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Friday, January 22, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti

The images coming in this week and last have just floored me. I know they have done the same for y'all. It's one of those times in life when we all share the same response: shock, grief, an overwhelming need to "do" something, anything to help. Tonggu Daddy and I are still treading water, waiting to see the best course of action... we donated a small amount this weekend (thanks to your comments) and are waiting until payday to see what more we can give and to whom we should give it.

I want to do more.

Reading hundreds of blog posts this week, I know y'all feel the same. The question is... the REAL question is... not "what CAN we do?" but "what SHOULD we do?" Operation Babylift and Operation Peter Pan show us all that we, as Americans, often do pretty much anything we like. During Operation Babylift and Operation Peter Pan, children without proper documentation came to the United States for international adoption, sometimes even when they had biological family members in their home countries ready and willing to parent them. The chaos of war, in the case of Vietnam, and rumors of political oppression, in the case of Cuba, separated these children from their families, their culture, their country. Airlifting children out of a country, just because we see a need and can make it happen, doesn't make it the right thing to do.

It doesn't make it right.

Now, I'm just an adoptive parent like many of y'all. I don't know more than anyone else. I don't have an "in" with anyone, except possibly my social worker, and even then it's only because the Tongginator is one of her Favorite Children Of All Time. I say all of that to explain that I don't know what The Answer is, but I do read a lot and I have some thoughts. They're very confused thoughts, however, so bear with me. And please be patient with my endless rambling.

Even before the earthquake, lots of orphaned and abandoned children lived in Haitian orphanages. Many lived on the streets. Some were sold into slavery. All experienced hardship because Haiti is - simply put - the economically poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The more I learn about Haiti, the more I know that an international adoption program within Haiti is a good thing. There is a need there. In Haiti, it's not about finding babies for families, it's about finding families for children who need them. That is why I'm relieved and overjoyed that the United States government continues to issue humanitarian parole to Haitian orphans who were already in the adoption process prior to the earthquake. Children ALREADY IDENTIFIED AS ADOPTABLE will be joining their new adoptive families in the coming days and weeks. Again - overjoyed!

I feel this way because red tape shouldn't prevent parent-less children from gaining families. And that's exactly what it is: red tape. Because - first and most importantly - it's already been proven that these specific children are, in fact, orphaned or abandoned. Second, Haitian orphanages are overrun now, after the earthquake left so many children newly orphaned or displaced, so less children in Haiti's orphanages means more resources (both physical AND emotional) for the children who remain. Third, the children - if old enough to understand what's going on - were already prepared on some level to be adopted. And finally, as a momma who had to wait almost three months between referral (learning about and seeing photos of the Tongginator) and actually adopting her, I know how difficult that time can be for a prospective adoptive parent under normal circumstances. No, the child is not your child during this time (legally or morally), but the emotional and practical commitment to the child is there regardless. I simply cannot fathom how difficult these past few days have been for families holding referral photographs of Haitian children in their hands. So, yes, I'm glad those children are heading to their new homes.

I'm also taking note of the many organizations and agencies that are warning against beginning adoptions for children newly orphaned by the recent earthquake and its aftershocks.

And here's why...

It's dangerous - very dangerous - to go down that road. The possibility of child trafficking is high, y'all... VERY high. Not to mention that events such as war and natural disaster make it virtually impossible to verify the personal and family situations of the children. Day Ten after an earthquake of that magnitude is not enough time to discover whether a child has any living relatives able to care for him or her. Seriously... with a whole country in chaos, travel virtually impossible, access to food and water extremely limited and many in the immediate vicinity requiring medical care... do you really think it's fair to say that a child not yet claimed by an aunt, uncle, cousin or grandparent is not wanted... is not loved?

