Millions of orphans worldwide live in poor conditions without access to caregivers who can give them the love and attention they need in the early stages of their lives. And there are many children in the U.S. living in poverty. Some face trauma and neglect due to unfortunate circumstances.
Dr. Jane Aronson, founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), has been providing services to orphans for more than thirty years. We talked with Dr. Aronson about why she was inspired to dedicate her life to neglected children, how play is changing lives around the world and what people can do to help out in their own communities.
We sat down for an interview with Dr. Jane Aronson and here’s what she shared.
1. You became a doctor at the early age of 31. How did you start your work with adopted children?
I did many medical missions to orphanages in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, China, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Haiti and Latin America. I could not forget the faces of the traumatized orphans that I saw during my travels. I could not leave them behind without doing something. I [founded the WWO in 1997] and established a solo pediatric practice in Manhattan in 2000, specializing in adoption medicine, where I have evaluated well over 10,000 adopted children. This was the only private practice focused on adoption medicine in the U.S. I followed adopted children in a primary care pediatric practice and developed a specialty in the long-term care of children adopted from abroad and domestically.
2. What does the Worldwide Orphans Foundation do?
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We transform the lives of children and communities in need. We provide education, medical care and psycho-social support in local communities, so that the children can become confident, competent, thriving adults who can and will change the world around them. We send Orphan Rangers—volunteer university students and healthcare professionals—to provide psychosocial services to children at field sites abroad and now here at home. To date, WWO has sponsored over 262 Orphan Rangers in 14 countries and created 400 service projects. The WWO is currently active in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Haiti, Serbia, the United States and Vietnam.
I am not a person who spends too much time on negative thinking. I admire historical figures who got things done and enacted change.
3. The WWO has also established toy libraries in forty-five locations around the world. How do they help children?
The Toy Libraries are part of an innovative early childhood development initiative trademarked as “Element of Play,” and will serve as a centers of excellence for training and research. The focus of these toy libraries is dual: adults learn child development and understand children better, so then there is less maltreatment and violence against children and less toxic stress and trauma for children. [It’s] a strategy that can be used for many different populations. I first saw them in Russia and they originated in Scandinavia. The toy libraries are spaces for storytelling, music, art, dance—everything that early learners need to thrive. Adults come together at these libraries, where they learn about child development, engage in playful activities with children and acquire transferrable skills and experience to support their communities. The libraries allow adults to see how children think, feel and develop and help adults aid children from all walks of life grow and become healthier kids. Toy libraries give adults the tools to prevent children from becoming more delayed. They help improve development and attachment. In 2017, the WWO established our first U.S. based Toy Libraries, in Orange, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York.
4. What drives you every day to continue to help others and stay positive, especially seeing these children that are facing so much hardship?
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I am not a person who spends too much time on negative thinking. I admire historical figures who got things done and enacted change. There are so many inspirational people in history—people like Indira, Ghandi, Golda Meir and Winston Churchill. I love to learn what inspired individuals who changed the world for good. What made them run? I run on a kind of energy that is above idealism. I am unrelenting—I am the roadrunner. I was born with that in my DNA. I am an artist. I write. I feel and I care. I am available and vulnerable. I want to fix things and make the world a better place.
5. What can the average person do to help poor children locally or around the world?
We want to be in every poor city and you can set up a Toy Library near you. We have cities in the United States that look like Haiti. If not the WWO, get involved with community organizations near you. We need to listen to people around us. People are in need of help. They are scared. Don’t call them names. Help them. I wake up everyday thinking that I am not doing enough. It is what motivates me to do more and more. It can help you help others too.