Sunday, May 20, 2007

Watoto Children's Choir

We saw the Watoto Children's Choir this morning. The choir is made up of eighteen beautiful Ugandan children between the ages of 8-14. All of these children are orphans as the result of the AIDS epidemic that is truly devestating sub-Saharan Africa. In the entire African continent, it is expected that AIDS will produce 25 million orphans by the year 2010. That's only 3 years away. Can anyone even fathom that number? I sure can't.

The Children's Choir is part of the Watoto Child Care Ministries, a faith-based (Pentecostal) organization that is saving children in Uganda. Their philosophy involves supporting what are essentially foster-care villages, where children are taken in and cared for. This group believes that they are creating the future leaders of Uganda. I have no doubt that they are.

While I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the work that this ministry is doing, I find myself oddly conflicted on a couple of fronts. First, the evangelical indoctrination to which these children have obviously been exposed makes me a little uncomfortable. Their well-rehearsed testimonials about the real tragedy they have experienced in their short little lives are moving, but somehow their words seem a little too stilted, too professional- not the kind of life assessments that I expect to hear from the mouths of 8 & 10 year olds. Although I know these 8 and 10 year olds have had no regular childhood. And maybe it is just that this type of worship is not really my thing. However, I do have a lot of tolerance for faith-based groups that put their money where their mouths are- and this one sure seems to.

The second thing I find myself wondering about is the solution to this unbelievably difficult situation of HIV/AIDS and the children that are being left in the wake of its destruction, particularly in Africa. Obviously, the long-term solutions are "simple": educate people about the transmission of HIV, normalize the use of condoms, empower women to protect themselves from contracting the virus, make generic anti-retroviral drugs available for treatment so that becoming HIV+ does not automatically mean a death sentence ... you know, all that "simple" stuff.

But in the meantime, there are millions of children who have lost and will lose their parents to AIDS. Millions of orphans. What about them? How are African countries going to cope? What can people living vastly different lives in other nations do to help?

I absolutely believe that if children can be cared for by families in their own countries, then they should be. Supporting the grandmothers who are often the only ones who are left alive to care for the children, and supporting foster care villages, has to be a major part of the solution. Here are a couple of links to groups that I'm aware of that are trying to support these kind of initiatives: The Stephen Lewis Foundation, and Keep A Child Alive. You'll probably know of many others.

But, as a mother in the midst of adopting a child from an orphange in a country with its own unique challenges concerning the care of its children, I have to wonder: what is the role of international adoption?

Obviously, there are families who want children, and who would dearly love to have the opportunity to adopt a child from Africa. But, as far as I know (and I'd love to know more, so please feel free to inform me) the only African county with a significant IA program is Ethiopia. I know there are several other countries with smaller programs, and I know that one of the major Canadian adoption agencies (Children's Bridge) is in the process of developing a program with South Africa. But, my sense is that many African countries are not all that crazy about permitting their children to be adopted transculturally and transnationally. Am I wrong?

Given the expected decreases in the number of children available for IA in China, there are predictions that Africa will become the destination of choice for parents to adopt their children. It seems like there will certainly be a need for parents, but I wonder if we're going to see the same type of diaspora of African children that we've seen over the past decade with Chinese children. And can the numbers of children who might find families through IA even make a dent in the enormity of the problem? Which brings me to another issue that I struggle with...

One of my big concerns with IA is that there are some families which seem motivated to adopt in order to "save" a child. Now, I don't think that this motivation, in and of itself, is necessarily terrible. We all should want to "save" children that are in need; children in our own cities as well as children half-way around the world. But, as far as I can figure, the primary motivation to adopt a child must be the desire to parent, the desire to raise a child. I can't even imagine the emotional and psychological baggage that a child who comes to learn that he or she was "saved" by adoption would carry. So, this worries me, since I'm sure there are and there will be more groups that will promote IA of AIDS orphans using this kind of angle. Are they wrong to do so? I don't know. Certainly, the alternative for some of these children- life in an orphanage without a family- is far worse than life with a loving family who adopts as an expression of their faith or missionary zeal. And I'm not suggesting that this is mutually exclusive with the desire to parent a (or another) child. But, for me, it is a tough one to reconcile...

So, I guess the Children's Choir really got to me today, and they've made me think a lot. If they ever perform near you, be sure to go see them.