Monday, October 28, 2013

Magical moments in daily life

Magical moments occur everyday all the time.  You know, those moments that make you hold your breath and wish time would stand still for just that minute.  Those moments when you try to hold every part of the experience deep within your soul, when you try to remember even how the breath of air felt on your bare arms.  Those moments?  Well, I've had many lately and two I'll share this morning.  They may seem insignificant and quiet in the scheme of "grand moments" but to me, they took my breath away for their peace and joy they brought. 

Last night, at twilight, I happened to be standing outside.  I noticed the guard staring up at the sky which brought my eyes also towards the sky.  We watched at least 100 (maybe more) large birds of prey flying above us, calling loudly and riding the breezes.  They would continually land in the branches of the swaying trees near us.  They were so large and so close.  The sky was almost black, but with enough light to make it a faint grey.  They were outlined in big silhouettes, wings wide as they soared and gently landed thin green tips of trees.  Amazing.

Then this morning, as we were driving Ellie to school (her three sisters had been dropped off already at their school) she had her window rolled down and she was watching every little detail as we drove with rapt attention.  All of a sudden, she called out "oh, she is so beautiful, Mommy".  This is the second time in as many days that she has commented on a Tanzanian woman walking down the street as we drove along the road.  When she has called to me with awe in her voice, "she is so so beautiful".  Yes she is, sweet girl, just like you.  She is beautiful just like you.

We are so blessed to be giving our girls the gift of living in Tanzania.  Though this picture is from this summer in the states, it is a sweet one of the four girls.  Mia and Ellie are in the center.  I'm so thankful we live in a place where almost everyone looks like them and they don't stand out because of their skin color (where I do instead), where they can go to school and most of their classmates look just like them.  I don't know how long we will live here, but the magical moments that occur because of our life here are ones I will cherish for them and myself and I will thank God for every day. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post: Preserving maternal health supports child health and family well being in eastern DRC

 I'm very excited to share another thoughtful guest post from the founder and director of Channel Initiative today (another post about their work can be found here).  Their vision is "of a world free from extreme suffering where the most at-risk communities are empowered to create incredible impact in their own countries."  Wow.  Build Hope is their pilot project in eastern DRC.  They "will be working to empower women in one particular village in the Mwenga territory, through improving their ability to access quality health-care.  [They] will work behind Panzi Foundation DRC, in helping them, bring their proven-effective model of holistic women's health care, into this area, much in need of it.  Together with Panzi and a consortium of partners, [they] hope to see women empowered to take places at the forefront of the changing tides for the Democratic Republic of Congo".  The director of Channel Initiative is a friend of mine from the days we lived in DRC.  I'm excited about their work in eastern DRC because the area they are working in is close to the orphanage we support.  An orphanage full of babies and children that are there because their mothers died in birth or from complications after birth.  Their work is very close to my heart because my girls lost their mother in childbirth, like all the other children.  I want to contribute to work that helps keep mothers alive and families intact.  Please consider supporting their work. 

Supporting the work of organizations like Channel Initiative is one critical way of keeping babies out of orphanages.  By keeping mothers alive and healthy, newborns are not left in cribs, but instead are held in their mother's arms. 


When Save the Children released its 2013 State of the World's Mothers report earlier this year, and listed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the world's worst place to give birth and to be a mother, the reaction from the rest of the world was that of initial shock and dismay. People were shocked to see yet another challenge facing women in the DRC, and most disturbed by the fact that so very little seems to have changed, when it comes to the overall state of women in this nation. How could it be, I know many of us felt, that this country could have not just one, but two of possibly the most unfortunate labels that one could come up with, 'the rape capital of the world' and that of 'the world's wost place to be a mom'. Unfortunately, this shock and dismay did not necessarily translate into immediate action, an issue that Save the Children noted in their report as well – that by and large funding and international response were usually disproportionate to the actual need in the DRC and other countries with high maternal and under-five mortality rates. Save the Children also went on to explain that the issue of maternal health was even more important and far reaching than we might think. In fact, based on the data that the NGO collected, maternal mortality seems to affect and/or be affected by economic development, education, child and family health, and even peace.  This is especially true in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where women are both the cornerstones of society as well as perhaps one of the most vulnerable and at-risk demographics – and so, their health, affects not only them, but also their children, their families, their communities, and ultimately their nation's progress toward peace.

Maternal mortality in the DRC, while it has dropped significantly in the last few years, still remains exceptionally high, compared to the rest of the world. A girl or woman in the DRC has a 1 in 30 chance of dying as a result of maternal causes, including childbirth, compared to the United States where the figure hovers around 12 per 100,000 births. 

These devastatingly high maternal mortality rates in the DRC have a lot to do with the availability and quality of health-care afforded to women, particularly in rural areas. In villages across the country, quality, holistic health-care is rarely available. As a result, mamas must give birth in unsanitary surroundings with untrained workers, or they find a way to travel to  and to afford the care at the nearest clinic. There are several long-reaching impacts of maternal mortality, but one thing is extremely evident, the profound impact that the poor health, or death of a mother, has on her children. The presence of a healthy and empowered mother, on a young girl or boy's life is irreplaceable in countries like the DRC.

