Welcome to Sri Lanka

Written / Photos by: Whitney Runyon

Written / Photos by: Whitney Runyon

We landed in Sri Lanka after four and a half wonderful hours in business class, thanks to Emirates for the free upgrade!. (Shameless plug, we love Emirates, they have great prices, new, clean airplanes and usually a friendly staff.) As we stepped out of the airport, we were instantly greeted by an on-set of sweat and our eager host for the week, Therese Koylmer.

Our brains immediately started pulling memories from every country we’ve ever visited, as if our subconscious was somehow trying to make sense of our new surroundings:  the tropical vegetation (Uganda), the smell (China), the smog (Bangkok), the driver’s seat on the right side of the car (Scotland), and on and on. Sri Lanka was new to us and yet we felt an instant familiarity and comfort. We had been greeted by an American woman who has spent more of her life in this country than the U.S. and we were eager to learn.

You see, almost a year previous, I received an email from a woman named Julie. Julie was excited about the direction and emphasis The Archibald Project was placing on ethics and orphan care and how we were sharing stories of alternative ways to care for vulnerable children, outside of the traditional orphanage narrative. Yet, she wanted to speak up on behalf of an organization that she holds dear to heart.

“In your podcasts recently, you’ve spoken a lot about kids living in “orphanages” who are not technically orphans and how that is a problem. I agree. AND, I’d submit to you that for even these kids, living in a children’s home may be the healthiest option, and for some, the only option. UNICEF and Save the Children have unilaterally agreed that no children should be raised in children’s homes, and this has left close to 8 million children living in children’s homes that now face limited funds and reduced resources. While there are certainly terrible children’s homes, there are also many that are healthy, who are run by people deeply dedicated to children. After hearing Therese’s story, I wrestled for years…”

After reading through Julie’s email in its entirety and saying “YES!” dozens of times, as my mind comprehended her passion, I knew we had to connect.

Like Julie mentioned, and we wrote about last week here, there has been a large push to universally close down children’s homes. And on paper, it makes sense. It makes sense looking at stats and hearing horror stories of abuse and unhealthy living situations that no child should grow up in such a place.


We’ve also experienced many children’s homes, and as many people call them, “orphanages”, that are truly beautiful and provide a healthy up-bringing for orphaned and vulnerable children. We’ve met children whose fate was to be trafficked…We’ve met children who were abused so badly by biological family that for them to be in public or out in the community would mean a life threatening situation… So what about these horrible circumstances? What do you do in these situations?

If all children’s home are closed, what do you do with a child when there are not systems set up in vulnerable communities to place children with community members (like foster care)?

“After hearing Therese’s story, I wrestled for years…” wrote Julie.

So what was Therese doing that challenged Julie so much?

Therese was doing the opposite of the Save the Children’s movement, Therese was supporting children’s homes all over Sri Lanka in order to provide a higher quality of life to orphaned and vulnerable children now. Why? Because until there are systems in Sri Lanka that provide alternative care–like community education on caring for vulnerable children, domestic foster care and adoption, more economic opportunities, mental and physical health care, etc–Therese is ensuring that the vulnerable children of Sri Lanka have safe and healthy homes.

Over the next few days, we will be sharing more about our time in Sri Lanka, shadowing Therese and Julie, and learning why the orphan crisis is far from black and white.


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