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!!

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