When a mama is sick in Congo, it is typically the daughters who must pick up the slack, foregoing school to work in the fields, around the house or in the market. These young women are  at even more risk for sexual exploitation, from sugar daddies, at their schools, or even with their neighbors. The poor health or absence of a mama, doesn't only affect girls though, it also affects little boys, in ways that we have yet to fully understand how they might contribute to ongoing conflict and the resistance to peace that seems to prevail in the DRC.

When a mama dies in the DRC, if her children are fortunate, they are taken in by their family members, where, depending on the status of the deceased mama, they are treated either well, or extremely poorly, like house-servants really. They are mistreated, forced to do difficult work and are usually not able to go to school, or take advantage of what little opportunities would be available to them otherwise. Orphancy remains a tremendous social problem in the DRC, with over 5 million orphans nationwide. The link between the orphaning of children and maternal health is extremely clear. When a mother is able to survive childbirth and live out a healthy live, she is able to care for her child. It is that simple really.

So its no stretch of the imagination to say that, in preserving and supporting maternal health, we are supporting child-health, family-well-being and community resilience and development, all with a single blow.

The importance of maternal health cannot be undervalued anymore. It has not been too long ago, recognized as a truly vital issue to national policy agendas, because for so long, it was just a 'girly' thing, a soft issue, not as hard-hitting as perhaps disarmament policy, or military reform. According to the same report though, that labeled the DRC as the worst place on earth to give birth, countries like Finland with low maternal mortality rates, also have low child-mortality rates, higher education life-spans, and are typically far more stable, and economically and socially developed. In comparison, the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates, also had extremely high child mortality rates, and were almost synonymous with countries recently emerging from conflict, or disaster situations.

On a simple humanity level,  it is exceedingly clear, why we must prioritize maternal health, to preserve and support child health and healthy child-development. We do not want any child to grow up without a mother, or to have to experience being an orphan, or to have to assume roles in their families and their communities that they are not yet prepared for. We don't want that – it is its own form of atrocity, a devastating impact of war, conflict, disaster, poverty and instability.

On a national and international structural and policy level however, the importance of maternal health is no less. Maternal health has such a far-reaching impact on entire societies that it is obvious that in order to achieve any social agenda, particularly in the DRC, where the state of women is of especial concern, maternal health and therefore child-health and well-being must be put on the forefront, alongside the other heavy hitters.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Do I believe children should live for years in orphanages? Absolutely not.

Addendum:  I didn't think this was needed but here is a post that outlines how we envision moving children through the orphanage in less than one year.  For anyone that has worked overseas or done any work in DRC, you know how long it takes putting plans into action on the ground, not only funding but on-the-ground barriers.  Again, looking to the wonderful work in Uganda as a guide, we follow behind the giant footsteps of the Rileys in Uganda with ReUnite, Child's i Foundation, Ugandan's Adopt, Abide Family Center, Alternative Care Framework, Thrive Uganda, and more.  I'm so thankful for all their work which helps to guide ours in DRC.  And I'm thankful for all the help and wisdom they have shared with me over the last couple years.  We are grateful to be working in eastern DRC with vulnerable children and their families. 

If you are a regular reader of my blog you might just want to skip this post.  I'm only going to reiterate what I have been saying over and over again for the past two years.  I'm going to do it so there is no doubt about what I believe.

First--I believe children belong in families and when possible their family of origen.  In the absence of social safety nets many vulnerable families rely on orphanages to care for their children.  Nowhere is this example best seen than in the "orphanage" we support (which is full of children that are not orphans).  Mothers die giving birth to their children.  The father is desperately poor and cannot afford formula or food.  The newborn and sometimes older sibling is brought to the orphanage.  The father goes and tries to find work.  He either visits often or he is gone for a long time.  Most fathers come and get their children.  Some do not.  And for those in the second group, the reasons are complicated, but most often it is because they are still in desperate poverty. 

Second--Orphanages harm children.  That is clear.  I have seen it in my own children and witnessed it first hand in the children we have been supporting for 3 1/2 years in eastern DRC.  Even with excellent care (which we try to help provide), they harm children.

For two and a half years I have struggled with these two issues.  I first thought international adoption was the answer to the situations of extreme poverty these families found themselves in (and it was for some of the families).  I came to the realization and shared publicly about it here that I was wrong.  That international adoption is not the answer to a family's extreme poverty when they love and want to care for their child.  Family reunification and support is the answer.  I firmly believe in the alternative care framework.  Please read about it here.

