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How (Not) to Start an Orphanage … by a woman who did

It was good to hear Tara Winkler recently on the ABC talking about her book and the Cambodian Children’s Trust. This is a story that is so important it should be given every bit of media coverage available, and should be passed on to friends and family. For all those people (including myself) who believed that donating money to orphanages in developing countries was a helpful thing, think again. Then STOP!

Tara has told this story in the best way possible. From the beginning she has been open and honest about her thoughts and feelings and what motivated her to become involved.  She was on a holiday, backpacking around, when she arrived in Cambodia. She was immediately confronted by the plight of the children in orphanages, and wanted to help. She donated bags of books and toys, but felt she would like to do more. She became a volunteer in an orphanage and helped to teach the children English.

As her involvement with the children, the country and the people grew, she wanted to do more. She came back to Australia, to raise funds and awareness for these orphans, returning determined to make a difference. The orphanage she went back to had changed. The children had to catch mice to prevent starvation. The corruption was massive, so Tara’s next move was to start her own orphanage. This way she could be sure that the orphans were receiving all they were entitled to as having no living relative was a terrible place for a child to begin life.

During this process, Tara found out some facts that resonated with her, and she began to get a broader picture of what was happening. Firstly the” Orphanage Industry “was booming. It was an easy way for corrupt people to get money. Next she found out that MOST of the children in these places had family. Significantly she discovered that so many children who left these places, had severe mental illnesses, many related to being removed from their parents. The children just never had a “normal” family life.

A solution had to be found. Together with a team of professionals, and assisted by the Cambodian Government, Tara now works tirelessly to keep these children in their homes. Programmes are set up to assist the family, whatever their problems, so they can all be together. She and the team are passionate advocates for family based care. Where it is not possible for a child to stay at home, another family member is sought.

At the back of the book is an extensive list of the principals and policies that Family Based Care follow. There is also a section at the back which advises which questions you should ask if you wish to support an orphanage.

Tara’s story has been told on ABC’s Australian Story. It was called “The House of Tara”. I admire this woman so much for writing this book, as it has come at a great personal cost. She is honest and forthright about her own mistakes and her sole intent is to inform others, so her children may have a reasonable life.

AuthorTara Winkler and Lynda Delacey
PublisherAllen & Unwin
DistributorAllen & Unwin
ReleasedMay 2016