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A highlight this week, remembering a friend, and thoughts on adoption and non-parenthood.

Saturday, August 11, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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Gardez boys, originally uploaded by frida world.

It's Saturday morning and the ISAF flight that I was going to hitch a ride with back up to Ghor has been canceled so here I am in Herat for another day.

It's been a tough week for me in lots of ways and I've written about some of that here. But – as with all weeks – there have been some great moments as well.

One of those good moments got started with an email from Home in Kabul (thanks HiK). She knows about my interest in the orphanage in Ghor, and the children living in the orpanage, and sent me an email about a network of people in Afghanistan working on issues related to orphanages.

I sent this email on to a development advisor putting together a project to build a new building for the orphanage in Chaghcharan and she, in turn, got in touch with the network. It emerged that there had recently been an investigation into orphanages in the country and that a number of child welfare and child protection issues had emerged.
The development advisor came back to me and asked for help figuring out which, if any, of these issues needed to be taken into account in the project in Ghor.

So while I was down here in Herat I met with all the usual suspects on child protection issues and – in the end – came up with some proposals that would radically alter the current project, and slow it down, by first trying to find options to de-institutionalise as many as possible of the children currently in the orphanage.

As in many settings where poverty and insecurity undermine family life, many of the children in this orphanage may not be orphans. Some may have lost one parent (if their father has died, in particular, their family is likely to be facing severe financial difficulty), others may simply come from destitute families who cannot afford to feed and house them.

So out of my consultations this week I managed to build a loose network of experts and organisations with experience in child protection issues and de-institutionalisation of children in Afghanistan. Having pull together the best ideas and some commitments of support from this network, I was able to go back to the development advisor with some practical suggestions.

It is too early yet to know where this initiative will end up, but I know that this week I saw this amorphous responsibility I have to 'coordinate' between Government agencies, UN agencies, PRTs and non-governmental actors actually work in practice. In the best possible outcome, all these actors will find a way to adjust the current project to focus more on supporting families to take their children home and we'll end up needing a much smaller orphanage.

If you are interested in donating/ supporting orphans and orphanages in Afghanistan I'm not doing any more direct donations, the current project is on a much bigger scale and finances need to be managed with much greater transparency, I can, however, highly recommend PARSA (http://www.parsa-afghanistan.org/), if you would like to support a low overhead, direct benefit project for orphans and widows.

On a related note, I've rediscovered an old family friend through my radio interview and the wonder of email. We've had this fantastic exchange of really interesting messages through which I feel like I've almost caught up on the amazing 25 years that have passed in her life since we last really talked.

She thinks the last time she saw me may have been when, as a 10 year old, I danced at the funeral of her younger sister, my friend and dance partner. I remember dancing at Maia's funeral, the tears were streaming down my face so hard that I couldn't see the edge of the raised platform I was dancing on and I worried that I might fall off. Throughout my life I've often thought about all the opportunities I've had that Maia never got. I know that she would have embraced every phase of life with gusto and guts, and so I've taken inspiration from her to do the same.

One of the topics I have discussed with her sister – all these years later – is adoption. I've been thinking about it for some years but in New Zealand the very strong policy for many years now has been to find ways to strengthen and support families to keep their children with them. Adoption (outside of the family) has been generally been an option of very last resort. From thousands of adoptions every year in the seventies, I think that last year there were less than 100 in New Zealand.

This is related to the orphanage in Ghor because it makes me think about the desire I feel to have a family and the idea that comes to me, some days, that adopting children who are in need of a home might be a good, ethical way to do that.

But when I take time to step away from my desire to be a mother, to have that precious, intimate relationship with a child, then I remember that the best thing I can do is to work to support families to look after their own children – if not immediate then extended families and if not families then communities.

Strengthening and supporting these communities to take better care of their own children must be a better solution for the children than being adopted and removed from their cultural, religious and linguistic home.

There are, I am sure, some exceptions to this general principle and this post is not meant to be anti-adoption, on the contrary I think adoption can be a wonderful solution for some children and families. It was just a personal reflection on the process of trying to work through difficult ethical questions like the big fella "what is the best way to live in this messed up, crazy world?".

