For the past couple of months I have been trying to learn as much as I can (and have time to) about Ethiopia and its orphan crisis. Our children will be two of Ethiopia's six million of orphans. Just two. Does providing a home for two children make a difference? Is it the right answer? Are we helping at all?
Overall, no....I don't think we'll be helping the orphan crisis by selfishly providing a home for two of Ethiopia's orphans. We'll get two children out of the deal - but what will Ethiopia get? Two less mouths to feed. Two more open places in an orphanage that will likely be filled before we even leave orphanage grounds. We'll be providing a little bit of money (but once the money is used to pay our adoption fees it is likely that any money left over will be negligible). If we travel to Ethiopia to pick up our children, we will provide a little bit of money to Ethiopia's economy. We'll stay at hotels, buy food, and stock up on souvenirs for our children and ourselves. But, any amount of money that we have to spend is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Will this money make a difference? Probably not.
We are expecting to spend a fair chunk of change on this entire adoption process. Thousands of dollars, in fact. I suppose if we took the money we would spend on the adoption and donated that full amount to a charity or to the World Orphan Fund, we might make a difference. We could purchase ARV medications for kids with that money to help them live a healthy life despite their infection with HIV. We could buy all sorts of clothing, medications, and equipment for orphanages so that kids in the orphanages will live more comfortably. If we were REALLY wanting to make a difference to the maximum number of people possible, adoption would NOT be the answer.
Our children will most likely be AIDS orphans. They will have witnessed far more death and sickness than any small children should ever have to witness. If their parents died of AIDS, does it mean that our children will be infected with HIV? No...
How is HIV transmitted? I think a lot of people think that because the AIDS crisis in Africa is so widespread it means that HIV is transmitted relatively easily. But, its not. It is transmitted ONLY through blood, semen, and breast milk. For children born to HIV+ mothers, there is a 5-10% chance that they will contract the virus during pregnancy, a 10-20% chance they will contract HIV during childbirth, and a 10-20% chance that they will contract HIV through breastfeeding. MOST children born to HIV+ mothers do NOT contract HIV as a result.
However, it is possible to choose to adopt HIV+ children; and many would argue that these are the kids who are in the most need of finding loving homes. Without access to life-saving ARV drugs, their futures are grim. However, if these kids lived in loving homes and had access to ARV drugs, their futures are bright. Yes, they will always have HIV. But, in the U.S. and other developed nations HIV is a chronic, but manageable disease. Children born with HIV here are growing up to live happy, healthy lives. They are getting married and having families of their own. In Ethiopia, HIV+ kids would never reach adulthood.
I would love to say that I am strong enough and brave enough to become the mother of an HIV+ child. I would love to say that I could handle the challenges associated with HIV. I would love to say that I could handle handing out meds twice a day and holding my child during blood draws and doctor visits. I would love to say that I could handle being an advocate for my child; that I could handle dealing with the fear and discrimination that might follow an HIV+ child. I would love to say that Z and I are surrounded with a group of people who would be open to and supportive of this endeavor. I would love to say that I wouldn't have any health insurance concerns and that funding ARV drugs wouldn't be a hardship for us. I would love to say that I am ABLE to do it all. The truth is, I'm not sure that I am brave enough, confident enough, strong enough. Its scary to think about bringing this into my life. And at the same time, I can't imagine the fear that must be associated with this disease for those little children. Who holds their hands and tells them it will all be ok? Who helps them dream about the future? What opportunities do they have?
I don't know what our final decision about this will be. And when we make it I'm not sure we'll share our decision with very many people. I don't know if we can handle this now, or ever. But I do know that I have a heart for these children, the children who are so often "forgotten" by the majority of the adoptive community. These are the children who are "unadoptable" for so many people. This has to change. We (as a society) have to make this a priority.
I am reminded of a quote that I read a couple of months ago on my friend Anita's blog (http://www.gillispiefam.blogspot.com/). He doesn't call the qualified, He qualifes the called.