There are groups doing this work in Uganda.  I have linked to them many times before on this blog.  They have done guest posts.  They also don't believe children should live in orphanages.   They are able to move children out of orphanages and back with their families (or new adoptive families in Uganda) in less than a year or they find families for abandoned children in less than a year.   This is my dream for the orphanage we work at.  That we would be able to meet the needs of families in crisis.  Ideally even before a newborn enters the orphanage we would find alternative ways to help that family.  If the baby does need emergency care while the family gets back on their feet than that would be provided with comprehensive social work assessment and evaluation.  And yes, for those children that cannot be reunified with their families or with extended families, domestic adoption should be considered.  Only after those possiblities are exhausted, should IA be considered.

But this doesn't mean a child sits in an orphanage for years.  And if the orphanage you are considering supporting doesn't have a plan in place for an alternative care framework similar to what I have described above, you shouldn't support it. I feel very passionately that children belong in families.  My role I now believe is that it should be helping those families that want and love their children, keep them and finding families in DRC that would care for those children whose families cannot care for them as they should.  Others may advocate for adoption for those situations that I mentioned above, which, as long as it they advocate for children who cannot be reunified or for whom alternative care cannot be found, isn't wrong in my book.

I will always advocate for ethical, transparent  adoptions as well as making sure all the work we do on the ground is done with dignity and respect towards those we serve, especially vulnerable families and their children. 

Being a public blogger about all these issues comes with it's downsides.  One is that I get attacked about what I write about.  And often there are accusations made against me that are untrue or unfounded.  Tonight, I felt like I wanted to address one of them.  Please refer to all my posts over the past year for much more thorough information about what I believe and also many other sources of research and groups doing similar work throughout Africa. 

It's late here in Tanzania.  There are mosquitoes flying around and the odor of trash burning next door.  I'm off to bed.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Addendum:  I'm again noting my comment policy.  Right now I am not moderating comments.  So, if you don't see yours show up, email me, there have been problems before.   I appreciate comments that are constructive and not insulting.  Thanks!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

First Impressions

First, this happened.

After seven weeks, I was finally reunited with my family.  Yes, I'm in Tanzania.  I was cleared to travel earlier than I expected and so I surprised by kids by walking in on their snack time.  Best day ever!  

I have been here for 5 days and I thought I would write down some of my first impressions so that I remember these early days (you only have them once).

When I arrived in the transit area of the Nairobi airport I cried because I felt like I was coming home.  That night I stayed overnight in a hotel near the Kilaminjaro airport, I was so happy to have a bed.  After my surgery I had been sleeping and resting a ton everyday.  Staying awake and flying for 2 days was beyond exhausting.   When I woke up and we drove back to the airport I was shocked by the mountain.  Wow, that is a site to behold.  Arriving in Mwanza was surreal.  I felt like I should have been arriving in DRC.  

In some ways, I feel like Mwanza is a lot like Bukavu in terms of climate (70s to low 80s), location (on a lake with mountains/hills), and size of the city and population.  So, in many ways there is a comfort in coming to a place that has the feel of home.  It hit me when I visited DRC in June this past year that I didn't have any culture shock when I was there because over the last 7 years I had spent more time in Congo than anywhere else.  So it was easier to go back to Congo, while my adjustment to life in the states was rough.  I have the same feeling again in coming here.  That there is very little culture shock because everything is so familiar on many levels.  

When we went to the local grocery store, I found myself automatically scanning the shelves in close detail thinking about what specials they have or what amazing find might be hidden on the shelves.  In Bukavu the small store usually carried the same items, but if you looked closely you might find something new (and then you text your friends to let them know too).  In this store, the selection is much much better so I had to stop myself from buying too many things given they will likely be there when I return next time.  I'm not in Congo.

Also while we were at the store, there was a white woman with a white child.  I had this gut reaction to seeing her where I wanted to go up to here and go "did you just move here??" in an excited voice.  Once in Bukavu, I was at one of the few "fancy" restaurants and there was a white woman and her child.  I was so shocked I immediately went over to her and asked them if they had moved there.  No, the mother responded, they were just there for a quick visit from Rwanda.  In Bukavu, I was one of 5 or 6 white women with children.  When a new ex-pat family was going to move to Bukavu we knew about it months in advanced (and excitedly anticipated it).  We knew every ex-pat child in Bukavu (there were only 9, some years there were 12).  In fact, I had a Congolese woman stop me once on the street and tell me, "ah, we know that peace is coming when we see white children in Bukavu."  There are few ex-pat children in Bukavu any more these days.  Here, there are large numbers of ex-pats.  There is an international school my children attend.  I'm not in Congo.

Our compound has walls, this is not surprising.  But what is surprising is that people that are walking by on the road can see through the walls because they are not solid concrete, they have decorative trim and windows through them.  I feel like I live on a normal street and am not cut off from everyone around me.  In Buakvu, we had walls you could not see out of and barbed wire along the top of those walls.  I'm not in Congo.

