I made my first trip to Haiti in 1998. Fell in love with my first orphan in 2000. Started a non-profit to help Haiti in 2003 and started taking teams down on short-term mission trips soon after. I fell in love with Wanna and Fritzon (and a lot of others in the same orphanage) in March of 2010 and had to wait over 2 years to start the adoption process due to the laws of Haiti and a process that is always changing. Our documents were finally submitted and accepted in the fall of 2012 and are currently moving through the court system. We are quickly (hopefully) approaching the end of our adoption. This is my blog to talk about all things related to our adoption and any thing else I think is relevant to it. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Haiti Adoptions: Poverty & Trafficking

I often work behind the scenes with Haiti adoptions and families muddling through them. I say muddle because it certainly is not an easy walk down a flowery path with the sun shining overhead.  Some of what I do and know I have to hold on to and can do little but pray and search for answers or help.  Other families I am able to actively work with to provide the answers, support and help that they need.  The rest is public and many see it in the FB group we have or this blog.  In all this work I have seen and heard several recurring themes and issues and one has been very heavy on my heart the past few weeks: Child Trafficking.   Some of the buzzwords associated with “child trafficking” in international adoptions and specifically in countries like Haiti, Uganda, Guatemala and most other 3rd world countries are: true orphans, institutionalized and family preservation.

What exactly is trafficking, how does it happen and what do we do about it?

We all heard about the Baptist missionaries who shortly after the earthquake tried to take a bus load of kids across to the border to a Dominican Republic orphanage.  They were arrested and put in jail for obvious “child trafficking”. Now, I do believe the majority of the missionaries on that trip had no idea what they were involved in but we all know that ignorance does not excuse you from the law here in the US or anywhere. 

That is an easy case to define but what happens when people say that most adoptions from 3rd world countries are trafficked kids or that if you are adopting  you may be adopting a kid who is trafficked? How do you answer that?

I must admit until I got into the middle of my own adoption and started really learning about adoption as a whole I never heard most of those “buzzwords” or thought much about them.  My thoughts were always pretty simple and basic:  Kids in orphanages are orphans and they need families.  I never thought about why there were there or if they should or shouldn’t be there…. I just knew my heart ached that they were there and that they were missing out on the love of a family.

I have since learned that children in orphanages are more likely orphaned due to economic hardship than due to the death of parents (at least in Haiti).  Hundreds of thousands of kids sit in orphanages every day, “institutionalized” because their families don’t have the means to feed them or provide adequate medical care.  Some have been there their entire lives….. What conditions qualify them to be a true orphan and when does adopting one of these kids equal trafficking? Depends on who you ask…. And I bet if you ask a group (or read the responses to this blog after a few days) you will see a list of varying responses as to who the “true orphan” is in these cases and what trafficking is.  I will say that the US has standards they follow as to what they consider to be a true orphan when it comes to international adoption and while I’m sure there are kids who slip through the cracks of the system, they are doing due diligence in trying to make sure that only legitimately orphaned children are adopted.

Many argue that children whose parents are alive are not true orphans.  Just as there is no truth to saying all kids in orphanages are true orphans, it’s impossible to say that just because their parents (or a parent) is alive that they are not a true orphan.  It’s impossible to lump all these into a single category.  I recently read an article that lists various other ways that I’d never considered or thought about before as ways trafficking happens but many of those scenarios were based on people being paid a “finders fee” for dropping of a baby to be adopted. In all those cases people lied, stole or kidnapped babies or children and took them to the agency or orphanage and said the child was abandoned or found.  With all the orphans in the world I can’t imagine why an orphanage or agency would need to pay for a child that needs to be adopted.  From my research it appears this often happens in countries where adoptions happen more quickly than in Haiti and families actually go home with babies when their adoption is complete.  I'm not sure, with the exception of HP after the earthquake, that I've seen a baby actually unite with their family through a completed adoption.  This may be one reason why we don't see this type of "buying" of children going on with creches and agencies.  However,  because of stories and situations like that there are some on a crusade to stop orphanages from starting and others wanting to stop international adoptions because of a fear that a child may get adopted that could turn out to maybe, possibly not be a “true” orphan.  It’s just like the gun law war in the US now, this type of response is not the answer.  Stopping everyone from adopting to stop the few bad people that might be trafficking is like taking the guns away from the law abiding citizens to stop the gangs from having them.  

So now you’re unsure about all these orphans and what you’re supposed to be doing to help?   Some are even asking, in the middle of your own adoption, if your child is a true orphan and if you are doing the right thing.  And what about that orphanage you’ve been sending supplies to, are they harboring not-so-true orphans?   Well, let me go a little deeper into the logistics of Haiti…..

