Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Haiti's Orphans Face Charity Unleashed

Tonight, 33 kids who thought they were being liberated from Haiti’s horrific earthquake zone will be spending yet another night this side of the Dominican Republic’s border. They, along with some well-meaning but procedurally-challenged church workers from Idaho (of all places), have become unwitting pawns in a confusing attempt by Haitian officials to assert some semblance of authority amid the shambles of their country.

Back in Port-au-Prince, more Haitian authorities struggle to stem the sudden outpouring of attention and angst over Haiti’s orphaned youth. Before the earthquake struck, a robust, legal adoption market already flourished involving Haitian orphans, and these days, considerable effort is being made to speed the surviving orphans to their previously-approved adoptive parents to prevent any more trauma. Other aid agencies that have been running orphanages there for years in anonymity have been scrambling to relocate their charges from destroyed facilities in the quake zone to safer areas in remote corners of the country.

Aside from the apparently misguided border-running by the Idaho missionaries, a lot of legitimate effort is being expended under extreme circumstances with time ticking away to make sure “the least of these” in Haiti are well cared for. This is Christian charity in action, tending to the welfare of orphans.

However, I’m struck by many Americans’ sudden flurry of interest in adoption of Haiti’s orphans. I mean, it’s good that people seem so concerned, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to offer a loving home to children who otherwise wouldn’t have parents, but how far can altruism go before it gets distorted? After watching the story unfold in the media, thanks in part to the brooding designer news of CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and listening to people talk about the Idaho border-runners, I have to ask: at what point during a crisis should adrenaline catch up with wisdom?

Haiti Is One Big Challenge

Nobody can deny that the horror visited upon this little corner of our hemisphere from last month’s earthquake has made an already miserable situation even more dire and desperate. For a country with an economy estimated to be one-10th of New Mexico’s, the destruction, death, and destabilization of government wreaked by this latest catastrophe is truly mind-boggling.

Around the world, the response to Haiti’s tragedy has proven to be far more than the bumbling little banana republic can possibly handle. Sophisticated international medical teams struggle to overcome the Haitians’ propensity for complicating their own care. Brazen thugs steal emergency supplies direct from American airplanes and relief teams, or jump on elderly recipients of fresh food. Decomposing corpses rot in the heat, as relatives grieve for loved ones presumed crushed inside buildings being cleared away by bulldozers. From it all emerge throngs of dazed survivors undertaking a reverse migration out of Port-au-Prince, catching volunteer aid workers off-guard and straining resources even further.

Then, to top it all off, everyone who has left the safety and profitability of jobs, homes, and families across the post-industrialized world to try and help the suffering receives a disgruntled “you’re not doing it fast enough” from Haiti’s woefully incompetent government.

We've Got Orphans Right Here in River City

Back in America, all of this plays out to a country full of conflicting emotions and motivations. Out of the blue has erupted a sudden, insatiable desire on the part of some American couples to adopt these poor little Haitian kids with the big, poetic eyes and flawless chocolate skin who mournfully gaze into the camera lens every evening. The urgency of the plight faced by these young innocents from Haiti’s latest crisis strikes Americans in the heart, and the floodgates have burst open with a deluge of adoption-thirsty wanna-be saviors of the newly parentless.

It would all make for a touching, heart-warming story if it wasn’t for the tiny little fact that here at home sit uncounted numbers of orphans and foster kids just waiting for a loving home. They’re the forgotten underclass of the adoption frenzy, the crack babies and developmentally-disabled, the bi-racial kids neither blacks nor whites think will fit into their communities, the multiple-sibling sets who shouldn’t be split, and the other complicated cases.

But what’s not complicated about the Haitian orphans? Living before the earthquake in a country perched at the tip of anarchy? Surviving, yes, but on the most meager of resources? Faced with levels of despair, disease, and other ills unique to our hemisphere? What makes these misty-eyed Americans think Haiti’s littlest earthquake victims, precious and uniquely designed as they are, will be easier to raise and provide for than the rejects they’ve already passed over here in the States? What is it about the Haitian orphans that make them so much more desirable than American ones?

Did Americans flock to China like this after their earthquake two years ago, or to Banda Aceh after the tsunami? Is it the celebrity, excitement, and urgency surrounding the earthquake and its relief efforts? Is it because we assume parentless kids in America at least have some sort of shelter and food every day? If this was a genuine nurturing instinct, why doesn’t that instinct kick in when considering those orphaned here at home?

Will This Too Pass?

Now, to be honest, I know I’m being hard on the people who want to adopt the Haitian orphans. I suppose it’s a natural instinct to be faced with such a human tragedy and want to help out in some way, even if it’s a little unconventional, like adoption. And nobody is denying that orphans anywhere don’t need good homes where they can receive the nurture, affection, and discipline that turns any child into a productive adult.

All I'm asking is for those participating in the adoption frenzy step back and look at their motives. Even the group from Idaho: should you swoop down from the frozen tundra and whisk 33 kids out of a foreign country – their birthplace – without all of the necessary forms? It may not be much of one, but Haiti is still a sovereign nation.

What about if the kids’ parents are still alive, as some reporters have already determined? Port-au-Prince isn’t the Warsaw Ghetto, where parents knew their children would face certain death if they remained. Sure, things are going to be grim and dangerous for a number of years as Haiti rebuilds from this earthquake. But is having a tough life a guarantee of lovelessness and misery? The family remains the basic building block of any society, and picking them apart for economic reasons can hardly be considered wise.

And besides, where do you stop when deciding eligibility for an escape from Haiti? Before you know it, Haiti’s entire population could be eligible in one way or another for resettlement in the United States. Charity is one thing, and orphans need advocates, but what happens when the feeling passes and people begin to forget about Haiti, like we’ve always done after every other crisis?

Don't Stop the Feeling - Just Re-Direct It

I’ve never tried to adopt a child, but friends who have tell me the adoption process in America is complicated and expensive. I’m not saying adopting kids from Haiti isn’t easier and cheaper, or that Haitian orphans should stay and suffer in their native country. This may all be a mute point anyway, since from what I’ve heard, the Haitian government is moving fast to crack down on post-earthquake adoptions to try and avoid decisions made in haste and emotion. The government is being supported by at least one aid group concerned about the long-term consequences of people adopting in the heat of the moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the people so eager to adopt from Haiti would return home and consider how they can provide the same love, attention, nurture, shelter, and purpose to kids right here who may be languishing in stale state facilities or over-run foster homes? These would-be parents obviously don’t mean it when they say race, skin color, emotional scars, and physical problems don’t matter, because these factors were all in play with most of the Haitian kids they were interested in. Couldn’t the keepers of our bureaucracy take advantage of this renewed interest in adoption and loosen the chains a bit to facilitate adoptions of America’s parentless children?

If you want to adopt, look around you. Why not start here? If you really are thinking about other people, there will always be a need for your kind of love.

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