Saturday, December 30, 2006

AHOPE


I have recently been reading lots of blogs and gathering as much information I can about adoption of HIV-positive children. Before everyone gets upset about this, let me tell you that Z and I have NOT made ANY decision about this in any way. We are wanting to learn as much as we can for several reasons, though. First, if we adopt children from Ethiopia it is very likely that their lives will have been affected by HIV/AIDS. It is likely that they are orphans and available for us to adopt them because their parents died of AIDS. I want to know more about HIV/AIDS so that I know what to tell my children when they ask about their birth parents. We are also learning about it because we know there are several sibling groups in Ethiopia waiting for parents in which one of the children is HIV-positive. And because we know that there are lots of children at AHOPE in Ethiopia who are HIV-positive and waiting for homes.


I have so many questions running through my mind about this...Could Z and I handle being parents to one or more children who are HIV-positive? What would this mean? Would our families and friends be supportive of this?

Why is it that HIV carries so much fear with it? Z and I have made a mental list of things that we know we could deal with. We've talked about what kind of handicaps and what kind of special needs we think we could handle. When we first started talking about adoption, we basically assumed we would request healthy children. But, the more we thought about it and talked about it, we determined that we could handle a little more if we felt that is what we were supposed to do. I also didn't know that it was even possible to adopt children who were HIV-positive. I had never heard of it being done, and most agencies will not facilitate these adoptions, so I assumed it wasn't even allowed. Then I started reading more and learning that it was allowed. And suddenly I felt as though this was something that I needed to make an active decision about. If it wasn't allowed, I didn't have to decide....the decision was made for me. But now that I know it is possible I have to actively make the decision of whether or not we are capable of handling this special need.


What is it about this face that incites so much fear in those who look at her? What is it about this little girl that makes people wonder whether or not she is as deserving of a family as any other little girl? What is it about this girl that makes people sad when they look at her. This little girl (along with all the other kids in the photo above) are HIV-positive. Scary, aren't they?

These kids look healthy...they run and jump and play just like any other kids. They are smart and curious and hopeful, just like any other kids. But, they have the HIV virus in their veins. They have been orphaned, shunned by their own communities, and somehow managed to find their way to one of Ethiopia's few orphanages that provides care to HIV-positive children.

These kids are the lucky ones. They are at AHOPE. Their health is monitored carefully, they get nutritious meals, and they receive the anti-retroviral drugs that keep them healthy. But, they are still HIV-positive. Do they deserve to have families? Because they were born with a disease (through no fault of their own) do they not deserve to have a mom and dad? Do they not deserve to have their own belongings, their own homes? Do they deserve to not have an education? Should they have to spend their childhoods in an orphanage? What then? If they stay in Ethiopia they will be shunned by the public. They will likely not be able to afford to continue on medications. They will die an unnecessarily early death. Is that ok?

Is it irresponsible for parents to consider bringing HIV-positive children into their homes? Does it put their own lives, the lives of their other children, the lives of other people's children at risk? Is it selfish to want to be parents to one or more of these children, but put others at risk? And how much risk is there anyway?


And what if we decided the risks were worth it and that we could handle it...then what? What happens when the kids go to school and people find out they are HIV-positive? Would we be capable of handling the social aspects of parenting a child with HIV?

Could we handle losing friends and family members because they are afraid of our children? Could we handle not being able to allow our kids to play with other kids because we know their parents are afraid their kids will catch this disease?

What about doctor visits, medications, sicknesses? Could we afford it? Could we afford the "cocktail" of medications that are needed to keep the children healthy? What if we change jobs sometime in the future and our health insurance would no longer cover the child? What then?

Ugh...the questions. Maybe its best to pretend that you "can't" adopt these kids. Maybe I should forget that I learned it is possible. Maybe I should forget all of the things I've learned so far about HIV that make it seem manageable. Maybe I should check the "healthy" box on the adoption application and pretend that these kids aren't available. But, I can't. I need to learn more. And I need to remember that even if these kids are not meant to be my kids that they are most definitely deserving of being someone's kids.

