Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a quiet plea

It is very late here.  I just checked on my sleeping children one more time.  The gratitude fills my heart and tears cannot be stopped.

The thing is, on the other side of the world, there are women that I call "mama" that give to little ones with no mamas day in and day out, they are the women that care for the children at the Save the Children Orphanage in eastern DRC.  It is a small place nestled at the foot of mountains, green and lush.  It is a forgotten place.  The mamas truly love the children, they do what they can with what they have.  Then the children grow up to 4 or 5 years old, like my Natalie.  She is sweet, vulnerable, innocent.  Tonight I am grateful that as her mama I don't have to say goodbye to her tomorrow.  I don't have to send her off to a foster home that is already over-burdened with children and in the throes of the effects of dire poverty.  I don't have to send her to someone that doesn't know her, that doesn't know that she throws the covers off in her sleep and needs me to cover her back up, that doesn't know she has a huge heart that shelters little ones and watches me closely to gauge my emotions, my heart.  No, tomorrow, she will stay with me.  I will care for her every day that I am given here.  And I am grateful for that.  Not so very far away, the mamas say goodbye to the children they have raised since infancy (when their own mamas died giving birth to them).

When I first met these mamas and I brought them formula, they didn't trust me to bring more.  They were barely keeping the babies alive on watered down formula, from the little they had.  But they kept them alive.  And they loved these same babies too much to trust a foreigner (what reason did they have to trust me?), so they kept feeding those babies watered down formula.  And I kept going, and I kept saying, I WILL bring more.  I WILL. God will make a way, He will honor this love you give them.  And he has made a way, so many of you have partnered with us and we HAVE brought formula every single month since that day (Feb. 2010).  The man that has taken over for me since I left is a trustworthy, hardworking man who loves the children and works hard to make our work transparent, honest, and with excellent accountability.  He is independent of the orphanage and it's leadership, so that also helps with accountability.  I am very grateful.

But these little ones, the Leblancs....the little ones who have left and been unwelcomed in their homes.  They weigh on me tonight.  Paying for their school fees seems like such a little thing, but it's not, it's a huge thing!  It takes a burden off the foster family.  They can send the child to school.  And it gives the child a chance.  It is small (some schools are $5/month) to us, but huge to them.  Did you know that most people in that area are fortunate to make $30/month?  How in the world would you feed your family, pay your rent, your taxes, and still send all of your children (probably over 8 in your home) to school?  It is impossible.

Would you consider donating to help pay the school fees for these little ones?  We would like to raise at least $1200 to help contribute to the school fees for 80 plus children for the next three months (some are in secondary school and some in college, which makes their fees higher).  Would you consider passing this blog along or our website along?

These are the little ones I tucked into bed tonight, and I'm grateful that I don't have to say good bye to them tomorrow and watch them go into an unknown future.

I don't think I have a particular gift at fundraising. Pretty much all the money we have raised has come from people who have listened to the stories (or visited the children themselves) of these children, passed their stories on to others, and given.   I feel so vulnerable when I write every single post, putting my heart and these children in the public eye.  I don't have any gifts to give any of the donors that might like to support Tumaini; things are still in the rough beginning stages on our end and we fumble along and start this small charity.  Some amazing folks have come together do this work and I'm excited for the next year.  I only can tell their stories of the children I have come to love.  The mamas that love them and have kept them alive day after day, and given them love, not knowing what will come in the future.  I can honor this that God has placed on my heart every day, speak and not be silent.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sweet little ones who are not forgotten

The last few days have been lovely spending time with family and appreciating the gift they are to me.  My thoughts often turned to 32 little ones living on the other side of the world in an orphanage and 82 bigger children living in foster homes that we also help support.  I wonder what their christmas is like?  It would be celebrated as mostly a religious holiday, spent in church, and eating a meal together.  Even at the orphanage it is custom to spend a little more and have a party.  Often families of the children that live near by are invited to eat together with the children.  Last year I was able to visit the kids shortly after christmas.  That was a special treat.  It was fun to share a special meal with them, eating at their small tables, them falling asleep in my lap.

Christmas, last year.

We need to raise funds for the second trimester of school fees due in the end of January for the 82 children who lived in the orphanage from infancy and then moved out when they turned 4 years old.  Some moved back with their fathers, others into informal foster settings.  Some are treated well, some aren't.  Rarely can the families that accept them back pay for their school fees.  This increases the likelihood of a life in servanthood or menial work (and destitute poverty).  Education doesn't guarantee a lift from dire poverty, but it gives you a chance.  We work together with the orphanage to help give children this chance.  School is not free, and if you are an orphan, you have to work harder than the other children.  We firmly believe that education is a basic human right every child should have access to.  Would you consider helping us by giving a donation this week to help us pay for the school fees for these children?  The cost is $5/month for children in primary school and $10/month for the children in secondary school, their are six older children who are now attending their first years of college locally and their fees are $44-72 every three months.  We are hoping to raise $1200 by the end of January to help contribute to the school fees of these children.

Would you consider spreading the word to help us raise the funds?  Feel free to link to my blog.  We are helping supports 115 children in eastern DRC.  These children are vulnerable, all of them lost their mothers (most lost them when their mothers died in birth).  They are not direct victims of war, but they are victims of the poverty that is a result of years of instability, extreme poverty, wars, insecurity, transient populations movements, crop failure, poor infrastructure, poor health structures and on and on.  Their mothers die in birth from preventable causes (like hemorrhage).  These children all have names and faces.  I have met about half of the children and look forward to meeting the older ones in the years to come.

They are the faces of hope in a place that has much darkness.  They reflect the Light of the Christ child whose birth we just celebrated.

Would you consider remembering the sweet children of the Save the Children Orphanage this year?  Please follow this link to donate to Tumaini.  Thank you.

Even blurry, it's hard not to smile looking at Ziruka's joyful face.

Sweet Noella, born days after christmas.

Ganza, smiles all around.

And two of the older boys who come to play with the little kids (they grew up in the orphanage and now live in foster homes/with extended family).  We help pay their school fees.

(Please pray for sweet Theo, who was adopted from western DRC and very soon after coming to the states was diagnosed with cancer and is very ill.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

just because I can, doesn't mean I should

Living in DRC changed my life (that could probably go without saying).  When I moved there, I had never lived overseas before.  I had only visited the continent one time before; I went with my new husband to Zambia and it was lovely, beautiful, and the people were friendly and open.  I made my first international trip at age 25ish when I went to India with some friends and traveled around for three weeks.  I did a MPH and didn't take a single international course (because I thought then that I was never going to work overseas, I was committed to rural or urban U.S. poverty).  So, I was woefully underprepared when I moved to Congo.  I suppose it was the classic example of "sink or swim".  (I share that for all of you out there who don't know me and think I am some sort of super person for moving to eastern DRC with my newborn.  I wasn't then and I'm not now.  I am just a simple person that felt my heart move, knew it was the right thing to do and the right time.  Took a leap of faith and one step at a time.)

