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ONETrack International: Every child needs a family

The US-based aid organisation puts orphans back into their family of origin.
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by Kristin Frauenhoffer

Children of the project in Honduras.

Around the world, there are approximately 153 million orphaned children, most of them in countries where orphanages are overcrowded and underfunded. So these children suffer not only from losing one or both of their parents but also from living under poor conditions. The American aid organisation ONETrack International has set itself the task of helping these children with a total different approach – the „Transition to Home Program“.

Children need a safe and familiar environment

„As most of the orphans still have living relatives, the program aims to put the children back into their own families“, explains Todd Finklestone. He is one of the founders of ONEtrack International (OTI) and currently Director of Operations at the organisation. The problem about international orphan care, Todd goes on, is that most of the time the first answer is to place children into institutional care. „But we are not asking the right questions before finding the answer“, he says. Because what children really need in a situation where they have lost one or both their parents is a safe and, above all, familiar environment. So if these children can live with other relatives like uncles, aunts, adult siblings and so on they are likely to feel better. So the first question OTI always asks is: Is there any biological family to contact?

Keeping the family together

It goes without saying that the family background of every child is examined thoroughly before initiating the „Transition to Home“ process. If there is the slightest doubt that the child could be harmed in the family, OTI considers other options. But if possible the organisation aims to use this „one track“ (thus the name) of keeping the family together or reuniting them. It has several advantages to do that. The first one is obvious. Growing up in your own family with familiar faces is better than in an orphanage with a lot of strangers. It strengthens the ties of the community to keep people around. Furthermore it maintains traditions and creates a natural bond between citizens and their heritage. In that way it also protects villages from loosing future generations – a source of productivity and creativity.

Long term support for family and child

Todd Finklestone and his colleague in the field.

Beyond these general benefits there are other tangible benefits of OTI´s activities. It is for example one of the organisation´s principles that children are not allowed to work, but they have to go to school. In addition, they always receive medical care and the necessary vaccinations. „We are monitoring the child and the family very closely“, explains Todd. That also means that children receive psycho-social and the family economic support if needed. „The after-care part is very important“, concludes the DOP. For that reason many of the children put back into their families with the program are still in touch with OTI. But not only the families and the children themselves are beneficiaries of the program. Schools and local partner organisations also benefit from support and supervision by experts from OTI.

It started with a small project in Cameroon…

„It is actually our plan for the future to educate and train more and more small organisations so that there can be a slow change in mentality“, tells us Todd. Because according to him the existing structures of orphan care worldwide are still not putting enough focus on the well-being of the children. The fact that this is a worldwide problem is shown by the many projects in which OTI is active. Today they are involved in 8 countries on 5 continents with over 300 children in their programs.

But it all started in 2010 with a small project in Cameroon. Todd and the other founders of the organisation grew up together outside of Boston. Once they visited Cameroon, which is where one of the founders was originally from. By chance they learned about the problems of the orphanages on site and decided to take action. They formed a small commitee of local social workers and local community leaders and started straight away. The rest is history.

ONETrack International has a big community

Children from the „Transition to Home“ program in Gambia.

Today OTI has around 500 people working with them – on the field, in the (virtual) office, as volunteers in student groups, volunteer programs and so on. Surprisingly the organisation is financed almost exclusively by unique donors and individual giving. The OTI community proves to be very actice with organising fundraisers and events. 20-year-old Owen, a student at Miami University and currently an intern for OTI tells us: „It is amazing to the see how many ways there are to fundraise for an organisation. With the prominence of social media today it is possible to get hundreds or even thousands of people to see your fundraising campaigns.“

But as the organisation plans to operate in even more regions of the world, OTI is always looking for further donations. DOP Todd Finklestone explains: „We would like to expand our activities to North Africa and South Asia, so that children worldwide can benefit from our program.“

Would you like to contribute to OTI’s worldwide activities? Then donate here.
For more information about the organisation click here.


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