Oct. 18, 2012
By Charles R. Ostertag
During Give2Asia’s 10th Anniversary Forum, the founder and director of Friends International, Sebastien Marot, explained his dissatisfaction: five-hundred million children are pushed to the margins of the world, the numbers keep increasing, and traditional charity models do not work because the charity dollars have been increasing, as well. These children have little or no choice but a life of extreme poverty, crime, and/or prostitution, which is often mixed with drug use. Additionally, these children frequently have families who live in similar conditions and face the same hardships.
However, despite Mr. Marot’s dissatisfaction, his organization strives for a fundamental goal: turn children into productive members of the societies in which they live. Friends International has four core programs that holistically work to do just that.
1. Friends Programs are run by Friends International itself. While the needs of each child differs, the common affect of the program stabilizes the child, perform harm reduction, and gives the child marketable vocational skills, confidence, and support to pull themselves out of poverty and create a better life. It is a holistic approach to rebuilding childhood and instilling a sense of self-respect and humanity. A case manager is assigned to each child and the child is also enrolled in an educational program and vocational center to learn job skills. Drop-in centers are established in the city giving children opportunities to eat, rest, and communicate with social workers. These programs also seek to give back some of the childhood that has been lost due to marginalization by incorporating play, physical activities, games, and teachings on the significance of the child’s country history and culture
Friends International also understands that if one child is rehabilitated, the risk of relapse is high if the community or close family ties also remain impoverished. While constant follow-up is performed on the child, Friends International also works with the child’s entire family and address their needs, thereby building a support network among family members. The ultimate goal in this context give the family the skills and healing they need to support themselves. In 2011, Friends International worked with 27,000 street children. Mr. Marot expressed this is but a small drop in the ocean of 500 million children.
2. Child Safe Network focuses on community oversight and alleviating the negative affect tourists and travelers can have on marginalized populations in the countries in which they travel. Mr. Marot explained that if people don’t know what to do (or what not to do), when they try to help, they can in fact do harm. For example, giving money to street children seems like a good idea but it actually encourages children to stay out of school or other beneficial program to seek the money that can be made by begging.
The Child Safe Network also trains key people in targeted communities to recognize and identify at-risk children and intervene on the child’s behalf.
3. City Alliance builds upon models created by Friends International and replicates them through partnership with other NGOs. Mr. Marot expressed that Friends International strives to be a “responsive organization,” and not like a oceanic shipping tanker, slow and lumbering. In 2011, Friends International and its 28 partners worked with sixty thousand street children across many different countries.
4. TREE Alliance addresses the problem of funding and donor continuity. Working with a child takes 4-5 years and few donors wish to fund a particular child or project for that long. In response, Friends International has created local businesses that generate money for their programs. These businesses have made programs 54% sustainable in Phnom Penh and are expanding to other areas.
Intertwined with the goal of making each child a productive member of their society is the objective of vast program replication and expansion at the State level. To this end, Friends International instills a proof-of-concept model such that the government cannot help but adopt it into policy whereby replication becomes automatic.