My first memory of DRC was crossing the border.  We weren't even in Congo yet.  We were just sitting at the Rwandan border going through customs.  Congo was across the bridge, over the river, and up the dusty road.  I was trying to feed Natalie (who was 8 weeks old or so at the time).  She was a fussy/colicky baby and very attune to my emotions (and still is!).  I was nervous, scared, excited and hence, she was too.  It was hard to get her to latch on.  She was hungry, I was feeling a bit vulnerable in this big white land cruiser with windows surrounding me.  The more she screamed, the more anxious I became, and the more people started noticing the lady with the screaming baby in the white ngo car.  A woman stopped and stared in the window at me.  Eventually I had to give up all attempts at modestly and just threw the cover off and tried to get her on.  What started out as one woman quickly became at least 20 women surrounding the car and staring in the windows at me.   All kinds of words were shouted to me through the windows in languages I didn't understand.  I understood the gist of what they were saying I think.  Lots of it was advice, I think some of it was speculation as to whether I even knew what I was doing, if I even could breast feed.  Eventually I got her on.  And when I finally lifted my red hot embarrassed face, to glance at all those lovely women, they all were giving me grins with thumbs up.  Instead of bursting into tears (which is what I had felt like doing), I grinned back and felt like, this will be okay.  I'm going to be okay.

I learned a lot since then.  I have been humbled so much, and fallen flat on my face more ways than I can count.  I have felt my pride and arrogance whittled away bit by bit.  All my preconceived and judgmental opinions were swept away as well.  What I thought was the best way to do things and all my pat answers left me by the time I drove away from Congo 4 1/2 years later.  All those answers I thought I had back then in that hot white car surrounded by all those women; well, I don't have them anymore.  I really don't have answers to most of it actually.  I was talking to a friend about it yesterday, and I think there are some questions that I will never have answers for, especially those surrounding suffering, pain, and injustice in the light of a good and loving God.  I will not stop believing or having faith, but I think I will finally accept that some things I won't get answers for this side of heaven.

I could go on and on about the ways I have changed in 4 1/2 years but I want to share about one way that I changed in regards to giving.  I knew something about aid/development/humanitarian work moving to Congo having had my husband and good friends work in the field, so I wasn't naive to the bad parts in the midst of the goodness of it.  But seeing first hand the effects of aid/donations that were blindly given really helped me to see how important it was to treat people with dignity when we give with compassion.  I saw blind giving completely paralyze a community into dependency that led to cycles of not caring for their children that led to extreme malnutrition and neglect.  I was humbled by my own ability to treat fellow brothers and sisters with lack of respect and dignity.  I learned that I must never let my love be without wisdom (and how I often mistook my pride for wisdom).  And that in my compassion I must not forget dignity.

I watched this video tonight.  And what really struck me was that the pictures were so similar to eastern DRC.  I used to love walking around town and shopping.  One could find most anything there! It was incredible.  To high end shops selling products that might cost 100s to 1000s of dollars to the man or woman on the side walk with shoes, or clothes, or books, or food, backpacks sitting on a blanket for a person to buy.  There was this awesome market that I loved going to in town.   I didn't go very often but I loved it when it did.  You could find SO much there.  There was a section of it that was just shoes.  Brand new shoes were in one area under a ceiling.  High heels, boots, you name it.  Then there were the nicer used shoes on one long long lane, boots, kids shoes, running shoes, sandals.  Then there were the very very used shoes section.  There were clothes organized by size, type, gender, age.  There were pots/pans.  There was an underwear area.  There was a rug area.  An area to buy sheets, towels.  To buy food.  Soda.  Beer.   It was very fun to go there, especially with someone that spoke fluent swahili.

What I learned is that one can buy MOST things in eastern DRC.  Not everything by any means ( and finding good quality things was hard sometimes) , but most things.  You can buy high quality formula and powdered milk.  The city I lived in was a city of almost 1 million people.  (Imagine what can be purchased locally in cities like Kinshasa at 10 million?) And I learned that a lot people sell things to make a living if they weren't farmers/cultivators.  They sell clothes to feed their families.  They sell shoes, they sell pots, they sell fabric.

At Tumaini, we have tried to make a commitment to buy locally as much as we can.  We buy formula locally, powdered milk, and when they need clothes or shoes we help them buy it locally.  We try to encourage donations of goods that cannot be bought locally (or in good condition).  We try to discourage donations of anything (like formula) that can be bought locally and support congolese families.

It may seem overwhelming to figure out what can be bought locally and what can't.  But you can start by asking.  Most of what you want to give can be bought locally, which in turns gives back to the Congolese people be supporting small business which in turns supports families (which in turns helps them not fall into destitute poverty which can lead to abandonment of children).   Trust well known and respected organizations that are committed to sustainability in the countries they work.  Commit to working with organizations that respect the dignity and the value of the Congolese people.

We received donations last year to complete a fence that enabled the orphanage to start to grow their own crops that they harvested and then used to feed the children (the harvested beans are below). 

Amos, the cook that has worked at the orphanage for 40+ years, proudly showed me the beans.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Raising three 2 year olds and a 4 year old (while being an introvert, without caffeine)

So there are 1 1/2 months where the three youngest girls are the same age.  Isla is only 10 1/2 months older than the twins.  She is also the same size as them and she is still in diapers.  She has a speech delay so although her cognitive and social skills are older than theirs she still sounds a lot like they do when you listen to them.  So, today I have three 2 year olds and a 4 year old.  And they are all girls.  Which means emotions run high around here.  More likely or not someone will be crying at any given time due to their feelings being hurt more than anything else.  Or they will be yelling at each other in 2 year old speak about who knows what.  Dinner is anything but a quiet affair.  It is amazing how fast they can get emotional, yelling and crying about a perceived hurt another inflicted upon them (and they are only two and four!).

Isla, Mia, and Ellie

They also really love each other.  They are each other's best friends, they stick up for each other, they defend each other and they ferociously protect each other.   They kiss, hug, and cuddle with each other constantly.  The littlest of the bunch, in age and size, is Mia.  Mia loves loves loves hair.  She loves to suck her finger and stick her other hand in my hair and cuddle.  My hair or Isla's hair.  You will often hear her say, "I want Isla's hair" and Isla patiently says "okay, Mia" and lets her cuddle with her.  I really don't think that my three younger brothers and I showed each other affection in the same way (hardly!), so it's quite amazing to me.

Keeping Ellie company as she gets her neb treatment.  

From my view of life, as the mommy of this cute bunch, I alternate b/w laughing and smiling at their sweetness, to wanting to scream when the needs of taking care of so many children under 5 overwhelm me.  There is one certain little miss of the bunch who loves to hang on my legs and has a very faithful and persistent whine.  I am so thankful for the ergo wrap because I can put her on my back for an hour or two and she is happy.  But when there is more than one craving my touch and crying at my feet I often run out of patience and dream of escaping!  I have tried the good old escape to the bathroom, but it isn't really a refuge when little people are dramatically throwing themselves at the door, trying to peek under the door, generally yelling at one another about where mommy went, or puddled in a pool of tears crying like I have left them forever.  I have given up and leave the door open.

I recently went to the doctor and was told that I had to give up caffeine (as I was having too many funky heart rhythms).  I blissfully (and foolishly) replied, "no problem, I just drink tea" (it's not like I drink coffee).  What's that saying?  Pride goes before the fall.  Yes, that is what has happened to me.  It seems that one of the major ways I get through my days at home with the kids is my two lovely cups of Kenyan Black Tea.  And when I stopped those two lovely cups of tea...well, let's just say I wanted to go hide under the table with a blanket over my head and cry all day!  It hasn't been pretty.  I want to tell you, I love caffeine and I despise the fact that I can't drink it!  How does one take care of 3 two year olds and a four year old without caffeine?  I don't know.  (Oh, and I'm about to tackle potty training them all at once :)!