We live in Maryland, which is the little state newscasters keep referring to when discussing the country size of Haiti. My sister and her family also live in Maryland, about 90 minutes south of us - BY CAR. Would you seriously question my love for my nieces and nephews if an earthquake of that magnitude hit Maryland and I had yet to reach my sister's children on day ten? What about on day 20? Or 30? What if I was completely healthy, except that I broke my leg during the earthquake and I didn't own a car? And what about my Great Aunt P, who also lives in Maryland, but about three-and-a-half hours from us - BY CAR - and in the mountains. How long would you expect me to take to reach her house under similar conditions? Much less find out where my relatives were living if their house now lay in rubble?

Puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Do I think we should airlift some of these children to the United States? Possibly... especially when I read heart-breaking letters such as this... but definitely NOT with the intent to place these children for adoption. At most, we should arrange for these children to have temporary foster care within the states, with the goal being reunification with their first families. Even this is a bit of a slippery slope because all I can think of is the Anna Mae He case, where the foster family began to view themselves as the adoptive family and subsequently tried to rescind the parental rights of Anna Mae He's biological parents, who wanted to parent her. And after reading this, I doubt foster care in the US will even be an option for Haitian orphans.

Ideally, we should supply Haiti with the resources it needs to care for these children in their own country, with their own language spoken around them, with people who not only feel compassion for all they faced, but who also lived through the same experience. If that TRULY is not possible, then yes, we should bring them to the United States as temporary foster children. Because nothing else really matters if it's a case of life and death now, does it?

I've heard lots of criticism this week about security within Haiti... frustration that the supplies are arriving in the country, but are not effectively distributed. Yes, we could do a better job with this, but it's not a matter of random people deciding to pass out food, water and medical supplies. This type of relief effort takes time... airlifting children out of a country today, when relief efforts are underway, seems an extreme solution to a problem which may iron itself out within days. It's easy for us to expect immediate resolution - there is a dire need, so y'all should darn well make it happen! - but people who believe that there is an easy solution are truly ignorant of the situation.

Our friend "Abe" works for a worldwide organization that's primary goal is food security during times of chaos. He's been in Mogadishu, Iraq, Afghanistan and southeast Asia after the 2004 tsunami. If Tonggu Daddy and I have learned one thing from Abe, it's that those who control the food supply control the nation. Sending large shipments of food around the country without security? Is very, very dangerous, not just for the relief workers, but also for the people of Haiti.

We do NOT want another Somalia, y'all, where criminal warlords hijacked food to secure the loyalty of clan leaders and routinely exchanged food with other countries for weapons. To give you some firm statistics, in the early 1990's about 80% of internationally provided food was stolen in Somalia. During this time, between 1991 and 1992, an estimated 300,000 Somalis died of starvation while an additional 1.5 million people suffered greatly.

So, yes... we need to continue to support relief efforts within Haiti. We need to hold organizations accountable, while at the same time trusting their superior knowledge of the situation. We need to pray for the Haitian people and relief workers. We need to offer assistance respectfully rather than place ourselves in the role of "rescuers." We need to understand that rushing to adopt a Haitian child right now offers a long-term solution to what may well be a short-term problem.

I understand that interest in adopting from Haiti is high right now... that's actually fairly common after a disaster of this magnitude. Ethical adoptions, however, do not happen quickly. They take time, most often time measured in years. (We should know: we've been waiting to adopt from China for over three-and-a-half years.) It may not feel like it, but long waits aren't necessarily a bad thing. Adoption should only happen as a last resort, especially international adoption. A long wait will give the Haitian government time to determine which children actually ARE in need of families. And adoptive parents should be those committed to the long term. A long wait will definitely weed out the people who emotionally rush to act without considering the long-term impact of their decisions.

These children need their families... if that is not possible, given the circumstances, then they deserve adoptive families. What they DON'T need are people who see themselves as rescuers riding in on a white horse. Because children are smart, y'all, and they can surely tell the difference between parents and those who place themselves in the roles of saviors. Plus, they don't stay children for long. And twenty years from now I would rather not wince when I hear an adult, who once was a child airlifted out of an earthquake ravished country, use the term "Operation Haiti."

But that's just me. How do y'all feel about this?


Zoe said...

Haiti is in our prayers.

