I arrived late last night to the darkness of Addis Ababa. The first thing that struck me on my return to this wonderful country was the relative calm of the city. “I don’t remember ever thinking that Addis was calm” I thought to myself. And as I looked around I saw the same sights I’d seen before – the taxis crowded around the Elephant Café, the legless child begging on the street corner, and the men and woman walking home late at night. Everything was the same as before, so why did it seem so different?
Then I remembered. I’d spent much of my time aboard this year in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I had a new definition of chaos. As my good friend was picking me up at the airport I commented to him on how calm the city felt. “Why?” he asked, “Addis isn’t calm.” I explained my trips to Haiti. “Why?” he asked again, “why did Haiti feel so much more chaotic?” As we drove down a silent street in Addis I painted him a picture of Haiti. Imagine…the road is bumper to bumper cars, even like now, when it is late at night, and every fifteen feet or so there is a big pile of dirt, dust and broken concrete that all the cars have to gently maneuver around. All along the road destroyed homes, hundreds of tents and thousands of people all seeming to move at one time. Everywhere you turn.
Even tonight, after a long day, as I rest at my hotel I think of Haiti and how much my life, my views has changed since the earthquake in Haiti. Just over a month ago, I was speaking with another friend, who runs one of the most well respected orphan care organizations I know. We were discussing Joint Council’s, I am the Answer Campaign and the children we have cared for who have passed away. She made a simple remark, “It is experiences like those that say with us, you never forget a child who died in your arms.” It’s been almost a year since the earthquake and still the emotions, visions and heart-ache sit with me, raw, waiting to surface. Just like Mbali, the little girl who died in my arms stays with me, Haiti will never leave – it will always surface. But I’m not here to talk about Haiti, I’m in Ethiopia.
After a less than restful night’s sleep I headed to the U.S. Embassy to discuss their perspectives on the current intercountry adoption process. For the US government’s 2010 fiscal year (which ends every September) the U.S. Embassy issued 2,500 adoption visas from Ethiopia. Collectively other Western Nations have completed about the same number of adoptions – last year about 5,000 Ethiopia children we’re served through intercountry adoption.
Unlike most other countries, the number of adoption visas from Ethiopia to the U.S. and other countries has increased every year for the last six years. Among many who question the validity of intercountry adoption this increase alone means that too many Ethiopian children are leaving for other countries. However, when you look at the larger picture a much different view emerges.
Last year, Joint Council member organizations made up about 2,000 of the intercountry adoption to the U.S. These same organizations served over 1.2 million children and families in Ethiopia through their family preservation and empowerment programs, and services through hospitals, clinics and community centers. The number of children served as a direct result of intercountry adoption dwarfs the number of children who end up living abroad. This is quite an amazing feat. Especially compared to countries like Guatemala, before it closed to intercountry adoption, the system had become commercialized and $80 million served only 5,000 children. Ethiopia is in many ways a perfect example of the proper use of the full spectrum of services to families and children. In some ways, the world could learn a lot from the Ethiopian government on child welfare issues.
However, as stated in the U.S. Dept of State announcement earlier this week, there is an increasing concern regarding unethical practices in intercountry adoption. Some of the biggest concerns of late center on practices at the local level and in the rural countryside. Corruption, whether intended or unintended, can easily creep into the process in areas with little infrastructure, insufficient oversight and overburdened government officials – and it’s one of the hardest problems to solve.
So what do we do? At Joint Council, we’re investing time and energy in 2011 to help train local orphanages and government officials on ethics and proper procedures for children coming into care. We’re also asking our member organizations who perform intercountry adoption to increase their review of the intake procedures of the orphanages they work with. What can adoptive families do? Carefully review any paperwork or documentation provided by your adoption service provider. If any red flags emerge, ask questions, work closely with your service provider and if necessary report problems to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. In the coming months Joint Council will be expanding our partnerships to help adoptive families, adoption service providers and government officials ensure the adoptions they partake in are ethical and in the best interest of each and every child.
Today, was just a start of a long week of advocacy. Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Hosanna to see the work of a few of our member organizations and the child care facilities there. Stay tuned as there will be more to come in my daily blogs.