Natalie and Ellie

The last little tidbit I want to share is that it's hard to parent little ones as an introvert.  Just like I crave caffeine, I crave time totally alone without anyone talking to me, touch me, needing me, or crying for me.  I love my kids, but I also need time to myself to find energy and joy to take care of them well.  Our younger two girls spent the first 5 months of their lives in a crib and were rarely held.  They desperately seek out physical touch.  Which is a great thing!  Their little love tanks need constant refilling.  So they want to be held and cuddled as much as possible.  When I sit on the floor, they rarely want to play with toys, they just want to sit on me (any body part they can get) and will often push and shove each other to make sure they have an equal share.  I'm very grateful for this need of theirs, it shows they are attached to me and are seeking me out for affection and love.  I also struggle with being so needed all day long.  At night I stay up too late because it is quiet and I can get the alone time I need.

Parenting little ones is beautiful, because they are lovely, sweet kids and it is also really hard.  I'm thankful for them and I'm thankful they are in my life.  I have never been stretched so much before to be a more loving, kind, patient, gracious person.  I am trying to not have unrealistic expectations for myself.  We keep life simple.  We rarely go out (we last about 10 minutes anywhere and the two youngest are not great about staying by me in areas where there are cars) and most often stick close to home.  It works for now.  And since we know so few people here we have few demands on our time, so we can spend most of our time with each other.  I'm grateful for this.  Meanwhile I am trying to learn how to take care of two year old triplets and a four year old.  Without caffeine.  And as an introvert.

(P.S.  Great, thought provoking blog post here.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

remembering their mother

My two little girls are my daughters and they are also someone else's daughters.  My girls have two mothers.  I think of their mother every day.  I look at them and I think of her.  I look into their beautiful faces and I see how they look like her in the slant of their eyes, in the color of their skin, in their high cheek bones.  I see her beauty glowing in them.  I mourn her for them and one day I will mourn her with them.  She should be raising her little girls.  She should never have died.  She died a completely preventable death giving birth to them two years ago.  In another country, she would have lived.  Maybe even if she had reached a hospital in time in the biggest near-by city she might of lived, though I doubt it.  My girls were meant to be her girls.  They were supposed to be giggling for her, hugging her, kissing her.  She was supposed to be teaching them to speak their first words, to make fufu, to pound sombe.  She was supposed to celebrate their first steps, encourage their love for music and dance, and watch them grow.  They were supposed to call her mama, not me.

We have been redoing our life insurance policy lately and I have been thinking about what would happen if we both died.  I hope that never happens, but if it did someone else would raise and love my kids.  I would want that of course.  I would want them to be loved, understood, cared for, and accepted.   I also don't think I would care if they called their new guardians mama or daddy.  Because honestly, that won't matter.  What will matter is that they are loved.  And I know that my role as their mother, as their first mother, will be special, life-giving, unique and a part of who they are.  They could never forget me,  their first mother, and no one could ever completely replace me either.

In the same spirit, I don't ever expect my girls to forget their first mother.  And I don't think I will ever be able to replace her, nor do I want to.   The woman who gave them life, who watched over them and guarded them as they grew for 8-9 months.  The woman who is a part of them and them of her.  She is a very important part of our lives, and always will be.  I will never replace her, nor do I want to.  Yes, I am their mama, but so is she, and she was first and most important because she gave them life and is a part of them.  We are tied together, bonded together, her and I, in love for two little girls who were never meant to be without her and her without them.  

So, I try to do things to remember her, even though they may not be aware of who she is in their lives right now.  It's important to me to start the memories, the openness and acceptance now, when they are young.  On their birthday, I lit a candle and let it burn all day.  I would glance over at it throughout the day and think of her.  Somehow, I felt her presence with us.  It's a hard day and a special day.  Utter pain and loss, and brilliant life.  Her death, their first breath.  Suffering and joy.  Sacred.

Though she wasn't able to choose us to be her girls' guardians upon her death, I hope she approves.  I hope she knows we love them so much and will never forget her.

In remembrance of her, my daughters' mother.


Friday, November 25, 2011

what every child deserves....

Something that strikes me again and again about international adoption is the very big difference in most children after they get home.  It is incredible.  I saw it in our girls.  They came to us from a good foster care situation (they had lived in the orphanage for 5 months and then foster care for 3 months), but there was still a big change when they moved home with us over the next few months.  They gained weight, they quickly started crawling then walking, they were more settled and happy.  I have seen this happen even more so in other adoptive families that I have been able to know over the past year, especially when  the transition is right from orphanage to new family.

A lot of it is belonging to a family, obviously this does amazing things for the child's emotional well-being, ability to attach, form trusting relationships, and develop.  So, yes (a big YES), every child deserves a family.

But you know what?  I think more than a family even, every child deserves to not live in dire poverty.  Millions of children around the world live in dire poverty with their families and they are struggling to survive.  Some of these children are relinquished for adoption (or abandoned and then adopted) and then they are taken in by wealthier families in the developed world where they are love, fed, educated, clothed, and cherished.  And guess what?  These children?  They thrive.  They grow, they smile, they play, they bloom and blossom.  Now, this is not to say that they don't carry of the effects of the poverty (and/or abandonment, lack of attachment, institutionalization, etc.) with them into their new lives (and this can be profound).  They do carry it with them.  Their pasts are not wiped clean and the effects of poverty (abandonment, chronic malnutrition, abuse...) erased.  But overall, these little ones are changed.  Yes, by families that love them and that are committed to them and their recovery and that claim them as their own, but also because their lives are so much better.  They have food, clothes, clean water, healthcare, education, quality medicine, consistent caregivers, and so on.

Every child deserves these things.  Food, clean water, healthcare, education, quality medicine, consistent caregivers, family.  Every child deserves to not live in dire poverty that threatens their lives.

Sometimes I look at my girls, and I looks at the kids left behind in Congo.  Not only at the orphanage, but the kids who have families, but are in feeding centers, who are suffering because of dire poverty.  It's hard not to think, oh, if only I could find homes for all the kids.  Look how well they will do, look how great all the adoptive kids are doing that were adopted this past year.  Too bad all the kids at the orphanage can't be adopted.  It's easy to start thinking like this.  Adoption dramatically changes the lives of the one or two children (or three) that are adopted.  It feels great to see those kids doing so well!  It is great.  Yet.

Yet, I can't lose sight of the fact that what most of the children in Congo who are suffering need is not to be adopted, they need to not live in poverty.  They don't need a family (they have families).  They need food, or education, or medical care.  (If they had those things, maybe they wouldn't have been abandoned in the first place).  What we are working towards is alleviating the effects of poverty, to raise the general quality of life of the children in Congo.  Most children in Congo have families.  And a lot of those families can't take care of their children.  They can't feed them three times a day.  They can't afford to send them to school. They can't afford to pay their doctors fees.  They can't afford to buy them medicine.  They can't afford to dress them.

But they don't need new families (that have all of this).  They need access to affordable food and clothes, access to affordable (or free) education, access to affordable, quality healthcare and medicine, access to clean water, and on and on.

At Save the Children Orphanage in Eastern Congo, most of the children that live there have families.  Because of their destitute poverty, the fathers or other family members couldn't take care of them (formula is very expensive) after their mothers died in childbirth so they sent them to the orphanage to keep them alive.

One of my dreams is to try to move to a model at the orphanage where the children move back to their families by age 2 instead of age 5.  We'll see.  The hard part is that the families are still in dire poverty.

Now, I'm not writing this post to say I am against adoption.  Obviously that is not the case as we have two children that are adopted.  There are children that need families that do not have them and adoption provides a family for those children.  (And yes, we can't solve poverty overnight, and so in the meantime, there are children that need homes.)  It's not about those kids (well, maybe it is a little bit).  It's about all the rest.