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Jennifer said...

I've been waiting for this post. :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and being an activist on adoption issues. It is your past influence that led me to write about this a few days ago (but in a much more limited way).

I'll be forwarding your post onto several friends who have said they want to adopt one of these new orphans. This should probably be required reading for potential adoptive parents!

realmama said...

Excellent thoughts. I'm certainly linking to this. (And it's too early in the morning to have any really deep thoughts about it right now...)

bbmomof2boys said...

My thoughts...well, they are all mixed up! I love kids so much and I hurt so bad to see this. I want them all to have loving homes but then some of they HAVE loving homes right there. How long do you wait? With rescues happening everyday of people who have been under the rubble (can you imagine living under the rubble for 1 day let alone 5 or 6??) who's to say that the kids that seem to have no parents really don't?

What's important is to make sure the children are safe, fed, taken care of. If adoptive parents want to bring one of these little ones home then they need to wait - wait to see if their parents can be found because honestly? It's THEIR lives that have changed! I can't imagine adopting a child and then finding out their parents are alive and well and grieving over their children who they believe died.

Child trafficking is alive and well all over the world. So sad but so true. It will happen in Haiti, is happening in Haiti, China, Italy, Russia, the US. We can't stop all the bad guys but we can do our best not to be an unwilling partner in it. Haiti needs help but taking their most precious resourse, their children, away before finding out if there is someone there who loves them and take care of them is wrong.

See...told you - my thoughts are all over the place with this!


happygeek said...

I agree with you 100%.
Sometimes there are no easy answers.

prechrswife said...

I agree completely. I'm going to link this on my Facebook, as it gets more traffic than my blog. I think this is very important for people to read.

planetnomad said...

Great post, TM!
After living overseas in developing countries, I am FIRMLY convinced that poverty could be alleviated best by stopping corruption. So much poverty, famine, starvation etc is a direct result of selfishness, greed, and power grabs by others. I am praying that as Haiti is rebuilt, all the aid and good will is put to good use and sustainable programs. And your thoughts on adoption are spot-on, IMO.

autumnesf said...

I knew I could count on you to write this so I wouldn't have to! LOL!

And I'm even a little squeamish over the adoptions that were in progress and not complete yet. But, like you said, those children had already been identified as adoptable. And it is so good that they are out of the death and disease of the moment.

And I think I might have unintentionally insulted some other potential adoptive parents when I wouldn't sign a petition to fast track adoptions. Which would be why I haven't touched this subject on my blog.

Logical Libby said...

Thank you for writing this. I have been really disturbed by the idea that the U-S can adopt their way out of this tragedy. I haven't known how to express those feelings though, since I am an adoptive Mom.

You're post is perfect.

The Source said...

You've written a wonderful post here, and it's given me a lot to think about. My grandfather sends financial support to an orphanage in Haiti that he's been donating to for many, many years. He corresponds with the woman who runs it, has met her, and he prays for them daily. (He spent several years in a orphanage himself as a small child...after the loss of his father back in the 1930's, his mom was unable to care for four small ones on her own with no income or education...so he's always had a heart for children who don't have families.) We've been trying to help him find info on the specific orphanage over there because he's so worried about their welfare in the aftermath of the earthquake.

You're right on the money about the dangers of air-lifting children out and rushing them into adoptions. I wasn't aware of this sort of thing, actually, so you've opened my eyes. I will be praying about it now for sure.

In addition to the children, I worry a lot about the elderly in Haiti. My other grandparents are in their late 80's and very frail. If someone were unable to get to them daily to make sure they DO take their medicines, remember to eat something and HAVE good, fresh food, I don't know what would happen to them. I wonder about the elderly in Haiti that may live on their own and aren't able to fend for themselves completely. So many issues over there right now. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Bangs said...

Well said and I am in complete agreement.

