Orphans aren’t just in Africa…
There are a small number of families we know who have adopted children from Africa. I am a white mama with a beautiful brown baby girl. And to be honest, we get a lot of attention. Everyone knows our family because we are that family – the one that adopted an orphan from Africa…
I’m going to tell you the truth. Sometimes this attention feels good, even though I am aware that caring what others think isn’t the point! As I talk with other women about adoption, I often hear something a little like: “I just have to get me a black baby.” On one hand, I get it. Ella is delicious. I love her black skin, as soft as silk. And her hair, while challenging, is so fun. I enjoy that adopting a black child has opened up a new world to our family. I love that our children are growing up with a different perspective of race and racism because their sister is black. And they adore her.
But on the other hand, I think as a Christian culture, we’re starting to miss the point.
Africa is hot.
And I don’t mean the weather.
Our generation has embraced everything we perceive as Africa. We wear t-shirts that say “I need Africa more than Africa needs me.” We’re going on short-term mission trips. We’re building orphanages. We’re asking for money for our birthdays to build wells. We’re buying shoes and glasses from companies like Toms and Warby Parker who give shoes and glasses to kids in Africa. We’re aware of poverty, war and suffering in Africa. We quote statistics about the impact of AIDS and Africa becoming a continent of orphans. And we’re adopting from Africa. Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all been popular sending countries for adoption in recent years. Africa is hot for adoption.
There are orphans in Africa. But there aren’t only orphans in Africa.
Recently a friend asked me a great question. Her family feels called to adopt. They have Uganda on their hearts. Their eyes are open and they are aware with the problems with adoption in Uganda. They are open to adopting a child who is a little older or who has special needs. But they are having a hard time finding a child who is waiting for adoption in Uganda. They are starting to wonder if they should consider adopting from another country. But they feel torn.
When we talk about Africa, we often talk about the overwhelming need. We don’t talk about the amazing strength of African families and communities. We talk about what is broken. Not about what is working. And this shapes how we think about orphans in Africa. If we see Africa as a hopeless, messed up continent full of orphans who need to be rescued, we see ourselves as the heroes. But in many ways, Africans are doing an amazing job taking care of African orphans. In many countries in Africa, more than 95% of the “orphans” are being cared for by their surviving parents, older siblings, and extended family.
We think there are millions of orphans in Africa who need to be adopted. But the truth is that a relatively small number of children in Africa truly need international adoption. In many countries, the “demand” – families willing to adopt – is greater than the “supply” – children who need adoption. In Uganda, for example, a growing number of families are competing to find children available for adoption. And even families open to children who are older or who have special needs are finding that there aren’t many children waiting.
Yet so many families who feel called to adopt from Africa because the perceived need is so great will not consider adopting from countries where there are children waiting for families.
Right now, there are real problems in most African adoption programs. Problems that are fueled by parents who are desperate to adopt a child who is in such great need. At the same time, there are countries in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe that have far more ethical adoption programs and where thousands of children wait for families. Friends, this should not be. Adopting from Africa is no better than adopting from Colombia, Thailand, or down the street. So I would challenge those of you who are waiting many months or years to adopt a child from Africa to open your eyes and consider children who are waiting right now for families because they aren’t black.
What do you think?
This post was originally published on Family Hope Love in March 2012.