I know I'm stepping onto mighty thin ice here, but it always intrigues me when people who have children tell me that it is the most unselfish thing they've every done. I can't help wondering whether giving up the ability to go out for coffee, to the movies, to walk or jog in the street, giving up regular sleep and routine in order to do the very best you can for children who are not your own and from whom you do not expect or receive love or even recognition, is really less selfless than choosing to have a family of your own.

I've often heard people say that having a baby finally made them realise what it meant to not put themselves first. Maybe there is a whole new level of experience of sacrifice to do the right thing for others who need and deserve it more than you. Maybe I'll never know that unless I have babies of my own. But some days – okay I'll just come out and say it and people can throw tomatoes at me if they want – some days I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it means to not put yourself first.

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14 Responses to "A highlight this week, remembering a friend, and thoughts on adoption and non-parenthood."

  1. lacithecat says:

    We have discussed this a bit, but I think you are right – if the family is there and it COULD be a safe place, then everything should be done to return the child.
    But I too want children (and I think that wish is a primary reason I mismanage my relationships at the moment). I would be equally happy to adopt – even if I was single – but alas that is virtually impossible in the UK. Only time will tell for the both of us what will happen and if we will get a chance at motherhood. But I admire how you are taking a proactive role for children even when wanted to use your maternal instinct in how nature made us. There is no easy solution is there?

  2. cath says:

    only fools would throw tomatoes. what you do is amazingly honourable, and utterly selfless.
    thank-you for including information on where to donate.

  3. Kerstin says:

    It comes back down to the old, but very true, cliche of loving yourself first before you can love others. I learnt that part in my late 30s and it has changed my life profoundly. For the first time did I know how to love a man for who he was, and not because I needed him to make me feel good about myself.
    I have a lot of single friends who long for babies and although this may not come out right, I believe that most of them want a baby not because they are selfless in the sense that you describe, but because they are literally self-less, i.e. without self. They want a baby to fill that void within themselves. One such friend did go as far as adopting a baby boy (in the UK) and I am glad to say that she is rising to the challenge and providing him with a better life than he would have had with his drug-taking and imprisoned, and tragically young, parents. He has changed her from a self-less to a selfless person.
    I agree with you in that a child should grow up within their natural family, IF they can. And that everything possible should be done to encourage a safe and healthy family environment. In the case of a country like Afghanistan this is a challenge on so many levels that are outside of the control of the families, culturally as well as politically, that this can seem a daunting task.
    Children are our future and doing what is best for them has to be the best path for humanity as a whole. I think you are doing a tremendous job in the right direction here.

  4. Paris Parfait says:

    No tomatoes here, just applause for your efforts in helping improve the lives of so many, orphans and otherwise. xo

  5. Sam says:

    I think that you have one of the best views of what it is like not to put yourself first.
    Adoption can be just as fulfilling as having your own biological child- but you are abolutely right that we the needs of the child must come first. Flying them half way around the world and dropping them in a totally new culture may not be the best way. I know in America we would not do that to kids who were here. Why would we think other countries should?
    Sam

  6. Melanie says:

    I think you should be immensely proud of all that you do in you job (calling it a job seems a bit of an understatement really) and it is people like yourself who are the truly selfless ones. As a mum a I feel selfish for having choosen to have a child because it was a something I personally wanted and at the time didn’t consider the cruel and messed up world I was bringing a child into. Then within months of my sons birth I became a single mum and the feeling of selfishness only increased because I was not able to give him the proper family I wanted to. Parenthood is not necessarily selfless at all but it is the most rewarding and beautiful thing I will ever do with my life – even the hard parts.
    As for adoption I agree that a child is best placed within his or her own family or community wherever is safe and practical and I often feel international adoption should be a last resort because removing a child from their born culture can essentially remove a huge part of their identity. But having said that, I do admire those who adopt because it is a selfless act.
    I saw this quote and thought of you –
    “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom;
    indeed they create our courage and wisdom.
    It is only because of problems that we grow
    mentally and spiritually.
    It is through the pain of confronting and
    resolving problems that we learn.”
    My god, how much you must grow each day! And thank god for the people like you who truly are selfless and dare to tackle the worlds problems.
    Much love and respect to you girl :o)

  7. Eva says:

    Your blog is always thoughtful and full of good questions. I would like to support a worthy Afghani cause and looked up Parsa ((http://www.parsa-afghanistan.org/)but their latest newsletter is from March- 2005 as far as I could see. Are they still active? Or just too busy to update?