It's about the kids that were living in extreme poverty and were relinquished for adoption because their families couldn't take care of them anymore.  It's about the children and their families living in extreme poverty around the world.  It's about the children that are abandoned by desperate family members because their situation are so extreme that they couldn't care for them anymore.  It's about trying to alleviate poverty that destroys families, communities, and children's lives.

It's about working towards making the world a place where adoptions are no longer needed because families can take care of their children.  It's about working towards a world where mothers don't die in birth anymore and their babies are not taken to institutions to survive.  It's about working towards a world where these same babies can grow up and go back to their families and be sent to school, be a part of their families, be fed and loved and cared for.

It's about a world where all children have the same opportunities, the same access to food, water, education, family, healthcare, that our kids do right here.

One day at a time.

There are so many wonderful organizations working in eastern DRC doing amazing work.  Here are just a few of the 100s.  There are large humanitarian organizations like Food for the Hungry, Mercy Corps, World Vision, CRS, Tearfund and many more that do large scale aid and development projects that touch thousands and thousands of lives.  There are small organizations like HEAL Africa and Women for Women that are working hard to improve individual lives of women and their families.  There are even smaller grassroots organizations like our friends who help street kids by taking them off the streets and transitioning them back home, like our other friends who take in women in crisis and give them skills and training, like more friends who work with traumatized women in war zones, and other friends who start homes to give women a hope and a future.

There is hope.  There are ways to help make change happen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

a thankful day

Right this minute I'm thankful for many things.

I'm very thankful I am able to do work in DRC, in a small quiet way.  I'm thankful, that together with others, we are making a difference in children's lives.  Giving them a chance at life.  There is so much to be done, there is still a lot that needs work, and more can be improved.  That is for sure.  But tonight, I'm thankful that for most of the children at the Save the Children orphanage, their lives are improved.

Tonight, there could have been 2 women with 40+ children.  Instead there are 4 women with 30 children.  During the day there are 5 women with 30 children.  There is milk for the older children.  There is formula for the babies.  There could have been 2 women with 40 babies and children.  They could be watering down formula and only giving it three times a day to the babies under 6 months old.  It's not like that anymore.  The kids smile.  The babies don't sleep two to a crib anymore, they are too big.  The one year olds are pulling to stand and starting to walk.  They are held.  It's different.  It's better.  And it will continue to get better.

I'm thankful for the gift God has given me, to serve these children, to tell their stories, to give them hope.

It is a good day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday Sweet Girls!

Ellie and Mia had their second birthday on the 9th of this month.  They were so excited (mostly because their oldest sister was so hyped up about the gifts she had picked out for them, small pink travel pillows....hmmm)!  Last year we celebrated their first birthday in Congo with our neighbors/house mates and other friends in the area.  It seems so long ago really.  They have grown up so much in the past year.  Who knew that those sweet little babies we met almost two years ago would grow into such happy, active (very very active), energetic, and big girls?

When we met the girls they were 3 1/2 months old, and smiling up a storm at us.  We pretty much loved them right then and there.  If we had been living in the states at the time of the adoption they would have come home to us at 18 months (as our adoption took foooorrrreeevvveeerr), but as we were living overseas, they moved home with us at 8 months old and we waited out the rest of the proceedings in country.  I know we are extremely fortunate in that we have known them so long and were able to bring them home a lot earlier than a lot of people bring their kiddos home.  Another great part about living overseas while adopting is we were able to get to know some of their family in Congo.  I am so very glad we were able to.  I don't want to share in depth about their family here, as it is their family, but I do want to say that we (as per norm in that area of congo) were taller than all of them.  Though probably above height for their tribal group, we still were much taller.  So, we figured the girls would be average height.  We were wrong.  They are tall!  Ellie especially is a very strong, tall girl.  She is 100% in all areas on the charts.  Mia is about 75%.  Our second daughter, Isla, is little for her age (surprising, since we are both tall), and so when they are all three together, they look the same age, and actually Ellie is the tallest and heaviest of them all!  So, that has been fun as it might have been hard to be on the short side with tall parents and siblings.  Sometimes I wonder if the height difference (b/w them and their family in Congo) may be because of chronic malnutrition (through generations) that has led to chronic stunting (overall), or if it just genetics.

On the comment I made above about their activity levels.  It seems that as they age they just get more and more and more energy.  It is incredible.  Ellie loves to just bounce around the house (and can she jump!).  Or they love to run circles around the dining room/kitchen, laughing, giggling and chasing each other.  They love to push objects all over (who needs toys?!) or ride small bikes.  I'm thankful my husband is an especially active person.  We have already said he can take the three girls for jogs and I will stay home with little miss Isla (who is on the very low low end of energy levels....running? who needs it!).  I will always remember about two weeks before we left Congo finding Mia climbing up the metal grates of our dinging room window and yelling "hi mama!" at me from outside when she was half way up and quite high!  I still am trying to adjust myself to their need (really three of the four need it) of physical activity to keep in good spirits.  I have to force myself out of the desire to go hole up under the covers with a good book and instead take them outside or to the park where they love to run or scare me half to death by climbing up play structures meant for 7 year olds (or taking off in 3 different directions) all while Isla sits on the swing for an hour and watches them all.  Playing hard means sleeping hard though, so that's grand!

And finally, they are such happy happy kids.  Mia is exuberant joy.  When she isn't tired or hungry, she is full of laughter and mischievous giggles.  She loves to put her fingers in my hair, in Isla and Nat's hair or on Mike's (well, bald) head and suck her finger.  She is very cuddly and loves the ergo for the more emotional moments.  She is littler than Ellie and loves to have Ellie tackle her and play "blanket" (but then of course she can't get up and starts screaming :).    She also is the supreme "grabber" of the family. No matter how well you guard that precious toy, if she wants it, watch out!   She sneaks in, grabs it faster than you can blink and tears off giggling as quick as she can while the rest scream behind her.
Ellie watches and observes and has the best belly laugh you can imagine.  She gives awesome bear hugs that fill you up with love.  She is very loyal.  She loves books and is a champ doing her nebulizer treatment and reading book after book after book.  She has always been the more insecure of the two and we try to be careful with transitions and routine.  She loves to dance and loves her daddy best of all.

Happy birthday sweet girls.  We love you very very much.

Mia and Ellie, two years old

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A great post, please check it out!

Addendum:  I meant to add a brief story as to why this post touched me.  I was driving our car today when my oldest daughter (who is almost five years old) said to me, "mommy, I see a kid in every car we pass!"  I thought it a bit of a strange comment because as far as I could see plenty of the cars just had adults in them. When I asked her to explain more she said, "It's because all the adults were once kids, so I see the kids!".  Then I read the post above and I realized that am the parents of two adoptees who will one day be adult adoptees (I knew that already, but somehow it touched me more today).  They may have different and varying opinions about adoption, their adoptions, and why they were adopted.  I want to listen to adult adoptees now, as much as I can, so that as my children grow, I will be there to listen to, learn from, and support them in their own journeys as adoptees.  I appreciate the author of this blog for this reason (and others).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

getting an orphan

I suppose a lot of you, upon reading my title for this post, think that what follows will be about adopting or about UNICEF's definition of orphan and what I think about all of the above.   And though I'm sure I could write a good long post on that topic, that is not what this post is about.

Tonight I had a conversation with a friend and heard sad news about one of the older children who have aged out of the orphanage.  I still need to confirm the news, but it reminded me that the story I heard is true for many orphans in Congo (at least the area I was in).

