the fly in the eye (how orphan care isn’t sexy)

Last night I had a phone conference with several other bloggers (Kristen, Amber, Elora, Dan, and Lindsey) for a panel I will be a part of at the Idea Camp.  We are talking about how to use social media for orphan advocacy. 

I am going to give up some of my secrets right now.  But this is the honest truth: in any given week, I wonder how many funny stories I need to tell before I can talk about orphans again.  A huge part of my vision for having a blog – beyond a space where I can permanently embarrass my children – is that I want to inspire other people to care about abandoned children.  My “rage against the minivan” is a play on the invisibility of the soccer mom, to be sure.  But it’s also a rage against the materialistic, egocentric, self-centeredness that permeates our culture. 

And yes, I live in Orange County.  But I know it is not just here.

I have a hidden agenda, you know.  How can I hook people in with funny stories, and then sneak-attack them into caring about social justice?  This is my mission.  I do realize this makes my writing a little schizophrenic . . . but I’m okay with that.  And so am I.

Ba-dum-dum.

(Did you see?  That was me trying to lesson the blow a serious subject with humor.  It’s what I do.)

I know that sometimes my blog makes people uncomfortable.  I see the number of subscribers dip each time I do a post about orphans or poverty or social justice.  It’s predictable.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  In fact, I attended a session on compassion fatigue at Blissdom, and that was echoed by several of the people in attendance.  The session was led by thoughtful bloggers who wanted to figure out how to combat compassion fatigue, but there was also a sense that some in attendance were looking for permission to feel it.  One woman mentioned that she didn’t want to see the “fly in the eye” pictures anymore.  I cringed . . . because that’s how some children live, but because I have felt that way, too.  It’s hard to think that we can be so caught up in our privilege that seeing a photo or a video montage of poverty is uncomfortable for us. Because some people – millions of people – are living that reality every day.  At the end of the session, another women expressed her relief that we “didn’t talk about Haiti or India the whole time.”  At least I think that’s what she said.  It was hard to hear with the smoke coming out of my ears, because seriously?  What if we had talked about Haiti FOR A WHOLE HOUR before we went back to tweeting about our swag and eating corporate-sponsored food?

The take-away from that Blissdom session is that people like to see stories of hope.  And I get it.  I shed a tear or two watching Oprah pass out shoes in South Africa as the kids erupted in applause.  I love seeing videos of joyful children, chasing after a bus and waving with exuberance.

But is that what we need to have compassion?  Do we need to see orphans singing and dancing to be able to care about them?  Because WE need to feel hopeful?  In our warm homes sitting at our laptops – WE need to feel hope, so we don’t become too overwhelmed or depressed by it all?  Before we flip the channel or browse another blog or take a trip to Starbucks?

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This is the truth about orphans: not all of them are playing hopscotch in an idyllic orphanage all day.  Some of them are being regularly abused by the older children in the orphanage, because traumatized children act out on each other.  Some orphans are huffing paint and sleeping on sidewalks.  Some are sitting in full diapers or being moved from foster home to foster home with their belongings in trashbags.  Those winsome smiles and the superficial charm that make us feel hopeful may be genuine to the moment, or it may be because winning over a visitor with a camera means that they might get more of some of the stuff they are starving for.  And that stuff might be food, or it might be attention.  It might be both.

I want to bring awareness to the life of the orphan, and I want to do it in ways that are honest.  It may not always be pretty.  Child abandonment is ugly.  Sometimes it might look like two kids to a crib with propped bottles, or forty kids under the care of two nannies, or a child so swollen with malnutrition that her skin cracks. Because that is real, and that is what we need to have compassion for.  Even if it’s uncomfortable and not wrapped in a pretty, hopeful package.

I desperately want people to get this.  But at the same time, I don’t want to become an “orphan care blogger” or an “adoption blogger”.  People who read blogs in that niche are generally already passionate about those issues.   And I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer at the party – the one who only talks about sad stories so you avoid her like the plague.

I’m trying to be an orphan advocate disguised as a regular ole’ mommy blogger.  I am your orphan-care stealth agent.  (Now watch me blog about poop stories for the next week).

Tonight we talked a lot about how to hold this balance.  I don’t know if I’m holding it well.  And you are welcome to tell me . . . in fact, I’m inviting you to tell me. That’s what our panel is about.  I would love the feedback, even if you want to tell me that it makes you squirmy.  I have my big-girl panties on.  I can take it. 

I think Kristen of We Are THAT Family encapsulated this tension really well in her post called Orphan Care Isn’t Sexy:

We have cute handbags, pretty paper, and desire gorgeous houses. Our society is consumed with superficial loveliness.

. . .

But orphan care doesn’t sell. It’s not attractive or appealing.

There’s nothing desirous about poverty so devastating it chokes the very breath out of you. The stench of living without simple resources makes you want to run. I’ve touched the heads of sick children, living in the streets of Africa’s slum. I shuddered as death rattled with every breath. I only offered them silent tears that fell to the rot beneath my feet.

Poverty isn’t pretty.

It’s forgotten in our world. We pretend there aren’t thousands and thousands and thousands of children dying everyday, while we shop for an upgraded life. We ignore the forgotten because it makes us uncomfortable.

I’m excited to have this discussion on a larger scale at the Idea Camp, and I’m really looking forward to have the discussion with other people who share my passion, even when our methods or ideas are different.  I’m sure I will be sharing about what I learn this weekend . . . right after a couple obligatory pictures of my kids in funny costumes.


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