NOTE: I found out from another blogger (http://transracial.adoptionblogs.com/) that the girls I have pictured in the blog above are two girls that she has met. Here is what Erin says about them:
"...Rediet is SOLID. She is such a big girl but it a total lover. and Gellilia is just an angel...she is one of Belane's favorite kids at AHOPE. She is very girly and very much wants a family."


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Live Simply, So Others Can Simply Live....

Over the Christmas holiday, I spent some time chatting with my family about our plans to adopt from Ethiopia. Our plans are not a surprise to anyone in my immediate family - we've been talking about it for months and we've been keeping them updated on how our decision-making progress is going. But, it was really the first time to sit face to face and talk about it. I printed off the entries I'd made on this blog and had them read that so they already knew the answers to many questions that I knew they'd ask.

Then I got some questions and comments that I may have expected, but wasn't ready for...and some others that came from far left field (in my opinion).

1. Why now? Why not wait until jobs are found, a house is in order, we are settled in our new "post-school" lives, and we have lots of "extra" money coming in to take care of things?

2. Why Ethiopia? There are lots of kids in the U.S. who need homes, why not them?

3. You can't "save" everyone in the world. You can't solve all the world's problems, sometimes you have to put "blinders" on to the world's problems. We have enough of our own here.

4. Don't these kids come with a lot of baggage? Do you know what you are getting into?

5. Many of the problems that people in other parts of the world have (including HIV/AIDS) are because of their lifestyles. They are just paying the consequences of this lifestyle.

Ok...so now I'll respond to these questions/comments. I did the best I could at fielding them at the time, but now I've had a little more time to think about it and I've talked things over with Z, so we are a united front on this.

1. We want to do this now for several reasons. The first reason is because we feel in our hearts that now is the time to start. Maybe it will work out for us to do it now, but if it doesn't then doors will close and we'll try again later. We know that if we waited until everything was perfect in order to start our family, we would never start our family. There is ALWAYS something in the way (finances, time, housing projects, etc). If we waited until we had all the money needed saved up, a perfect house to live in, we were settled in our jobs, etc...then something else would probably be in the way. There is never a "perfect" time, but we do feel that there is a "right" time. And we feel that now is the right time for us. Having said that, we also know that this process is going to take several months at the very least. We hope that some of the things that are worries will be all sorted out by then and everything will fall into place. But, even if that doesn't happen, we would never start and complete the process if we didn't feel we could provide for our kids.

2. It is true. There are LOTS of kids in the United States who need homes. We looked into the foster system and had originally planned to adopt through the foster system here in the U.S. We have absolutely nothing against the U.S. foster system and may work with it in the future, but for right now, we don't feel as though its a good fit for us. The goal of the foster system is to keep children with their biological families, but provide safe haven for children when its needed. Keeping kids with biological families is ALWAYS preferred, if it is possible. Right now we want to build our family - it would be incredibly difficult for us to bring children into our household and then have to say goodbye. Maybe someday when we are finished raising our own children we could provide this care to kids who need it, but right now, I don't think we could handle it emotionally.

On top of that, the need for loving parents is exponentially greater in Africa than it is here in the United States. Nearly all kids here, even if they are in foster care still have food to eat. They still have a house to live in. They still go to school. They still have some adult watching over them. But in Africa many orphans have NOTHING. If they are lucky they live in an orphanage that gets good funding for food, clothes, careworkers, and school fees. Many do not have any personal belongings. Everything they have is shared with other kids in the orphanage. And many of them have little hope of having anything else. To us, this means that the need in Africa is much greater than the need here.

Why Ethiopia? Because there are very few countries in Africa that allow international adoption. It is possible in many countries if you do it independently and spend some time in the country, but we do not feel qualified to try this route. There are adoption programs in South Africa, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Ghana. Some of these countries have very new programs that may or may not become well-established. Some are more expensive than others. Based on a myriad of criteria, Ethiopia is the best fit for us at this time.

