Orphans want to be loved, wherever they are

August 8, 2009

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It’s hard to know most days what might go through the mind of any three-year-old, let alone an orphan from Africa.

They’re too young to know how easily they can be tossed on the sea of adult shortcomings, too innocent to know about the hype of celebrity adoptions, or the sad fiasco involving Imagine Adoption in Cambridge, or even the West’s growing aversion to having kids, period.

But if they could say something about it all, what might it be? Hannah, a three-year-old girl now in an orphanage in Uganda, might simply tell you her story.

It starts when she was a few weeks old and found abandoned outside a hospital in Mbarara, in western Uganda. She was then brought to an orphanage where they named her Hannah. That was almost four years ago. To this day, nobody knows anything about her father. Or mother. Maybe she died giving birth. Maybe not.

Hannah’s Ugandan orphanage is a good one with kind Americans and Ugandans working together to feed and clothe and show affection to several dozen kids. Games and songs, often about God’s love, are part of the days. But Uganda has more than two million orphans left behind because of AIDS and civil war and too many things.

When they reach two or three, African girls in particular are often taken from their orphanages by an aunty or uncle to help in households. Rather than attend school, girls can carry firewood and water, or work in the fields all day. In their teens, when they commonly marry, girls will also fetch a bride price of so many cows. Then, still young, they’ll have their own kids.

Hannah has no aunty. It’s just her. But one day, some months ago, my wife, Jean, and I met this beautiful little girl. And, interestingly, long before that day, we were hoping to someday have a girl in our family with her very name.

Now, after we foster her for two years, we can adopt Hannah in Uganda because we live there most of the year.

Hannah is just one of the world’s 132 million orphans, children who have little chance for good health and education in a stable family.

Only about one in 5,000 will ever get adopted out of their often destitute countries.

It’s harder to adopt from certain countries if you live in Canada. Still, Hannah would say to not give up on children like her, the world’s neediest. And while some commentators believe it’s better to leave orphans where they are, in familiarity, these folks have likely never visited an overseas orphanage.

Many orphans won’t find a good home even if they stay in their home countries forever.

Canadians have adopted kids, especially from China and Russia, and last year adopted about 1,700 from two dozen countries. Hannah would say thank you. Thank you for not tripping too much over the red tape. Orphans just want to be loved, wherever they’re from.

Even from Canada.

Some of us don’t care much. We have a thousand places to see before we die and we’re afraid kids will get in the way. What did Maclean’s say on its Aug. 3 cover about children? “They can hurt your career, your marriage, your social life, your bank book. Why bother?”

Fair enough. Not everyone should have a child, just like not everyone should have a twowheeler.

But children aren’t really meant to make anyone happy as such. They’re meant to teach us certain things about life. The deeper joy comes through that.

My family returns to Uganda soon and Hannah will join our home. Besides a good international school, she’ll have a brother, Jonathan, her age, and a big sister, Elizabeth. We’ll all have lots to learn in an adventure that we’ll travel through together.

It’s funny how in this world we can’t choose certain big things, like where we’re born. But if she could, I think Hannah would also say this: “I’m glad I’m Ugandan. And I’m glad you’ve read this. Because, like you, I have a story. I am alive. And you should never, ever forget me.”

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August 8, 2009 • Posted in ,
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