July 29, 2011

So what can you do?

It seems to me that everywhere I turn, people are getting and giving more and more rules about how to be good advocates for people in the third world.  In some ways, I think that this is really good.  The masses are being educated about how to help without being harmful.  We are learning to be mindful and respectful of culture, local economies, etc.  But on the flip side, I now have no idea of what to do. All I hear is that pretty much every single humanitarian act that people do, actually hurts more and creates more bad policy than if regular people just did nothing. It seems that the more I learn and the more that I study poverty, that there is really nothing left to do because it all seems wrong.

For instance, when we went to Congo, we took lots and lots of stuff.  In our bag of goods to take to the orphanage were clothes for the kids.  But now it seems that these kinds of things are the wrong things to do.  After all, textile mills are going under in the third world because so many impoverished countries are wearing American's hand-me-downs.  I get it.  I really do.  But I also wonder, how else were those specific kids going to get clothed? Or get shoes on their feet unless someone brought it to them?  Last time I checked, most orphanages didn't have a discretionary fund to buy new ensembles for the children in their care.

The same criticisms are said of Westerners visiting orphanages altogether.  The children are given little glimmers of attention by well meaning visitors.  They are given the opportunity for a meal or new beds are moved into the orphanage and then those visitors leave.  And then what?  It is being said that those things are damaging to the children and make it more difficult for them to make connections when they feel that everyone is transient.  I get that too.  I really do.  But don't those children still need a place to sleep and someone to love on them, if even for a moment?

And then there is the notion that all international adoptions are bad altogether.  The reason being that children are losing their culture and that by taking a child out of an impoverished country that we are once again showing our elitism.  We are robbing that child of the opportunity to be raised in his native country.  I get it.  I really do.  Adoption is loss. It's hard and messy and complicated.  I am ALL for family reunification and inter-country foster care.  But is it logical to think that every child that is in an orphanage right now will get a sponsor or a foster family in their native country?  Not really. So what should happen to the children that don't have a chance at care in their own country? I'm of the school of thought that adoption will always be necessary and that it is better for a child to have a home and a family (even if it is in another country) than to languish in an orphanage.  You can show me all the research and all the statistics, and I'm just not sure that I'll change my mind that adoption is a necessary part of the whole big picture (even if it is just a small part).

Short term mission trips are treated like the devil now.  We go into places with our American notions and often make a mess of things.  I understand that there are a lot of wrong ways to do short term missions.  But does that make them all bad?  I don't know.  I do know that my 16 year old heart was forever changed on a mission trip to Appalachia.  I have a transracial adoptive family and a heart for the poor because of seeds that were planted on a mission trip.  We probably did a lot of things wrong on that trip, but the connections made and the faith that deepened there were far reaching.  Are those things now going to have to go by the wayside for fear that we are screwing it up?

Sometimes I think that the more you know, the better you can be.  I know that I am going to come under fire for saying this, but when it comes to dealing with poverty and orphan care, sometimes I think that the more you know the only thing that happens is that you become stifled.  It's like being so afraid of saying something that isn't perfectly politically correct, that you can't say anything. It's seems that everywhere I look, the term "badvocacy" is being thrown around and those of us in the world who are doing the best we can are living in fear of being labeled as "badvocates". I know that for myself, I've stressed over this to no end.  My heart is all wrapped up in the Congo.  With your help, we've raised a lot of money to do "stuff" there.  Some of it has gone to feed kids who were literally starving to death.  But in all honesty, I can't raise enough money to sustain an entire orphanage with food for the next 15 years.  And I think that all the "research" coming out now is telling those of us who can't make a commitment for all of eternity, that our efforts are damaging.  We are hearing that we are leaving children "high and dry".  Y'all- that is pressure! I feel like in the world of helping impoverished countries, the experts are saying that if you can't be the world's most awesome humanitarian on the ground every single day building the exact right kinds of relationships from now until the end of time, that you should just stay away. 

I truly just don't know what to do with that. Where does that leave all the naked little ones that aren't being served?  What about the millions of hungry kids all over the world that aren't getting fed?  Maybe we can't do it all perfectly, but it seems to me that we should be able to do something! I've read several books about it and read lots of articles, but it just leaves me feeling like there aren't any clear cut answers.  I do know that there aren't enough of these "most awesome humanitarians" out there to get the job done alone.  But what are the rest of us supposed to be doing?  It seems that the laundry list of things that we aren't supposed to be doing when working overseas is growing exponentially while the suggestions for things that we can do is getting smaller and smaller.

I usually live by the phrase "when you know better, you do better".  But in these instances it seems that when you know better you can't do anything.  Am I the only one that is baffled by all this?

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