Given we lived in the countryside the past year in the states, getting used to the noise is hard right now.  Especially at night.  Even in Bukavu, it was quiet at night.  Now, we live more in the city and I feel like it doesn't really get quiet until after midnight, and even then our neighbor rooster likes to wake us up at 3 am.  I like that we live in the city.  In Bukavu, it was hard to find safe housing that was anywhere but in a couple neighborhoods.  We lived in the very "rich" area on the peninsula, where all the NGOs lived and where the UN compound was housed.  We were isolated.  Here I feel like there is a less of a barrier like there was there, that we are safe even if we don't live on the "peninsula".  (Ironically, there is a peninsula here too with large mansion like housing).  

Most people speak english.  This comes as a big surprise.  I have to stop myself from speaking french.  Not one person has yelled Mzungu at me yet.  There has been regular electricity that is full power and not "mood lighting".  There is water coming from the faucets (instead of huge water shortages and having to use Jerry cans all the time).  There are lots of birds (that are amazing!) and there are monkeys.  In Bukavu, we rarely saw wildlife.  There was just too much insecurity that led to large population displacements (pushing wildlife out).  Also, in DRC though the ground is fertile, the insecurity, population displacements, and lack of infrastructure create a situation where much of the food is brought in from over the border.  Here, there is more variety and less imported.  I'm not in Congo.  

One thing that has really hit me on a gut level is that I haven't seen any old frail women carrying impossibly heavy loads on their backs like we would see every single day in Bukavu, you cannot avoid it.  There is something there, that when the most vulnerable women are carrying loads that break their bodies the poverty is extreme and deep.  This is only a simple observation.  I have no statistics or research to back this up.  But watching women, bent almost horizontal carry, sacks of flour that weigh 50 and 100 kg speaks of deeper great injustice.  It is perhaps a small thing, but I think it isn't and speaks to the lack of protection for women in DRC.  For women and their children.  I know there is poverty here (it is very obvious), otherwise we would not be living here (given Mike works for an NGO), and maybe I haven't been here long enough to observe women carrying similar loads.  Maybe. 

There aren't guns everywhere.  I actually had gotten very used to seeing guns.  It wasn't until a friend visited and told me it was a bit alarming how many "uniformed people" carried guns, that it hit me that perhaps this wasn't normal.  I was reflecting on this with Mike the other day and remembering pushing my Bob stroller with the girls in it to school every day past the UN compound full of soldiers and then past the house of a military official with his security contingent and then past another house with a group of armed guards outside the compound walls.  I'm not in Congo. 

Honestly, I feel like I am on vacation.  I feel like I am visiting a friend's house in another country, like when we went to visit our friends in Rwanda.   I feel overwhelmingly fortunate and blessed we have the chance to live in Tanzania.  On so many levels, life will be easier here for us.  And I feel blessed that we are not very far from Bukavu (given Tanzania is so large we really could have been living much further away, but we are even on almost the same latitude!). 

Yet, I miss Bukavu.  I miss Congo.  I miss my friends in Congo.  I miss my home there.  And maybe this post seems too much like I am comparing DR Congo and Tanzania (and DRC is coming up short every time).  It's hard not to, given living in DRC was my only other experience of life in Africa.  What I realize most is that though life here will be easier (that is clear early on), I wish we could live in Congo right now.  I wish that the situation was different and that I could be sitting here typing this from my dining room table in Congo.  Despite it all, that is where I would like to be right now.   Perhaps, that longing for Congo will always remain.  I pray that this also begins to feel like home as well. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The cost of speaking out against injustice (reflections on one Nobel Peace prize nominee-Dr. Mukwege)

I wrote this post almost exactly one year ago.  I'm writing this on the eve of Nobel Peace prize announcement.  In my mind and heart, it is already his.  Here is a recent article talking about who he is and his work.  The article ends by saying, "Dr. Mukwege is a hero among heroes, as evidenced by other nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. The story of 16 year old Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken advocate for education who survived assassination by members of the Taliban inspires. Malala reminds us heroes come in many - often unexpected - packages.  Alfred Nobel's will instructed the prizes be awarded to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind." Unlike the years when winners, even nominees, were controversial, it seems 2013 is a return to that spirit. Dr. Denis Mukwege is a noble man forging a path towards peace in Congo. If the fates see fit, he may also be a Nobel man."   Below is my post from one year ago.  

I recently had a conversation with friends about if we would speak up for something you believe in, especially injustice, if it could bring harm to yourself or your family.  We debated why someone would put their lives in harms way for a belief or cause and whether or not it was something we would ever do ourselves.  Being the ever idealist, I said I would.  I said I would stand up for by beliefs, even if it meant harm coming my way.  It was harder for me to say I would stand up for them if my children were in harms way.

In the end I think I am a lot of talk.  I've never had to take a stand for anything that put myself at risk of being harmed.  I think the riskiest stance I've taken lately is talking about unethical adoption in DRC.  The worst that happens because of that is nasty comments on my blog and I'm not included in most adoption circles.  That's nothing really.   And seems a bit lame on the scale of standing up for a belief in the midst of danger.

When I was in my 20s, I dated a guy who asked me if I had ever been arrested (on our first date).  I was shocked and said, "no way, of course not!".  I was sort of full of myself at the time.  He said he had and he didn't regret it.  He had participated in civil disobedience when he was protesting something (I can't remember what it was anymore) and had been arrested and released the same day.  He asked if I would ever do that.  I said, "uh, no way".

