Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Far Worse Alternative to Orphanages

Maybe you read the story that is making the rounds on the internet which is posted here on the St. Petersburg Times, if not you need to go read it: The girl in the window - St. Petersburg Times .

This story captured my attention for many reasons. One of those is that man's inhumanity to man leaves me speechless at moments. Another is that it goes to the heart of what deprivation will do to the human brain, and that is something that most of us who are international adoptive parents have some level of experience with, although thank God not to this degree.

It is something I need to better convey to Kenny's teachers, something that I struggle with to find the right analogy, the right mental picture to provide them with. This is a 10 year old child who until a year and a half ago had never turned on a light switch, who could entertain himself for 20 minutes or more by playing with the zippers on our suitcases, who to this day still heads straight to the preschool toys at Walmart to play with all the little doors, windows and singing toys. Kenny was basically in what has quite rightly been called "prison for children" by some in terms of the effect that being isolated from society and normal daily activities does for a human being. Was he tortured? Not in the least. Was he chained up or locked in a cell? No, not at all. But during a time in our lives when brain development is critical, all institutionalized kids are missing out on brain building experiences. The missing building blocks of development must be recreated as much as is possible, which is why we allow Kenny to touch and play with just about anything when it is appropriate, even though a typical 10 year old would be way past that stage. But then Kenny is definitely not your typical 10 year old in any way...and not always because of his early life and what needs to be made up for but due to his courage, his work ethic, his ambition, and his smile.

Then there is Josh, whose lack of loving human contact almost destroyed his soul...and he was not left locked in a closet for years...his deprivation took only 11 short months to exact its toll. When I think of how much damage was done in such a short period of time, I can not even fathom what has occurred to the child in this news report.

We have basic needs...we can go without adequate food and water, and yes, it has an effect on us. But when we are deprived of human contact and experiences, the devastation it causes can be insurmountable. I would far rather have had any of my children go through Matt's astonishing malnourishment than to go through what Josh or Kenny had to go through. But even that seems insignificant compared to little Danielle in this story.

So, how do we place a value on a hug? How do we calculate what is lost when a child isn't read to, isn't played with, isn't snuggled? Food and shelter can be provided, but as we can easily see that is not enough.

When I read a story such as the one about Danielle, I give great thanks for the care the boys did receive under extraordinarily difficult and poverty ridden circumstances. We may be dealing with the after affects of flat heads due to laying in a crib far too long untouched, rickets and special orthopedic shoes to correct foot and leg problems, we may have school struggles for years to come as children work hard to catch up and learn a new language, we may have had emotional battles for a few years and ongoing insecurity issues...but we have children who are alive, who are capable of learning, who can compensate and adapt and grow.

Danielle is placed in a loving family now, but so much has been lost that will never be regained, this child will never grow to have any semblance of a normal life, her deprivation was too severe and too lengthy.

Orphanage care looks wonderful in comparison, doesn't it?

And maybe we need to be reminded of this fact, life in an orphanage is NOT life in a family, but it often saves children from awful circumstances where far more damage can happen in a home. It keeps children fed who might otherwise starve to death. Orphanages provide at least a modicum of medical care for those who would otherwise perish. Orphanages keep children safer than they might otherwise be. It is not the ideal solution, but often it is far better than the alternative.

Thanks Kazakhstan, thanks Kyrgyzstan. You saved my children's lives.


Shannon said...

Tuesday's Oprah was about this girl's life and her new family. It was both heartbreaking and joyful. I never watch Oprah, but E was sick so I was home with him. I happened to turn on the TV while making supper and caught most of the show - incredible!

Lori said...

I'd cry anyway even if I WASN'T hyped up on estrogen!

You are right...there is NO value on is PRICELESS. Regardless of the day I have had, regardless of my feelings of frustration over a child who misbehaves...regardless...NO child leaves my room without a hug and me telling them I love them at the end of the day. Period. These are kids who for the most part are in happy, adjusted homes, and they STILL crave that little extra from me.

I wish we were closer. I'd LOVE to be Kenny's teacher!!! The best part of being a teacher is watching the potential just have to realize that it is there!!!

Kelly and Sne said...

That is SO true. The caregivers in Kazakhstan really do try hard to give the kids what they need but there is no substitute for a loving caring family. I also really look up to the family that adopted Dani as it takes a special person to knowingly adopt a special needs child...

Bob; Carrie DeLille said...

Thanks for the cry and thanks for the peace you gave me as we wait for our Isaac.