3. What?!?! Sure, its true. We do have lots of problems here in the U.S. And to me, many of our problems here are brought on by ourselves. We govern ourselves badly...we vote for politicians who don't end up working for us...we waste our money....we start wars...we cut funding to organizations that help those in need....we make mistakes in our education system that cause our children to suffer the consequences. The list could go on and on. But, we are SO BLESSED to be here. We are lucky to have been born in the United States and not somewhere else on this earth. How did I end up here while so many others end up living in poverty around the globe. I know I didn't choose it - I just got lucky. Does that mean I should forget about all of those other people around the globe? Should I put "blinders" on and focus only on my life here in the U.S.? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

I live a good lifestyle here in the U.S. I have food to eat (too much probably), I have good educational opportunities, I have access to good healthcare, I don't own a house, but I live in a nice apartment, Z and I own two vehicles, we have a little debt but its not insurmountable, and we have the love and support of friends and family. We live a very comfortable life. And I am happy with my life. Having said that - I know that I live this lifestyle at the expense of others. Am I proud of that? Of course not - but its the truth. I buy products that are made in China by people who are underpaid. I drive a car that operates on oil from the middle east that may or may not have terrorist ties. I have clothing in my closet that was probably made in sweatshops in Indonesia, Mexico, and other countries around the world. I have diamonds that likely originated in mines in Africa, which also may have provided funding to terrorist organizations. My house contains lots of materials and chemicals that came from all over the world. I have clean water to drink while many corporations and factories are polluting water all over the world so I can have whatever it is that I have. Is that fair? NO! Is it right? NO! Should I pretend this doesn't happen, just because it makes me uncomfortable? NO!

4. Baggage...Yes, of course these kids will come with their own baggage. But so do I, and so does Z. Are we pretending that they won't? Of course not. Do we know for sure what the baggage will be, do we know how we will handle it? No...not really. We know that our kids may have watched their parents die. We know that they may have gone to sleep with empty stomachs for many nights. We know they may have lost friends, siblings, and other family members to starvation and disease. We know that they may be suffering the effects of malnutrition. We know they may have emotional scars. But we also know that these kids deserve a second chance. They deserve to grow up, have hope, and have the opportunity to be "someone".

Do we know if we'll be good parents? I don't know....I only pray that I will be a good parent. I pray that I am able to provide a safe, loving environment for our kids. I pray that I can be encouraging to them so that they feel hope that they can become anything they want to become. I hope that I can help them to feel confident and worthy, no matter what "baggage" they have to overcome. I hope that they will look back on their second set of parents and think that their first set of parents would be proud.

5. Again I say "What?!?" Look back to my answer to #3....People in the rest of the world are living in the poverty that industrialized nations facilitate. We want to have all of the things we dream about, but we aren't willing to hold the hands of those who provide it and bring them up with us. Instead, we get to the top by standing on their heads. This is not how the world should work. And this is not something that I am willing to pretend doesn't happen. If I had not seen it first-hand, I could close my eyes a little easier. But having seen what poverty looks like I can't pretend.

I have the utmost respect for the person who stated this comment, so I know it wasn't asked in a mean-spirited way. But, I also know that this opinion is one that is so hurtful to the people of Africa. It is an excuse for us to turn our heads and blame the victims. It is an excuse for us to look away and feel superior to them. It is an opinion that allows us to turn our backs on the problem and not recognize our part in the creation and the solution to the problem. It would be like blaming the victims of the Katrina hurricane for simply living in New Orleans.

As far as HIV/AIDS....the idea that people are paying for their lifestyle through disease is absolute ignorance. African people are not heathens who have promiscuous sex and blood rituals. Many countries (including Ethiopia) are Christian countries. Sure, promiscuous sex happens - it does here in the United States, too (probably more often). Why did AIDS become such a problem in Africa? To answer this completely you should read "There Is No Me Without You" by Melissa Fay Greene. But, the short answer is that the virus started in monkeys in Africa. It was transferred to humans by people eating monkey meat (this is very common in Africa). Then, the rapid spread of the disease was through non-sterilized needles during vaccinations for other diseases like polio. Westerners thought they were providing a wonderful service to Africans by providing vaccines. They thought they were eradicating diseases. While they provided immunity to diseases like polio, they spread the HIV virus. For nearly 3 decades it has spread unchecked through sex, blood transfusions, and improper sterilizations in hospitals around the continent. Now, it seems as though an entire generation of parents is paying the price for this. And now an entire generation of children is growing up without parents.