When I moved to eastern DRC I was a naive, scared, and totally out of my comfort zone.  I mean, I read the news, I knew that eastern DRC wasn't a place most Americans moved to if they had a family.  I had never lived overseas.  I was moving with my 8 week old little girl.  Somehow I managed to cross that border and we ended up living there for 4 1/2 years.  And my life was actually really safe (considering where we lived) and quiet.  While I lived there, I never took a stand for anything that put me in danger and I never publicly spoke out against the injustice I saw while living there (and there was plenty).  I stayed safe.

When I was pregnant with my second little girl I was still in DRC.  One day, when I was about 20 something weeks along I got really sick with some kind of GI bug.  At the time, I thought maybe I was in preterm labor.  I knew I at least needed IV fluids.  My OB worked at Panzi hospital about a 30 minute drive through town.  On the worst road you can imagine through the most congested and poor area of town.  Driving to the hospital on that road would put a woman in labor if she wasn't already in labor!

When I got there, I had to take a number to wait in line.  I got the last number.  I think it was number 40 or something.  Then I had to sit outside with all the other women waiting in line.   There wasn't any triage.  You waited with everyone else.   For hours.

I have to back up a minute and say that if you are a mzungu (white person) or a rich person of any skin color in this area of the world most of the time you didn't wait in lines.  You were treated differently, like you were a celebrity.  I never got used to that part of living there.   That day I was the only white woman sitting in that line waiting to be seen.  I was the last one in the line.  Most places in town I would have been somehow moved to the front, or I would have been shown a different place to wait that would have expedited my visit, a sort of VIP room.  And it would have happened whether I asked for that treatment or not, and I would have probably not been aware of it, if it did happen.

But not that day, and not with my doctor.  At one point he came out and saw the long line of women.  He looked exhausted and overwhelmed.  But he had a kind smile for us all.  He saw me (I stood out).  He came over.  He said, "I can't see you before these women, you will have to wait".  I think I might of audibly sighed in relief, as I said, "of course not".  It was one of the rare times in DRC where I was treated like an equal.  I was just like every other woman waiting in line, I wasn't special because of my skin color, and I didn't deserve different treatment because of my skin color. (Of course, it was embarrassing that he even felt like he had to come over and tell me).   I was simply a woman, waiting to see a doctor.  And this doctor saw all the women in line as equally important and valuable.  None was more special than the next.  They all were worth his time.  And my illness and pregnancy problems were not more critical than the woman in front of me with similar problems who had brown skin and lived in destitute poverty.

That doctor was Dr. Mukwege.  Please take a moment and read the link.

He is an incredible man, who not only treats women with respect, dignity, and equality, he fights against the injustice done to them in eastern DRC and calls for peace.  He is one of my heroes.

He recently came under attack, and one of the men who protects his home was killed.  It is unknown if it was because of his work and advocacy.  It is unknown if it was an assassination attempt.  But it is likely.  He takes a strong stance against injustice and names those who are the perpetrators (even when it is his own country and countrymen).  He stands up for the wrongs done to women, for the raping and damage done to women in eastern DRC.  He not only uses his voice to demand that world act against these atrocities done to women and to their communities, but he also uses his hands to repair their bodies after they have been violently raped.

He lives in the neighborhood next to where I lived in eastern DRC.   I think of my life there.  My quiet, safe life.  I think of his life, how it is the exact opposite.  And I wonder, if given the chance, would I do the same?  Would I risk my life for another?  Would I speak out and stand against injustice and for the truth?  Would I demand action at all cost to myself?  Would I rage against the atrocities done to women, to our sisters, on the other side of the world?

I am thankful beyond words for men and women around the world who do so.  Like Dr. Mukwege.  I can hope and pray that his courage and bravery will inspire others to fight against injustice and work for peace as it has for me.   And I do hope, that if I am ever called on to stand up even in the midst of danger, I will remember   and take that stand.

And perhaps, when I reflect on my brief interactions with him during my time in eastern DRC, I most remember the humility with which he carried himself and the quiet dignity, respect, and compassion he showed all women, regardless of race, wealth, or nationality.  It's a good place from which to start.

Dr. Mukwege wrote about the attack on his life here.   "The dedicated and courageous staff who work at Panzi Hospital are scared, and my thoughts are with them. I want them to respond to this hatred with love because I think that it is the only way we can make a difference. If they continue to do what they do with love and care I have to believe that peace and justice will prevail. Violence can only create violence."  Dr. Mukwege 

For thoughtful reading.

