Why did I assume that a family didn't want their child if they signed those consents? I'm not sure looking back now. I know I was really naive. I think it's pretty obvious that if you offer an extremely poor family the choice between taking the child back into extreme poverty from the orphanage or having them go to the states (where they will have food, health care, schooling, clothing), most would choose the states (or other developed country). If that is the only choice being offered. I think it goes without saying that most families want their children to have food, health care, schooling, safety. And most, if offered those two choices, will take the choice that takes their child out of devastating poverty without much discussion. (And yes, there are some families that don't want their children and do reject them, but that is the exception.)
|Chereba, again (just because he is so cute)|
I started to think about the new wives. It was true that some of the new wives rejected the first wives children. At first I thought it was all new wives, but then I got to know more and more congolese families and in fact it was a lot less than I thought. I started to learn about wonderful women who cared for all the children in their home as well as they could despite their extreme poverty. I started to learn that it was the exception rather than the rule and that when we helped with school fees of the children who had left the orphanage, they were all sent to school. I started to think about the role of the church and what if we, as a part of our work with a social worker started talking about family care, started working with the new wives and really talked to them about the barriers they felt in taking back the first wives babies. What if we did projects in the churches with women's groups about these issues and worked on sensitizing the communities to the love God has for all children. I started wondering what if I treated them with dignity and respect, instead of the assumptions I was making that they are all the evil step mother. Maybe in fact, they did want the children, but maybe there were a lot of barriers and cultural assumptions that prevented them from completely accepting or "wanting" the children.
|Two of the children who are back with their families and who we support with school fees.|
Then, I started thinking about the big brothers and sisters of the babies at the orphanage, and the ones yet born to the new wives. Most of the children adopted had older siblings at home. So, I had to ask myself, if signing a consent meant that the families didn't want the child, then what about the other children at home? Did they not want them either? Or maybe they just didn't want the newborn but they wanted that newborn's older siblings?
If any of you know anyone who is Congolese, you will be immediately repulsed by those assumptions I was making. Let me tell you about when a new baby is born. There is celebration and joy (in fact I was often very reprimanded for only having two children from men and women in DRC, the more children the better!). The baby is swaddled in what looks like 50 blankets and cherished. They are put to breast and kept with their mothers and families day and night. When mothers die in birth, the father or other family members walk that baby hours, days, sometimes up to a week to get that baby to a place where they will live and not die. Sometimes the babies are near death from starvation and illness. I so admire and respect those families. I just can't imagine the treks they make to save their babies lives. Incredibly admirable.
|Ziruka, came from far away|
I was putting assumptions on families, just because they were extremely poor, that their consent to adoption meant they didn't want the child. Now I see how wrong those thought I had were and I now I want to be a part of giving families dignity, respect, and justice. Now, I don't want to make the choice be between a life in dire poverty or a life in the U.S. I want to be a part of keeping families together and supporting those families so they can care for their children. (And yes, again, there are those families that will still reject their children, those are the exception, not the rule and the only way to really determine which children fall under this category are by bringing in quality social work).
This orphanage was started as a baby home. It was started by missionaries 50 years ago. The missionaries were watching babies die after their mothers died in birth because the families didn't have milk for the new babies. So, they took the babies in and gave them formula, then they went back to their families. When families bring babies to the orphanage it is because they want them to be kept alive and given formula, they don't have many other options. And they are told they have to come get the children again before they are 3-5 years old. They are never abandoned at the orphanage for adoption. Remember, I was the one that brought adoption to the orphanage.
|Noella, born around Christmas|
So, should we be about taking babies and children away from families in extreme poverty that want their children? If that is the only reason they are not able to care for their children?
I would answer with an emphatic "no".
You might ask then how do you figure out what child can't go home and what one can? How do you know when international adoption is the right choice for a child? Social work. Social work. Social work. Go back and check my post out from two days ago.
And guess what, God moved in someone's heart and we have a commitment to funding for a social worker to work with Reeds of Hope (and hence the orphanage). How exciting is that?!
Yes, after good social work, good support of families, thorough assessments of the children's families, there may be situations where the children need new families and if that is the case we will do what the orphanage has been doing for 50 years, placing the children in long term committed families in the community. (And yes, maybe there will be a place for international adoption, but that would be after the above possibilities have been exhausted). We don't want kids to linger in orphanages, they harm children.
Doesn't this sound like an amazing plan and goal? To first work towards keeping children with their families, then if that doesn't work, look for long term domestic options, and then finally, for those children that cannot be placed back with their families (and remember, families in DRC are wide and extensive) or placed domestically, a role for international adoption. Doesn't that sound wonderful? That is what I am advocating for at this orphanage. Family support, family reunification and family preservation. (And yes, if that all fails, alternative care.)
This wonderful lady below? Her name is mama Lyly. Her husband grew up in the orphanage and then lived in a foster family. He came to visit many times. They have children and she worked in the orphanage and blessed their lives with her love.
Finally, I wanted to link up to some others talking about these same issues.
Family Hope Love is written by Sara Briton and I have come to respect her a lot as she carefully challenges us all to consider how we can care for the orphans and widows around the world (and how this relates to adoption).
I stumbled on this great post yesterday. Wow. What a great read and a great challenge. I wish I could be this succinct. So much of it I identified with. Here is an exerpt--
Child's i Foundation is an excellent example of an organization working to keep children with families and out of orphanages.
Finally, of course, the Rileys in Uganda have set the mark high with their work in Uganda with family preservation, alternative care, working to move children out of orphanages, and family support. It is amazing and commendable work. Please take some time to check them out!
And again, so no one is confused about this post-- This post is about ME and my journey as I have learned about the priority of family preservation, family reunification and family support that must come first before IA. It is about how I have been learning about the priority of social work, social work, social work. How I now believe that until you have good social work in place, adoptions should not be considered. It is about keeping families together. I have worked with this orphanage for 3 years, 1 1/2 of those years was in DRC working directly with the orphanage and it's director. I lived in this area of DRC for 4 1/2 years. I have helped with adoptions, and I believe God's grace covers that time so I very hopeful that those children I was a part of bringing into families were indeed ones that needed those families. I feel like I am now responsible for the things that God has been teaching me over the past 3 years (especially convicting me of them the last 6-9 months) and am compelled to move into this new direction and advocating for adoptions to be put on hold at the orphanage while social services are up and running.