Monday, January 08, 2007

The value of a life: HIV and adoption part IV

We visited the AHOPE orphanage in Ethiopia; in fact we spent more time there than we did at Layla House (facility our boys came from.) AHOPE is an orphanage that cares solely for orphans with HIV/AIDS. AHOPE used to essentially be a hospice, because without the life-saving antiretroviral drugs, someone born with HIV does not usually live past the age of 12 or so. However, about a year and a half ago, some of these drugs became available to be imported into Ethiopia, and through the efforts of WWO and Dr. Jane Aronson, the kids at AHOPE are receiving treatment!

I've blogged about our visit to AHOPE before but I'll quickly share the two main things that struck me about being there; the first was that these kids were just that, kids! They were loud, FULL of energy, clamoring for our attention, they devoured their ice cream. The second thing that struck me was how some of them just seemed sad. Sidisse, the director there (a true hero), told me that the children do struggle with feelings of depression and worthlessness. She said they look in the mirror and see a disease and they don't have parents or family to love them (not to mention the fact that they lost their parents and are probably dealing with that.)

This was by far the most emotionally difficult day of our trip. On one hand I felt such a sense of hopelessness for these kids because not only do they have HIV in a country where medications are not readily available, they also have no parents to tuck them in at night, hold them when they don't feel well, assure them of their self-worth and of the fact that God loves them. Interestingly, on the other hand, spending time at that orphanage was one of the most "spiritual" moments of my life. It's hard to describe but being there I was very aware that God sees these children every day. I thought about all of the things He must see in our vast world, difficult things. This is also hard to put into words and probably sounds funny but it was possibly the most tangibly I'd ever "felt" Jesus. Again I can't really explain but I just looked around and felt so strongly His love and mercy for these "forgotten" children in this particular corner of the world.

The kids sang songs for us and I about lost it when they were singing "This is the Day That the Lord Has Made", when they got to the line about rejoicing and being glad in it. I seriously had a huge lump in my throat the whole time we were there. Kevin and I got back to the guesthouse that evening and both agreed there were just no words for that day. My heart ached for those kids. They were smart, beautiful, full of life and personality, but because of their HIV status, they would most likely not be adopted.

But they can be. Several children are now either home with their new families or in the process of being adopted from AHOPE. In the US HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it used to be, thanks to the ARV drugs we have here. I will do another post talking about what it looks like to parent a child with this disease but I will say briefly that children on the medications are expected to live full lives well into adulthood. (Though of course there are no guarantees with ANY child.)

A lot of people are frightened by the thought of adopting a child with HIV. The stigma remains that it could easily be spread through casual contact, or that HIV-positive people are sick all of the time, or that they will die very young or live a hard life. I've done a lot of thinking about all of this and in my own heart I personally struggle with not valuing life the way that God values life. Yeah the Bible talks a lot about caring for orphans but SURELY it couldn't mean this particular type of child (or even adoption at all.) Why DOES it seem so "unusual" for someone to adopt a child with a particular medical condition (especially one as treatable as HIV is)? Is the child somehow less "deserving" of love, of a future, of life-saving medicine? Or is the child made in God's image, loved unconditionally by God, and whose value is not determined by whether they have to take medicine twice a day?

These are the questions I have asked myself. I don't personally currently have a child with HIV; our sons were considered healthy by third-world standards (aside from Biniam's developmental delays). We do plan to adopt more children from Ethiopia in the future and have discussed the possibility of being open to the adoption of siblings where one is from AHOPE, so they can stay together. To be honest that prospect IS really scary to us for all the same reasons that it's scary to the general public. But if I'm being honest, I also feel like I've seen too much to just automatically look the other way and pray that God calls someone ELSE to give that child a hope for a future. I don't know what the future holds for us but I do know that God has a very different idea than I do in terms of what makes a life valuable (this would certainly extend to any type of special needs adoption.) In the meantime I pray that He will open opportunities for me to advocate for these kids.

Next time I'll write about what it looks like raising a child with HIV (based on the reading I have done; again I am no expert!) and some links to blogs by adoptive parents of HIV-positive children.


Anonymous said...

I'd really like to hear more about what it looks like, practically speaking, to raise a child with HIV. It sounds intense, but maybe it's not all that different?! I really respect your journey and passion. Each of these children is so precious and is loved by God.

Shana said...

Thank you for continuing to write on this topic. You are doing a wonderful job.

We leave for Ethiopia next week, and are planning on visiting AHOPE. Can you email me when you get a chance, with any thoughts/tips/suggestions, or anything else regarding AHOPE? I would like to be as prepared as possible, with realistic expectations. Should we bring treats or toys for the kids? Should we expect a tour of the facility, or just plan on loving on the kids for a while? (We sponsor a child there, but I don't think we are allowed to single him out. Wow. That's going to be hard.) Any comments you have would be great.


Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest questions I would ask is in regards to the risk of infection if the kid scrapes his knee, or cuts his hand on glass, or splits his head open while climbing a tree? I know that HIV isn't transmitted from casual contact, but then again, not all of parenting would fall into that category. So, if I'm honest, that would be the question I would ask.


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