Thursday, October 21, 2010

We can stop the bleeding: Addressing the root causes

is what I'm talking about--change at the root of the problem. Working for true reform at the social level--

[excerpted from the website]

...With an office in Seoul and two people on staff, KUMSN is the ONLY organization whose only focus is advocating for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea.... [emphasis mine]

...The Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. The Network’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society, rather than feel compelled to give up their children for adoption or risk a life of poverty.

Founded by Dr. Richard Boas, an American father who adopted a Korean daughter twenty years ago, the Network’s primary focus is on raising awareness in Korea and amongst Korean groups in the US to effect positive change. The Network works to educate, inform and promote discussion about the difficulties facing unwed mothers and their children in Korea in order to elevate their economic, political and social potential in society....

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Notice that the KUMSN is the ONLY organization of its kind in Korea, whose sole focus is supporting unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children. There are other groups who advocate at the political and legislative levels such as TRACK, and at the social and cultural levels such as Miss Mama Mia.

But KUMSN is the only one of its kind in the sense that it actually provides practical support services and resources including facilities, financial, and employment assistance.

And yet, how many groups and organizations exist whose primary focus is international adoption? In Korea there are four primary agencies that specialize in international adoption accompanied by orphanages scattered throughout the country, while there are dozens of sister agencies in Europe, Australia, and America that work in conjunction with the Korean agencies to facilitate international adoption.

My point? There is an imbalance in power, in resources and support services that favors international adoption over domestic solutions. And it's this way all around the world...

I'm not looking to attend to one group at the price of another. But I am looking for equity, for balance--and at the least recognition that there are very real, feasible, healthy solutions that are so often neglected due to the overshadowing popularity and favoritism shown toward international adoption.

I am looking to address the ROOT CAUSES, not just the symptoms. International adoption addresses the symptoms, but it does nothing to confront the causes.

As long as we treat only the symptoms, real, true change will never happen.

It's like performing triple bypass surgery without also addressing the diet and lifestyle changes that need to happen. The bypass surgery may deal with the most immediate and urgent danger, but it does nothing to fix what is causing the problem.

If diet and lifestyle are not reformed, the person will only find him- or herself under the knife again or worse yet, find themselves in heart failure or suffering a fatal heart attack.

If we continue to extend our efforts no further than international adoption, then nothing will ever change. Orphanages will continue to proliferate, and children will continue to bleed out of them. Adoption and orphanages are like a band-aids on a hemorrhaging wound. In the long-run they're not very effective at stopping the bleeding...

As long as this imbalance of focus and resources persists, as long as international adoption is lauded, promoted, favored to the neglect of alternative domestic and family-based solutions then the bleeding will never find relief...and the orphans and families we say we want to help will never truly be helped...

I think perhaps some folks still tend to favor international adoption over family preservation or other domestic solutions, because they believe that these alternative solutions are somehow inherently inferior to what international adoption has to offer--aka, the material comforts and opportunities of Western countries--which again is a reflection of the imbalance of power and resources.

And in that light, international adoption in a very real way can contribute to that imbalance. Rather than empowering these children and their families in their own countries, they're adopted into a foreign country, where they become educated, productive Western citizens. This fact demonstrates that they could have just as likely contributed their intelligence and abilities to their original family and country if only they had been provided with the opportunities. Does this make sense?

Look, I'm not saying that international adoption is always part of the problem all the time--I generally like to avoid extremes, because life is more complicated than that.

But I am saying that international adoption can contribute to the problem, especially when it is favored as the first and inherently superior option rather than the inherently flawed option that it is, and the last resort that it should be. I am saying that international adoption has often contributed to stunting and often prohibiting the progress needed that could actually prevent children from ending up in orphanages in the first place. Doesn't that make logical sense?

If all the social, political and financial focus, resources, organizations, and services being bolstered are those that support orphanages and IA, how then are these sending countries and the governments involved ever going to be compelled to develop and provide the reform, education, and services required to preserve families and help them to thrive?

And the truth is that the alternative solutions actually are not simply more cost-effective than orphanages and international adoption, but they have benefits that extend beyond just the child involved--the benefits extend to entire families, entire communities, and ultimately, an entire people and nation. If we address the root causes, we're not only helping to keep children from being orphaned, socially and circumstantially, but we're empowering whole nations and their people to rise out of poverty to become independent and productive citizens of the world. And who wouldn't want that?

I think we can all agree that we would all love to see orphanages diminish and more families given the choice to receive the support and empowerment they need. I think we can all agree that we would love to see social, political, and economic circumstances change so that more families have a real choice to not only stay together, but to thrive.

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The Riley family seems to believe that this kind of change can happen--so much so that they cashed in their life savings and moved to Uganda.

They recognize the need for true social change. They're not content with orphanage after orphanage being built and opened, as stated in their post, "If you build it, they will come":

Whenever I hear of another Westerner opening up an "orphanage" here in Uganda my heart sinks. When I hear it is a church based organization my heart sinks even lower. They think they are helping a situation, but they are actually making it worse. If as a church community you want to help in some way, support initiatives that are encouraging and helping families to keep their children and projects which are focused on resettlement and family based care. They are in the minority at the moment so they need your support, so that more similar projects can be created and funded.

