In a video produced by UNICEF Television, the organization highlights its program in Ethiopia, which is designed to reunite children who've been surrendered to orphanages with their families. The short film focuses on Baby Meseret, whose father placed her in an orphanage when she was just a few days old following the death of his wife. The clip below shows Meseret's return home several months later, loaded with a care package of baby clothing and other support essentials, including cash, to help her father raise her.
The program also reportedly provides reunified families with ongoing case management from trained UNICEF representatives. To me, this was the most encouraging detail. While we'd all like to believe that cash is the only thing that's needed to keep families in crisis together, in reality money is just one very important consideration among many. Stressed families may need help finding community resources to address physical and mental health needs, for example.
Based on the short interview with Meseret's dad, I'm guessing that there was no one on hand at the time of his daughter's birth who could provide the kind of intensive care an infant requires. I suspect that he had no access to baby formula, nor could he find anyone to step in and nurse the child on an ongoing basis. No doubt these issues played a huge role in his difficult decision to surrender. Upon her return, Baby Meseret is clearly old enough to survive on solid foods like injera and wat, and will require less intensive care taking and supervision from her father and relatives.
There's no question that Meseret's homecoming is both a happy ending and new beginning for this family. This is clearly a great program. Still, I was troubled by some aspects of the video itself. UNICEF describes Ethiopia's adoption option as the main reason that vulnerable Ethiopian families are placing children in orphanage care, with absolutely no mention of poverty, disease and other very real concerns that put them at risk. There's even an insinuation that only a biological parent can truly love a child. Perhaps UNICEF plans to show this video to Ethiopian families to encourage them to raise their children. Those who are convinced that UNICEF has an anti-adoption agenda will find fuel for the fire here, which is a shame. Had the video focused in more depth on this family preservation program, it would have been even more effective in advancing the cause.