Today, I continue my ongoing series of conversations with awesome storytellers creating fantastic projects as I’m joined by Mary Beth Iduh of Catholic Relief Services. On the heels of Saturday’s celebration of World Children’s Day, Mary Beth explains CRS’s involvement in the new Changing the Way We Care initiative. Mary Beth’s specific answers to my question “How can we help?” challenge me to move out of my comfort zone and to seek ways to actively be part of the solutions to age-old issues surrounding the care of vulnerable children. I hope you enjoy this conversation and that it helps you realize that our sharing of small gifts, actions, and prayers does matter. Lisa
Q: Welcome, Mary Beth. Please briefly introduce yourself and let us know a little bit more about your work with Catholic Relief Services.
A: Thank you, Lisa! It’s wonderful to join you here and on Catholic Mom. I indeed am a Catholic mom myself! My husband Adakole and I have two amazing children, Katerina (4) and Gabriel (1), and seven beautiful godchildren. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, I now call Baltimore, Maryland home. I first joined Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 2008 and since have had the opportunity to work with CRS in South America and Africa before joining CRS’ U.S.-based team almost 10 years ago. My current role is Senior Program Manager for Faith Engagement for our global child-focused initiative called Changing the Way We Care (CTWWC). In this role, I am responsible for developing and putting into place a complete global engagement strategy with faith-based audiences and actors, beginning with the U.S. Catholic Church, as well as supporting our faith-based partnerships. While challenging, I love this new ministry-of-sorts, as it draws on my experiences working with Catholic dioceses, universities, and organizations in the U.S., as well as my years working overseas with the Church, including serving as a lay missionary social worker at a Catholic center of protection for children in Honduras.
Q: With the recent celebration of World Children’s Day, what is the central focus of this commemorative event?
A: World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on November 20 each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare. The theme for 2021 is: A Better Future for Every Child. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected children disproportionately around the world, as more than 1 million children have lost a parent or primary caregiver, many have been excluded from education, and suffered from an increase in domestic violence. At the same time, children and young people around the globe are raising their voices on the issues that matter to their generation and calling for adults to create a better future. This World Children’s Day, it’s more important than ever that the world listens to their ideas and supports families to help their children thrive.
Q: CRS has partnered with other global partners on an important initiative entitled Changing the Way We Care. Please tell us about the basics of this program.
A: Changing the Way We Care (CTWWC) is an initiative designed to address one of the world’s greatest global issues: children growing up outside of family care. We developed CTWWC in response to the growing problem of children separated from their families because of poverty, disease, natural disasters, disabilities, violence, and migration. More than 7.5 million children around the world live in orphanages, or what we call residential care facilities, even though at least 80% of these children have at least one living parent.
Our fundamental belief is that all children deserve to grow up in family homes rather than residential care facilities and that this is possible no matter where the child lives or what his or her challenges may be. Children thrive on the love and attention of those who care for them and to whom they are bonded. Once they are adults, they have the deeply planted roots that will sustain them through the years as they start their own families. Through CTWWC, we strive to help orphanages transform into family support centers and gradually reintegrate children in their care with their biological families or other alternative family care settings. We also assist governments in reforming their childcare systems to reduce reliance on residential care and prioritize family care, and we are helping raise awareness among Catholics and people of goodwill in the U.S. who have generously supported orphanages for many years about the importance of supporting children and families to stay together. We are working together towards the vision that every child may achieve their God-given potential in a safe and nurturing family.
Q: In many ways, given our learned experience, it feels counterintuitive to think that a vulnerable child may actually be harmed by the orphanage system. How is CRS working with families and institutions to shift this paradigm?
A: First off, I’d like to affirm the incredible commitment and vast experience of the Catholic Church in serving vulnerable children in need. This commitment includes on-the-ground leadership and support for care for children, as well as international donations and volunteers. I am humbled by the generosity and dedication of people of goodwill in giving of their time, treasure, and talent in support of our world’s children.
However, we are learning from decades of research and our collective experiences that orphanages, even the best ones, cannot give children the stable family and community support system they need to grow into healthy adults and achieve their God-given potential. Through Changing The Way We Care, CRS is supporting families and communities around the world to provide safe and nurturing family care for their children. We are supporting families whose children are at risk of placement in orphanage care because of extreme poverty, violence, natural disasters, or because their children have a disability or have limited access to education. We work with families to identify their greatest needs and provide economic assistance, parenting classes, counseling, and referrals to other services. This support helps keep families together.
We also work with orphanages and governments to help children who are in residential care gradually move back home to their immediate or extended families, or if that is impossible, be placed in safe and loving foster or adoptive families. We help those who run orphanages to gradually transform their services away from providing residential care for children and instead of helping families become stronger and stay together. And we advise governments on how to move away from orphanage care so that the emphasis is on family-based care for all children. We work with faith leaders to raise their awareness about how important it is for a child to grow up in a family, and how families help children become stronger emotionally, socially, cognitively, and spiritually. By using her prophetic voice, we believe the Catholic Church can play a key role in transforming the way we support and care for children towards safe and nurturing family care.Join @LisaHendey for a great conversation with @CatholicRelief's Mary Beth Idu about the Changing the Way We Care initiative @ChangeCare4Kids @MaestralIntl #WorldChildrensDay2021, #BetterCareforKids, #FaithAndChildSafeguarding Click To Tweet
Q: With the holiday season upon us, how would a modest donation to your work in honor of loved ones be applied to real needs?
A: I pray your readers are able to celebrate the holidays in the company of their families and loved ones, in spite of the global pandemic. Our Changing the Way We Care team is very grateful for your donations which help children around the world know what it means to be part of a safe and nurturing family. Gifts made through the CRS website with a special request to apply them to Changing The Way We Care will help children reunite with their families or prevent them from being separated in the first place. Families will receive the direct support, resources and skills they need, and orphanages will be transformed into family and community service centers.
Q: Beyond financial support, are there other ways for us to become involved in helping these children and families?
A: The most important thing to do is pray! Please include vulnerable children and families, as well as those committed to serving them, in your daily prayers, and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in how to best use your gifts and blessings in solidarity with them.
An important step also is for us to educate ourselves and others about the situation of children in residential care (orphanages) around the world and how we can support alternatives to residential care. Our Changing the Way We Care website contains helpful information to do just that, as well as to sign up to receive our emails. If your parish or school supports an orphanage overseas, you might consider holding a discussion to explore other ways to help care for vulnerable children. You can follow us on Twitter at @ChangeCare4Kids and share our life-changing work with others.
Another way to respond is through advocacy. Help lift your voice with others whose voices are not heard. Because poverty, lack of access to resources, and migration are some of the most significant reasons that children are placed in residential care by their families, one way of strengthening families so they can keep their children at home or be reunited with them is to join CRS’ Lead the Way campaigns on hunger and migration and take action!
Finally, if you currently provide financial support to orphanages, or know someone who does, consider reaching out to the orphanage and letting them know you are interested in supporting children to move back to their families and communities. You may share our information with them and encourage them to get in touch with us at Changing the Way We Care. You also might consider donating to programs that are working to strengthen and keep families together.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
A: I would like to thank your readers for taking the time not only to read what I’ve shared today but also for opening their hearts and minds to new ways to best love and support our youngest brothers and sisters in need around the world. As a former volunteer and current board member of an overseas center of protection for children, I relate to how challenging this journey can be in embracing a new way forward for our world’s children. Thank you in advance for your prayers and efforts to help families become more resilient & stay together! I am convinced that together we can help every child achieve their God-given potential, thrive in a safe and nurturing family, and create a brighter future for our world. May God’s love fill & sustain you and may blessings overflow.