Joining the ranks of of Ivanka Trump, Shoshanna Lonstein-Gruss, and Jessica Alba, Deborra-Lee Furness is StrollerTraffic’s Inspired Mom of the Month. Presented by ViaCord, our Inspired Moms series recognizes notable mothers who are carving out time in their busy schedules to affect a positive change in the lives of women and children.
As an actor, producer, mom of two, and wife to Hugh Jackman (don’t hate her), Furness has quite a full plate—which is why we’re so impressed with her advocacy for orphans. The West Village mother is a passionate supporter of children, and defender of their human rights across the globe. We caught up with Furness about her work and her own adopted children, Oscar (13) and Ava (8).
StrollerTraffic: Tell us about how you became so involved with adoption issues.
Deborra-Lee Furness: People think it’s because I adopted kids. The truth is that I think I would be doing this work regardless. I’ve been in third world countries and seen 2-year-olds on the street with no one there to watch their back. Every child deserves to be the object of someone’s affection. There is a global orphan crisis. The latest UNICEF figures are 151 million orphans—that would make it the 10th largest country in the world.
ST: That is mind-boggling. Where do you even begin to tackle that?
Furness: We have to go back to the systemic core of addressing global poverty, and educating young women about contraception and family planning.
ST: We understand you helped create Adoption Awareness Week. We’d love to hear how it got started.
Furness: As Hugh and I are known as adoptive parents in Australia, many people come up to me and say they’d love to adopt, but it’s just too hard. After becoming familiar with all the issues surrounding why it is so hard to adopt in Australia, I realized there was an anti-adoption culture. It goes back to the stolen generation of Aboriginal children and all the kids that were born out of wedlock . . . whereby young mothers were coerced and forced to relinquish their babies.
ST: Wow. Please continue.
Furness: Due to a misunderstanding of all the issues, there was secrecy, shame, and stigma surrounding adoption. So we set out to shine a light on all the issues that need be addressed. During our first year as an organization, National Adoption Awareness Week was born. Our mission was “Let’s talk about adoption.” And we’re still talking in an effort to support all the children and families that travel this path.
ST: We recently heard that the number of orphans is increasing, but the number of children finding families through adoption is decreasing. How is this possible?
Furness: I believe the biggest reason that Intercountry Adoption (ICA) does not work at an optimum is that we have not put in the mind-power and energy and resources needed to create a system that works ethically and expediently. Where does ICA sit on the really, really important list? Is it a priority? If ICA were something that greatly benefited all individuals, then we would have a methodology in place that would work.
ST: That makes sense. So, how can other mothers help?
Furness: There are literally endless possibilities. Anyone can provide their skill set to assist. For example: teach about reproduction, give a dance class to kids in an orphanage, set up a Skype conference with a classroom. If every classroom in America could Skype and let someone on the other side of the world know that someone cares about them, that could have a huge ripple effect. Just doing one thing could help a pregnant mother keep her child—giving her diapers, clothes, support, an education.
ST: Would you mind sharing a personal experience you’ve had while visiting orphans?
Furness: On a recent trip to Malawi, traveling with [former] President Clinton and the CGI team, I sat in villages and talked to the locals about the kids I met. It’s one thing to read about statistics and facts and governments’ official positions, but when you are sitting amongst the kids and hearing their stories, you realize so much more needs to be done to ensure that these kids have an opportunity to live a successful, fulfilled life. Again I say that every child deserves a family and if adoption is the best option, we need to step up and create an ethical, expedient system that serves kids and families.
ST: Amen. Are your kids also involved and aware?
Furness: Oscar is one of the reasons I started doing it. He’d watch the World Vision ads and go and take the water out of the fridge. I’d say, ‘Hey, where are you going with that?’ and he’d tell me he was going to Africa because they’ve got dirty water. He was 5 years old. He had eight World Vision “buddies” he would write to, and had their pictures in his room.
Furness: Our children see what we do. They hear us talking about issues and they are very aware. We went on a World Vision trip to Cambodia, and Oscar sat in the street with street kids. In the villages where they had nothing, he was like the Pied Piper; he had empathy and understanding. Both of my children have traveled extensively and seen what the challenges are in other parts of the world. Hopefully that awareness will provide them with the opportunity to assist others who need a helping hand.
ST: We’re sure it will. Thanks so much for sharing—and for inspiring!