GHIC 2019: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 13-14, 2019
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite For Sight's 2011 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report by Chung-Sang Tse, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

"Social & Economic Integration of Orphaned Youth Aging Out of Care," Shelby French, Executive Director, The International Organization for Adolescents

Social Enterprise Pitches are ideas in the brainstorming or early implementation stage. Selected participants presented their new idea in the format of a 5-minute social enterprise pitch. Following the pitch, there was a 5-minute period for questions and answers, as well as feedback from the audience. The presenters were directed to focus their presentations on the problem that they are working to solve, the evidence basis for their idea, the expected impact, as well as plans for measuring outcomes, and not just outputs.

“No home, No food enough,
No happy, No drive, 
No family, No friends,
No money for study,
I am so hopeless.”

With nothing more than a purple marker and a sheet of yellow Bristol board, a Cambodian orphan youth penned this poem with a powerful message. In the same city, on an unassuming day in December 2010, Srey, a 19-year-old Cambodian orphan, was told by her hosting orphanage to pack up her belongings and leave the orphanage by the next day. Despite tears and pleas, she became a homeless youth overnight. With determination, she gathered scraps of wood and corrugated metal and built a small shack across from the orphanage. Staying close to the people she had known all her life was important to her. A few months later, in early 2011, the orphanage closed down and the building was demolished; a mansion is being built in its place. Srey, in her shack across the street, watched the entire ordeal. In her own words, she spoke: “I feel sad. The night I left I couldn’t sleep. I cried all night. I wanted to go back to the orphanage. I once dreamed I could finish med school, but when I left I thought I would quit my study. I have no plans now, I am only focused on where to live. If I have a steady place to stay, maybe I can move on. I need to feel assurance, I can’t.”(1)

The International Organization For Adolescents (IOFA) realizes that this is not a single, isolated incident. 153 million orphaned youth live around the world(2) transitioning between institutions, orphanages, extended family housing and community care.(3) Often, money is given to them when they are young and cute, but generosity slowly trickles as they age. By 15-19 years old, many are forced to be on their own with little support or protection. Without parental support, preparation, or protection, these youths are hyper-vulnerable to sex trafficking, drugs dealings, gang activities, homelessness and labor exploitation.

Faced with this dilemma, the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) has pitched the Transition Initiative for orphans. Four components form the core structure of this initiative: a transition guesthouse, an online social network, a referral network (for housing and jobs), and a series of employable skills training. The IOFA’s logic is sound and reasonable. First, youths who are aging out of care need a safe place to live. A Transition Guesthouse from the IOFA would provide accommodation to youths leaving orphanages and entering society. Second, these youths need to be integrated into society in an economically-backed manner. Practical, skills-based workshops for management, administration, maintenance, restaurant service and sales would impart employable skills to young adults in transition. Third, these skilled but unemployed workers need to be connected with vacant jobs in the community. A referral network would connect youths with community-based agencies for housing and job placements. Finally, a stable and supportive online social network can link together peers with similar backgrounds. Within the T-Network, orphaned youths can share their experiences, warn each other of local threats, and support their peers during rough times.

Ultimately, the goal of the IOFA Transition Initiative is to aid youths leaving care in their journey towards an independent and productive life. And even if only for that reason alone, IOFA has a noteworthy goal.

Footnotes

(1) French, Shelby. “The transitions initiative: social and Economic integration of orphaned youth aging out of care.” Power point. Unite For Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference 2011. Yale University, New Haven, CT. 17 Feb 2011.

(2) UNICEF. “Orphans.” UNICEF Press Centre. Accessed 28 April 2011 from <http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html>

(3) French, Shelby. “The transitions initiative: social and Economic integration of orphaned youth aging out of care.” Power point. Unite For Site Global Health and Innovation Conference 2011. Yale campus, New Haven, CT. 17 Feb 2011.