Every time I think this blog has been reduced to a few trite words and a smattering of cute kid pics, I find myself internally wrestling with a bigger issue and feel the need to spew my thoughts.
I thought I was done with all of the adoption talk. After all, Tariku has been a part of our family for over a year, and it feels like even longer. I have talked in circles regarding issues of privacy, trauma, attachment, development and so on. Yes, I recognize that these are, in many ways, lifelong conversations, but I felt a contentedness that did not warrant further dialogue. That is, until I started thinking about my Father's Day gift for my dad.
My dad used to ask each of his kids to choose a book for him for Father's Day. As I've mentioned before, this was my not-so-subtle way to get my father to read books on subjects that were close to my heart. Two years ago, however, he bought a Kindle Reader, so we needed to devise an alternate gift plan. So instead of a book, he asked each of us to make a donation to a charity in his honor. Again, this was a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone -- I'd get to support a charity of my choosing, all the while honoring my dad.
It's no secret that orphan care is an issue at the top of my list, so I started to wade through the many, many, many, many websites of NPOs providing "quality" care to orphans. There are too many organizations with this mission (which should have been my first clue) and I was at a loss as to how I'd choose among them. I perused cliche' ridden prose and glossy photographs of fly-covered orphans transformed by the care they received from such and such organization. Tariku was in institutional care for five months -- I was not fooled.
But, it was still a battering to my ego to realize that my attention and efforts were completely misguided. That these organizations that I have long supported all enter the game too late. The children they claim to support are already orphans. They have already lost their birth families to disease, poverty, or any combination thereof. These organizations are merely putting band-aids on an often preventable injury that has already occurred. Although nothing tugs at the heart-strings more so than the plight of the orphan, would it not be better to support an organization that prevents the injury from occurring in the first place? An organization that works to improve maternal health? Or one that focuses on the education and rights of girls? Or an organization that specifically works to maintain families in developing countries?
We specifically chose AAI as our placement agency because of its reputation for conducting ethical adoptions. In addition, AAI is reputed for it commitment to humanitarian projects within Ethiopia. But, at the end of the day, AAI is in the business of placing children for adoption. Not only do they have zero incentive to stanch the flow of orphans into their care, but to do so would put them out of business. That said, there were orphans in Ethiopia long before the rush of international adoption, and there will be orphans remaining long after it winds down.
But, how many of these so-called orphans are being placed for adoption as an absolute last resort?
How many of them may have been able to remain with their birth families* if there were fewer organizations focusing on orphan care, and more resources directed to organizations that have education, economic empowerment, reproductive rights, and gender equality as their primary objective?
Then again, how many of these same kids would be dead?
I have an adopted son from Ethiopia. My cynicism must make me sound like a hypocrite, or worse. But, I am not content to look at him and be complacent. Nor, am I wiling to cut the check and pat myself on the back.
*As of April 2011, USCIS reports that in Ethiopia, mothers relinquish in 45% of cases, fathers relinquish in 18% of cases, 19% of cases are abandonments, and more distant relatives relinquish in 18% of cases.