I do not want to have to look back when my children ask me "what did you do to help?" if I have done nothing. Sure, adopting one child or two children will not solve the problems in Africa. But, it might help to provide those two kids with opportunities they would not have otherwise had. And perhaps the money we spend facilitating the adoption will help provide care in an orphanage in Addis Ababa for many other orphaned children.

This post was not meant to be a forum for me to jump on my soap-box....I didn't mean it that way at all. It isn't really fair for me to complain about all of the injustices of the world while I continue to enjoy my lifestyle. And I do enjoy it. But I also want to be aware of the problems and do even just a little bit to try to fix it. I take public transportation when I can, I recycle, I donate unwanted items to Goodwill, I cook my own food, and I try to understand my carbon footprint and make it as small as possible. One day I hope that I can be even better at all of this. But I don't dislike my lifestyle...and I don't really want to give up all the perks. But, I want to spread the wealth a bit...and help everyone's lifestyles to become better.

Ok...I'm off the soapbox now...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We've Decided

We have officially decided which agency we are going to use. Using this agency means that we will probably have to wait a little longer to get kids home (because their waiting list is longer) and it will mean that we will probably have to spend a little more money to get them home as well. So, why did we decide to go with Adoption Advocates International? There are several reasons why we decided this agency was the best fit for us. First of all - they have been working in Ethiopia for almost a decade and they have a very good reputation. They have brought hundreds of children home to loving families in the United States and we have the utmost confidence that they will do the same for us.

AAI runs two orphanages in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Layla House for the older kids and Wanna House for the younger kids). In these orphanages they provide healthcare, education, and lots of love for the children while they wait for new families. They explain to the kids that a new family is waiting for them and they do their very best to prepare the kids for the tremendous transition they are about to experience. I cannot imagine how sad and scared and shy some of these kids must be, but the caregivers at the orphanages are experienced in helping the kids get through it all and be happy, healthy kids. We decided that this treatment of orphans in Ethiopia was something that we wanted support.

Another factor that went into our decision-making was the attitude that AAI has toward HIV-positive children. AAI works with an organization called AHOPE which runs an orphanage in Addis Ababa specifically for HIV-positive children. AHOPE also receives funding through World Wide Orphans which provides the anti-retroviral drugs needed to keep these children healthy. Before this funding was provided and drugs were made available, AHOPE was essentially an orphanage that provided respite care to kids who were dying of AIDS. However, since these drugs have been made available, this has changed dramatically. In 2006, they did not lose any children to AIDS. These kids now have the ability to dream about what they want to be when they grow up, because they now have hope that they WILL grow up. THAT is pretty amazing...and that is something we want to support.

AAI also believes that it is important to keep siblings together during the adoption process, even if one or more of the children is HIV-positive. Many other agencies working in Ethiopia separate the children who are HIV-positive and these children are not eligible to be adopted. Does being HIV-positive mean that you are less deserving of having a loving family? Of course not...and AAI is working with families who are willing to adopt children who are HIV-positive. Very few agencies will do this. Does this mean that Z and I are wanting to adopt a child who is HIV-positive? Maybe...maybe not. We are not sure...we are doing lots of research about this and we are working to find out what other families who have opened their lives to HIV-positive children have to say. We are keeping our options open and we are learning as much as we can about it so that we can make an informed decision. Maybe it is right for us. Maybe it isn't. But we will consider it and we will not make this decision lightly. We will only make this decision after serious consideration and research. We know that this is something that is "unusual" for many people. And we know that it is something that many people would not even consider. We also know that it is not something for everyone. And it may not be for us. Regardless of our final decision, we want to encourage others to consider these children and to support them in any way they can. Whether it be through adoption, financial assistance, or through prayer. These kids have already suffered through more than any child should have to. They have already had to watch their parents die of AIDS....they may have lost brothers and sisters to the disease...people with HIV in Ethiopia are often shunned and pushed to the edges of society...so they may have been shunned by other living family members after their parents died. No kid should have to deal with these things. Because they are HIV-positive, should they have to suffer through living their lives in an orphanage, knowing they don't have anyone who is truly "family"? What happens to them if they grow up in the orphanage and have to leave because they've gotten too old to stay in the orphanage? Will they be able to continue taking the medications that keep them healthy? Or will they leave the orphanage and have to give up their meds, knowing this is a death sentence? In the United States HIV is considered a chronic condition - it is no longer a death sentence. It is manageable through medications, much like type I diabetes. Kids who are HIV positive can have a normal lifespan. They can grow up, live a normal happy, healthy lifestyle. They can go to college...they can get jobs in the real world...they can get married...they can have their own children if they choose to...they can be NORMAL. They just have to take their medicine. We'll write more on this later...

