Thursday, November 23, 2006

orphanages, adoption, HIV and Africa part two

This is part two about third world orphanges.

It's been 20 plus years since I worked in Africa, so my information is probably out of date. I'm sure things are now much better, despite the economic declines and HIV epidemic that in 2005 in Zimbabwe alone will take the parent of 160 000 children.

However, when I was in Africa, we did not have orphanages for older children. In the past, there were such places, but the nuns found that the children had so many severe emotional problems that they closed the institutions, although they did arrange school fees for some older orphans to attend boarding schools.

Most of the babies were placed because mom died, either in childbirth or before the child was weaned. Without breast milk, formula was not an option: Very expensive, and mixed with water that often contained the germs that cause diarrhea, which kills infants.

The orphanage that was left was a dull place. The one at a nearby mission had 20 cribs, two wet nurses (who nursed the smallest children) and several nurses aides and nursing assistants to care for the children. But it was a terribly poor place, despite the love and physical care given to the children.

But as soon as the children were weaned--in Africa, because of price of protein rich foods, this is usually aged three or four--the nuns would start searching for families to take them home, and usually one day someone would show up and take the child home.

Few kids had regular visitors, due to the price of bus tickets. But families still kept in touch.

What is happening now is that there are large numbers of children who have lost one or both parents to HIV.

(HIV in Africa is a sexually transmitted disease, but also spread through unsterilized knives and needles used by traditional healers, and, alas, though breast feeding.)

So what happens to these children? Most are taken in by the extended family. But some cannot afford to feed the kids, some come from urban areas where family is unknown, and others are mistreated and abused.

Now, those of us who adopt know that older children have often abused sexually; not just girls, but boys.

Alas, there are now reports of this becoming more common in Zimbabwe.

THIS VOA report discusses a UN report "

Child abuse and particularly sexual predation is on the rise in Zimbabwe, driven by the country's large and growing population of children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, according to the United Nations Childrens Fund and local child advocacy groups.

UNICEF and a number of child-protection organizations highlighted the extent of child abuse in the country on Sunday, designated the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse, and seized the opportunity to raise national awareness of the problem."

What is different here is that, alas, one "traditional treatment" for HIV involves the raping of a virgin. An orphan, without parents or kin to protect them, are the ones most easily abused in this manner.

Local NGO's are working with the government to educate both traditional healers and locals about this myth. They are staging plays that tell the stories from the girl's point of view, and emphasizing that there is no "cure" for HIV, but that there is treatment available.

But not everything is a horror story. The BBC has this story of one orphan raised by a stranger and who was later place in a foster home.

So how does one confront the horror stories one reads about?

When Mother Teresa first went out to work among the refugees and homeless after the partition of India, she saw a man, and she helped him. You cannot save the world, but you can help one child.

Most churches and mosques have charities that send money to locals who are helping orphans. Oxfam and CARE and UNICEF are other good places to start. And many of the tear jerking "adopt a foster child" types help keep children with intact families by paying school fees and other expenses.

If you want information about adoption and the various information about adoption, Adoptive Families website is a good place to start.

So was I wrong with criticizing Madonna's glitzy adoption quest? Yes and no.

The "best" solution is a local home. But when the numbers are huge, and the problem overwhelming, one should admit that adoption by a narcissitic rock star might be the better alternative.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the Philippines with her husband, seven dogs, three cats, and a huge extended family.
Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. She sometimes posts about Africa on her MugabeMakaipa Blog.

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