As we are all aware, our kids — those at home in the West and those living at Asia’s Hope — are growing up. In fact, over the next 10 years, we will see hundreds of kids at our homes in Cambodia, Thailand and India reach adulthood.
As each of these kids prepares to transition from childhood to adult independence, it’s important that we prepare our partners and supporters for this exciting, yet challenging phase. I hope that this letter will provide the context necessary to understand the choices our kids will be making as they leave home.
As you are probably aware, Asia’s Hope has committed to raise the money necessary to provide a college education or post-secondary vocational training course for any child willing and able to continue their education. We have already begun raising money for tuition, fees and other expenses through donations from our partnering churches and through individual contributions to our Scholarship Fund. We’re currently looking for partners to support a network of “student centers,” that will provide transitional housing for university-aged kids to live semi-independently while still under the guidance of Asia’s Hope staff.
It’s clear to us, though, that not every child will have the ability or desire to take advantage of these opportunities for continued education. In fact, some kids may not even graduate high school, and may pass directly into the job market before reaching age 18.
It’s tempting to see this as something of a loss, but I think that oversimplifies the narrative and fails to take fully into account the cultural opportunities and expectations at play in, say a country like Cambodia, where fewer than 15% of young adults are enrolled in tertiary education. Among hilltribe populations like those we serve in Thailand, many children in the villages receive little or no formal education, and marry shortly after entering puberty. In India, fewer than 50% of all kids finish high school. By local standards, every child at Asia’s Hope has been afforded extraordinary educational and social advantages.
It can be difficult for us as middle-class Westerners to not want for our kids in Asia something roughly equivalent to The American Dream: a college education, a white-collar job, a single-family dwelling with a continuous upwardly mobile career path. At Asia’s Hope we fully expect that many of our kids will aspire to and achieve that kind of life. We believe that we will see many doctors, lawyers, professors and executives among our graduates. However, we also expect to see — and will celebrate — kids who will work in factories, on farms, as laborers and shopkeepers, or who will get married and raise families.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that many of our kids entered our care far behind their peers academically due to their tragic life circumstances. We have a number of children who, as pre-adolescents, were their family’s primary breadwinner. We have some kids who have suffered emotional, psychological and neurological damage that will affect their academic potential.
Very few of our kids went to school on a daily basis prior to coming to Asia’s Hope. Thanks to the hard work of our staff and to ministry partners, many of those children have made amazing strides, catching up to their peers and in some cases surpassing them.
So what does “success” look like for our kids reaching adulthood? Certainly there is no one single outcome to which every child should aspire. We expect that every child will “graduate” from Asia’s Hope with a sense of security and with gratitude to a family and a God who rescued them from a life of poverty, loneliness and peril. We also pray that each of our departing kids will possess the education, the vocational skills and the confidence to live independently as productive members of the Kingdom of God and of their local community. Some kids may return to their villages and take up positions of leadership in their extended family. Some will enter the workforce directly, and others will go on to university before leaving our care.
We will continue to invest in programs and strategies designed to prepare all of our children for successful adulthood, and we will continue to lift them up in prayer and place them in God’s hands and watch them — often with bittersweet emotion — leave the nest.
For those of you who are key stakeholders in our homes, we will keep you updated as children transition out of our care, and will work with you to think through budgetary and strategic issues surrounding recruitment and replacement of new children to replace those leaving.