You can also make donations towards resources for the trip by visiting Ms Osland’s Go Fund Me page.
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