According to estimates from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are approximately 140 million orphans in the world–by UNICEF’s definition of the term, this encompasses all children under 18 who have lost one or both parents. Though some of these children manage to find shelter in state-run orphanages, the effects of growing up parentless and in often neglectful institutions can be devastating. In one study conducted across several Romanian orphanages in 2000, researchers found that the neglected orphans not only demonstrated signs of psychological and developmental disabilities, but also physical changes in brain activity and tissue growth.
Caroline Boudreaux saw this adversity firsthand during a chance encounter to an Indian orphanage on Mother’s Day in 2000. Boudreaux was living successfully as a television executive in Austin when she decided to embark on a worldwide excursion with a close friend. Her friend insisted on stopping in India to visit an orphaned boy she had been sponsoring. When they arrived at the boy’s village, the women were met by a hundred orphan children, all desperate for food, shelter, and affection.
The sympathy she felt for the children in need, and the anger and embarrassment she felt that no one was doing anything to help them, sparked a passion within her that compelled her to act and make a difference for orphans worldwide. “I ask myself: are we really not going to take care of our children?” said Boudreaux, vehemently. “What kind of world do we live in where we do not take care of our children? What are we willing to do to have a world that works for everyone? It’s all doable, and that’s what drives me every day.”
The Miracle Foundation was born from Boudreaux’s fateful experience in India, with the ultimate goal of finding a loving family for every orphaned child. The Austin-based nonprofit has helped thousands of children around the world find safe homes, and it provides unmatched educational and psychiatric resources in order to propel them out of abject poverty. As of last year, 100 percent of children supported by the Miracle Foundation had enrolled in school, and 98 percent of its students in India passed high school (compared to India’s average passing rate of 52 percent, per UNESCO 2016). The organization even sponsors 158 students pursuing higher education.
“We’re all about helping people help themselves,” explained Boudreaux. “We give them opportunities for job training because people want to be experts in their field. We give the kids life skills education–things like critical thinking skills, an understanding of personal safety, and lessons on morality and ethics. That is how you transform children: you train them and educate them.”
The core principles of the Miracle Foundation are built around a UN treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifically lays out global standards of living and rights afforded to children. The foundation adopted this into 12 measurable factors which can be used to determine a child’s standard of living. The 12 components include:
- The right to a stable, loving and nurturing environment
- The right to healthcare and nutrition
- The right to clean water and electric power
- The right to a quality education
- The right to equal opportunities
- The right to guidance from a caring adult
- The right to be heard and participate in decisions that affect them
- The right to be prepared for active and responsible citizenship
- The right to protection from abuse and neglect
- The right to live in conditions of dignity and freedom
- The right to spiritual development
- The right to live with their parents or relatives, if possible
The development of all of the Miracle Foundation children is based on this scale, also known as the THRIVE scale, with the ultimate goal being that each child meets these standards completely. This measurement tool has been critical to determining successful outcomes for the organization, and similar organizations aim to copy the model, including partners within the UN.
“We can measure impact, and that’s what makes us so good at what we do,” said Boudreaux. “People talk about human rights all the time, but we’ve actually codified children’s rights. We know exactly what it means for children to meet the Rights of the Child. We can measure things like vaccination rates, anemia, and educational development. Other organizations often don’t know how they are doing in taking care of people, but we have a tool to specifically measure success.”
In conjunction with the data analysis and diagnostic tools is a warm, family-oriented approach to child care. Traditionally known as “wardens” to the state, the head of each Miracle Foundation-supported orphanage instead encourages the children in her care to call her “mother.”
“They love their caretakers,” expressed Boudreaux emphatically. “While a warden ‘does’ things for a child, a parent constantly ‘gives’ to their children. We all deserve a loving family. The fact that I met these kids on a Mother’s Day showed me the importance of a parent to a child.”
Boudreaux noticed that the change in the children’s lives is no more apparent than in their physical appearance. “When we first see the kids, they have no energy; they’ll lean against the wall and won’t talk. Within three months they get a bit of their energy back, and within six months they’re getting naughty and will talk back to you a little bit.” She smiled, then said with a hint of sarcasm, “I always say that any kid that can have a temper tantrum is a healthy kid.”
The children are also acutely aware of their improved quality of life, and it gives them hope for a greater future. “Before the Miracle Foundation started supporting my home, I was very thin,” said Meera, a young woman who grew up in a Miracle Foundation-supported orphanage. “Now my height has increased and my weight has increased. I also have a housemother, who I get a lot of love from. It’s like living with a family. Now, I feel like I can grow up as a girl with confidence.”
“These kids are insistent on going to college and becoming doctors,” expressed Boudreaux. “They know themselves, and they are powerful people who have been through great suffering. Their empathy for others who suffer and their ambition for life is off the charts.”
As we approach Father’s Day, it is appropriate to reflect on the importance of parental figures in all of our lives. The children and caretakers of The Miracle Foundation are certainly a testament to the care, strength, and support that mothers and fathers selflessly give to their kin.
If you would like to make a donation to the Miracle Foundation in honor of your father or a fatherly figure in your life, simply visit www.MiracleFoundation.org/fathers. Supporters at all donation levels will receive an email with a certificate they can share with their honoree for Father’s Day, letting him know he’s been honored with a donation to support children without a father figure in their life. Additionally, donors may receive additional gifts at these gift levels (courtesy of their partner, Tito’s Handmade Vodka):
- $20: Buy a dad a “virtual drink” (and you, too!)
- $50: Buy a dad the “virtual bottle”
- $100: Buy dad & friends a “virtual round”
- $300: Buy the whole bar a “virtual drink!”
Tito’s Handmade Vodka and other generous donors will match every dollar donated, up to $100,000.