Haiti has one of the largest communities of non-profits (NGOs) on the ground.  What I’ve seen in the 14 years I’ve worked there is that there are sub-groups of ministries when it comes to the “orphan crisis” there.  Many of the NGOs are associated with an orphanage in some capacity and more are showing up every day (that's another discussion for another day).

One type of orphanage does not adopt kids out with a goal of, "raising good, strong leaders for the future of Haiti".  This is a fantastic idea, if done the right way.  I have a friend, Marie Prinvil, who has done this for years and has had anywhere from 10 to 30 or so kids at a time, and she is the MOM.  Doing this in a family setting will usually yield much better results than those who may be in poor, overcrowded conditions in an orphanage.  In addition to the “home” type orphanages that don't adopt out, I have seen the conditions of the regular orphanages range from pretty good to deadly.  More importantly than a nice building or clean clothes, these kids need to be provided with love:  Love shown through touch and affection and time.  Even in the nicest physical conditions these children will almost always be missing the element of individual time with a parent who loves them.  That breaks my heart. That makes me support adoption.

Other orphanages are established for the sole purpose of adoption.  Those starting them understand that children need a family unit and like I mentioned above, even in the nicest conditions of an orphanage, there are few that have the ability to provide the individualized love that children need long term.  There are some that do a good job filling in the gap until kids are united with their forever families.

And more recently many new start-ups or even currently running orphanages are establishing foster care programs and other programs to help keep families together that simply just need support while also offering a home and family to kids who legitimately need one either forever or while they wait for an adoption.  (I will be posting a blog on this concept soon with resources and ideas for those interested.)

Since starting the Adopting from Haiti group on FB a year ago I have learned and experienced a lot with Haiti adoptions.  I have seen adoptions from almost every angle from the adopting parent, to a liaison helping others, to watching perfect adoptions completed, to crying with those involved in scams, to working alongside directors.  In all this I have seen good people hurt in the adoption world and am seeing that happen right now with the issue we are discussing.  I have seen those who have an adoption labeled “trafficking” simply because documents are not worded properly, not because the kids were ever trafficked.  I know people who learned after an adoption was complete that their child was possibly “trafficked”.  And there are those who are just simply trying to do adoptions and are being accused of trafficking.

I bring this up because there is so much confusion on what “child trafficking” is and people are throwing the term around and accusing those in adoption of supporting it or doing it.  Much of what I hear about this is that poverty should not be a reason for a parent to give up a child so if poverty is the reason and an orphanage takes that child and puts them up for adoption then they are simply trafficking that child.  Think about this though, in the US every day hundreds of moms give up their newborns or children simply because they don’t want to take care of them or they know someone else would do a better job than they will.  So in the US a parent can give up their child and choose a family to give that child to (or in extreme cases just drop them off at safe houses) and no one is raising the red flag of TRAFFICKING to them.  But now in Haiti, there are some crying TRAFFICKING if the Haitians do this and give up their child for adoption for a better life.

This is so frustrating to me because while I know there is corruption and trafficking in Haiti and while I know we can’t fix it all, I know that we could do more if we would work together.  I’m not opposed to people trying to stop trafficking and am on board with creating programs to curb what some consider unintentional trafficking but I am opposed to people and ministries not working together to accomplish this, especially if it comes at the expense of true orphans missing the opportunity for a family due to the actions of these groups.  I have seen people go after orphanages on a hunch or suspicion or just plain fear that this could be happening and in doing so have caused issues for the waiting children and families. 

What if those who want family reunification stopped attacking the orphanages and started helping them develop programs for families who show up wanting to give their child up?  What if we started working together to develop a foster care system and a way for families who did want to keep their children to be able to? How about we do what we can to help those families while ALSO supporting the adoption of those who have long been abandoned by their families or those with no families at all?

There will never be one solution for all of the various situations in which orphans come into “the system” but we can do better, in Haiti and in the world if we will communicate together and work together for the good of the children and not any one agenda.

In the article linked to above it discusses how the US defines trafficking and adoption: "Fraudulent Intercountry Adoption Does Not Constitute Trafficking in Persons," explains that, under U.S. law, human trafficking involves “exploitation through force, fraud, or coercion.” The law in question is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the statute that authorizes and encourages American anti-trafficking efforts, here and abroad. In this definition, someone is trafficked when he or she is transformed into a slave, their labor and bodies used for someone else’s gain.”

It's important that we educate ourselves on the issues we are facing in international adoption and not just educate ourselves with others opinions but with facts.

What is your definition of trafficking and what are your thoughts, experiences, ideas and such with this issue?  What are some solutions you think would work to identify trafficking, stop it before it happens? How do you think we should battle this while protecting those who are waiting for their forever family through adoption?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Difference Adoption can make....