I'm still here (and in the states), so much for daily blogging.  I will get back to original content at some point here, but I feel like I am in a point of listening and gathering my thoughts right now.  Going through a major surgery and missing my kids settles gratitude in my heart more and more everyday.  And with this comes a sense of every day being precious and the need to make good and wise decisions about every aspect of my life, including my work in eastern DRC.  So, I'm going to be sharing things I've been reading and I will also continue to share posts written by guests that challenge me and that encourage me in my life and work in eastern DRC (and one is coming up soon!).  And then, when the time is right I will soon start sharing about Reeds of Hope again, the future and our hopes and dreams as we work alongside those in eastern DRC.  I'm looking forward to sharing with you!  Thanks for following along and caring about the children and their families.

Would Jesus be cool with keeping poor kids in orphanages?  This is a guest post shared on the blog: Jamie the very worst missionary and it was shared by the amazing folks running The Abide Family Center in Uganda.  If you have been hanging around my blog the last couple years you know that I have struggled with these issues a lot.  You will know that I strongly believe that Reeds of Hope should be more about helping reunify children with their families and moving them out of the orphanage than keeping them there (even if we are "keeping them there," well).   And even better?  Preventing the family from coming apart in the first place.  Please read this post, it is so challenging and eloquently speaks to the work we want to do in eastern DRC (that we should all be about).  
All over the world we are confusing poverty for families not loving their children- In Haiti, in Cambodia, in Kenya, in Brazil, in Honduras. I’ve spoken to folks working on the ground in all of these countries and the common experience is that not enough is being done to help poor families keep their children.
Nearly every family we have resettled a child to has told us, had support been available to help them keep their child, they would have never put them in an orphanage in the first place.
Poverty can’t be the reason the majority of children are growing up in institutional care. But this is what is happening and this is what needs to change.
Which brings me back to my question- Would Jesus be cool with keeping poor kids in orphanages?
Knowing what we know of who Jesus was, how he engaged with the people he served and worked alongside of and what he advocated for, I think the overwhelming answer would be a big fat “NO”.
Jesus liked messy. He tended to run toward it. We think of the disciples he chose to do ministry with, the stories of the misfits and the outcasts he loved so well. He gravitated toward people that didn’t have their crap together.

Some thoughts on God's sovereignty as we speak of it in adoption.  Again, thought provoking and discussions that need to start happening.  I have hit this same wall that he is discussing in the post when talking about adoption and ethics.  There are some really good questions in this post and some great comments following it.  Definitely worth reading and really considering, because our views on this really do impact our willingness to engage with the issues of ethics and justice in adoption. 

The sovereignty of God–ah, that grand Ace of Spades. In full disclosure, I’ve spent the majority of my Christian life in reformed circles, and if I’m painfully honest, I often still interpret scripture through this lens. Yes, I believe that we are God’s handiwork, that we’ve been created in Christ to do works prepared for us long ago. Yes, I believe that God, in his sovereignty, works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Here’s something I’ve always thought and never said, though–invoking God’s sovereignty to avoid tough questions is a misapplication of the doctrine.
There are some amazing groups working in Uganda.  I feel like we should never say "it can't be done" because it can and it is being done in Uganda.  Here is one example--
Ugandan's Adopt and their resettlement cases.  See photos and stories here.  

This blog will be sharing a very hard story.  The first part was shared today.   If you have ever visited an orphanage in Kinshasa and walked away horrified and sick at heart, please read this post

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Guest Post: But I'm Poor.

But I'm poor.

It has been years since I visited eastern DRC. Some memories fade, of course. Things like names of people, hospitals, how to get from here to there blur with time and distance. Holly asked if I'd like to post something about my time there as I was leaving, and I assented, but I haven't, and I did not put my finger on why until today. Eastern DRC is a complicated place, full of contradictions. My emotions are the same, and I claim that in some ways they are still raw from a place I left almost three years ago.

By profession I'm a physical therapist. During my time in DRC I agreed to do some training with the “mamas” at the orphanage as well as see how I could be available to a group of disabled adults. I had no idea what I was getting into. The day before I went I was told there could be up to 100 people waiting for me the next day. I did the math and figured out I'd have approximately four minutes per patient if I were to see them all. (Obviously, that didn't happen.) But what threw me completely off kilter was not the time constraints or the sheer numbers. What undid me were the effects of poverty.

There was one man in particular whose image remains clearer. He was older, probably in his sixties or so. There was something wrong with his leg. Unlike so many people I saw over a couple of days, his injury did not appear to be due to polio. He had a stick to use as a cane and limped while he walked. It was likely an arthritic leg that was painful and didn't move well. He asked me for money and I said that's not what I could offer him that day. I gave him some exercises to help strengthen his leg. As he was leaving he again asked for money. I declined. Then he said “But I'm poor.”. It's true. He was homeless and struggling to survive. My exercises didn't meet his need. He walked out of the makeshift tent and I lost it. Let's just say there was uncontrollable sobbing for a long time. The people with me (a translator and someone taking notes) were surprised. But the need, the terrible need, broke this dam in my heart and shook me to my core.

