The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Take a deep breath and count to five...or twenty?

EDIT: I have found a blogger who is capable of writing the words I would write. Like we have have an internet mind meld. Makes my job easier because I can just link to her

My flu-addled brain wrote the words below but I think that anyone interested in the topic of the current state of Ethiopian adoption should skip over to Grace and then come back here - or reverse.

Now back to your originally scheduled programming:

I've had the flu all week but have still managed to catch many of the highlights surrounding MOWA's announcement to reduce the number of letters they write each day (approving each potential adoption) from 50 to 5.

Some dingbat at V.oice of A.merica kicked off the panic, I believe, with an inflammatory headline stating "Ethiopia to cut foreign adoptions by 90%." Yes, I guess the math is there but the heart of the story is missing.

What potential adoptive parent wouldn't feel that headline cut right through the heart? This time last year - I would have!

Adoptive parents don't just, swish!, sign on with an agency and receive their child. No, there is the paperwork, the waiting, the finances, the waiting some more, the receiving of a match, the photo you fall in love with, the waiting and agonizing. Have I mentioned the waiting? Whether adopting through a traditional infant program or adopting older kids or kids with special needs, we all wait and agonize.

One of the steps J and I struggled with in our wait was the wait for MOWA (Ministry of Women's Affairs - which is now MOWCYA I believe) to write our approval letter and send it to the court. We failed court three times because MOWA had not written the letter approving our match and confirming that Ariam was available for adoption. It was awful. And yes, when you are in the process and waiting for that letter you do go to a strange "why the hell can't somebody just whip up a form letter and sign the damn thing already??!!" type of place. Been there. Have much empathy for everyone going through it.

But back to the inflammatory VOA article.
I read it and I thought - huh. Well MOWA must be under additional stress and backlog. There have been new requirements set in place by both the ET government and US Embassy requiring additional documentation before a child can be adopted. It makes sense that MOWA, already unable to get letters out for every matched family/child in a manner we consider timely, already being inundated with stories of adoption fraud, would need to regroup a bit. (Big benefit of having Ariam home is that I'm able to think much more logically. I want to recognize here, formally, that this is something very very hard to do when you are anywhere in the process prior to bringing home the child you have waited for.)

So here's my thought: MOWA isn't a person - it is a ministry. A collective group of people about whom I know very little. But you have to consider that like any other office in the world, MOWA has staff turnover, MOWA has the need for trainings, MOWA had changes in leadership. MOWA oversees all of the issues related to women, children and youth in Ethiopia. Take that in for a second! Wow!

MOWA is not a ministry designed by the American people expressely set up to write letters for us.

There was a lot of frenzy online after the article came out. A lot of praying for Ethiopia. A lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth for children who may not be adopted because of this. More knee jerk reaction math was done and headings began to go the direction of "Ethiopian adoptions will now take 7 years on average."
A letter writing campaign was initiated asking adoptive parents to send in their happy stories and bright photos demonstrating successful adoption and a petition circulated.

Whew! I came up from my fever a few times to take a peek around the internet and quickly went back to bed.
Several friends have asked me what I think, given some of my professional connections in Ethiopia, and it's now or never for stating something. So take it or leave it, try not to take offense, here is what I think.

A. Children should not be raised in orphanages. I will always start with that. It's like a geometric theorem. One must always start with that.

BUT, given A....

B. International adoption is a tiny dent in what is actually a large scale child protection problem in Ethiopia. Whether we like it or not, nobody can argue that international adoption by itself is going to solve any kind of "orphan crisis." Studies are actually emerging indicating a distinct correlation between the increase in international adoption and the increase in the number of orphanages built in parts of Africa. Chew on that for a second....

C. MOWA wants to invest more time and resources into child protection and addressing the need for domestic solutions for children. They stated this very publically, to very little online applause from the adoption community.

I actually think this (not the reduction in letter writing - rather, the public committment to improvement) is the beginning of a huge step in the right direction for kids in Ethiopia.
If you take A, provide for B, and factor in C...maybe you actually come out with a solution that keeps more kids out of orphanages in the first place.

