It's not often that I can fully endorse an organization involved in adoption.
Because, although we live in a world where adoption is sometimes necessary, when an organization's main source of funding comes from adoptions, its motivation is to produce adoptions for the paying adoptive parents--not for supporting family unity by keeping a child with its birth family and choosing adoption only as a last resort. As watchdog groups and adoptee rights and other organizations have documented over and over again, the Adoption Industry at large often has misaligned priorities.
But I find myself in a paradox here--I want to help children, I don't believe adoption is always bad (I benefited from it!), and I don't want to be an armchair critic, perched at my desk criticizing people in very real situations of infertility or wanting a bigger family or facing an unexpected pregnancy and bone-crushing poverty. What I seek from others, what I strive to see happen in the mainstream conversations about adoption is empathy. An understanding of why adoption is more complex than we allow voice for, why an adoptee might struggle, or why adoptees are marginalized in a very real way by not having access to birth certificates. So, I always push myself to have empathy with others. But it's a difficult dance, because some scenarios are just infuriating (See the Veronica Brown case, for example.)
This week, however, Ali from Haitian Families First visited my church, and I tasted hope. She and her sister have been volunteering in Haiti since 2006, but their agency is not strictly an orphanage. They have housed and fed and educated hundreds of children. Their goal, as stated on their Web site, is to "nurture and empower families in despair through emotional, social, and financial support, ensuring children remain with their biological families and out of unnecessary institutions."
Let's hear that last part again: "ensuring children remain with their biological families and out of unnecessary institutions."
ENSURING CHILDREN REMAIN WITH THEIR BIOLOGICAL FAMILIES AND OUT OF UNNECESSARY INSTITUTIONS!
Hallelujah! This is what we're talking about. This is having the right priorities in place. This is, truly, putting children first.
I can get behind that.
At a time when there's so much to be critical of, we can celebrate someone who's getting it right.
Ali shared anecdotes about how HFF helped a father keep his child after the mother died in childbirth. He obviously had no access to breastmilk to feed the child, and formula is expensive. HFF provided formula for the child, who was able to remain with its father.
Another mother left her severely malnourished child on the hospital doorstep. Ali and Jamie happened to be there, and because they are part of the community and people from the community work with them, they were able to talk to people and eventually find the mother. The mother was embarrassed, said she hadn't known what else to do, that she simply could not provide for her child. HFF enrolled the child in a nutrition program, and today he is healthy and lives at home with his family.
Stories of hope.
It's a small organization, amid 800 orphanages in Haiti. (800, for a tiny half-island!) As you can imagine, many of these orphanages/agencies do not have a mission quite like HFF. Although it's small, HFF has established a relationship with the local hospital, so that when a child is abandoned, HFF is called first--not one of the orphanages. They do their best to support family units. Of course there are still cases when children would benefit from being adopted into a new family, maybe a family abroad. But it is, simply and truly, a last resort.
I encourage you, reader, to visit Haitian Families First Web site. Consider donating. I've decided that every time I critique something inadequate in the world of adoption, I will match it with support of something good.
Haitian Families First is something good.