When I think about institutional care, often the infamous quote from the wonderful movie "The Field of Dreams" rings in my ears. "If you build it, he will come".
Poverty is the presiding factor for a large majority of the children found in institutional care. In a recent survey in Uganda, only 15% of children in institutional care had lost one or both parents. We are often led to believe that "orphanages" are full of orphans but please don't be deceived, this really is not true.

The Rileys have vision for reform and change at the roots. They're an adoptive family who allowed their own personal experience with adoption to compel them to dig deeply and try to get to the root of the problem.

I'm not therefore saying that everyone of us should or can do the same, but I am at least saying, "Look, it IS possible. It CAN be done." And even if all that the rest of us can do is to support these families and organizations working to address the causes, then that's at least something. And something is more than nothing.

I simply use these examples to demonstrate that it is possible to hold onto one without letting go of the other. In other words, the adoption world does not have to be full of groups and causes that are mutually exclusive. The above families and groups clearly exemplify the concept of working together, of addressing the root causes without neglecting the affected children and their own families.

And Dr. Boas demonstrates that it's never too late to make a difference, to catch a vision. He adopted twenty years ago. Obviously, it has been a long journey for him. But when he saw the realities of the circumstances faced by unwed Korean women and their children, he let his heart and life be changed.

These are people who inspire me because of their willingness to open their hearts, their minds, their own lives to make a difference in ways that so many have thought impossible. They were not afraid to acknowledge their role. They were not afraid to take on a personal responsibility. Hence, they've made themselves available to blaze the trail, to not only face head on the deep complexities and realities of the social, political, and economic circumstances that require radical reform and change--but they're willing to take the risks and the action to do something real and tangible about it.

I hope that I can in some small way follow in their footsteps...

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Here are some other organizations that you can help to support:

[Note: Although I have listed the above groups, they do not necessarily represent my own beliefs or ideas. I may not necessarily agree with certain aspects of the philosophies and/or missions stated by some of the above organizations. Nonetheless, I included each group because of the ways in which the specific program enables and empowers women and families to support their children and themselves within their own communities.]

Please let me know of any other groups or people you know of that are working to address the root causes!


Von said...

Hopefully the list will grow and grow as people come to understand tje complexities and what can be done.

Kristen Howerton said...

Love this list.

I do agree with you on the imbalance. Even beyond adoption, I think when people are interesting in donating their time and money, they would rather give it to the poor, helpless "orphan" than the young mother in trouble. It's not right, but I think it's the way people think. I am glad to see more and more organizations stepping up to provide help to the root causes.

I am especially fond of Haitian Creations, and the whole Heartline Ministry behind it. They just started a birthing center for women. For years, they've run a pregnancy program and a parenting program. They WANT their moms to parent. It's why we choose to adopt from them - because we knew that it would not be a situation of a mother who had no options. They provide options for moms, and only did adoptions when there was truly no option.

(Since the earthquake, they've stopped doing adoptions).

I got a lot of resources on organizations like this at a recent conference I attended. I've been meaning to sit down and write up a list, but two that come to mind are Mercy House in Kenya ( and Krochet Kids in Uganda (

Liv said...

What a great list! Thanks for putting this together. You might want to take a look at the following resources, too:

Women for Women International


Also, though not directly related to adoption, I think this talk by Kiva Founder Jessica Jackely, talking about poverty and the poor, and our views on them, are related to this post.

Mila said...

Liv, thank you! These are great...I will add them to the list that I have featured in my tab "More Blogs & Resources!" And I LOVE TED talks. Both my husband and I will check out the link!

Anonymous said...

great post..
its ironic to hear an "american" guy is heading this kumsn!

I've also noticed in the adoptee blog land how theres always talk of how to help the unwed single mothers plight in korea, as you say "addressing the root causes"
which I agree to and applaud the efforts of those working on this..
but I've noticed theres not much talk about addressing the "Men" who seem to be right there as a cause in contributing to all these women ending up single and babies ending up father-less, which puts the women and babies in these crazy scenarios..vicious cycle..

I think there needs to be an effort and new direction in discussions on korea's part to start educating the young men NOW on how they are just as much a part of this problem by leaving these women without regards to their future or the childs . They really seem to be able to just separate themselves from their wives and girlfriends and move on to their 2nd,3rd marriages and feel very little responsibilities or remorse towards theses women and children they bring in to this world..
Its time for Men in korea to own up to their part.

I dont know, maybe one of you do, but is there a child support law in korea ? and fines and penalties for dead beat dads?

-male kad

Mila said...

"male kad"--you make a GREAT point. Thank you.

I have had many conversations with other KAD's about this issue (especially those whose adoptions were in part a result of dead beat fathers), but have not blogged about it specifically...there are so many stories in which young Korean women have literally been deceived by "predatory" men...

The unfortunate thing is that there are no laws in Korea that protect women or hold these absentee fathers responsible (that I know of...), an artifact of the long years of traditional Korean culture.

You're so right & I completely agree with you. It would be an interesting part of the issue to pursue. I bet Jane Trenka knows more about this issue since she is very active in pursuing reform in Korea via legislation and social change...Are you familiar with Jane Trenka and her organization TRACK as well as her blog "Jane's blog." I have links to both located in the section on my blog, "More Blogs & Resources"...

Again, you make a great point and it's so true that the men involved in these situations basically slink away and disappear into the shadows...