Here is the story of one of our friends, who is now a grown woman.  She calls herself an orphan (often in that area, a child is an orphan if either parent is dead, esp. the mother).  Her mother was unable to care for her since the time she was  little girl and her father had long abandoned them both.  She was sent to live with a relatives family.  They took her in for awhile.  She was basically a slave in their household, working for the family and not being sent to school.  She then was sent to another family; she was beat and again was the slave in the house and not sent to school.  This continued until she came of age and she married.  She now has children of her own and her own "orphans" that she takes care of--they are her relatives children.  But she has decided to break the cycle of mistreatment, neglect, abuse and slavery that she lived in as a child.  All the children in her house go to school, the "orphans" included.  Some go in the morning and some go in the afternoon.  They all work in the home. They all haul water, they all help take care of the younger children, they all cook.

It wasn't uncommon for me to hear from other people I knew who would say, "I need an orphan, or I need a girl or I'm going to the village to get an orphan".  Then the person would go to the village and bring back a child to work in their home.  Sometimes money would be exchanged.  In other words, the child would be sold into slavery.  If the child "lucked out" then he or she might be sent to school.

The Save the Children orphanage only keeps children until they are age 4 to 5.  Then they are sent back to their fathers or other family members.  The families are from all over, sometimes they are from a weeks walk away.  As you can imagine, it is nearly impossible to have oversight over the quality of care the children receive after they leave the orphanage, especially the ones that live far away.  Some are not heard from again.  Some are very neglected and malnourished.  Some are sold into slavery to be household servants.  The "lucky" ones are the ones who stay with the family and are given some basic level of care, the lucky ones are wanted and loved.  We then pay their school fees with the idea that education is one area that may be able to change the life of that child.  Especially if they are able to go through secondary school and some level of college.  They might have a chance of changing the cycle too.

Right now, it doesn't seem like enough.  I'm honest enough to realize I can't change the worldview of a culture regarding their beliefs and treatment of orphans.  (Orphans in our country not very long ago were mistreated and also were often servants as well.  Overall children have been mistreated and given little rights around the world.)  But I want to!!  I want every child that leaves the orphanage to go back to their extended family and to know they are love, cared for, that they are special and precious.  They they are important and worth something.  That they are valuable and amazing.  That they belong and are wanted.  I want that for every child.  It's hard to know that we don't have control over what happens to the children once they leave the orphanage.  It was never set up that way.  It was a place to bring babies after their mothers died so that they could live.  And they go back to their families.  But that doesn't always mean that they are treated well, loved, wanted, and cared for by those families.

It's hard not to feel discouraged.

I also feel like more can be done.  I feel too tired right this minute to expand on visions and dreams for those children who are aging out, but they exist.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

unexpected photos of the kids I love and miss in Congo!

I received some unexpected recent photos from our Tumaini manager in Congo.  It was so fun to see pictures of the kids I love and miss so much!

Noella, almost one year old.  Standing!!  

The big kids waiting to eat some bananas with the Tumaini manager. 

These sweet babies are the some of the new babies who still need sponsors.  I was so happy to see this photo.  They are out of their beds sitting in bumbos!  They are growing!  Yay!  If you are interested in sponsoring one of the babies who need sponsors, please see our website,  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

being held in dark places- church and my mending heart

I wrote recently on this blog, sharing some of the pain in my heart and my recent struggles as a believer in a loving and good God.  I'm still there.  And that's okay right now.  I've decided to give myself some grace.   Living in Congo was very hard.  I found it so hard to see such suffering all the time.  And if I wasn't actually witnessing it with my own eyes, I was hearing about it. There were times I just wanted to run away from it all, I couldn't bear it.  I still have not recovered.  Too many tragic unspeakable things happening to normal good people who were just trying to live their daily lives.

Like the sister of a friend, who stepped into her bathroom into a puddle of water where a live wire was exposed and she was electrocuted and died.  She left many many small children.  Or the baby of another friend that just died.  Or the man walking home at night who was hit and left to die on the side of the road.  Or the baby at the orphanage that I held and knew that she would die and there was nothing I could do.  Or the baby with hydrocephalus that I tried to do what I could, and she still died.  Or the young girl that died after a surgery to remove her appendix.  Or the little boys removed from their mother because their father had just died and they now belonged to the father's family.  Or the man who was murdered and shot down because of a political agenda he had no control over.  Or the two small children who were in a vehicle at the wrong time on the wrong road and were shot "accidently" by bullets meant for someone else.  The only two children of a woman who had already lost her husband.  Or the small coffin carried by mourners on a dusty village road.  Or the baby I never met named Amiable  who came to the orphanage to live, but came too late.  Or the house that was swept away during a mudslide killing a pregnant mother.  Or the countless mothers who die giving birth to their babies.  Babies we are trying to help.  Or the woman who is raped over and over, who loses her mind, is rejected by her family, who in turn rejects her babies.  Or the men and women who are disabled, who struggle to live a life with dignity as they crawl on hands and knees through roads filled with mud and dirt.   I could go on and on and I wouldn't scratch the surface.

My heart has been broken and it will not mend.  I have been trying to go to church.  I try to listen to God's voice, to read His words.  My heart will not mend.  I sit in church and my broken heart bleeds, and I can't hear the words spoken around me.  The music is soft and I can't hear it over the roar of my soul.  My doubt and struggles swirl within me.  And my heart, it won't mend.

But about a month ago, for reasons that are too long to go into in this post (maybe one day I will share them), we went to a new church.  It is a baptist church with a predominately african american congregation.  Every single service I cry.  I cry through the music, I cry through the prayer, I cry through the sermons.  My heart is touched.  We are out of place but somehow we fit perfectly.  Somehow, in the most unlikely of places, I find a glimmer of hope.  I hear the music, I hear the sermons, I hear the spontaneous song and praise of the church members.   Somehow, in an instant, I understand why in Congo, the church services are long, loud, spontaneous, full of music, full of praise, full of spoken encouragement.  Full of community and support.  Because how else can you survive?  How else, but to be reminded of hope, to know you are not alone, to believe that God is good and loving, faithful and kind?  It is survival, to keep going day after day.  To touch another hand, to sing loudly and long, to lift your hands, to fall down on your knees because of the grief you cannot bear another day.  To give thanks to the One who gives you strength for one more day.  To let it come.  How else in the dark times can you keep going forward.  Only because you are not alone.  Because there are others that hold your hands in the dark, to remind you of the One who never lets you go, to give you hope.

Nyota, fully sponsored.  At Tumaini, we support an orphanage called Save the Children.  We do this through sponsorships of the children that live there.  We are trying to keep the children alive and healthy (both physically and emotionally), by providing formula, milk and additional staffing so the babies are held often and the older children are played with on a regular basis.  Our goal is to reunite the children with their families.  Please consider sponsoring one of the remaining five babies who are waiting.  Our website is here,  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

children that deserve a chance, that deserve to have their stories heard

I was making pizza tonight.  I couldn't remember the exact measurements I needed, so I pulled out the cook book.  It is a mennonite cookbook and I enjoy the simplicity of the recipes right now with four little ones pulling at my legs.  As I randomly glanced to the top of  the page I saw this verse, "The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice."  (Proverbs 13:23)  

It hit me hard, because this verse speaks to what has happened and is happening in Congo.  Living in the eastern area of the country, I was struck again and again by the beauty of the country.  The area we lived in is so lush, verdant, set on a lake surrounded by green mountains covered in tropical jungle.  We had good friends that grew quinine trees on plantations.  The bark of those trees produced quinine, which treats malaria.  They also grow trees that end up producing medicine that fights against prostate cancer.  This is a tiny tiny tip of what is grown and produced in this area of the country.