So, even though AAI might be slightly more expensive than the other agency we were considering...and even though we might have to wait slightly longer to find our kids and get them home, we feel that by working with Adoption Advocates International we will be making an investment in Ethiopia. And this is something that is very important to us. Adoption Advocates International it is! So, now that Christmas is over, we are going to fill out the application in the next couple of days and get it sent off. Hopefully before the first of the year (if not before, then it will be shortly after). We're getting closer!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

STILL on the fence....

We're still trying to decide between two agencies...We have gotten good feedback from both of the agencies now and we just have to make a decision.

I thought I had decided about 5 times now, then I get another email from the other agency and I am back on the fence. What to do, what to do?? I guess this just means that we are definitely NOT supposed to make a definite decision until after Christmas. I will have both agencies send me all the information I need and all of the application forms, etc. Then, after Christmas we will make a decision and STICK WITH IT!

One of the agencies requires a bigger financial investment right at the beginning, so if we go with them, we are going to have to scrounge up the $4700 needed to get started right away. So, we may have to wait even a little longer to get started. We'll see how it all works out.

Anyway-I'll keep you all posted on what our plans are when we know them. Who knew that I would be so indecisive at this point?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saving a Child??

So, I have heard/read a lot of discussion about this topic lately and decided that I would write a post about it fairly early in my blog to set the record straight about how we feel about it...

When we were making a decision to start our family, adoption was a very natural place for us to begin. I don't know why having biological children wasn't our starting point - it just wasn't. Right now, our heart isn't there. Instead, our hearts are with the children around the world who are already here and in need of families. We started out thinking we would pursue adopting through the US foster system, but in the end decided that wasn't the place for us either. Then, we began exploring our options for international adoption in Africa. I have always felt a pull toward Africa. Maybe its because that's where human life began....maybe its because I traveled there briefly and felt the entire time that I was there that I was at "home". Maybe its because I know the need in Africa is so great....Regardless of the reasoning - that is where we feel our kids are.

I know that people who have not adopted or at least considered adoption will likely not understand this, but I already feel like I have kids there and it is just a matter of us finding them. I don't know who they are, but I love them. I don't know what they look like, but I know I will recognize them when I see them. I don't know their birthdays, I don't know their favorite foods, I don't know if they have nightmares at night, I don't know if their biological mom sang to them to calm them, I don't know if they feel loved right now....But they are. They are loved fiercely by me. And I will find them...when the time is right. It is weird to feel this way. Even I think its weird. But, the closer we get to starting this journey and the closer we get to making final decisions, the stronger I feel it. I can't imagine how it will feel when we are actually in process and getting close to actually bringing them home!

Now, for the "saving a child" discussion....In many ways, Z and I are going through this process for selfish reasons. We want to have a family...We want two little kids....WE want, WE want, WE want. In the end, these kids will be our kids. We will love them as though we were the ones who brought them into the world. There will be unknowns...of course (there are tons of unknowns in a pregnancy, too). We won't know our children when we bring them home (but people who have biological children don't know them when they bring them home either). We'll be taking it all in faith. Knowing that whatever children we bring into our home were meant to be there.

