Photo credit: Elliot Ng
Last night I had the privilege of being invited to a dinner hosted by the charity, Care for Children. The work they have done, are doing, and plan to do impacted me more than I was expecting - and I was expectant - I had read their website in preparation and done some research on the founder and the host for the evening. I had come off a long and emotional day at work - as a teacher who is also involved in the pastoral care of my students, I sometimes get to talk with parents and this day, I spoke with some parents who cared so deeply for their child in a way that hit me differently. I left work and made my way towards the Fullerton Hotel where the dinner was being held. For those of you in Singapore, or those who know the Marina Bay area, I got off at Esplanade, where the “durian” concert halls are and ambled along the waterfront, pausing every now and again to take photos as is the habit when I see something that I think looks nice. I slowly walked across the Jubilee Bridge, enjoying the hustle and bustle of tourists taking photos along the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands, or pretending to drink water that was spouting from the Merlion.
The hotel, once the general post office (probably the fanciest post office in the world!) was surrounded by fencing which had been put up for The Singapore Grand Prix - the world famous street circuit, raced at night in a few days time and so the roads were already shut off. A security guard who had been turning people away from walking onto the street circuit looked kind enough for me to approach to ask how to get to the imprisoned white building. I had prepared for the event by wearing a blazer - a feat of human endurance in the Singapore heat and humidity. He took one look at me and said, “please, sir, let me escort you across to the hotel”.
I walked through the guarded gap in the fence, across the Grand Prix circuit, through the protected gap on the other side of the road and through to the hotel. I checked my watch. 6.24pm. I still had six minutes, so I stood and watched the Anderson bridge for a while, hypnotized by the water of the Singapore river beneath it, rolling up and down like the keys of a self-playing piano.
The Fullerton Hotel is impressive. Its silent, heavy, slow-revolving doors presented a grand entrance and double staircase that elegantly flows down to a lower level. An indoor Koi Pond boasts of Asian beauty at the heart of the white colonial building. The dinner was downstairs in a boardroom, with a much smaller guest list than I had initially expected and I suddenly felt the weight of the evening. I walked into the room where around 10 people were gathered so far. They all seemed to know each other and I felt like a stranger. I was quickly introduced to a man called Robert Glover. He was friendly, unassuming, and made me feel comfortable immediately. Robert is the founder of the charity, Care for Children.
Established in 1998, Care for Children works with governments to place orphaned and abandoned children in families. Today, the charity has been able to place over a million children in families and it has the bold vision to see all 8 million children who are currently in orphanages worldwide in a loving family.
Working with governments, I learned that they focus on fostering, not adopting. Initially, I was surprised and curious as my understanding was that fostering was short term - less settling for children, and I have heard horror stories of neglect and heartbreak of fostering situations in the UK. But when Robert explained what fostering was like when done well, it blew me away to see the thought and intention behind this method. Fostering keeps the onus on the government. Adoption leaves parents to their own devices, their own support network and their own finances. By using a system of fostering, the governments are still responsible for the welfare of the children. They train parents, ensure medical provision for the children, give education and ensure that the family is supported. It's a beautiful model of how a nation can support, love and care for the abandoned and alone.
Care for Children has now expanded their work into Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, where they are working with local governments to help to train, place infrastructure and to change a generation. Having placed over a million children in families in China, Care for Children have been able to exit the country having fulfilled their mission. I understand there are now no more orphanages in China and that the children are all in a system that works to place them in loving families - the credit due to Robert Glover and Care for Children. This incredible work has given Robert and his team the platform to be able to have influence in other nations too, consulting in many other countries across the globe including Greece, Italy and the USA.
I wondered about the impact his charity would be able to have in the west. Robert talked quite openly about his experience of the family unit and its importance in society. The table at which I sat had an interesting blend of people. An American neurosurgeon-come-entrepreneur-come-investor, representatives from big international companies, people who worked heavily in the world or crypto (I think - I don’t really understand that stuff), but our conversation honed in around the culture of family in Asia, versus the breakdown of family culture in the west. There were Americans, Asians, Asian-Americans and an Asian Brit (me) and we all agreed that there is such a strong sense of family in Asia that placing orphans into communities of family may be much easier than in Europe or America.
This made me really consider the perceived breakdown of the family unit in the UK. In many (some would argue most) cases, children are desperate to move out of home by the time they are 18. I certainly was and independence has grown in the past twenty years with the introduction of the smartphone and the way that social media has developed. Divorce rates are at an all time high of 42%, while the number of marriages is decreasing. I totally understand that some divorces are necessary, and oftentimes better for the individuals, but it is clear to me that family unit is losing its value in the UK. This is further emphasized to me by living in Singapore where the divorce rate sits at 4.3% and marriage is encouraged, particularly when wanting to own a property - this lens increases the contrast.
When Millie and I were living in the UK, starting our own little family, we talked about the sort of values we would have. One of the things that we articulated was that we wanted to have a “kampong spirit” about us. Until the 1970s, Singapore was made up of many different kampongs, or villages, and these villages had an incredible sense of community. Doors would be open, children would play together, neighbours would knock on doors. Community was more like family. There are still strong remnants of this in Singapore, although some miss the heyday of kampongs. Older men and women (referred to as “uncles” or “aunties”) will intervene with kids who are misbehaving in public - and the kids will listen out of respect. Playgrounds are aplenty in Singapore, where children blend with other children. I remember doing playground clean-ups on Saturday mornings with our church group in the UK, where we would be picking up and disposing of syringes left in the sand pits and broken beer bottles from the climbing frames. While syringes and broken bottles in playgrounds are not overly common across the UK, this definitely helps to highlight the stark contrast between the cultures in Singapore and the UK - or perhaps, more broadly, east to west.
This is only one set of statistics and one example of the contrast of cultures and one thought on its potential impact on a charity's work. It's simply a thought that probably could be a book rather than a short blog. But I have found myself considering now - how do we place value on families again in the UK and how do we keep the culture of families in Singapore and Asia? Will Care for Children, combined with the power and structure of governments be able to make the difference in nations where the family unit is losing its value - where the culture encourages, to an extent, the breakdown of the family unit? I hope so. I believe they can do it. Actually, I believe they will - but there's a long road ahead.
Care for Children has a new vision. To see a world of children in families. Eight million children in loving families, supported by the local governments. Imagine their generation growing up with more love, more self worth, less insecurities, more value. Imagine what this will do to each individual as they learn acceptance rather than rejection. It’s a game changer. No - it’s a world changer.
I left the Fullerton Hotel last night a changed person. Something shifted in my heart and I would like to do what I can to support more charities and works like this. I don’t really have finances to help. I don’t really have much of an influence. But I will do what I can. Thank you for reading my thoughts and ramblings.
If you would like to know more about Care for Children, please visit www.careforchildren.com