Last year we were thrilled to announce the opening of our South Africa adoption program. Since then, we have learned more about the process, the children and the needs of the South African child welfare community. We have learned that in South Africa, the number of children in need of families continues to grow and that these children are AIDS orphans who need families that can care for them properly. In all, there are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa: children who are no longer babies, children with special needs and children who are part of sibling groups often remain in orphanages for years, waiting for a loving family to change their lives. Soon after opening this program we met Megan and Cameron. Already experienced parents (2 sons adopted from Ethiopia and Uganda), Megan and Cameron felt their family was still not quite complete. As the couple started to look into their options, one theme kept rising above the rest; in blogs and forums and from their own hearts came the idea of adopting a child with HIV. As Megan put it, “We did not know much about HIV – I knew that Magic Johnson had HIV. That’s about it.” But soon they learned more – a great deal more. They learned that with the right medication, children can have happy lives with a normal life expectancy. They even learned that, despite the stigma the disease still carries, the CDC (Center For Disease Control) has actually removed HIV from its list of communicable diseases. Knowing this, the couple approached Spence-Chapin to adopt a child from South Africa diagnosed with HIV. They are now in the process of completing the paperwork and hope for a child match soon.
Megan and Cameron know that in the future, their choice to parent a child with HIV will be questioned. They know they have a journey ahead to educate their community and to line up the resources their child will need to live a full life. When asked what it is about their family that led them to this choice, when so many others tend to overlook these children, the couple seemed surprised by the question. Says Megan, “I don’t think our family is any different; I just think we have been given the proper education. We have the information, so we do not fear the HIV stigma. This is something all families can learn!”
As with many of the other international programs in which we work, we see children who are waiting for a family longer than any child should have to. Children born with the HIV virus have the opportunity to lead long, full and healthy lives, but only if the child welfare and medical communities join forces to provide the care and permanency that every child deserves. As we grow our South Africa program, our commitment to these children is stronger than ever. With education, advocacy and adoption, we hope to provide every child with what Megan and Cameron hope for their future child: “We want people to love our child as a person first. We want them to see that our child is in no way diminished or stigmatized and with no asterisk beside his or her name.”
Megan and Cameron now… 2 sons from Ethiopia and Uganda, and a daughter from South Africa.