My husband worked in the humanitarian development.  Large scale projects mostly funded by large U.S. government grants from organizations like USAID.  Some of the projects were in remote villages where there was a lot of insecurity due to rebel and military movements.  In one small area farmers would painstakingly plant and grow their peanut plants, only to have them stolen by rebels or military right before they were to have harvested them.

Injustice can be seen on a smaller level.  On the level of a little babies life.  A woman is pregnant.  She goes into labor.  She gives birth and then she starts to bleed.  In the U.S., her bleeding would be stopped.  She would live, her baby would live.  Not so in Congo.  She dies.  Her baby dies.  Perhaps some of her other children die from starvation.  If they are fortunate they stay with their father and they live in dire, destitute poverty.  Preventable death.  Life that should not have ended.

What we are doing at Tumaini is trying our best to keep the little babies alive after their mothers die.  Most of the babies have living fathers that want their children.  Most of the fathers bring them to the orphanage to save their lives.  The orphanage has life saving formula that the father cannot buy.  The father wants their children, and if the children live, most do go and live again with their families one day (most after 3-5 years, some sooner).  We are trying to prevent death by providing formula and staff for a small orphanage in a remote area of eastern DRC.  It's not an area that is easily assessable.  It's not the safest area of the country.  But, we are trying to meet a need that is very hard to meet because of the high cost of formula, the high cost of keeping a baby alive in a developing country.

November is adoption awareness month.  And tomorrow is orphan sunday at churches around the country.  There are 5 babies, orphaned by the death of their mothers, who still need sponsors.  Would you consider sponsoring one of these little ones this month?  Would you consider being a part of stopping injustice in a small area of eastern DRC, where little ones live in an orphanage called Save the Children?

Please read this post.  It speaks to the difference the work we are doing at the orphanage has made in children's lives at the orphanage.  (And you also get to see my two babies the day we first met them!)  And it is because of people who have partnered with us that makes it possible for us to continue to buy formula, milk and hire extra staff.  We also help to pay for the school fees for 82 children who have aged out of the orphanage and are now living with their family members or long term foster care.

Finally, here is one of two posts about my first visit to the orphanage that left me undone.

Please continue to pass on the word about what we are doing at the Save the Children orphanage.  Feel free to link to this blog or our website.   Our website is    I'm excited to think we could possibly have all our children fully sponsored this month!

Thank you for the bottom of my heart!

Gloire, he is fully sponsored.  

Francine, she needs one more sponsor (at $25/month).

Shereba, he is fully sponsored.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

slow learning curves (adoption)

I came into adoption a bit "dumb".  I didn't know anything about international adoption, domestic adoption, and the issues surrounding both.  I had a simple thought in mind, to provide a family for a child that would not be able to be raised in one.  I have learned so much since we started the adoption process almost two years ago.  I have been challenged in so many ways and met so many wonderful people in the process.

One thing I did early on was to seek out voices of adults who were adopted as children.  I read a book and found some blogs.  I'll admit that at first I was completely scared off.  I read my first adult adoptee blog and the pain was so raw that I closed it immediately and didn't go back for weeks.  All I could feel was the pain my two daughters that we just adopted might feel one day and for the first time, I thought, did we do the right thing?  I realized that by adopting our daughters we had given our daughters a family, but had also added to their pain and hurt.

I did go back to that blog eventually and others like it.  I asked questions, some I think may have been hurtful in my ignorance.  I started to try to listen more and talk less.  And I've learned a lot and I continue to learn so much, especially the more I listen.  My hope is that in the process of listening I will grow and change and that as my girls grow we will be able to talk about their adoption and why they were adopted in an open and transparent way.  I know I will never be able to understand what it is like to be adopted but I hope that I will have learned that whatever they feel they will know that what they feel is okay, that they will never be rejected by us, and we will always be ready to listen.

So, because this is adoption awareness month, I wanted to point to a huge issue I never knew anything about before I started reading adult adoptee writings.  The fact that in most states adults who were adopted domestically as infants cannot access their original birth certificates!    I wanted to add my voice to the growing number of people who are standing with adult adoptees and demanding access to their original birth certificates.  Please read this link to learn more.   And if you are interested in reading adult adoptee writing, here is one of the many good places to start.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's in a name?

I've been pondering the names of our twins a lot lately.  So much so that I wrote a question about names to a group of adult adoptees that blog and let adoptive parents ask them questions.   And then it came up on the yahoo adoption board that I am a part of today.

Some of the circumstances of our girls' story is hard.  And we are fortunate to know a lot about their story and we know some of their birth family (father's side).  I am so very thankful for this.  But it means we know a lot about choices that were made and how those choices affected their lives.

My own personal story (on my dad's side) is hard too.  And there were some choices made that affected my life in significant ways, but I have always wanted to stay connected to that side of my family.  Because they are a part of me.  When I got married I didn't want to part with my dad's surname (my maiden name) and I added it to my middle name.  Good or bad, it is my heritage, part of who I am and keeps me connected to my past.

Adopting children removes so much from their lives, it takes so much away (it also gives a lot as well).  They lose their country, their family, their culture, they sense of connectedness and belonging.  They lose any connection to their past.   And many times they lose their names (if they are known).   And they don't get a choice about that.

After writing my question to the group noted above, what finally sunk down deep in my heart was that my question was not a valid one in some ways.  I think what finally hit me, is that it shouldn't be my choice whether to keep their dad's surname or not in their new name.  It is their choice because it is their name.  It's theirs.  It's not my name to take away from them.  I realized that I was asking the question all wrong.  Of course I should include their father's surname in their name.  It's their name.  As much as adoption brings with it a new family, it doesn't erase the past, their family, and the genetic connection of that child to that family.  It doesn't mean that I should wipe it all clean and start over.  I love that they re congolese, I love their country.  Every moment I spent with their birth family was precious.  The name of their father is a gift to them (the good and bad), it is precious, a gift I have to give them that not all adoptive parents have to give to their children.   Maybe one day when they are adults they will change their names in a different way.  And you know what?  That will be okay with me.  They will have a lot of names to work from and two families that love them with names to connect them to their past, present and future.  

(These are my thoughts and personal opinions, I know there is a wide range of beliefs about names.  Mine is one of those.  And I'd love to hear others as well.)

ADDENDUM:   Our girls were not given any first names at birth, they had their father's surnames however.  We gave them first names.  Their middle names are currently the first names of significant women from their birth family and then our last name.

Monday, October 31, 2011

links that make me ponder and think

The below are three links about orphanage tourism.  They are mostly about Cambodia.  But some of the discussion can be applied to most countries (especially ones that are open to adoption and ones that have growing programs in countries with corruption-like Congo).  Though I don't agree with everything in all these links, there is a lot that I do agree with and there is a lot that should be discussed and talked about.  I agree that children should not live in orphanages.  They should be only there for a short time during which time a long term family setting would be found.  There are some great guiding questions on these links about what qualifies as a "good orphanage".  The second link is very hands on.  The third links has some nice thoughts about traveling internationally.   I think it's important to remember ways to protect children's rights and respect their dignity in all situations, especially ones where we are showing them love and care.   There are lots of answers to these questions and these links bring up some important things to consider.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

six little babies and a sponsor update

I'm so excited that we have almost all of the children fully sponsored!  So many people have come together to partner with us at the Save the Children orphanage.

