Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Adoption in Haiti and Little Brother

There’s a delicate issue that gets to the heart of the situation Haiti faces with its children. I think about it in terms of Little Brother:

I wrote a couple days ago about Little Brother, Willa and Saffron's brother who remains in Ethiopia with their father. (In answer to questions, Yes, we do know his name but I don't feel I can share it online, as he is not mine.) Thinking of Little Brother helps me keep in perspective the plight of many children in Haiti.

Of course, we are sad that the girls are separated from both Big Brother and Little Brother. We worry less about Big Brother, because he has long since lived with their kind auntie, and been able to go to school. He is almost a man, in Ethiopian terms. But in our many conversations with the girls about Little Brother, I have thought of whether it would be possible for us to have him in our family. Now that the girls see there is enough room in the house, they'd like to call "Red Rover" to their dad and have Little Brother sent right over to America. To them it seems simple.

But it's not simple. I did leave word with the orphanage that we would be interested in either brother if they were ever placed for adoption, and most orphanages give families with other biological siblings the first chance to take new siblings. But it is illegal for us to contact the girls' father and ask him for Little Brother. And it absolutely should be illegal.

First, if we asked if Ethiopia Dad would like to send LB to America to live with us, almost surely he would say yes. Few parents in a third world country wouldn't. He knows we could provide opportunities and security for his child that he cannot. But that does not mean it is fair ever to ask the question. It doesn't mean that America is best for LB.

We know LB has a living father who loves him. We know he has a vocation (caring for cattle) that he enjoys and is proud of. We know Wicked Stepmother always treated LB better than the girls. And if the dire situation did, indeed, improve after the girls left, as Ethiopia Dad hoped, then it may be that Little Brother is now experiencing a happy Ethiopian childhood. It is true that he doesn't go to school. It is true that his father is old, and his mother is dead. It is true that his family is extremely poor. But these are not reasons to strip him away from his family, or his culture.

I fell in love with Ethiopia in my two weeks there. I saw the overwhelming pride its people take in their ancient heritage, their flowing green hills, and their diverse and rich tribal cultures. I saw an openness and love and generosity from which we Americans could take a lesson. I felt and still feel sad in the knowledge that our girls will lose most of this heritage. I'm grateful for the sacrifice they've made to join our family. I have no doubt their situation was bad and it was right for them to come here. But I also understand why international adoption is the choice of last resort for countries. I understand why Haiti must be so very careful. Children are a country's greatest resource. Two beautiful, talented and smart Ethiopian girls have joined our family because they were in a terrible situation. They will no longer grow up to contribute to Ethiopia, but will instead contribute to the United States.

If children are not in dire straits--if they are only poor, with limited resources, but have parents or relatives who love them and a country who needs and will cherish them, they shouldn’t leave their homelands. To pillage a hurting country like Haiti of its children in a time of crisis would be akin to stealing a nation's natural resources, their oil or their minerals, while they're down. The world stopped condoning that practice a long time ago.

There will be tens of thousands of children in Haiti for whom no family or resources will be found. The limping nation will not be able to absorb them, and it will need the citizens of other nations to adopt these children. But only slowly, and carefully, after every effort has been made to verify their situations.

I would love to have Little Brother join my family. We wanted a boy, and sometimes I wonder if he is the long lost brother we seek. If his father dies, or decides to take him to Toukoul Orphanage for some reason, we will be waiting with open arms. But we recognize the sacrifice he and his nation would make to let him become an American boy. We would not want either to make that sacrifice unless his opportunities of thriving in his original, marvelous, ancient, Ethiopian and Amhara (tribal) heritage had been exhausted.

In international adoption, a birth country reluctantly gives up its most valuable and precious resource. It gives up future mothers, fathers, wage earners, indigenous language speakers, and cultural flag bearers. In return, its load is lightened and it is, we hope, rendered better able to care for the rest of its citizens. But its sacrifice is great, and it must never be undertaken lightly.

Thank you, Majestic Ethiopia, for giving me two of your gems. Thank you, girls, and Ethiopia Dad, and Little Brother, and Big Brother, and Kind Auntie, for trusting me, a stranger in an incomprehensibly foreign world, with your most precious possessions.


Sally said...

The issue of international adoption is a very thorny one, with good strong arguments both for and against. You have put your view over so well, and I think you have assessed it absolutely right, both about international adoption and the plight and future of the homeless children in Haiti.

it's just lisa said...

The second from the last paragraph is quite touching and true. You have a way with words.

Rachel said...

You have put it well. Haiti's time for international adoption will come. I wish those in the media could point out that for the most part the only adoptions that are being helped along are those that were already in process. The United States has a very stringent international adoption policy and whenever they feel a country is "cheating" (the orphans are not actually orphans, etc.) they discontinue adoption from said country. Unless you have walked that difficult and thorny path and filled out paperwork and waited and waited some more and filled out more background checks and paperwork and given your fingerprints yet again then you should think twice before espousing a passionate opinion on the subject. I am especially pointing my finger at the too glib and half-cocked media.

mabeybowman said...

I look forward to meeting Little Brother some day and Big Brother too! I've often thought about after the girls are adults and maybe get some money to go visit Ethiopia, what will their reunions be like with their brothers. xx

JenSav said...

Intelligent; Educational; Poetic; Perfectly On-Point and Well Said. Thank you for this post, Emily.