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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Children of Haiti: Issues & Incidents

A member of the Ethiopia adoption forum I frequent posted this article to the group, which very nicely addresses the unfortunate situation which has arisen following attempts by Christian workers to remove children from Haiti to care for them in the Dominican Republic. This is a well-balanced article which echoes my thoughts, and therefore saves me some time and effort!

Strong on Zeal, Thin in Knowledge
Lessons from Haiti's arrest of American Christians trying to take children out
of the country.

By: Jedd Medefind
Source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/februaryweb-only/15-31.0.html

Newswires buzzed recently with reports that a group of ten Americans from an
Idaho-based Christian charity were arrested trying to transport 33 Haitian
children into the Dominican Republic contrary to the rules of Haiti's
government. Although details are still emerging, the story thus far suggests a
potent mingling of good intentions with ill-advised plans. Fellow Christians
embarrassed by the incident should have the grace to withhold the abuse many
observers are now piling on the group, but we can still take a strong lesson on
the need to match zeal with knowledge in every effort to "care for orphans in
their distress."

According to their website, the group's goal was to "rescue Haitian orphans
abandoned on the streets … and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in
Cabarete, Dominican Republic." This "Refuge" is at present a 45-room hotel the
ministry leased to house the children as an interim measure. Ultimately, they
planned to construct an orphanage that would provide long-term care, and also
the potential of adoption for children that could not be reunited with

These rickety plans, along with the decision to remove the children from Haiti
without approval, were a recipe for trouble. Adding further to the impression of
sloppy do-goodism, it now appears that some of the children had living parents
and were not in need of rescue at all.

Appropriately, many relief organizations have voiced strong concern over the
incident. Meanwhile, others in the foreign aid world—which often tends to be
dismissive of volunteer efforts and highly critical of international
adoption—have sought to make the situation a cause célèbre. Private blogs and
even some nonprofit websites now venture beyond the known facts, implying gross
neglect of the children by the Christian group and even worse. No doubt some
hope to harness the situation to foster broader criticism of adoption, and to
emphasize the superiority of large-scale, government-centered models of aid to
smaller acts of private charity.

Even as we apply strong words to the group's actions—"reckless" and
"irresponsible" come to mind—we should first be reminded what this debacle does
not tell us:

First, it does not tell us that Christians have the market cornered on
well-intentioned but poorly-devised attempts at aid. Far from it. As writers
like William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo lay out in disturbing detail, the history
of efforts to help the needy—both government and private, religious and
secular—is rife with failed largesse. A brief survey of public welfare programs
in the U.S. alone would dwarf this situation in both size and foolishness for
examples of benevolence gone awry.

Second, it does not tell us that compassion motivated by Christian faith is
somehow peripheral to "real" disaster aid. Thousands of committed Christian
organizations, churches and individuals—both foreign and indigenous—were
effectively meeting deep needs in Haiti even before the earthquake. Today, these
entities and recently arrived allies are central to relief efforts on the ground
in Haiti, as are Christians in every catastrophe.
The actions of a single small group certainly don't define the Christian
response, nor should we feel embarrassed of our faith-inspired efforts in
response to future disasters.

Finally, it does not tell us that the significance of adoption in caring for
orphans should be marginalized. Although the press played up reports that the
group had mentioned adoption to the U.S. as one potential way to eventually help
some of the children, this was clearly not the group's primary focus. Nor could
such adoptions have happened on any scale without massive amounts of U.S. and
local paperwork, as any adoptive family knows. The group's errors to date were
actually examples of on-the-ground orphan care gone wrong, not of mishandled
adoptions. Yet no one is suggesting we should now shun orphan care, nor should
they. The Christian community should stand strongly behind a full spectrum of
in-country orphan care efforts, as well as the option of international adoption
for children who'd otherwise grow up without families.

Amidst all this, what this situation does tell us is much more straightforward.
Passion alone is simply not sufficient; it must be consistently paired with
wisdom. Zeal without knowledge can be a destructive force. A compassionate
impulse may indeed be God's nudging, and certainly should not be ignored. But
the hard work of education, preparation, and planning most always stands between
us and a job well done.

For those freshly woken to the needs of orphans, one other reminder will be
helpful as well. Prior to the earthquake, Haiti had an estimated 380,000
children who had lost at least one parent. Tens of thousands lived in
orphanages, on Haiti's streets, and as household slaves. These tragic situations
are mirrored in many developing countries worldwide. So while the current crisis
adds urgency to the biblical call to "defend the cause of the fatherless," the
need to respond did not start with Haiti's latest anguish. Nor will it end when
the television cameras no longer bring their images to mind.

Thus, in this moment—stirred as we are by Haiti's pain, and freshly reminded of
the hazards of poorly-directed zeal—the most significant reminder is that
knowledge-guided love is always needful. The emotion we're feeling is one that
can be acted upon for the rest of our lives. Amidst the current crisis, we must
help as best we can: giving generously, praying seriously, and even working on
the ground alongside trustworthy organizations and local churches. Meanwhile,
it's never too early to begin readying ourselves for a longer journey, joining
passion with preparedness, and compassion with commitment, to serve wisely and
well for the distance.

Jedd Medefind is President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, which will
host Summit VI in April 2010 to help churches and organizations seeking to
engage in adoption and orphan ministry. He previously served as a Special
Assistant to President George W. Bush and led the White House Office of
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

1 comment:

elsie hiebert said...

Thanks Joy. As a christian of the adoptethiopia yahoo page I was feeling very defensive. I don't enjoy being lumped into categories that put one group of people in a bad light. Yes they made a bad mistake, but so do a lot of other groups.