As part of the sponsorship packets, I send photos of the sponsored child from the past year and a half until present.  That has been very fun for me to go revisit all the photos starting in Feb. 2010.  And every single time I am completely humbled by the changes I see in the children.  Extra staff (10 in total), fortified powdered milk for the older children, and full strength formula for any child under age 1 or any that are malnourished under age 2.  It is significant.   One of the big parts of this is that because we are filling this need, it gives the main donor to the orphanage (the Norwegian church) the ability to give all their money tagged for the orphanage to food, electric and the other staff needs.  Instead of spreading the money they have each month across all areas (hence, why the babies were only given watered down formula for the first six months of their lives and then none) and not being able to hire more women (which were desperately needed), they now can focus on providing food for three meals and pay the monthly bills associated with running the orphanage.  

There are six babies that are left that need sponsorship at this point.  (New babies are always arriving.)  Four of the babies need full sponsors ($50/month) or two partial sponsors ($25/month) and two babies need one partial sponsor each.  Please check out our blog that lists the children if you are interested in sponsoring.  Then check out our website and follow the donate link.  Make sure to send me an email to let me know you are sponsoring and who you are sponsoring.  My email is hmulford at

(And by the way, one of the future changes that is happening with Tumaini will be that all of the different sites we have will all be in one place!)

And feel free to link to this post to get the word out.

Thank you!

Sometimes pictures tell the stories best of all.

Jackson, 13 months old, Feb. 2010, able to sit with support, not alone.

Chito Wambili in my lap, with smiling Jackson next to me who loved to be tickled.  April 2010, both kiddos are 15 months old.  To read about Chito's amazing story begin here.  

Jackson, 17 months old

Jackson, 21 months

Jackson, 22 months

Jackson, over 2 years old

Friday, October 21, 2011

shutting down corrupt orphanages

I wrote this post to talk about corruption in orphanages.  In Haiti a group lobbeyed the government to shut down this orphanage.  It can happen.  Do you know of an orphanage that is run by a corrupt director?  Do you wonder what happened to your donations?  Do donations disappear?  The money that was given as a donation to the orphanage?  Are the children not treated when they are sick?  Are they starving despite monetary and food donations being given repeatedly by concerned adoptive parents and other concerned people?  Are they neglected?  Is it difficult to get an accurate picture of what is going on behind closed doors?  Do you think to yourself that at least the kids are better off than being on the streets?  Do you think DRC is too corrupt to make change, that no one cares?

Fight for change!  If you know of a corrupt orphanage or director in DRC, talk about it!  Gather others around you!  Make your voice heard for the children that are being abuse, starved and neglected.  Don't remain silent.  The congolese people care about their children!  Talk about what you know, what you have seen.  Fight for the children left behind.  That their lives may be different.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

a bit of plain old life

I'm officially tired.  Miss E. is still wheezing and coughing every day.  The nights are the worst.  My latest (and probably not the smartest) plan has been to stay up until midnight and give her her medicine so that I can sleep 5 hours straight without waking up to give her the albuterol treatment.  The alternative would be to fall to sleep (hard asleep) exhausted at 10ish and wake up at 12 midnight.  And the idea of waking out of a dead sleep sounds harder than staying awake until midnight and sleeping for five straight hours.  Except when I do this day after day after day, I become cumulatively very tired.  Especially when there are break-through attacks and when you fall asleep before 12, forgetting to set the alarm and are awoken to your little girl coughing and gasping frantically for air.  Then I run around in a half awake sluggish state in the dark trying to find the nebulizer treatment (as quiet as I can as her twin sister, M. is asleep in the same little room), grab the child and find her face and start the machine.  Even asleep she knows the drill and helps me put it on.  She starts breathing so much better and we both fall asleep to the hum of the machine in the rocking chair by her bed, her heavy weight fully on mine.  Then I put her back in bed.  I stumble back to my bed but I am scared to go back to sleep.  I'm so tired, but what if she struggles again and I am so tired I don't wake up.  I consider sleeping on her floor so that I will hear her, but give in to my big comfortable bed.

All of this means that I am one tired mama who is shuffling through each day in a bit of a fog right now. There is much I need to do and little of it seems to get done.  I'm not a coffee drinker so I consume large amounts of Kenyan black tea (with sugar).

Life is good though.  But even as I write all of this, a familiar feeling of discomfort and angst comes.  It's because right now, children are dying of asthma around the world.  Right now, many more children are dying of malaria.  Right now there are mothers who eat so much less than me, who are in generally worse health than me, who work much harder than me, who take care of more children than me, who sleep in one small bed with their entire family, who stay up with their sick children at night, and know there is little they can do.  This feeling, it rarely leaves me.  I can't seem to rid the reality of life elsewhere (nor do I want to get rid of this conviction, this accounting, this stark memory).

And life goes on.  I have three "two year olds" in essence.  And an almost five year old.  Technically, I will have three two year olds on Nov. 9 (the twins birthday) and will have three two year olds until Dec. 15th (Isla's birthday).  It means my life is challenging.  I pray constantly for patience and love.  I change a lot of cloth diapers.  I beg my almost 3 year old to please please use the potty.  She laughs at me and dances away.  I do more "it's not okay to....." than I do anything else.   I break up lots of fierce battles (usually ending in lots of crying and hurt feelings, I do have four girls).   My oldest daughter asked me the other day, "mom, do you still like having four kids?".  My heart broke and I did more praying.  Since then she has been saying, "mom, it's hard having four kids that are so little, but we love it too, right?".  I think my prayers are being answered.  She also said, "mom, we fell in love with Ellie and Mia right when they came home didn't we?  And we still are in love with them!".  The three two year olds love, love each other.  They kiss, hug, hold hands.  Fierce in battle they are also fierce in love for each other.  Often the oldest of the bunch will say "Mia, play with me?!  or Ellie, play with me?!".   I think she truly thinks she is a triplet.  I didn't expect that she would so fully become their sister in such a deep way.  That she sees herself as a part of them and them of her.

Ellie, Isla, and Mia

The hard, harsh parts of life in Congo for so many, has left me struggling to find beauty and joy.  My faith in a good and loving God is constant, yet it is wounded.  I am still recovering.  And it is very hard for me to explain- that it is less about the external and more about my heart deep, deep where only God sees.  I somehow sense there is a waiting.  A patience with me, grace to let me heal.  Mercy when I don't deserve it.  Covering our family, our children.  There is another me I see, that I want to be, but there is so long of a journey to be there.  Yet.  It is okay.

It rains a lot here.  A rainy season to help ease the ache of my lonely heart.

I still very much feel like a fish out of the water living here.

The kids love our lives here.  Natalie will talk about Congo.  She jumps into the hard parts.  War, suffering, poverty on a child's level.  Real and true, close to the heart of God, I treasure these talks.  She often talks of the day when we will all be with God and how very happy He will be to have us all there. How He will hold His arms out and reach for us all and be so truly glad.  And then she laughs a happy laugh.  I stay close by her.  Her faith begins to help mine to heal.  Her faith in a loving, good God who welcomed little children.  Children who sometimes understand better than we do.

They were in heaven!

It's hard to give attention to so many little ones.  I sometimes feel guilty that I don't give enough attention to them all.  I try to let that go and do my best.

I go back and forth about how much I am okay with sharing on the blog (in terms of my kids pictures and names), today I am feeling okay about it all.  Tomorrow I may change my mind.