Ok, on to the rest of the list.

D. Ethiopia is not the United States of America. And Ethiopia does not have a responsibility to supply children to the world. I know, you are cringing and feeling defensive.

E. Let me ask provacative question - is the rush to petition a race and/or poverty issue? Honestly and truly? Maybe it is not for some and maybe for others it is. I don't know. The history of colonization is not a pretty one. History is littered with lighter skinned people taking control in countries they feel are "less civilized." Less able to manage themselves. Obviously not competent. While I am no fan of the Ethiopian government as a whole, I just cannot support this mass criticism and petitioning of a ministry that to all intents and purposes just announced that it is going to provide an increased focus on domestic solutions. We are all upset. We want to adopt our first Ethiopian child - or a sibling for our current Ethiopian child. We feel called. We feel righteous. We feel noble. We care. Whatever the reasoning (and I fall into ALL SORTS of those categories above) do we really have the right to impose our will?

F. I did not sign the petition or send in a flowery story with photos demonstrating the success of my adoption.

I think there is a VAST DIVIDE between our intentions, our actions, and the message received. If I can't control the message actually received then my intentions are irrelevant. The only thing I can control are my actions.

These are my thoughts.

As of this morning it appears that MOWA has decided to write 20 letters/day.
I don't believe this is an example of the collective bargaining power of the petition.
It's my understanding that this, and other improvements, to the "five letter situation" is a reflection of the good work of U.NICEF, the hard work of the embassy and the committment of a lot of child welfare professionals and others in Ethiopia. All who are concerned that children not fall through the cracks. I know that post-earthquake in Haiti, U.NICEF dug itself a bit of a grave with the adoption community. But let me assure you that in Ethiopia this is an office working incredibly hard to advocate for children to be out of orphanages and in families - whether those homes be in country (first choice) or overseas.

I think we'll see a stabilization in weeks to come. I've been too sick to try and collect all of the online links for you here but I do like The Wayfarer since it seems to always include both sides of every story and is fairly up to date with a list of who, what, when, and why. (Don't hold me to that - I've just skimmed the site today to make sure most of the news is posted.)

Now go ahead, shred me if you want to.
I didn't write any of this in anger or to divide the adoption community even further.
I just think that so often we (the collective we) in the U.S. forget that our reality and the reality on the ground, in the field, in the hard places is very different.

Collective deep breath in, collective deep breath out.



  1. Your feverish brain is brilliant.

    I was wondering why very little conversation about MOWA's desire to focus more on helping their kids in country than they have been. I dare say, due to the overwhelming need, that this focus would not in and of itself rule out international adoption. But it would help reinforce us as the last option.

  2. THANK you for writing this. I'm in the adoption process for Ethiopia, and I agree with you.

  3. I wanted to cut and paste a few select sentences that I really liked down here in my comment, but I realized I would be basically pasting your entire post. Amen, amen, amen!

  4. Thank you very much for writing this! My husband and I are currently waiting for a referal to adopt from Ethiopia. This past one/two weeks have been difficult and so uncertian. This situation has really tested my faith and is teaching me to completely trust in the Lord! Thank you for your viewpoint and thoughts. Its nice to hear from someone who has adopted, but isn't currently in the process. Thanks again! We'll keep praying this all resolves and the adoptions in Ethiopia will continue and in a timely mannor. So thankful for the 20 a day rather than 5!

  5. well said. We have been home with our daughter for one year. The struggles we encountered while different, were so painful. This development in ET is just that for all. Just sending peace your way.

  6. Well written my friend, well written. I have not signed any petition or sent in any flowery story either...I couldn't put my finger on why not but I think your post just did. As always, thankful for your insight and perspective. Hope you are feeling MUCH better!

  7. I was reading Claudia's most recent post, realizing I am in no way qualified to comment, when I read yours. I am praying for yours and Js decisions. All of life is a gift and a journey. :)


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