A few days ago, I  wrote an essay blasting Madonna’s desire to adopt a matched set of Black orphans for her home.

Adoption is not a social statement. It is about enjoying kids, and enjoying nurturing and raising kids, and then opening your home and heart to kids not of your own body to raise and nurture.

So today I want to talk about adoption from overseas, and the numerous children who need families who live in orphanages.

Now, my sons were adopted from an orphanage in a small city in Colombia.

When their parents died, the six children were parceled out to various 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 the younger boy was sent to an uncle, who beat him. The uncle’s wife arranged for my oldest son to quit work and take him back to a village where they had relatives, 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. A year later, the social workers received my application for adoption, which included the fact that I was willing to take siblings and older children. The boys, who refused to be separated, were assigned to me.

That orphanage where the boys lived 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 who kept the kids in line and the orphanage spic and span, but it was the younger nuns who supplied the boys with love and affection.

One thing most Americans don’t know about orphanages is that, like most children in the American foster care system, most of the children were free to be adopted 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 or mistreated the boys, so they were sent to the orphanage. Others were true orphans, but unlike my son had relatives who refused to release them to be adopted by strangers. 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 few that can’t be placed are often placed overseas. Girls are usually much easier to place. Fewer of them are abandoned, since 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 home is sometimes so bad that the boys prefer the freedom of the streets. My boys were saved because they were quiet and obedient, but many other boys 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, although there are millions of “street kids”, such children are rarely “adoptable” because of behavior problems. They steal, they don’t bond with parents, and they refuse to take discipline. Often they take drugs even at a very young age. Many of them end up sexually abused. Many of them live by petty theft, and there have been reports of shopkeepers in Brazil and Colombia paying hit men to kill street kids to stop the stealing. The best “solution” for these children is to work with them in place. You give them an alternative place to stay, you get them training for jobs or even jobs where they can earn money, A few of them will be “survivors” who can be placed into orphanages or boarding schools, but most have gotten used to the freedom of the streets and so you have to work with them where they are.

How did my sons “escape” this fate? Because they had friends and family who helped, because there was an orphanage to give them the opportunity to escape, and because they had the inner discipline and the desire to make something of themselves, even at their young age.

It was this last fact that made the social workers decide they could be considered for adoption despite the fact they were “older” than most adoptees.

Now, my sons came from 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 essay.

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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