Who is speaking at an upcoming Congressional hearing on the “Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans”?
Not any African orphans.
Instead, Kelly (Ensslin) Dempsey, an attorney and adoptive parent, will be speaking. She’s the General Counsel and Director of Outreach and Advocacy for Both Ends Burning. BEB founder and adoptive parent Craig Juntunen has often been quoted about his goal for the organization: A Culture of Adoption.
Like Dempsey and Juntunen, I’m an adoptive parent. I believe in adoption, if done with transparency and integrity. I argue that we need to give much more room to the voices of adopted persons and first/birth parents, especially in international adoption where economic inequity is a prime reason for parents to place their children in orphanages. I’d like to see a Culture of Family Preservation.
Also scheduled to speak at the hearing is Shimwaayi Muntemba, Ph.D., a co-founder of Zambia Orphans. I applaud their work, which focuses on education and job training for children who have been orphaned due to AIDS.
My concerns about the hearing are these:
1. How disappointing that the hearing includes no speakers with genuine experience of being orphans from Africa. Why exclude their valuable voices?
One reason could be that inviting them simply did not occur to the hearing’s organizers. Another could be that many African adoptees have turned out not to be orphans. Another reason could be that (too many) African adoptees have been re-homed, or are living outside of the families who brought them to the US as forever families. Another reason could be that many adult adoptees are speaking for family preservation in their country of origin, rather than for adoption. Whatever the reason, adult African adoptees/orphans should have had a place at this table.
I am not suggesting that minor children who are orphans be exploited in any way, or that a child should be a speaker at this hearing. Orphans, like adopted children, grow up. As adults, their experience as orphans deserves our attention, and we should welcome their perspective when crafting public policy.
2. How disappointing that the hearing does not include African family members caring for children (who may or may not be genuine orphans), who can speak out about what they genuinely need.
I recognize and respect the fact that Dr. Muntemba, a Zambian, will speak. Rural, poor Africans who have lost family members to AIDS (or to adoption) also deserve an actual place at this table.
Both Ends Burning is a huge proponent of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) legislation, a bill surrounded by controversy. One of the many concerns is the failure of CHIFF to include adult adoptees and original family members (birth family) in crafting the legislation, which is backed almost exclusively by adoption agencies, adoptive parents, and adoption attorneys.
The exclusion of the voices of adoptees and of first families is unfortunately echoed, yet again, in this hearing.
3. How disappointing that the hearing fails to include family-oriented organizations such as Bring Love In and Selamta Be at Peace from Ethiopia, both of which work to create families in AIDS-ravaged communities and keep children from entering orphanages. Reeds of Hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo works to educate and feed vulnerable children, and to provide sponsorships to help children stay with their families.
The hearing also does not include Alternative Care Uganda, which is doing ground-breaking work to preserve families in a transparent way. A quote from them: “The over emphasis and often misrepresentation of ‘orphans’ distracts attention, resources and programmes away from other vulnerabilities and what is really necessary to improve the wellbeing and livelihoods of Ugandan families and communities including vulnerable children.” Read more here.
These are only a few of many wonderful organizations doing amazing family work in Africa; no hearing could possibly have them all speak. My point, though, is that these organizations have proven how right and possible it is to create families from widows and orphans, to keep children (many of whom are not actual orphans) out of orphanages, and to preserve and reunify families after a parent or parents have died, working with extended family and community members.
Instead of continuing to exclude them, let’s invite and listen carefully to the voices of African orphans, of African adult adoptees, and of African birth/first families.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,and International Organizations hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans” is scheduled for July 16. The announcement is here. You can email the Chairman, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), here.