When most of us think of children without families, we visualize young children (adorable and heart-wrenching) living in some kind of institutional care. We see the need to give them good options for shelter and education, but don’t give a thought to what happens to them as they grow into teenagers and young adults. I had the same lack of awareness even though we are an adoptive family, having adopted our daughter from an orphanage (or Child Care Institution, CCI, as they are officially known in India) in 1997.
I remember clearly, even 2 decades later, the faces of the babies we saw there that we could not bring home with us. The CCI itself was outstanding, and the staff told us that they place all their babies with families, so we naively assumed all children in my daughter’s situation eventually find “forever” homes.
Our comfortable assumptions were shattered when we realized that the outlook in India for children who grow up in Child Care Institutions is pretty terrible. There are about 400,000 children in 10,000 CCIs across India. They are there for many reasons – they are abandoned, orphaned, or have run away from home to escape horrible situations. Less than 3000 get adopted every year.
The vast majority grow up in the CCIs till they are 18, at which point they have to leave and fend for themselves. The situation in India (and all over the world) is that children who grow up without familial care are only guaranteed shelter, food and education till the age of 18. As with all things in India, the numbers are enormous. Each year about 60,000 youth age out of institutional care in India. These teenagers leave after having received sub-standard schooling, with no money for further education, no employable skills, and no family support.
The challenges this highly vulnerable population faces are invisible to most people. Teenagers leave the restrictive but sheltered CCI, perhaps the only stable home they have known, and have to immediately contend with unstable housing, lack of employment, limited options for girls, challenges with physical and mental health, and problems with the law.
My husband Madan and I founded A Future for Every Child (AFEC) in 2018 to provide the education and training necessary for these youth to become productive members of society.
We enroll teenagers aging out of CCIs into our “AFEC Achievers” program. We begin by providing AFEC Achievers with career counseling. Based on their interests, aptitude, and level of schooling, they decide on either vocational training or higher education. We provide full support, tuition and board for their educational choice, help with job placement, and mentoring for 2 years after employment, to ensure they are firmly on the path to self-sufficiency.
AFEC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit registered in California. We fund three NGO partners in India to deliver services on the ground. In addition to the funding, we work closely with our partners to define the program, standardize delivery, measure efficacy, improve quality and achieve scale.
Based on the career choice an AFEC Achiever makes, he or she can be in our program anywhere from 2.5 to over 5 years. In addition to direct costs of tuition, room and board, we fund program staff who are critical to providing some of the support structure normally provided by a family. We also believe investment in robust data collection and analysis is needed to measure outcomes and continuously improve the program.
The cost to completely change a young person’s life is so very modest.
We estimate that on average, it costs $800 per youth in the AFEC Achiever program. $800 pays the average cost of the entire program from career counseling to skills training to post-placement mentoring. For an amount that is less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, and much less than the cost of a smartphone, a young adult is launched into adulthood equipped with skills to earn a good living.
AFEC is only 4 years old, but we are growing rapidly. We have enrolled 537 youth so far across seven states. They are pursuing a variety of programs varying in length from a 3-month office administration course to a 5-year Bachelors in Architecture. 124 are in steady employment after completing their training, earning Rs 10,000 – 23,000 per month. (See our impact page!)
Who are these young people and what circumstances led them to the heart-breaking reality of 18-year-olds having to fend for themselves? Shabnam and Shekhar are just two examples of the many young adults waiting for a chance to work towards a stable future and a life without fear.
Our goal is to enroll another 300 AFEC Achievers this year. AFEC’s Annual Fundraising Gala is on September 17th, at the Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos CA. The theme of the Gala is “Life is a Team Sport”, and we are really excited to have as our Chief Guest Paraag Marathe, President of 49ers Enterprises, EVP of Football Operations, Vice Chairman of Leeds United FC, and Chairman of USA Cricket. Get more information about the gala here.
No one succeeds alone – each of us can think back and remember who was on our team, encouraging and supporting us, as we stepped into adulthood. Those of us who are older parents know how much we do to launch our own children to independence. Hope you will join us in showing these youth who have been twice abandoned, once in childhood, and again at 18, that there are people who care, and are on their team. If you cannot make to the gala, you can still donate here.
Gita is a long-time resident of the Bay Area. She
and her husband, Madan, have three children—two biological sons and an adopted daughter—and they have enjoyed (and survived)
the wild and often tumultuous journey of their children growing up. Gita is passionate about the welfare of vulnerable children everywhere. Gita and Madan bring decades of tech industry management experience to running the non- profit. You may contact Gita at email@example.com.