  8. Susannah says:

    i know you would be a wonderful mother however your child came into your life. Children should be raised by and within their family if at all possible, absolutely, but i also believe that a loving and safe home offered by a person who will cherish them is good too. (though the madonna-style celebrity adoptions makes me wobble a bit). children need love and space to grow, they need safety…
    i’m counting down the days till i make you some panzanella 🙂 x

  9. Swirly says:

    As always, your post is so interesting and thought-provoking.

  10. Rachael King says:

    Frida, what you do is far more selfless than we here at home having families. I don’t feel like I’ve made any sacrifice at all having Thomas! And I get so much in return. Where’s the heroism in that? In some ways, having familes makes people MORE selfish – that is, I have met people who, once they have kids, become a lot more right wing in their politics eg not wanting the taxes they pay to go towards helping others less fortunate than themselves. Wanting what’s best for them and thei family, not for society as a whole. Thankfully that hasn’t ahppened in our family!

  11. gita mann says:

    Frida, this is my favourite blog for weeks, for obvious reasons. As you know I’ve been back and forth on this issue in my head, then briefly in real life, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to go back to the drawing board again.
    The oddest thing is that the further I get into my 30s, the more chilled out I become about whether it’s going to happen for me… the opposite experience of a few other 30-somethings I know. And I’m glad I feel like this – there’s nothing worse than the “industry” of books, articles, statistics, studies etc out there trying to make us feel like crap for not being able to (for whatever reason – fertility, lack of decent bloke, decision not to) participate in regenerating human life.
    BTW I’d hate to end up in that selfish place, and I don’t expect to, because if the universe wants me to have my one little person, I expect it to slot into our life just as children have been doing for thousands of years.
    Hey, and thanks for the poems. They were the perfect selections for the perfect amount of time. You’re the best (& glad something gorgeous came of the radio i/v) x

  12. gita mann says:

    Frida, this is my favourite blog for weeks, for obvious reasons. As you know I’ve been back and forth on this issue in my head, then briefly in real life, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to go back to the drawing board again.
    The oddest thing is that the further I get into my 30s, the more chilled out I become about whether it’s going to happen for me… the opposite experience of a few other 30-somethings I know. And I’m glad I feel like this – there’s nothing worse than the “industry” of books, articles, statistics, studies etc out there trying to make us feel like crap for not being able to (for whatever reason – fertility, lack of decent bloke, decision not to) participate in regenerating human life.
    BTW I’d hate to end up in that selfish place, and I don’t expect to, because if the universe wants me to have my one little person, I expect it to slot into our life just as children have been doing for thousands of years.
    Hey, and thanks for the poems. They were the perfect selections for the perfect amount of time. You’re the best (& glad something gorgeous came of the radio i/v) x

  13. Aimee says:

    >I know I’m stepping onto mighty thin ice here, but it always intrigues me when people who have children tell me that it is the most unselfish thing they’ve every done. I can’t help wondering whether giving up the ability to go out for coffee, to the movies, to walk or jog in the street, giving up regular sleep and routine in order to do the very best you can for children who are not your own and from whom you do not expect or receive love or even recognition, is really less selfless than choosing to have a family of your own.
    It is not. As an adopted child, I can state fairly affirmatively that my parents were pretty selfless. And I know plenty of adoptive parents with children of different backgrounds that are the same. Not having children of my own, I can’t say with authority, but I believe the idea is that now I have countless choices and can pretty much do what I want (within reason). But, with children, priorities change, whether those kids are from your womb or someone elses. Besides, it already sounds like you know what you want.

  14. Mardougrrl says:

    No tomatoes at all…you are doing such amazing work, and yes, obviously you have learned what it is like to put someone ahead of yourself. Honestly, when I think about the way I feel about my daughter, I don’t feel selfless at all. She has brought such amazing life into my life, sometimes I feel as though I’m buzzing on good fortune.
    I am always in awe of you. xoxo, M

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