“Childhood 8” by Alemayehu Wariyo
Are you planning to go to Ethiopia for the first time? Have you already visited the country? Have you adopted from Ethiopia and will be back to visit members of your children’s biological family?
In any case, you need to know how you will interact with the locals. There is a huge gap between westerners and people living in the developing world. Economically and culturally we live in a totally different place and it’s not easy to know how to behave without making a negative impact.
I read an article on The Seattle Globalist about how to interact with children when travelling in the developing world. It gives you a few tips on things you shouldn’t do. Also I recommend reading the wonderful articles by Seble Teweldebirhan on Ezega.com about street children.
Sometimes we feel we are doing something good but we are actually harming the children we care about.
For example giving money or presents to children can lead to them leaving school to beg on the streets since they perceive it to be more “profitable’ for them and their families. The result is more uneducated children, and more chances they can get hurt on the streets, be exploited, abused, and prostituted.
Interacting with children can be very rewarding for us and for them, but you need to restrain yourself to do certain things that will do more harm than good in the long term.
Of course you can walk the streets of Ethiopia and chat with the locals, buy in their stores, or use their services but the general rule would be to refrain from doing anything that you wouldn’t do in your own country.
Would you give candy to the children you cross paths with in your town in the US or Europe? Certainly not.
Do you “tour” foster homes in the US? Of course you don’t, so why tour orphanages in Ethiopia? Orphanages are not a tourist attraction, they are the children’s homes. If you don’t work there you have no business being there.
You can contribute to any charity you want without interfering with the lives of vulnerable children.
Treat Ethiopians with the same respect you would treat your neighbors in your own country.
Many of the children adopted from Ethiopia still have relatives living there and probably sooner or later their adoptive parents will take them back to visit. This is a tricky situation, what do you do? Do you give money to them?
Of course your children are entitled to see their biological families again, that in some way have become part of your extended family.
Again, ask yourself what do you normally with your own biological family?
When I visit my mom or she visits me, we usually exchange presents that carry some type of sentimental value. It’s not what they are worth in money but in emotional value, that’s what matters.
I guess if I visit my daughter’s family I probably will take some presents with me and they will probably correspond in some way like inviting us to a meal, taking a walk together, sharing pictures, etc.
Regarding the second subject about giving money to the family of our child, I don’t have a final opinion about it. If my mom needs money and I can help, I would do it, but the relationship is different. We are deeply close and I feel her as my equal, it’s not because I feel guilty or she’s some kind of charity project.
My daughter’s biological family feels different to me. Maybe my daughter will try to do something for her mother and she will ask me for help and I don’t know if I will be able to refuse. But giving money to families which gave children up for adoption is entering in muddy waters, much like giving money to children on the streets. You are creating a vicious cycle of dependence, maybe even promoting parents to give up their children, generating corruption, etc.
I thought about this for a long time, and I still don’t have an answer to this problem. One thing I thought, is to find a sort of middle ground between giving and not giving, like for example sponsor a sister of my daughter, help her to get an education. In that way you are giving something meaningful and breaking the cycle of lack of education and poverty in that particular family. And you establish a long term connection for your daughter with her family. Helping the sister, you also help the mom, and you help everybody, including the country.
I know some adoptive parents help the biological families of their children with money, others don’t, but I still haven’t found a perfect ethical solution to the problem, maybe because there isn’t one.
Or maybe it is because the starting point of the problem, giving up a child, is so messed up and painful, that there is no way to solve this equation.
Travelers’ tips for interacting with kids in the developing world The Seattle Globalist
The Plight of Street Children in Ethiopia I By Seble Teweldebirhan
The Plight of Street Children in Ethiopia II By Seble Teweldebirhan
Why is Begging and Economic Dependency Normal in Ethiopia? By Seble Teweldebirhan
Turismo y la “caridad pelosa” – Blog Otra Imagen de Etiopia (in Spanish)
Limosnas: el eterno dilema… – Blog Otra Imagen de Etiopia (in Spanish)