I have just returned from the USA. One of the major changes that I have observed from my earliest days of visiting that nation (i.e. from the late 1990s) is just how many families there are excited about and actually adopting African children. Whereas this phenomenon is not new, it has certainly grown exponentially. What I found rather surprising, however, was the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the African extended family system. So, although I initially set up this blog in order to give my church a peep into the outside world, I thought of writing a blog to inform the West about what is common knowledge back home. Whereas to the Western mind, an orphan, having lost both father and mother, is destined to either be adopted or spend the rest of his or her childhood days in an orphanage, to an African mind, the child still has many fathers and mothers, and consequently many homes to live in.A great education for the Western mind in this post. . . .
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The problem with coming to Africa and adopting one “orphan” from the extended family system is that your help is limited to one person only and not the rest of his family. The child changes his name and his family, and grows up in a context of the state system. His sense of connection with the wider family is lost and so even if he was to come and visit later in life, as was the case with Obama on his last famous visit to Kenya, his mind is already moulded by the state system and the extended family system is very foreign to him.
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Please do not get me wrong. I am not against adoption and orphanages, per se. . . .
So, I think there is a place for both adoption and orphanages. However, knowing the extended family system suggests A DIFFERENT EMPHASIS in caring for African orphans. My Western friends should consider empowering homes where younger or older “fathers” and younger or older “mothers” are looking after children of their deceased siblings as a viable way to care for orphans. It may be totally foreign to the Western mind, but it is the most natural way for us as Africans to look after orphans. It is not either-or but both-and. (Hence, the title of this blog is not “Adoption, orphanages OR the African Extended Family system”). So, if you are able to adopt an African child, by all means do so. For that child, it is a dream come true—from the squalor to the States! But, while adoptions continue to grow exponentially in number and orphanages are opening up with support from the West, what are you doing to support what is more natural to us?
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