By Allison Shorter
Starting a non-profit can be difficult, even in your home country where you understand the customs and language, know how to mail things, and know where offices are located. But in a different country where you don’t speak the language well or understand the cultural nuances, it takes persistence. The process may take longer in order to learn how to navigate these differences abroad, especially if your organization is charting new territory in public service.
In Yunnan, China, where Josiah’s Covenant is located, founders Allison and Kevin Shorter have little resources in terms of cultural and linguistic knowledge, but they have made great strides despite. They founded Josiah’s Covenant three years ago after two failed adoption attempts and moving their family of four to China. Their mission is to build an orphanage in China that will house older orphaned girls and that will teach them life and employment skills as well as how to avoid harm. In 2015, they were granted a farm by a philanthropist so that the girls would have a place to work. There was an old dormitory situated on the land that badly needed renovation in order to be livable, but a group of high school volunteers helped them clean out the building and fix many repairs. This Spring, the first two girls arrived at the orphanage to begin what the Shorters hope will be a three-year program designed to help them learn English, job, and life skills and to teach them that they matter and have value.
To know all that Josiah’s Covenant has accomplished in the last year, and then to know that it was done without knowing Chinese, how the local police force worked, or how to mail a check is profound. Additionally, one of the more serious cultural differences in China is that boys are preferred over girls, and girls are often raised with a “less than” mentality because they are female. This is why there are generally more girls in orphanages in China, and many of them are older and more at risk. While there many organizations that help younger or disabled orphans, orphaned teens coming out of the system are often ignored. Many nonprofits who do this kind of work can look to a model for what their organization should do given their circumstances, but Josiah’s Covenant is creating a unique model in China where orphaned teenage girls have a safe place to go, are empowered, and learn important life skills. Every policy and procedure has to be created from scratch.
For example, Josiah’s Covenant is in the midst of figuring out how to structure the girls’ time in such a way that most benefits them. Coming up with rewards and consequences for the girls’ behavior have had to be established, and the Shorters are working overtime to bring in training experts like Lifeline Children’s Services for caregivers and Shine to teach the girls about the dangers of trafficking and how to build their self-esteem. They have recently lost their translator, leaving them without any Chinese language speakers, and have had to install a gate on the farm for protection as well. These are all measures that have been difficult to predict and have made it difficult to navigate the cultural nuances of the area, but have been overcome all the same.
Allison says that Josiah’s Covenant, “is constantly assessing and adjusting everything along the way. We have to remain flexible to the unknown and give ourselves room to figure it all out.” Even with cultural and language differences and figuring everything out from scratch, one of the things that they have done well is helping the girls feel loved. “Love covers a multitude of mistakes,” says Allison. “I remind myself of that daily. I am sure that our team makes mistakes all the time on this learning journey. But all children need love. They need to feel heard. They need to feel safe and secure. They need to know they are not alone and that someone is looking out for their best interests. They need freedom to fail. They need someone to treat them with kindness and patience.” While Josiah’s Covenant may not be able to navigate the language or the cultural values of where these girls come from, they can show them these basic forms of compassion, which transcend language.
“They are changing for the better,” Allison notes. “A man (an orphan himself) who grew up with these girls in their village came to visit them recently and told me what a good and healthy place this is for. He said his experience has been that most orphans get worse and worse, but they are getting better and better.”
Allison Shorter is an American currently living in China. Her family started Josiah’s Covenant, which helps train orphan girls coming out of orphanages, giving them housing, life skills, a job and a family. For more information please visit http://JosiahsCovenant.com or connect with her at http://facebook.com/JosiahsCovenant.