Meet The Woman On A Mission To Empty The World's Orphanages

She hopes to find a home for every child that needs one.

One visit to an orphanage spawned a new life mission for Caroline Boudreaux: to help give orphaned children a chance at fulfilling their potential.

The 30-year-old had quit her job to travel the world with her best friend. On Mother's Day, 17 years ago, she found a quest for dinner turn into a trip to an orphanage in a small village in India. Inside, she came across a harrowing scene.

"It was like walking into a concentration camp," Boudreaux said. "It was so dismal… I saw these 110 filthy, bald, hungry, empty-looking orphaned children, and I was just blown away."

Boudreaux with a group of children in India.
Boudreaux with a group of children in India. Courtesy: Lynne Dobson

Boudreaux said she experienced a beautiful Hindu prayer service with the man running the orphanage, but afterwards, she returned to the children. She starting calling them "velcro babies," she said, because they were so affectionate and wanted so badly to be held. Boudreaux was shocked at the state of the bedrooms: they smelled like urine, they were dirty, dark, and the children were all crammed on top of each other in wooden beds.

"There were so many, and every single one was precious and perfect, desperately in need of love, attention—someone to care," Boudreaux said. "I just decided right there and then that I was going to do something. If I didn't do it, maybe nobody would."

So that year, she founded The Miracle Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to giving life-changing care to orphans all across the United States and the world to help them reach their full potential. Boudreaux said she named it the "Miracle" Foundation because she knew that's what it'd take to accomplish her goal: to find loving families and private homes for the 8.5 million orphans living in institutions across the globe.

Boudreaux says that UNICEF estimates the number of orphans to be around 150 million children. But it gets that number from calculating how many kids have lost the care of one parent. 8.5 million of those children live in institutions across the world (including foster care in the United States), and those are the children Boudreaux wants to help.

So far, the Miracle Foundation has helped 8,000 children by either finding homes for them or making the institutions they live in more livable. 

Boudreaux with a group of children in India.
Boudreaux with a group of children in India. Courtesy: Lynne Dobson

If it isn't giving a child a forever home, The Miracle Foundation is doing their best to improve where they are already living. Many of the orphans helped by the Miracle Foundation have gone onto college or found professional success since having seeing their orphanage's funding increase or being placed with a family. 

Meera, a 20-year-old orphan from Tamil Nadu, a state in India's southeastern region, is currently studying social work in college and will graduate next year. The Miracle Foundation helped support Meera's orphanage, and, as a result, children there started receiving regular meals, clean water and doctor's visits. 

"Before the Miracle Foundation started helping me, I was very thin and not growing well —and now my height and weight have increased," she said in a statement provided to A Plus through the Miracle Foundation. "I also have people around me who give me a lot of love.  It's like having my own family. Now, I feel like I can grow up as a girl with confidence."

The Miracle Foundation continues to get better, too, Boudreaux said. It's getting smarter, more efficient, and learning on the go how to tackle some of their biggest challenges. It's partnered with over 30 organizations when just three or four years ago global organizations like this weren't even working together, according to Boudreaux. Compared to 8.5 million children, the 8,000 orphans its reached may not sound like a dent in her ultimate goal, but each of those children is now experiencing a profoundly different life than the one they had before. And the relatively low number doesn't concern Boudreaux at all. On the contrary, she says, she's confident that she will live to see a world where there are no children living in these institutions.

Tamil Nadu, whose orphanage was helped by The Miracle Foundation.
Tamil Nadu, whose orphanage was helped by The Miracle Foundation. Courtesy: Lynne Dobson

"I'm not saying in 50 years," Boudreaux insisted. "In our lifetime, we're going to end this problem. We're going to stop this." 

The places where foster care and orphanages are improving might surprise you. A Plus recently reported about the foster care system in the United States, which is in crisis. But some countries with newer foster care and adoption initiatives such as Rwanda are making meaningful strides.

Boudreaux pointed to several countries in Africa where progress is being made in a way that she sees as positive. Several media outlets have heralded Rwanda's successful government program that aimed to move children from abuse-ridden foster care into family homes. In 2011 and 2012, about 3,000 children were in foster care across Rwanda. By December of 2015, more than 2,000 had been placed with new families or reunited with their old family, according to All Africa

"This is promising because studies show that children should not be in institutions and should instead (whenever possible) remain (or be reunited) with their birth families," Boudreaux said in a follow-up email to A Plus. "Or find a loving home through kinship care, foster care, adoption or other family care options."

Boudreaux says that The Miracle Foundation is headed to Rwanda in January to take a firsthand look at their system and find out what is and isn't working. 

"We're not saying they've got it all right or that we're going push these programs out as is, we're just saying there is some strong movement and examples going on around the world for us to learn from and use to develop programs that do work," Boudreaux said.

This holiday season, The Miracle Foundation is running a holiday campaign, where they are encouraging people to donate and noting that donors and their end will match any contribution up to $35,000. You can donate in various ways, including a $25 donation that The Miracle Foundation says will feed a child in the developing world for a month. 

As for the future, and figuring out how to find eight million children homes in her lifetime, Boudreaux says her message is simple: We can do this. 

"I built The Miracle Foundation on this entire premise: if people knew they could make a difference, they would," she said. "This is so doable — not easy, but doable… Nothing is heavy if everyone lifts."

Cover photo: Lynne Dobson

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article described a Miracle Foundation holiday campaign from 2016. It has been updated to describe a campaign the Miracle Foundation is running this calendar year. 

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