I, who have so much, can have the best of intentions when I bring my expertise to a situation. But unless I humbly pause and ask what is needed, what the people want, how we can partner together for the best outcome, I am not helping the situation. The truth is that instead of sending me back to DRC I'd send polio vaccines and an orthopedic surgeon to help those with club foot at birth. How does this fit into a blog that focuses on adoption in DRC? I challenge us to humbly ask the same questions:
    •    What is needed in this situation?
    •    What do the people want?
    •    How can we partner together for the best outcome?

Ultimately, I tried to listen. I'm the person who sent Laurent the few hundred dollars for the bike. But that makes it sounds all neat and tidy. There are no quick and easy answers to all the pressing issues in DRC, and if I were in the same situation again I think I'd sob and still not know what to do. However, I trust that humility and listening are good first steps for all of us.

Eastern DRC

Friday, October 4, 2013

An important link--ways to improve the ethics of your adoption

The following link, "A practical guide to improving the ethics of your adoption", is well worth taking the time to read.  Some of it is specific to Ethiopia, but much of it can be applied to any international country.  Find a quiet place, grab a cup of tea (or coffee) and read it seriously and thoughtfully (and there are many excellent resources included.  You can be more informed, you can ask the right questions to help you make right decisions about your adoption, you can make your adoption be as ethical as possible.

One of the sweet babies that went home to live with her father.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

simple things

One of my daughters giving me a flower.

My favorite quote from yesterday's post is below.  I love how Kupenda's work focuses on changing hearts towards love for children that were rejected and it is done within existing community structures and churches.  And then it continues to spread by those impacted by the message.  Simple things that were once taboo,like being accepted and taken to church, become a beautiful part of life again.  I am challenged to consider ways we can also be a part of working alongside our Congolese friends to change hearts and minds to accept children that are sometimes rejected by their families. It's really the best kind of story.  
"We also work with the parents/guardians of these children to encourage them to be more involved in their children’s lives.  Kupenda leads many outreach activities and the families see how much their children are benefitting from schooling.  Many are now contributing what they can to their children’s needs and showing much more involvement in their children’s lives.  Some parents have started support groups for other parents of children with disabilities.  One father literally walks throughout the rural villages (very difficult for our small staff to reach) looking for other families with children who have disabilities telling them about their value and where they should go to school.  Additionally, local churches have started programs to reach out to the communities of the children we support to teach the biblical responsibility to care for them.  We are seeing giant changes in community attitude and quality of life for these beautiful children because we did not remove them from their society."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guest Post: Love for the children of Kenya

The following post was written by a friend of mine who started Kupenda for the Children, it is based in Kenya and it's purpose is "to enable children with disabilities to achieve their God-given potential.  Ultimately we want them to understand, along with their families and communities, that they have value and are deserving of love." (Purpose statement taken from their website:

When I first met Holly over 11 years ago, I was trying to get friends and family to support a few children with disabilities in Kenya with educational assistance.  This was just something I did while working full time as a wildlife biologist.  I didn’t really expect it to be a registered organization both in Kenya and in the U.S. called Kupenda for the children.  I now am the full time executive director and we support about 600 children with disabilities on the coast of Kenya through advocacy, medical intervention and education.  Kupenda is Swahili for love.  We are called this because children with disabilities need love more than anything else.  These children are often abandoned, neglected, abused or even murdered because of their disability.  Therefore we want these children to be loved and enable them to reach their God given potential.  

Cindy with a group of students and children Kupenda serves.

We have several Kupenda staff members who run things in Kenya including physical/occupational therapists, teachers, director and social workers.  All are Kenyan and amazingly hard workers.   I travel there twice a year for a couple weeks at a time but my job is to tell the stories of these amazing children, develop the organization and ensure we have funding for our operations.  I do nothing in Kenya without the approval of the board of directors in Kenya.  This is sometimes challenging but I believe it is important to empower the local community to take care of their own children.  If I was a constant presence I think there would be an increased dependence on foreign assistance.  Of course there are challenges with this method as well but we are seeing an increase in local support which I think is more successful in the long run…like a crash diet verses a slower life style change that will last. 
When we met many parents of the children we support they wanted to rid themselves of their children entirely...some asking Kupenda to take them.  We’ve had some volunteers and supporters ask us if we would ever consider having some of these children adopted, which just gives me an incredible sense of anxiety.  Foreign adoption of these children sounds like a good idea. They would get a loving family, access to amazing resources for their special needs and so much more.  However the attitude towards people with disabilities in this Kenyan community would not change.  If we facilitated a foreign adoption of even one child with a disability, I predict we would have families lining up at our office doors with their kids’ bags packed so that they could be relieved of the “burden” of care for their own children.  We would be creating just one more way for these children to be eliminated from Kenyan society.  