I could write an entire post (and maybe I will) about choice and the amount of choices we have all day long, every day living here.  And how it still practically paralyzes me.  (The only way I can cope with the grocery store is I shop late at night and I buy the same thing every week only once a week.)  I really think wealth equals more choices.  Or more choices equals greater wealth.

I'm really excited about my guest blog series which will start soon.  I'm going to call it "Walking in Congo" and it will feature stories from people who have walked or are walking in Congo.  

We are almost fully sponsored!!  There are only six babies left who need sponsors (and two of those only need partial sponsors).

I'm excited to start writing about Tumaini again and the future....hopes and dreams.

Well, it's about time to wrap us and get ready for tomorrow.  Then give another breathing treatment and off to bed.

I'm having a hard time convincing Isla that "corn on the cob" season is really done.  
And obviously, one must always use safety gear when eating it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

favorite photo of last year

Bringing home our girls, July 30, 2010.  This was the first time Natalie and Isla met them.  We (most of the time it was me alone) had been visiting them every two weeks for the previous 5 months.  


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

orphanages, ethics and international adoption

Fourth in a series on international adoption from Congo.  The four posts are linked at the top right of the blog.  

After my first post about international adoption from Congo where I addressed many of my concerns regarding fears of ethics violations and the potential for child trafficking, one reader asked me about donations to orphanages where there are adoptions taking place.  I want to look into this issue a little in this post.

I know that we all don't want to do anything that exploits vulnerable children.  That we would all agree that we want to protect children from being trafficked, sold, or kidnapped from their families for adoption (or the sex slavery trade).  We want children that have no chance to live in a loving family to have this chance. We don't want to take a child away from a situation where they have a family or the potential to go back to their family.  We don't want there to be lies or coercion anywhere in the process.

So, back to the topic at hand.  Is it okay to give a donation to the orphanage from where you are adopting your child?  This is a really important question.  Why is this question so important?

Let's take a hypothetical situation (that could very easily be a situation in Congo), and it is not the situation of the orphanage we are supporting currently with Tumaini.  Let's say there is a large orphanage housing 200 children in various ages in a large province in eastern DRC.  It has been insecure in eastern DRC.  War, rape, movement of populations, extreme poverty.  There are abandoned babies, toddlers, children, sibling groups because of all the unrest and upheaval, and the extreme level of poverty that has resulted from the insecurity over many years.  For the most part the family members are unknown, though in some situations they are known.  Congolese churches, local families and individuals support the orphanage in small ways.

Adoption is new in this area of Congo and soon there is interest in trying to find families for these children.  Folks from the U.S. visit the orphanage.  The children are in horrible conditions.  Little to no food, no caregivers, no medicine, no schooling, a dangerous living environment.  The director has tight control over the orphanage.  He allows some food donations, not others.  He accepts some medical help, not others.  It becomes apparent that some children are starving and dying of illness.  He accepts help for some of them not others.  More and more families want to adopt the children from these destitute conditions.  More and more donations come in.  One can't walk away without wanting to help.  Especially the little ones who lay on the cement unattended and sick.  Soon, he says he won't allow a child to leave the orphanage for adoption unless a donation is made to the orphanage to support the other children.  Give the donation, then the child can be removed for adoption.  It is a hopeless place surrounded by the beauty which is eastern DRC.  A year later and adoptions are still happening, yet there is something that makes a visitor feel uneasy.  Nothing has changed in the children's lives.  In fact, it is surprising to note that the children continue to live in abject poverty.  It becomes clearer and clearer that the director is pocketing the donations and not using the money to help the children.  A (hypothetical) situation of a large orphanage with lots of children needing homes that has a corrupt director.

What do you do?  Do you stop giving a donation when a child is being adopted?  What if he refuses to let the child be adopted?  Then what?  Do you then condemn that child to potential death in the prison of an orphanage?  Do you demand to see accounts of the funds?  What if he refuses?  Do you only give donations of goods, not money?  What if you never see those goods used?  What if they are sold?

And what if the director is perpetuating the cycle of suffering in order to keep funds coming in?  What if he knows that if the situations improve for the children less funds/goods will come to the orphanage?  What if he is manipulating the visitors and the children for his own gain?  What if it is all exploitation of children?

What would motivate him to keep the children healthy or fed, if what keeps his pockets full is their near starvation state and constant illness/death?

What if he is coercing or lying about the situations of the children?  What if he is a part of trafficking children for adoption?  Clearly there is the motivation.  He receives thousands of dollars in donations when a child is removed from his orphanage.

What if you demand oversight from an independent observer?  What if he refuses and says then you can't adopt from here anymore?  What if that means more children die and suffer?  What then?

Situations like this exist.  There are parts of this hypothetical experience that I have experienced, and there are parts others have.  Most people don't want to talk about it publicly.  It could threaten the adoption of a vulnerable child.

I strongly feel that adoptions should not be conducted from orphanages with unethical and corrupt directors where there is little to no oversight.   I strongly believe that monetary and good donations should not be given to an orphanage director that is corrupt and unethical.  I believe doing so (doing adoptions and giving donations in a situation of a corrupt director and/or leadership) puts adoptions at risk of being unethical and involving trafficking and exploitation, and it threatens the health and well-being of the children who are not adopted.  It leaves "those left behind" with the potential to be abused for monetary gain.

Ask your agency/organization about the orphanage that your child is coming from.  Ask other adopting families about the orphanage.  Ask about how your donation is being used.  Follow your money.  Ask about follow up of the funds.  Ask about receipts from the director.  Ask about independent oversight.  Ask about the investigations on the abandonment of the child you are adopting.  Ask about the conditions of the other children.  Ask about the transparency of the leadership of the orphanage.  Ask to visit the orphanage without an appointment.  Ask about what other partnerships the orphanage is currently involved with and how your agency collaborates and works with those other agencies/organizations.  Consider asking this question to your agency/organization, "If I went and gave $1000 to the director of the orphanage, are you confident that that money would be used for the children in the orphanage and do you have a way to verify it was used for the children in the orphanage?"

We should be about protecting children from undue harm not causing more harm to those who are innocent of wrongdoing.  We should fight for these children, that they be treated ethically and fairly.  We should fight for safe, good, healthy, loving homes for all children (those not adopted most of all).

There are ways to investigate orphanages in Congo.  You can contact the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa and tell them your concerns.  The U.N. has a child protection unit, you can contact them and they can investigate orphanages.  You can contact UNICEF.  You can ask your agency/organization to use their contacts to do an investigation on the ground.  You can demand that your agency/organization not conduct adoptions from orphanages that have corrupt directors.  You can demand that your agency/organization not give monetary donations to corrupt directors.  And until the agency/organizations has a system in place for independent assessment of the orphanage, the director, it's management that includes accountability and transparency, adoptions should wait.

So, if you are thinking the orphanage you are adopting from isn't anything like what I described, that's great.  But in my mind, it is not innocent until proven otherwise.  There is too much room for exploitation.  Investigations, questioning, setting up good systems with accountability and transparency must be in place before adoptions should proceed.  Go back to the paragraph starting with "ask".  Read it again.  Fight for change for children in orphanages in Congo, in a way that enables positive changes to happen.

And if you are wondering about Tumaini, we have asked all those questions (and we did during our adoption as well) and we have worked hard to put a system in place that ensures accountability, transparency and oversight.  We have an independent manager that is on a salary that is not a part of the orphanage or it's leadership who follows up with the work we are doing.  We have checks and balances in our accounting here in the states.  We are communicating with the other collaborating partners to prevent over-lap in giving.

I will end with these beautiful faces.