Standing With Orphans Alleviating Child Hunger in Chin State
Written By: Robin Reid, Storyteller/Content Manager
What do you get when you combine faith with an airplane, a bag of rice, a pig, and social media? You have close to 200 orphans being fed daily thanks to Standing With Orphans, a Morgan County nonprofit founded by Thomas Whitley.
Standing With Orphans alleviates child hunger in Chin State as it delivers bags (2,000 to 3,000 pounds) of rice to 14 orphanages every four to five months. Whitley said there are more orphanages needing food assistance, but he doesn’t have enough monthly donors to cover the additional cost of rice.
It takes $25 to purchase a 100-pound bag of rice which lasts for one week depending on the number of children. All donations go towards the food and other necessary supplies.
The Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC) has supported Standing With Orphans since 2013 in the form of a CFMC fund. Today, you can help furnish bags of rice to more orphanages by making an online donation at www.cfmconline.org.
A few years after Whitley and his wife, Merlyn, adopted their daughter Josselyn Faith from China in 2007, Thomas learned about Chin refugees living on the Southeast side of Indianapolis. Grace Church in Mooresville, where Whitley attended, began praying about a missions trip to Myanmar.
“I became good friends with a minister from Chin State who asked me to visit the orphanages. I asked him, ‘Isn’t Chin State off-limits to foreigners?’, and he said ‘Yes, but you can get in’. I told him it meant death to travel there, but he insisted I would get in. He told me, ‘God is bigger than death,’ and so I went,” said Whitley.
Taking a leap of faith to the other side of the world.
In December 2012, Whitley and ZaBik Bualteng, a friend and Chin refugee, traveled to Myanmar for the first of three trips. After arriving in Myanmar, the government permitted Thomas to enter Chin State. He and ZaBik could only stay for three weeks.
Chin State is located in western Myanmar (also known as Burma), a country in Southeast Asia which borders India, China, Bangladesh, Laos, and Thailand. From 1962 to 2012, Myanmar was under military rule and Chin State was closed to outsiders. During the military regime, thousands of people were either killed, tortured, enslaved, or escaped due to widespread human rights abuses. Refugees sought a new life in many neighboring countries as well as the United States.
In the late 1990s and by 2000, Indiana became home to 400 to 500 Chin refugees and now Indiana has one of the largest Burmese refugee populations in the U.S.
Poverty is high in this mountainous area of Myanmar as resources are scarce and economic development is very slow. Although Burma is primarily a Buddhist country, many Chin people are Christians despite years of religious persecution. According to Whitley, with one main road winding around the mountains, he saw crosses on both sides, marking the graves of men, women, and children killed for their faith in God.
Hundreds of children, both young and now adults, became orphans when their parents were killed for religious reasons, died due to economic hardships, or when the 2005 tsunami destroyed rice fields where they worked.
Finding the poorest of the poor changed his life.
“As we headed up the mountain towards the top of Chin State, we went to Pinelle Children’s Home in Thantlang and it changed my life forever,” said Whitley. “Children were starving, maybe eating a handful of rice once a day, and were sleeping on the floors. I had to do something.”
After returning to Indiana, Thomas reached out to his friend, George Watkins, for help and he suggested contacting CFMC to set up a fund. Whitley also asked family and friends for donations and created a Facebook page to get the word out.
“Thankfully, I have people in Chin State, like ministers, who purchase and transport the rice to the orphanages and they do it for free,” added Whitley. “I’m praying I can send rice every three months, along with pigs.”
When asked about providing protein, such as meats, Thomas said they don’t eat beef due to Buddhism while other animals such as pigs and chickens are too expensive to buy. The orphanages rely mostly on rice and whatever vegetables they either grow or receive to feed the children.
Pigs provide a source of food and income.
During his third and first solo trip to Chin State last year, Thomas purchased pigs for the 14 orphanages. These pigs serve two purposes. First, they’re a good protein source and second, some pigs are sold to provide income to the orphanages.
Standing with Orphans has also helped these orphanages by providing mosquito netting for each child to prevent malaria; clothing; school supplies; blankets; solar panels for electricity; and bricks to build an outside restroom.
“On my first trip, I saw children carry signs and singing to get people to give them food. It broke my heart and changed me. God planned the adoption of my daughter in order to bring me to Chin State. China ignited the spark,” said Whitley. “God changes people. He changed me.”
Today, help feed orphans in Chin State by donating through the Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC). Go to www.cfmconline.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CFMC’s mission is to connect donors and their charitable giving with our evolving community needs in order to enhance the quality of life for current and future generations through impact grantmaking. The vision of CFMC is to be the philanthropic leader and a catalyst in order to maximize available resources in our community.