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...