Saturday, November 8, 2008

Adoption Diary: My Asian Experience

Haiti changed my life and my perception of the world and what I wanted out of life. I had the opportunity to travel throughout my high school years and had seen interesting parts of the world. Haiti. Mexico. Hong Kong. Korea. I focused on school and worked like crazy to graduate with a 4.0, but I had long decided to take a year off after high school to give back to Haiti to repay what Haiti had given to me, instead of going straight to university.

I applied to work in a school in Haiti and was accepted. Just weeks before I was to leave for a year in a country I greatly missed and desperately wanted to return to, there was a coup d'etat. The government was overthrown, again, and the country was, again, in a state of turmoil. It was not safe for me to go and the country was essential closed down to foreigners. My trip was cancelled.

I was faced with a dilemma; too late to apply for university now and a strong desire to work in a third world country. A friend of a friend, of a friend knew someone who knew me and she was working and living in the northern regions of the Philippines and agreed to let me come and stay with her.

To say my adventure started off with a bang is quite literally true. On my flight from Seattle to Seoul our plane lost an engine. We returned to the airport after dumping our fuel over Alaska to a runway lined with ambulances and fire trucks. I ended up alone in Japan. 18, naive and incredibly unaware of any risks to myself.

Through Tokyo, Seoul and eventually on to Manila I made my way to a small village where I would spend the next four months living, quite literally, in the middle of the jungle. Snakes crawling above my heads. They were chasing the rats that were bigger than cats. Cockroaches, spiders and geckos scurrying everywhere. And that was just INSIDE my house.

For the first month I slept on a bamboo rack with my eyes tightly shut as I tried not to wonder what exactly was crawling on my blanket. Eventually cockroaches didn't gross me out and I could chop the head off a gecko with the same ease as a local.

Cultural immersion is a great way to describe the experience and I loved it. I ate a variety of foods with a smile on my face to not offend my gracious hosts. Congealed blood. Gelatin with ants. Sea Urchin. Dog. Yes, dog. And lots and lots of rice.

I worked in a church running children's programs, learning Tagalog and making friends. And slowly I began to understand the family dynamics of the families I was staying with. There were no parentless children, but many children not being raised by their biological parents. Kids absorbed into the families of aunts and uncles. Children being raised by grandparents. Maybe the parents had died. Maybe the parents were working overseas. Maybe the parents were addicts. No matter WHAT the reason, in this village there were absolutely no "orphans".

The concept of of taking an entire village to raise its children was part of the intricate make up of the culture of the Philippines.

When I left the north and returned to spend some time in Manila I saw how urbanization, extreme poverty and addiction had broken down that family structure that saved so many children in the more rural areas. Thousands of children living in and around a burning dump. Street kids selling their wares for pennies. Babies abandoned by mothers dying from AIDS.

I volunteered in an orphanage holding, changing and loving on babies. These babies were truly the unlucky ones. In a country that values its children more than anything, and where the definition of being family meant that even if your parents couldn't care for you, someone related to you would. These babies had no one.

These were babies with AIDS. Babies who were dying. Babies that were abandoned on the streets or at hospitals. Babies with no one and nothing.

Babies who, if they lived long enough, and got healthy enough would maybe, hopefully find their way from an Orphanage into a family. It was then that I learned about the restrictive policy of adoption in the Philippines. Filipino children can only be adopted by Filipino families, or families of Filipino heritage living overseas. No exceptions.

From the top of the government to those that worked with their abandoned babies they valued their culture, their heritage and their nationality enough to limit who could adopt their children. Because of the strength of their culture, and the relatively few numbers of orphans needing homes, their policy worked.

It openned my eyes to another side of International Adoption and appreciating that a culture, even if different than my own, had much to teach me.

I would return home and fall in love. Time to inform that man I was to marry how I envisioned my future family.


Di said...

Jen you really should publish your story..

Vanessa said...

I've been traveling to Guatemala and I'm loving it!! I want to travel to more places and do more things for more people!!