By Sharon Slater
It was while visiting Mozambique with my husband, Greg, that we came across three children who would capture our hearts and help us to understand through personal experience the plight of orphans throughout the world. For more than two years we have been attempting to adopt three orphans – siblings ages 13, 11, and 6 – whose parents died of AIDS.
We were traveling on behalf of United Families International on assignment to work out our partnership with Care for Life in implementing UFI’s abstinence-based Stay Alive HIV/AIDS prevention program.
The children’s older brother, Rogerio, approached us on that first trip and asked if we would adopt his siblings so he could serve a mission. It was one of those surreal, unexpected experiences that catches you by surprise. We decided as a family that it was the right thing to do.
Afonoso, age 6
Rogerio left on his mission, and after going through the extensive adoption certification process, we returned to Mozambique with our current four children for our adoption court hearing.
The hearing was a disaster. The judge, who happened to be the chief judge, had no intention of letting these orphaned children leave her country with Americans. After six hours of pleading with her, she told us she would think about it. We wondered if she was waiting for a bribe (which we were told is customary in Mozambique). We could not consider doing that.
The three orphan children – who had been very excited to leave with us and become part of our family – had to go back to the orphanage, and we had to return to the U.S. to await the judge’s formal decision. After several weeks, the decision was rendered. Not only was the adoption denied, but we were also accused of trafficking in children. We were devastated, and the children, who had already bonded with our family, were also very distraught.
Amelia, age 10
A few months later, the judge bragged to the newspapers that she had broken up an international child trafficking ring by stopping our adoption. News reports were coming out of Mozambique about this alleged trafficking ring. In fact, when I went to New York and met with the UN mission from Mozambique, I was informed that this was not a good time to adopt because of the news reports of a trafficking case there. It took me a while to convince the UN mission that the stories about my husband and me were completely false.
On a third trip we appealed to government leaders, including the President of Mozambique and the governor of the region. The U.S. Embassy issued a letter to the Mozambique government explaining that we had followed all the legal procedures to be certified as adoptive parents. We were finally cleared of all trafficking allegations.
Luis, age 12
We found a skilled attorney in Mozambique who filed to reopen the case with the U.S. Embassy letter as new evidence. We have now been waiting almost two years to have our case reopened. Nobody wants to touch this political hot potato, which has been passed from judge to judge. The Chief Judge has used our case for personal political gain as officials from the party that was in power (not hers) were in favor of the adoption despite her trafficking allegations.
Our relationship with the children deepened as they lived with me for six weeks while we worked on the adoption and helped care for their brother, Rogerio, who had become very sick with AIDS.
The following is an excerpt from my journal:
In Mozambique, even the ants are starving. When you drop a crumb on the ground, there is an army of ants covering that crumb within seconds. I am looking at a Portuguese brochure on food storage. Life here is so hard. Food storage is unimaginable.
Yesterday, I visited the home of a well-respected teacher at the University. He apologized for his humble circumstances. He apologized that he had no light and explained that they only have electricity on Saturdays – a choice he has made to budget his meager income. It is amazing to me that such a well-respected man with a great job cannot even afford electricity for more than a few days a month.
Today seemed to be the day that everyone I had met worked up the courage to ask me for money. It is so difficult to know when and how much to give and when not to give.
One teacher asked me for money to buy new pedals for his bike. Another teacher asked me for money to buy food for his cupboards. He said what he makes is not enough. If they’re lucky they make a few dollars a day. An errand boy told us he was caring for his two orphaned brothers and asked for us to pay his back rent of $150 so they would not get thrown out of their house. We went to investigate the story and found he lived with his grandfather. His two younger stepbrothers were living with their father somewhere else.
People here are so desperate that sometimes they will tell you anything to get money. A nurse at the hospital who offered to show us where we needed to go had asked me to pay for her brother’s education within two minutes. Everyone we talk to or look at follows us around somehow hoping to get money.
The singing of Uganda orphans is heartbreakingly sweet.
If my pocket could respond to all the requests that my heart responds to I would be rich indeed. It is so hard to judge what to sacrifice, what to keep and what to give away. How comfortable should my family be and what is my responsibility to my fellow man.