The class consisting of pastors and parents of children with special needs plus a couple community leaders that had already shown initiative in the area of disability, so that they can speak into their communities. 
Kupenda has some overlapping objectives to Reeds of Hope though we do not work with orphans in particular (some are but most are not).  Many of the children we support attend special needs boarding facilities where they live except for school breaks. While at school they get three meals a day, proper education, therapy, and health services.  We also work with the parents/guardians of these children to encourage them to be more involved in their children’s lives.  Kupenda leads many outreach activities and the families see how much their children are benefitting from schooling.  Many are now contributing what they can to their children’s needs and showing much more involvement in their children’s lives.  Some parents have started support groups for other parents of children with disabilities.  One father literally walks throughout the rural villages (very difficult for our small staff to reach) looking for other families with children who have disabilities telling them about their value and where they should go to school.  Additionally, local churches have started programs to reach out to the communities of the children we support to teach the biblical responsibility to care for them.  We are seeing giant changes in community attitude and quality of life for these beautiful children because we did not remove them from their society.  

A recent photo from a church service in a church that was one of the very first churches Kupenda worked at to try to change atitudes and hearts towards children with disabilities. 
I’m not against foreign adoption.  I speak as someone who is a very strong supporter of it especially since my little sister is adopted from the Philippines.  There are many children who are in need of loving homes because of abandonment, death, or many other reasons that their birth parents/families/communities are unable to care for them.  However, we need to be sure that, whenever possible, we help families to properly care for their own children.  When it is not the only option, I think that removing children with disabilities from their families for a “better life” would ultimately be a detriment for their society and for the children themselves.
This little girl's family was sad that she was never going to be able to carry water.  Cindy showed the family it could be done.

Thanks for letting me share a little with you all.  I am grateful for Holly and all that she is.  Keep up the great work! 

If you are interested in learning more about the amazing work being done through Kupenda in Kenya, check out  Consider sponsoring a child or just giving to their general fund.   Their website is full of stories of hearts changed and love shown to children that were previously rejected.  The model of Kenyans leading the way and going out into their ccommunities is also inspiring as well.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dear Natalie: Never forget (part two)

This is part two of a post that I am reposting from two years ago.  Please check back tomorrow.  I am really excited about what who will be sharing on my blog!  

Dear Natalie,

I was trying to decide if I should take you or not when we went to give Laurent his bike.  You really wanted to go and see Laurent get his bike, so I took you (and Isla stayed home).  We went the good way, and quickly found him waiting for us.  As soon as he got in the vehicle, you quickly said "jambo" (as he didn't speak french) and gave him a cookie (that you had been saving for him).  He was so excited, as was his neighborhood.  There were so many people that came to see him off that day.

We headed to the center again and he quickly climbed up on his bike.  It fit perfectly.  It's pretty amazing actually.  It had three big wheels that are propelled by the pedals that are controlled by the hands.  It doesn't work on hills, the pedal size (or rather the pedal mechanism) is too small compared to the bike tire size.  So, considering the awful hilly roads around Bukavu it's necessary to have friends help you in a lot of areas.  The staff at Herikwetu took a lot of time walking around with him, making sure he knew how it worked and that he was safe.  You were so happy, Natalie, to see him on his bike, independently maneuvering around the compound.  So was he!

What do I want you to remember, Natalie?  Well, I suppose I could easily say, "I want you to remember the horrific poverty and injustice here that creates a place where a man must crawl around in the mud like an animal and treated with no dignity or respect" or "remember the suffering of so many, of the death, the loss, the tragedy" or "remember the corruption, the mistrust, the suspicions" or "remember what it is like to have a strong, healthy, whole body and be grateful".  I could easily say that those are the things I want you to remember.  But I won't say those things, Natalie.  Why?  Because I don't want you to remember those things.  You are only four.  Compassion and kindness come easily to you.  I don't want to manipulate you, or put the suffering here that even I cannot bear or  begin to understand on your little shoulders.  No, it is too hard to mix up pity and compassion, and gratitude with guilt.  I want you to grow in love and generosity because you have known love and generosity.  The rest will come.

What do I want you to remember Natalie?  I want you to remember the world as you saw it as a small child.  I want to remember the world as you saw it at four years old.  As adults, we often see in pieces, "he is handicapped, he has no legs, he is poor, he is black" or the hundreds of other labels we place on people around us everyday, we judge, we compare, we try to measure up, we fight to be noticed, we step on others to get our way, we put "me" before anyone else.  You will soon be surrounded by a world that judges you based on your external appearance, your wealth, your education, your skin, your... this or that, that pulls people apart piece by piece leaving no room for grace and compassion, for love.  As a small child, you don't look in pieces nor do you see fragments, you see it all.  Somehow, in your child-like innocence, you saw Laurent as a whole person, just like your self; someone to treat with dignity and respect (to share your cookies with).  For sure, you noticed his body and you worried about his hands and knees on the ground all the time.  But that wasn't all you saw.  No, you saw Laurent as simply a man.  Full of goodness, beauty, brokenness, and suffering.  As every one of us is--full of goodness, beauty, brokenness and suffering.  You saw it all, you saw all of him, and you loved.  As Jesus loved, you loved.  No wonder He called the children to himself.  This Natalie, is what I want you to remember, nothing else sweet girl.  I want you to remember how to love.  Hold it tight.  Hold it close, and never let it go.  Remember, and never forget.

I love you.