We are not "saving a child". Our reasoning for adopting from Ethiopia is not to save a child from an orphanage. We want children...there are children in Ethiopia who need what we can provide - its a good match. We NEVER want our children to feel as though we adopted them in order to save them from whatever life they would have had in Ethiopia. A child should never have to feel grateful to have a home and a family. All children deserve to have a home and a family. I never want my kids to feel indebted to me. I want them to know their parents love them and want the best for them. All I know is that our kids will not be the lucky ones - we will be the lucky ones.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Step 2: Choosing an Agency

So, yesterday I thought I was COMPLETELY sure of which agency we were going to use to adopt our two kids...But, today I am back on the fence! Ugh...

There are a TON of things to take into account when choosing an adoption agency. International adoption is always unpredictable. Sometimes you have to worry about whether or not an agency is being completely ethical in their identification of children for adoption. You want to make sure that the kids they refer to you are truly orphans and truly in need of adoption. The last thing an adoptive parent would want is to remove a child from their family, from their culture, from their country when it is not needed. In a perfect world, all of the kids could stay with their biological families and adoptive parents wouldn't be needed. Unfortunately, our world is not a perfect place.

When we started looking at agencies we gathered as much info as we could about all of them. This meant scouring the internet for information on their program, contacting them to ask questions and learn more, checking out adoption forums online to get feedback from other families who used the agencies, we examined cost profiles for the agencies (there is an incredible amount of variation in cost from $8,900 to nearly $20,000 for one child), we looked at wait times from sending in the application to actually getting started on the dossier and then from dossier to referral, and we considered the interaction we had with the contact people in the agency. So many things....We also considered whether or not the agency would place children who were HIV+ with adoptive parents. These kids are just as deserving as a "healthy" child to live in loving homes. So many things to consider....

We are down to two agencies now. One of them is a well-established program that has been working in Ethiopia for several years and has a good reputation. The drawback to this agency is that they have so many clients and the wait time is longer. They also will not work with families who are interested in adopting two unrelated children under 6 (we're not sure this is an issue for us, but it is a consideration if there are no sibling groups available in our age range). Because they have so many clients, the personal interaction between families is not as good. I've sent several emails that have not been answered quite yet. Although I'm sure if I called them I would get answers quickly. I just like email for some reason. This agency provides lots of humanitarian aid in Ethiopia and works with children who are HIV+.

The second agency is an agency that was recently licensed in Ethiopia in July. So, it is a new program. The program is up and running, though. They have had a few families ALREADY come home with their children (having started in July, that is pretty quick turn around)! They have had a few set-backs (as all new programs do). They are willing to refer two unrelated children to a family at the same time and actually seem to think this is a great idea (as the kids are being referred from an orphanage setting, so if there is more than one of them going home at the same time, they have someone else to go through the experience with). Getting adopted is a pretty BIG DEAL to a little kid. I can imagine the transition would be incredibly difficult, especially if you were doing it alone. This agency is SLIGHTLY cheaper than the other agency....Because its new and a small agency, they have fewer clients and a shorter wait time....and the contact person I have been talking to has been AMAZING! She gets back to me and I feel as though she's being completely honest with me. Those are GOOD things!

So, I'm going to ask a few more questions and see if I can come up with a definitive answer. Like I said, I thought I knew for sure yesterday...but now I'm doing more detective work!

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Letter To Our Families

Many of you already know of the plans that you will read about in the post below. But, we wanted to create a place where all of you could go for updates on our journey. For those of you who know me (C) well, you know that I have always had a heart for adoption. Who knows where this came from – I just have always had it. This urge became even stronger when I traveled to Tanzania in 2000 and realized that the world that I lived in was not the same world that most of earth’s population inhabits. As middle class United States citizens there are so many things that we take for granted. We assume that we will have health care available to us, that we will have a safe home to live in, that we will get an education, and that we will have food on the table every night for dinner (or supper – whatever you call it). In the rest of the world, this is not always the case.
Friday, December 1st was World AIDS Day. For most of you, this day likely passed without a second thought after the acknowledgement on the morning (or evening) news. However, the reality of that day’s title preoccupied my mind all day. I spent the day looking up statistics and trying to grasp the reality of what life is like for AIDS orphans around the world (of course, I was working on my thesis, too). The truth of the matter is that Sub-Saharan Africa is more affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region in the world. At the end of 2005, an estimated 24.5 million people were living with HIV and there were 2.7 million new infections during the course of that year. During the past year AIDS has claimed the lives of 2 million people in this region of the world. And there are an estimated 12 million children orphaned by the epidemic (just in Sub-Saharan Africa)!! If you add the entire population of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas you will come up with about 12 million people. Imagine for a minute that all of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Kansas were populated by AIDS orphans from Sub-Saharan Africa…

