NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/25/2008 9:13:58 AM ET 2008-04-25T13:13:58

Remember Somalia? Probably not. I'll never forget traveling there in the early 1990s when the country was in such terrible shape, ravaged by war and famine, that it really wasn't a country at all. A colleague of mine had asked me to visit an orphanage. He and his wife were in the process of trying to adopt a young girl he'd met during an assignment there. A group of us took her some presents and pictures to remind the young girl of the family hoping to essentially save her life.

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While I don't recall all the details of that visit, I will never forget the look on the child's face when the administrators of the facility escorted her to us. The feeling of joy, relief and hope was unimaginable. She was 9 or 10 years old. So she really had some sense of what was happening to her. And so did many of the other older children. And the adults there, trying to feed, clothe and protect hundreds of children in a makeshift camp in the middle of Somalia's madness, certainly understood what was happening. This was a moment in a process that was literally, as I said, probably saving a life. Eventually, the young girl was able to join my former colleague's family.

I thought about that day again as I watched the story of Madonna and David unfold. And I felt badly that all the attention is so focused on the wrong issue. The issue isn't whether a celebrity "bought" a baby, or cut to the front of the line. Isn't it more important that David is just one of many millions of orphans from so many nations in Africa and around the world?

During my years traveling the globe, often visiting the most wretched situations the world has created, it is the children who always leave an indelible impression. We often report "children of war" stories hoping to attract attention, hoping to raise awareness, and always just beginning to scratch the surface of what's happening out there. From Somalia, to Rwanda, to Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, everywhere there is war, famine and disaster, there are untold numbers of innocent children in desperate circumstances — circumstances they had nothing do with creating.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to attend an information session about international adoption here in New York. I was reminded of the fact that many of the Chinese girls in orphanages, for example, were found laying by the side of the road out in the vast countryside. Some of the more fortunate kids are left outside a police station, where there's a greater chance someone will find them. Can you imagine that? American families adopt more Chinese children than any other these days, almost 8,000 last year. Russia and Guatemala follow. The total from the entire African continent is less than 1,000. Agencies in the United States only have relationships with a handful of countries willing to see their children leave. In many cultures, not surprisingly, there are strong reasons why kids stay.

Those are the odds young David faced before the pop star brought him to Britain. That's on top of the more sinister threats of disease, malnutrition and war, faced by kids trying to survive in places like Malawi.

The good news is that the number of international adoptions is rising in the U.S. And every once in a while something happens in the world that focuses our attention on the misery so many children endure. So as the tabloids chase the pop star, usually probing the wrong issues, but reminding us of kids like David, it's also perhaps a good time to take a moment to think about the other kids in orphanages around the world, and the reasons they find themselves struggling to survive.

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