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Bolivia: The Adoption Culture — One of hope and frustration

By Angie Washington


Angie Washington profile pic

COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA — Ages ago in the United States children were shipped long distances on trains in order to be adopted. Many of them grew up as little more than servants in the homes of their patrons. This was a dark time for the States. As the economy improved these methods were ratified and the changes were positive.

Currently adoption in the United States is viewed as a viable and loving way to make a family. Great strides have been made in the culture of adoption.

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Now we can turn our eyes to the adoption culture of Bolivia.

Starting and then running an orphanage (House of Dreams) in the city of Cochabamba for four years has given me cause to look into the issues. Add to that our personal experience of bringing our youngest daughter into our family by adoption from a local orphanage.

I can give you a look at what is happening. We are going to briefly cover three key areas that affect the adoption culture in Bolivia.

The general opinion of Bolivians is that orphans are a nuisance and an embarrassment. They would prefer that the institutions deal with the problem. This is evidenced by the struggling foster care system that just can’t seem to work well. It is obvious by the overflowing orphanages and an underfunded, overworked social services system that turns people away. It is also clear by the unfavorable response that most Bolivians have given us when we tell them we are adopting.

It is just not yet part of the social structure to reach out to children who are without parents. The orphans are of a lesser class. Our lawyer tells us that she receives frequent phone calls from people asking her to help them find a child because they need more help around the house with cleaning and were hoping to adopt a child for that.

Our lawyer has to inform them that this is not the purpose of adoption. The people are productive members of society who find nothing wrong in this proposition.


President Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism political party has seen the problem of children in crisis. He has hope that the Bolivian people will be motivated to become foster parents and adoptive families. One of his strategies is to decrease the number of international adoption agreements with foreign countries.

When I have shared this with Bolivians the response is usually defiance. They are appalled at the idea of being forced into considering such a difficult task as raising someone else’s child.

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If there is to be a change in the adoption culture the place to start is educating the society to a positive view of this option. It will not be by accident.

I am not a politician, lawyer, judge, or social worker. As much as I would rather not have to wade through the bureaucracy, it is a reality. If I want to legally help children then I have to follow the rules. Living in a country listed as one of the most corrupt nations in the world makes this a challenging job.

The stories of children who suffer at the hand of a broken system are long, sad and numerous. I am reluctant to share the details for two reasons. The first is that I don’t know that it would do any good to tell how bad things are. The second is that I still have to operate here and I am not looking to make any enemies.

Earlier, I said the first change needs to be in the society. While I know judicial changes will help, the government cannot be relied upon to initiate change. They are only a representation of the people.

There will need to be a change made by the families, the churches, the businesses, the arts industry and other organizations before the government will take notice. Then we can make new laws and change the old ones in order to have a more efficient process.

Interestingly enough money is usually not a reason that people offer for not getting involved in the adoption culture of Bolivia. In fact, the people are relieved if they have the option of giving a donation that eases their conscience rather than being asked to volunteer their time or consider becoming a foster home.

The economy may not be at its best, but the people are not destitute in poverty to the point that they feel they have nothing more to give. This is a good sign.

A glance at history serves as a pattern. We can see that the attitude toward adoption in the United States improved when the economy was viewed as more stable. It was not the deciding factor that changed the minds of the people but it was a factor nonetheless.

Usually, the Bolivian is proud to be seen as a benevolent person. This is a positive point in changing the adoption culture in Bolivia. If it can be impressed upon the people that providing a loving and caring home for a child is an act of goodness connected to an elevated status in society we might be moving in a good direction.

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The Mark of Change in Culture
It has been said that a cultural change is not evident until three generations have passed. It is as slow as the slowly changing path of a large river. From moment to moment, it seems as there is no difference. Wait a few years.

There are shifts in the right direction for the orphans of Bolivia. Who knows but that you might be one of the rocks on the river bed to be an agent of change for the destinies of untold thousands of kids?


Learn more about Angie

Angie Washington lives with her husband and five kids in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the heart of South America. This has been her home since 2001. They run an orphanage called the House of Dreams and have a church called Christ Nation.

She believes faith without coffee is dead, enjoys laughing out loud, and collects cacti and kaleidoscopes.

Angie not only lives life to the fullest but it would probably be an understatement to say her life is full — full of children, full of love and full of the unpredictability that goes with living in another country.


Luckily, Angie shares her daily adventures at her blog “the @.” Readers can also follow her on Twitter at “atangie.”



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