Around Christmas and the new year, I get to see my formerly adopted daughter and her family and each time, I am reminded of everything that was almost lost. I see them together, happy and thriving and I’m reminded just how powerful investing into the lives of others can be.
As someone who has participated in and witnessed the negative impacts of intercountry adoption as well as running a nonprofit that helps families that have been separated from their loved one via this practice, I can tell you that it has caused an incredible amount of harm. Most Ugandan families are misled or coerced into separating from their child. It’s usually when a family is going through a difficult time that they are approached about placing their child in an orphanage temporarily (while they get back on their feet) only to never see their child again. After the separation the family’s well-being and livelihood are never improved and the trauma from being separated is insurmountable. The harm inflicted on the adoptee from being placed in an orphanage, separated from their family, culture and country causes irreparable damage and the heartbreak inflicted on the family members that were misled is overbearing.
On paper we believed Namata needed to be adopted but those papers were filled with lies. The kind of lies that are in most intercountry adoption paperwork. Lies that incite heightened emotions causing prospective adoptive parents to unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) destroy a family that should have never been separated in the first place. Each time I get to see Namata and her family I see what truly stepping alongside a family in need looks like. Taking Namata away from her family didn’t help anyone. Keeping them together has helped in every way imaginable.
So many people say they adopt internationally to help a child in need but we must be willing to go beyond this. When you learn that 4 out 5 children living in orphanages have families they could go home to, why isn’t our first action to try and reunite or support a family? Can you imagine if our churches were asking for family support donations and not donations for orphanages? Can you imagine the impact? I can because I have seen it. I have also seen the devastation of an unwillingness to listen and change in this regard.
If you truly care about vulnerable children in developing countries you will do the hard work to ensure vulnerable children get to grow up in the family they were born into. If you want to invest into the lives of families that are vulnerable to being unnecessarily separated please consider donating to organisations that are committed to preserving families. I started Kugatta with my colleague in Uganda for this very reason.
I am not saying all adoption is bad or wrong but I WILL say the intercountry adoption system is causing vastly more harm than it is helping. We need to constantly be asking ourselves if the “good” we are doing is actually causing harm and when we realize it is, stop and change what we are doing. When we know better, we do better.
Namata and her mother gave me permission to share these pictures. They are just as passionate as I am to spread the message of family preservation. Their story is a powerful representation of this. As with all things, I don’t want to sensationalise reunification anymore than I want to see adoption sensationalised. Once a family has been ripped apart the trauma inflicted cannot be removed. Yes there can be healing and yes much of what was lost can be restored but the scars from what happened in the past remain.
Reunification is an important and necessary step in the right direction but it is not always possible and it’s certainly not always easy or “beautiful” and it is always complex. I run a registered 501 c3 nonprofit that works to reconnect, preserve and empower families and adoptees in and from Uganda . If you are interested in donating towards the work we do please follow the link here to do so.