I only have one additional thought. Many of the children in Haiti live in utter poverty and were already starving and struggling to survive before the earthquake. Families do no always know when their next meal will come. Many of the newly and previously orphaned children will have experienced trauma that we can barely comprehend (from the earthquake and life experiences). Pulling them out of their culture and language may or may not make it worse. I don't know. But I do know that any children being brought into the USA, Canada, etc will need help in overcoming these experiences and the potential parents really need to be prepared the weather the storm of physical and psychological issues like PTSD, RAD, etc. And this kind of preparation can take time and education and isn't something to rush into quickly

Yes, Haiti needs our help and prayers. Yes, please do proceed with ethical and well prepared adoptions from Haiti. But a short term emotional response and quick adoptions are not the answer. And unprepared PAPs are certainly not the answer.

(I am not generalizing. I know many PAPs are prepared but I just see the potential for this to go awry if we start allowing quick Haiti adoptions.)

Sharie said...

Thank you for this post. I have been torn by this...as wonderful as it is that the U.S. cut the red tape for orphans who were already legally adopted, or close to it to get to the U.S. it also has created a misconception that you can just go "pick out an orphan" from Haiti. I pray for the safety of everyone in Haiti and thank God for those working to help protect the most vulnerable. However when I heard about the govenor taking the plane full of children out of Haiti my exact words were, "They just basically kidnapped those kids and everyone is celebrating"
We had a flood in our city in 1998 that didn't allow parents to cross town without driving across the state. This made me realize how vulnerable we all are - and how easily we can be separated from our children - and families. Time needs to be allowed for families to reunite before we begin to remove children from Haiti.

Magi said...

I agree completely. I'm thankful that adoptions already in the works are being expedited. Ideally, the remaining children should be cared for in-country. If it's needed for their safety and survival, then airlifting should occur, but it should be considered a temporary measure. You are right. It is far too soon to classify any of these children as orphaned and/or abandoned. Families are scattered throughout a country with little resources. We need to keep these children safe and cared for until it is determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no family member available who is able and willing to care for these children.

My heart breaks for all. I know the temptation to scoop them up and give them homes, but it has to be done ethically.

Rachel@just another day in paradise said...

absolutely in agreement, and you've educated us quite a bit. However, I think a lot of this adoption hoopla stems from the fact that we all just want to DO something. I've given money (and we'll give more later on), we've prayed and will continue to pray, but (as a "fixer") I just feel the need to DO something. When you hear that there are children "orphaned" (and let's face it, that term has been thrown around so much since this happened), well-meaning people rush to action. I pray (and I actually believe) that God will use the aftermath of this horrible tragedy to bring about some beautiful things. Just look at how much people are doing to help. On a personal note, I've wanted to adopt for a long time, (and hubs is not opposed to the idea), but he has been hesitant to begin the process (with some very relevant points). I see us using this disaster to discuss with honesty some very important issues. . .who knows where (and when) it might lead us. (Just a few thoughts from the never-adopted-before side of the aisle)

Rachel@just another day in paradise said...

2 more thoughts I had: I worry the focus on the children/orphans (since the terms seem interchangeable in the news) will overshadow the other people there: the families with children, the adults, the elderly, the disabled, the many who don't fit the category of "poor orphan". Will we be there to help everyone?
2. How traumatic would it be to be fostered in the US, with our overcommercialization/land of conspicuous consumption and then return to your homeland, where, let's face it, Haiti will be being rebuilt for YEARS. . .I just think that would be confusing--even misleading to some kids. . .

ok, I'm done. . .those are the thoughts rattling around in my head. Yours sounded way more put-together than mine, however. : p

Nicole said...

Excellent, thought provoking post.

Cassi said...

Excellent post TM!

I think what we need to remember here, first and foremost, is that there are real breathing human beings involved in this. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

And most important children.

No, most of us will never know the life they live in Haiti. We will never even have a taste of what it must be like, expecially now with all the devistation after the earthquake but that does not mean that the citizens of Haiti, even now, in the worst nightmares, want Americans swooping in and "saving" their children.

Can you imagine the uproar if after Hurricane Katrina, Russia swooped in and decided it was best for us, as Americans, to take our children, they labeled as orphans, and transport them to their country for Russian families to adopt?

