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.

Sara Brinton


SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

  • Lara

    March 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm Reply

    Our situation seems different, maybe because we do have an older child instead of a baby. For whatever reason, people drool over older children a little less, I think. We don’t get attention that often (or if we do, I don’t notice it.) I get frustrated with some of the extra attention we do get because I don’t like my child being treated like a novelty. I also feel like he’s under a microscope to “perform” for people when they ask him a million questions.

    I agree completely with you that orphans aren’t just in Africa. Not long ago I spoke with a mom waiting for her 0-12 month old from an African country. She was complaining about the long wait and I asked if she’d considered domestic AA adoption and she leaned in close and said, “If I’m paying this much for a baby, she’s going to be from Africa.” A lot of truth was in those words about how I think many people view African adoptions.

    At the same time, our family has a deep love for Uganda. We pray that someday God brings our son a sibling who shares his heritage and, frankly, who looks like him. Not for our own purposes, but becasue he often makes comments about wanting to be white. However, I refuse to be a part of the problem, so we would only very tenatively step back into that world.

    • Sara

      March 28, 2012 at 11:22 pm Reply

      Lara, we share your deep love for Uganda. I didn’t go into detail in my post above, but that is the hard thing about not adopting from Uganda again. We do have good reasons to want to adopt from Africa again, right? As parents of one Ugandan child, I think it would be beautiful to have more than one child who could share their history, culture, skin color and hair.

      And yet, I feel like God is doing something beautiful in knitting together our American-Ugandan-Latvian family that will be living in Europe and maybe someday in Africa or Asia…I just keep thinking it’s a family that only God could put together!

      Like you, I also get frustrated by the extra attention sometimes. There are days when I do not want to be noticed or to stand out. Days when I just want to get through the grocery store without explaining anything…

  • Mercy

    March 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm Reply

    Sara, I love your heart in this! I have felt called to adopt from the US since I was in Middle School I think. There are kids everywhere waiting for someone to want them and I wouldn’t want to be limited to specific countries, skin color, ages, etc!

  • Sarah

    March 29, 2012 at 12:54 am Reply

    It is true, adopting from Africa is not better than adopting from anywhere else in the world, including here. Adopting from any place is not better than any other place unless you are involved in letting corruption happen in your adoption. There are orphans all over the world and they are all deserving of a home and family.
    We did not adopt from Africa because it is “hot.” In fact, I had no idea it was hot to be honest. I didn’t know much about Africa before we started the process because it was not somewhere we had ever considered. We had first considered China because of my love for a little Chinese girl I used to babysit and because of their heartbreaking orphanages full of abandoned girls as their one child policy fixates them on boys. But the program was cost prohibitive for us and the wait time was almost two years.
    After China we never considered international adoption again. It is expensive and there are children who need homes here in WA too. We went to meetings about foster to adopt and figured at some point we would do that and grow our family that way. God basically dropped Uganda and Jeremiah in our lap. We had never considered Africa. In fact I had NO desire to EVER go to Africa. I have family members who lived in DRC as missionaries and Africa seemed like an extreme and unsafe place I would never want to go. But when we heard about Jeremiah we knew our son lived in Africa.

    With our second adoption we were paper ready and waiting for a referral for an older child from Uganda when a birth mother from our church approached us about adopting her child when he was born. Now at this point we figured all of our children were going to be from Uganda the same as our first son. We never considered domestic adoption again. Our hearts were firmly planted in the red soil of Uganda. But of course God had other plans and wre would not change a thing.
    As we consider our third child I watch the adoption news out of Uganda regurarly and hope things improve because I will never be involved in an adoption that has any hint of corruption . Before we went to Africa and got involved in FB groups on Ugandan adoption I had no idea that corruption was a problem in international adoption or that human trafficking was an actual real problem today. But I have a lot of hope for Ugandan adoption as more and more people bring the reality of deceit and corruption in adoptions to the light. I have a strong sense that we are supposed to have a third child and I hope he or she is from Uganda. I fell in love with that country and culture while I lived there and I would love the chance to do it again. But like you said there are orphans all over the world and neither of my children have come from places I expected.

  • Julia

    April 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm Reply

    I could not agree with you more. I so appreciate your honesty. I think in the adoption world we tend to start with a set of assumptions and close our ears to any truths that might not be in line with our assumptions.

    I really have a hard time understanding the theological basis of people being called them to a specific country – I think we are first drawn to a country for whatever motivations that we might not even acknowledge (hottest program, prettiest kids, praise about how noble we are, novelty of being in a pilot program) and then say God called us there. When we get committed to the program and God shines light to some of the darkness, suddenly we are not so receptive to His leading. I think sometimes we forget in our quest to do good that we are still fallen, fallible human beings.

  • Nates5bs

    April 16, 2012 at 4:11 am Reply

    Thanks for having the courage to write this. I’ve noticed this, but never really voiced it out loud. China was the popular one for awhile and now it’s Africa. We have adopted from EE twice and always feel like the oddballs because it’s rare to find someone who has adopted from there, especially since one of our girls is HIV+. When people think of an HIV adoption they certainly don’t think of EE! My girls are my daughters, not a cool addition to make me look like hero. I say that if God is calling you to adopt, go where He leads you and don’t worry about where the crowd is adopting from.

  • JustMe

    May 14, 2012 at 7:22 pm Reply

    I really wish more families (especially Christian families) would consider adopting here. We have two beautiful African American children adopted here as infants. With our son we were called in from out of state because there were no families open to adopting a black child. The same happened again with our daughter. We were one of two families her momma had to choose from. That is the real tragedy. We decry racism but will wait 3+ years for a white newborn. Or 2+ years for a “baby” from Africa because then you have a better story to tell… We’ve had strangers ask us where our children are “from” and when we say the US one woman said (I kid you not), “Oh, I guess that’s good too.” Whuuuttt???

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