People outside the adoption community are often surprised to learn that there is no little contention on the issue, that there is a contingent of adult adoptees who are dead set against building families through adoption, that some consider international adoption as “cultural genocide” robbing children of their birth heritage. Those purporting such have their points, and I’m not here … today … to argue claims of wrongness about adoption; I’ve done that before … many times.
Nope. Today is not about what can go wrong in adoption … and, as it is in any case where mere humans are involved, shit does happen … but rather on what is so very, very right.
As long-time readers know, my dear friend Gay has been been heading off to Cambodia to build houses every since we brought Sam home. She does this through the organization Tabitha, a non-profit that does so much for so many … I encourage all to learn more and participate … or, at least, shop their store.
Tabitha was started by a Canadian, Janne Ritkes, personal heroine to anyone familiar with her work and her spirit, in 1994, and she’s been on the ground in Cambodia running the show ever since.
In 1995, Jan and her friend June Cunningham found themselves in charge of an orphanage, Cambodia House, after the person who had establish it abandoned the project and the thirty-two one-to-six year-olds living there.
As Tabitha was just beginning and Cambodia was still very unstable, we decided that running an orphanage was not what was best for the children, so we started a process of adoption. Over the next two years we placed all the children in adoptive families around the world.
While some would see this as a theft of their Cambodian identity, all these years later, the children, apparently don’t.
In the ensuing years, many of the children and their families have returned to Cambodia for reunions and house building. It was good to watch these young people grow and mature. This summer marked another passage for these young people – they are either finishing high school or their first year at university. They came for a reunion – they came to house build.
In the past, a number of these young people would talk about their desire to return to their birth country and work with the people here. They knew firsthand about the poverty and the suffering of so many. As they would say to us as parents, this could have been us.
This summer was no different except that they are now young adults with a vision in mind. Several are training to be teachers, architects, contractors, etc.. Their adoptive siblings are also young adults who have caught the vision.
What was clear was that house building was no longer enough. They wanted to continue impacting their birth country even while they were studying and developing skills. Over the past 6 months, these young people had done fund raising themselves and they had raised enough money for twenty houses. For them and their families it was fun and it was concrete.
We talked about what they could do. We talked about Theoun, one of our children, who had died in a tragic fire a year ago. We talked of his legacy, a school for impoverished children in Kompong Thom – a school that will be finished in August. They talked of their desire to also build a school. And so that is what they will do.
A mom herself to a Cambodian-born daughter, the impact on Janne is very personal.
My daughter Miriam is part of this process. She came home so very emotional about the impact of this past week.
“Mum, these are my brothers and sisters”, she said. “That’s what we call each other – we are all Cambodian, we are all adopted. We all want to help our fellow Cambodians. And their families mum, these are also my family. We know each other, we understand each other, and we take care of each other.”
I wondered at her maturity.
“I want to be a doctor mum, or at least a nurse – then I, too, can come back and help.”
Sam and Cj are still small, but already they have developed a love for and pride in the country of their birth. Over the years, we will visit Cambodia, and Gay has plans now to take them on house-building trips when they’re old enough. I fully expect they, too, will make significant contributions.
I understand well Janne’s point when she says:
As a parent, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing. As Cambodia House Chair, I often wonder if I did the right thing. As founder and director of Tabitha, I often wonder if we keep doing the right things– this week, I know it is right.