We would have never put up with it.

Why would anyone believe then that it is okay for us to do such a thing to another country? Simply because they are so poor? Because we see them and their government as weak? Because we believe on American soil, children can be given a "better life?"

It isn't right and I am so very thankful that you are bringing an awareness of the current situation to others.

I try to imagine if such a disaster hit my family and what would happen if I survived but was seriously injured, unable to get to my children or my nieces and nephews or young counsins immediately and they were then taken away without my knowledge, adopted by another family in another country. The loss of that, to me, would be greater than any man-made disaster could ever be.

The Gang's Momma! said...

TM - this was such a great summary of the most important parts of the whole issue. I can tell you've been reading some of the same blogs and resources I've been mulling over. But there's no way I could have said it so comprehensively and so eloquently. I'm going to link to this both on my blog and my FB page, if it's okay with you. Great stuff!

pickel said...

Well said.

Kohana said...

This really gets to the heart of the issue. Thanks for writing it. I've been thinking all these issues over, but haven't taken the time to try to explain them. Do you mind if I publish a link on my blog?

Missy said...

Very interesting perspective and one that I haven't thought of. Sooo many excellent points, my friend.

My heart just breaks about the ENTIRE situation.

Great post!

Kristy said...

This was an incredible post!!!



rosemary said...

Very well written and soooooo true. As a country, we have got to just quit assuming the right thing to do is take children from financially poorer environments because there is nothing of value there.

Ivy said...

You are a wealth of knowledge and thank you for putting this into perspective. I knew some families that were waiting three years for a child they were already referred, even went to stay there for a bit, but just had to wait the wait. It's just ironic what's happening now.
It tugs at my heart to see all the people there struggling so. My medical side tells me to go over and help, but realistically I know the US along with the UN are giving it their all. Guess the saddest part is that recovery efforts were called off last night. Ugh!
Well prayers to Haiti and those that continue to help!


Elissa said...

Thank you for your very thoughtful post. There are so many important considerations in a situation like this, but none so important as saving a child's life. Period.

If the world thinks we're arrogant for taking a child out of their country to get them proper medical care (or just plain care), if I cry for the rest of my life because I miss the child we fostered and then sent back to his country... none of these things matter so much as saving the life of a child.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Perfect, no. But to save a life, I'd live with the many lesser consequences that would ensue.

Not that any of us have the power to make the decisions about whether or not Haitian children are sent to other countries to be fostered or adopted, but I would hate to think that we were all sitting around on our computers in our warm houses, drinking coffee and meta-communicating about possible side-effects of saving children's lives while they died of hunger or lack of medical care or were sold into slavery.

luna said...

really excellent post on a truly important issue. thanks for sharing this.

Carla said...

so totally agree. I know people are talking about bringing the orphans HERE until it's safe to take them back and to keep great records on them so that their families CAN find them.

I have so many thoughts but I can't seem or organize them coherently still. Thanks for this post.

Kristi said...

This is such a wonderful post! Do you mind if I direct folks here from my blog? I think there are so many who don't understand why we don't just rush in there and take those kids out...

anymommy said...

Exactly. This post is so important. I have had a hundred conversations in the last three weeks in which I have gently tried to convey these ideas to someone asking me how they can adopt from Haiti quickly. I try to keep it simple, bringing home children who were in the adoption process and whose adoptions had been approved by the Haitian government is fabulous, stealing children randomly in large numbers from a country like Haiti with no idea whether they have families or not is wrong.

It really is that simple and if anyone reads the statement of the International Council on Adoption it says it all.

Thanks for this post.

3 Peanuts said...

Very well said. I agree with your perspective and you articulate it beautifully.

CC said...

I'm with you 100%. But, I have been overjoyed that some of the kids that were already in the process of being adopted are having their paperwork expediated! If anyone needs an expediation, these kids do. There have been a number of local families who have welcomed their children home since the earthquake and it's made me cry every time.