Imagine the lives of these orphans. Even with the prevalence of infection in Africa, AIDS carries a very negative social stigma. People with AIDS are shunned; pushed into the perimeters of society. Many cannot afford health care, and do not live in areas were Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs) are available for help, so they do not receive the cocktail of medications needed to keep them healthy. Instead, they often die slow, painful deaths. Children of people with AIDS often have to stop going to school to take care of their parents and when their parents die, they are left to fend for themselves. The social structure in Africa has typically tried to absorb orphaned children (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, older siblings, or other village members often adopted these children and raised them alongside their own). However, this epidemic has completely overwhelmed this system. An entire generation of parents has been damaged by this disease and the grandparents are completely overwhelmed. Remember that on top of AIDS, many of these people live in poverty; adding additional mouths to an already strained household is too difficult for most of them. Many of these orphans are taken to state-run orphanages. If they live in one of the few countries where international adoption is available, these children are tested for HIV. If they are positive, they go to one orphanage, if they are negative they go to a different orphanage. Siblings are separated if one is positive and one is negative….At the orphanage children wait for parents to say they want them and will adopt them into a new family. Babies are in and out of orphanages relatively quickly because there are lots of families wanting babies. But, sibling groups, older kids, and children with special needs often linger in the orphanage for a long time. If the children are HIV+, they live their lives out in an orphanage (if they are VERY lucky, they live in an orphanage that gets NGO funding to provide the anti retroviral drugs they need to stay healthy). Some agencies are now helping to find these HIV+ children adoptive families.

Now that all those stats are out of the way, I will tell you why I am writing this letter (it’s not simply a lesson in AIDS and the African culture, I promise). I am writing this to inform you that Z and I have decided we have a heart for these orphans and that we want to do something to help (specifically, we want to bring one or more of these orphans into our family). Because you are all an extended part of this family, we want you to be aware of our decision and provide you with an open and honest conversation about the process of adopting and what we hope will happen in the future. Z and I know that you will all readily accept any child we bring into the family, but we also know that many of you will have questions and concerns. One of which is probably “why can’t you two do anything the conventional way??” We know, we’re different…Just because we want to adopt a child from Africa does not mean that we do not want to have biological children as well. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. We don’t know yet. Right now, that isn’t where our hearts are. Instead of bringing new lives into this world, we feel for us, that we should start taking some responsibility for the lives that are already here and in desperate need of families. This is not to say that we think everyone else should do what we are hoping to do. We know it is not right for everyone – we just feel it is right for us at this time. We also want you to know that we are serious about this decision and it is not one that we make lightly.
We hope that you will find it in your hearts to support us in this, and pray for us during this journey. We want to make informed decisions about all of this, so we will be doing lots of research and you will likely all hear more about it in the future. We also want to make sure that all of you feel free to ask as many questions as you want and to express concerns when/if you have them. This is all ultimately a private decision between the two of us (Z and C), but we want you all to be involved, too. Not because we want “more cooks in the kitchen” but because we want your love and support through all of this. We know that this will likely not be a quick and easy process. International adoption is complicated and often slow, so there will be plenty of time for all of you to chat with us about it.

We are telling you this now because we want you all to know what might be in store for us during the year of 2007. We also want you all to keep a special place in your hearts for AIDS orphans this Christmas season. For those of you who want to learn more about the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa, check out the book “There Is No Me Without You” by Melissa Fay Greene. I have this book on order and will be happy to pass it on to any of you to read when I am finished with it. For those of you who are feeling charitable, check out Melissa’s website and look at the “how you can help” link (http://www.thereisnomewithoutyou.com/) And, if you want to know more about what the process of international adoption from Africa is like, I can pass on a number of websites and blogs as well.

We wish you all the happiest of Christmas Seasons and we look forward to seeing you all at Christmas!
We love you all!!