The difference adoption can make…..  I know it can....

You see, I knew this little girl….  She had a sweet little smile and bright blue eyes.  Unless you knew her story you probably wouldn’t know what she’d been through. She didn’t know life was supposed to be different than it was.  When she was very young, 2 to 3 years old, she was left alone, often for days, to fend for herself and try to take care of her younger brother.  Most of her memories are gone from those days and she knows only the accounts of the neighbors or social workers who documented those early years.  She has 2 memories that have withstood the years of life since.  Simple yet heartbreaking…. One, she was home alone and wanted to eat but the bread she wanted was just out of reach.  No matter how much she stretched she just couldn’t reach it and went to bed alone, hungry.  On another day her little brother sat in a play pen and one of the sides was down so she went over and pushed it into place only to pinch the skin on her frail hand.  She turned to find someone to comfort her in the pain but there was no one there.

She wasn’t afraid the day the social workers took her away.  She was just happy someone wanted to hold her hand.

She’s blocked out a lot of her time in foster care though she can still feel the sting of pain deep in her heart when she thinks about the rejection she felt being moved around to different homes and different families.  She does, however, remember the day she was picked up from preschool and told there was a man and woman at the house that wanted to meet her and her brother to possibly become their mom and dad.  While her brother hid, scared , she ran into the house and jumped into the arms of the big, red-headed man sitting on the couch.  If this man wanted to be her dad she wanted him to know she wanted to be his daughter.  She’d never had a dad in her life.  She sat in his lap and compared freckles and she felt safe.

That day was the start of her new family.  As she made the transition to her new family and they worked through the adoption she finally felt like everything would be okay.  It almost was but then her adopted mom began to call her names.  She told her she was a stupid idiot when she made mistakes and told her she regretted adopting them.  She beat her until she had bruises for imperfect papers at school and a messy room.  Her heart that had only just begun to heal began to break apart all over again.  She tried to be good enough but the abuse continued.  She withdrew and began calling herself names, questioning her existence.   Her father, in an attempt to stop the abuse, divorced her mom.  All this before she entered middle school.

She began middle school just wanting to be accepted by anyone but she was so fragile and sensitive.  People often made fun of her and put her down just adding to the “truth” she already believed that she was worthless.  She hadn’t had a mom to help show her how to dress better or do her hair so she was often made fun of for not being put together well enough.  Her father remarried while she was in middle school and while she was happy for him she wasn’t interested in having another mom.  On the outside she appeared to be just like many of the other awkward middle school students struggling through puberty and trying to find her way but inside she was dying a slow death.  She often thought about suicide and questioned why she should continue to live.

Her father had raised her in church so she knew the gospel.  She’d even walked the isle and been baptized as a younger child but her motivation had been to stand in front of the church so people would walk up and hug her in congratulations.  Her life had never been any different and in reality, she didn’t think God knew who she was, much less, loved and accepted her.  After all, she reasoned, if her own mothers couldn’t love her, why would He.

Somehow she survived middle school, mostly in part to a summer church camp that gave her a new glimpse of who God was.  One night she watched a skit where the “Africans” were looking up at the missionaries with a longing and hunger in their eyes that she’d never had to know and she thought then that she would love to help others.  Later that week she sat on the edge of a huge map that had been spread on the chapel floor and as the staff poured thousands of beans on the map the director stood up and said, “One bean represents 10,000 people who have never heard of Jesus”.  As she got on her hands and knees to help pick up the beans, with tears in her eyes, she said, “God, I don’t even know if you know who I am but I want to make a difference for You”.  It was at the moment that she heard Him say, “Shasta, I’ll use you if you’re willing to be used”.  God knew my name!  God knew me!

That day changed my life.  Who I was began to change.  I can’t say things were immediately better but I began to figure out who I was.  I had so much to deal with and get through but I can say at 32 I have overcome so much.  There’s a lot more that happened from that summer until now but I’ll save that for part 2. J  (I’ll talk about how my marriage has been impacted by and with adoption.)

I tell this story for several reasons.  I never understood the power of a testimony until I was asked to share my story and watched as people connected to my pain and celebrated my triumphs and overcomings.   Adoption made all the difference in getting me from who I was then to who I am now.  People often wonder if I wish I’d never been adoption with the events that happened following, but I wouldn’t change one thing about my life.  If one thing had been different, if one event, whether good or bad, hadn’t happened, I might not be who I am, where I am, or doing what I am doing and I can’t imagine doing or being any one else.

I’ve had people leave me but I’ve had others love me.
I’ve been rejected by some yet accepted by others.
I’ve given up on life but then given hope to carry on.
I've hated who I was but love who I have become.
Love made all the difference.