When I was a kid growing up during the 1970’s in Blackwood, a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, I remember regularly passing Colebrook Home. We all understood the Aboriginal kids there didn’t have parents or family and they had been brought to the city for education – it was an orphanage.
Years later, in the mid 1990’s, I was involved in a coalition of community groups that supported Indigenous and migrant people. I met some of the women who had grown up in Colebrook and I discovered that in fact the kids weren’t orphans but actually taken as part of what is now called the Stolen Generation. I remember the release of the Bringing Them Home report in Adelaide when Ron Wilson spoke so passionately about what the inquiry had found.
For me the news that those kids in Colebrook had been taken and were not orphans at all was staggering. That a ‘well meaning’ collaboration between government policy and church agencies had led to this terrible outcome of kids taken from their family and community was terribly disturbing.
Fast forward to Cambodia in the 2000s and we have a another ‘well meaning’ activity also damaging kids. That is taking kids from their families and communities and putting them into institutions (not by Government policy but often through pressure and guilt laid on parents facing abject poverty). At a time when the number of orphans in Cambodia is decreasing (due to a better economic situation generally and a decrease in the number of deaths from AIDS over the last 15 years), the number of children’s homes is increasing.
There are lots of Christians involved. For the Cambodians running an orphanage it can be a means of bringing in money from overseas and is often a good income source for pastors and churches struggling for funds. For International people a children’s home is a relatively easy thing to set up and run and you surround yourself with a whole lot of dependent kids who ‘love’ (need) you. It’s a good feeling. It’s also a great place to have short term teams visit – church and school groups.
How will this be seen in the future? Will there be a ‘Bringing them Home’ report on this era in Cambodia and mission activities of this kind around the globe?
And now there is the Royal commission into Child Abuse in Institutions that is looking into the terrible suffering of kids in Australian orphanages last century.
There are many Australians involved in orphanages and children’s homes here in Cambodia. Many of them are Christians. Are we doing to Cambodian kids what we did to our own in a previous generation? Taking them from families and putting them in institutions. We should be the most sensitive nationality to this issue. And yet we may be the most involved nationality of all.
Why am I writing about this? I’m an Australian. I’m an International mission leader in Cambodia at this time. I remember the kids in Colebrook Home. And tonight there are thousands of kids in orphanages in Cambodia most of whom have a home, a family and a community.
God have mercy on us all.