Thursday, November 23, 2006

Orphanages and adoption Part one

A few days ago, I blasted Madonna's desire to adopt a matched set of Black orphans for her home.

My criticism was that adoption is not a social statement.

But today I want to talk about adoption from overseas and orphanages.

Now, my sons were adopted from an orphanage. Their parents had died, and so the children were parceled out to friends and relatives. The oldest boy went to work (he was 10) and one of his younger brothers was taken in by his grandmother. Alas, the grandmother died after a year, so he was sent to an uncle, who beat him. The family first got my oldest son to quit work and take him back to the village, but when that plan didn't work, the aunt conspired with a friend to drop them off at the local Catholic orphanage with a story that their parents were dead and the kids were left on the streets. The orphanage did search for relatives, but the uncle either did not worry where the kid disappeared or was too drunk to care, so after six months they were legally free for adoption. I got them because the boys refused to be separated, and I was willing to adopt two older boys.

That orphanage was founded by a Spanish missionary priest and funded from Spain. The sisters who ran it were the usual nuns: the mother in charge the drill sergeant type, but the younger nuns were wonderful and loving. The dormitories were clean. Yet even then, the boys later told stories of being beaten and undressed by the nuns. I'm sure these stories are of normal discipline and hygiene, that got more and more exaggerated with each telling to their eager audiences. But nevertheless, the fact is that they felt inferior and neglected, and a lot of that anger was directed not at God for taking their parents or at their uncle for mistreating and neglecting them, but at the nuns and at me.

Another thing about the orphanage was that most of the children were not up for adoption because they had families. Sometimes their mother was dead, and the father could not care for them. Other times, mother had remarried, and the new husband resented the boys, so they were on the orphanage rather than on the street. Others were true orphans, but like my son had relatives. These children often spent holidays with their families.

A third thing was that this orphanage was for older boys. In Colombia, babies and toddlers are usually adopted. Most babies are taken in by relatives, or adopted by local families, and those that can't be placed are often placed overseas. But for infants, the country had strict rules: Married couples in a stable marriage, under age 50, good health, police background check okay.

How did I get two kids as a single mom? Well, who wants two older boys? They make exceptions for hard to place children, who are usually older boys.

You see, girls are usually easy to place in South America. They are often kept by relatives, or placed in foster homes if they cannot be adopted. You see, a girl isn't much trouble, and there is always work in the house for them to do. (This is not true of Asia, where girls may be more easy to adopt since boys are kept by birth families but girls might be abandoned).

The dirty little fact, however, is that there are a lot of boys end up as street kids in Colombia. The family is so bad that the boys prefer the freedom of the streets. My boys were saved because they were quiet and obedient, but many end up in reform school for stealing or drug use. Many more simply grow up in gangs. And even boys with good families may end up unemployed and getting into mischief after they leave school at age 14 or 16.

Now, all this is about Colombia, where there has been an ongoing guerrilla war for 40 plus years, but where most people go to school, find jobs, have a trained midwife to deliver them, and live to be aged 70.

There is poor, and then there is destitute. Next to Malawi, my sons were fortunate. But that is a story for another column.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines with seven dogs, three cats and a large extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. She sometimes blogs about Africa at Mugabe Makaipa Blog.

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