Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Call me a hypocrite.

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.


  1. Well written Rachel. I don't know about you, but the idea that programs to prevent children from becoming orphans has such a deeper meaning now that we have A & E home. Before the idea made sense to me, but now that they are here I really understand (at least as much as someone with my non-orphan background can) how important it is to prevent orphans in the first place. Watching them struggle with issues and experiences too big to put in words is so tough. No child should have to experience what our kids have. I love my kids to pieces, but I would give up parenting in a heartbeat if they could grow up in the loving care of their first parents - I love them that much.

  2. Rachael, you have defined the issue well. Early intervention/prevention and education to help keep children from becoming orphaned, are of paramount importance. As an adoptive mom of one of Tariku's "room mates", the issues of ethical adoptions and alternate solutions are always on my mind. I am blessed to have J in my life, but I think about the decisions his birth family made and wish they had not had to take that route.

  3. Such a tough issue. Orphan care has of course gotten more attention for IMO two main reasons. One is that it is easier to get the things that are needed-any organization needs a steady stream of people, money, and donations and orphan care has the easiest time of getting all three. The second reason is that orphan care is relatively the same around the world. Working directly with families is so much more culture based and requires much more extensive education and experience to be effective.

    The question becomes-do we work on the symptoms of the problem or do we try to attack the problem itself even though we aren't quite sure what the solution is? Sure, we know several potential solutions. But what is the solution that will be effective? Is it an educational one? Is it a cultural one? Is it a medical one? Or is it a basic necessity one? There are so many variables that pulling on one string might not end up giving the desired result, and might actually be counterproductive. At the same time, that cannot mean that we just give up.

    I don't think you're being a hypocrite. There's plenty of work to be done on both ends of the spectrum. We just have to figure out how to be a help and not a well meaning hindrance to true progress.

  4. Orphan prevention. YES. YES. I just blog hopped and found you. So nice to read a post I connect to.

  5. This really resonates with me.

    I tried expressing this sentiment to people close to me in recent months and was met with a brick wall. The understanding was not there and I was surprised at the response.

    I think a lot about birth families. Their painful decision/choice/circumstance gave me my family and my joy. I admit that I didn't think (didn't want to think?) about this before our family began when we traveled to Ethiopia. The what ifs take over. What if I had given their family money (It wouldn't even be significant in the grand scheme of things) and they would not have had to make that choice? No, it would absolutely would not have solved the issue of poverty, sickness, or other reasons families are stricken with in one of the poorest nations in the world, but it absolutely would have made a difference to one family.

    What do I tell my children? The truth obviously, but the truth hurts. I wasn't thinking about their family, their culture, their country etc... I wanted to start a family and this is how my husband and I chose to go about it. Maybe I'm way off base here in my thoughts...maybe offending some...maybe your word weren't meant to go this way...maybe I don't really know where I'm going with this, but it resonates nevertheless.

    Glad to hear your voice again,
    Susan O.

  6. i struggle with this one, too. it is amazing how going through the adoption process opens your eyes so much more than before. i often wonder: should my husband & i adopt another child or instead use the money to sponsor more children who live with their bio families in their homecountry...

  7. This is a great post. Our agency just started a new program that specifically targets the populations in Ethiopia you are talking about - families at risk of being dismantled by poverty and children on the verge of relinquishment. They are looking for Americans to sponsor these families so that they can stay intact. I was blown away when they announced this and jumped to get on board right away. What do you know? An Adoption agency that has gotten into the business of preventing orphans. Pretty cool.