Never have I seen so many lame, blind, deformed, sick, poor and desolate people. The other day I was on a bus and saw a man with an obscene growth about the size of an orange growing from behind his ear. I asked what it was from and was told by Aurora, the social worker assigned to our adoption case, that he had probably pierced his ear and developed an infection. (Aurora died of AIDS several months later.) People here, out of want and sometimes out of fear of doctors, let things go untreated until their little problems become serious problems and sometimes even fatal. This is especially true in the orphanages.
Rogerio has developed full blown AIDS and has been in a lot of pain. Lumps have developed all over his body that stem from a cancer which is common among AIDS patients. He is so thin, and when he speaks it is barely a whisper. I have to ask him to repeat things several times before I can understand. He asked for someone to drain the lumps all over his body with a needle. I shudder to think of it. I am going to need to talk to him. I have explained to him how dangerous the fluids from his body are to other people. I don’t know if he understands.
People here do not have hot or running water. They don’t have rubber gloves. They can’t afford disinfectants. They don’t have Kleenex they can throw away when they blow their noses. Rogerio is now spitting up blood. His Aunt unwraps her skirt (she has another underneath) and hands it to him and that becomes his spit rag. I am sure it is washed in cold water the next day with little or no soap. No wonder disease is so rampant. Sometimes I wonder how anyone here survives.
I heard today from a missionary couple that their daughter had tried to adopt some twins from an orphanage in Maputo. They were denied the adoption and shortly thereafter the twins died. Adoption for these kids can be a matter of life and death as conditions in the orphanages are so difficult and unsanitary and abuse is rampant.
I realized that if our family is successful in adopting these three children, we could literally add twenty, forty, or even sixty years to their lifespan.
There are millions of orphans in Africa. Most of them will never be adopted.
The sad thing is that while millions of children are languishing in orphanages across the world, we are not the only adoptive couple that has been falsely accused of trafficking in children. Adoptions have been shut down in Ecuador, India and elsewhere because of rumors about trafficking.
Can you imagine the situation of orphans in countries where even the few lucky able-bodied adults with jobs cannot even live comfortably? I can. I have seen what happens to the orphans. No one cares about them. And there are millions of them.
One of the reasons there are so many rumors about adoptive couples trafficking in children is that it is hard for someone from a developing country who is struggling each day just to stay alive to imagine that someone would ever want to help an orphan. What would be in it for them? Why would they pay money to come all the way to their country to adopt children unless they had some ulterior motive? Since many of them have never had means that they could share with others, they cannot imagine that people who do have means would want to share it with the dregs of their society – the orphans.
On several occasions I have had grown men who, upon learning that we were trying to adopt orphans, asked in all seriousness if we would adopt them and bring them to the U.S. instead. I have also had government officials hint that they will help us if we bring their children back to the U.S. and educate them. It is a whole different culture, with a completely different way of thinking about life.
I believe we are our brother’s keeper. Those of us who live in developed countries live so well, and we have an obligation to help those who do not. Especially the orphans. There are many good organizations throughout the world working to help these children. Reach the Children, Care for Life, and United Families International are just a few. I would encourage you to align yourself with the good efforts of those who are working to help the orphans of the world.
United Families International, the organization that brought us to Africa, is working towards international policies that will help orphans throughout the world have an opportunity to live in a family with a loving mother and father. A few years ago we co-sponsored the first ever international Family Based Care for Orphans Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. It was attended by government and community leaders from 16 different countries, and we presented a successful program in Kenya that had helped 500 Kenyan orphans be incorporated into families in the community. International experts on adoption gave presentations on adoption as an option for orphans as well.
It is within a family that children fare best. UFI will continue to advocate for laws, policies and programs that will help the most vulnerable children in the world have the opportunity to grow up in loving families.
United Families International (UFI) is a nonprofit, nondenominational organization dedicated to promoting the family as the fundamental unit of society at the local, national, and international level. UFI promotes respect for marriage, life, religion, parental rights and national sovereignty.
As a nongovernmental organization with official ECOSOC status at the United Nations, UFI works closely with UN Ambassadors and delegates to promote pro-family policies in UN documents. For more information or to become a member of United Families International and receive our quarterly newsletter, please go to our website at www.unitedfamilies.org or call our office in Arizona at (480) 632-5450