Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interested in helping an orphan?

This was such a great post I had to link directly to it today.  Please take some time and read it.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two essential ways to increase your chance of an ethical adoption in DRC

1.  Know where your money goes-all of it.  Do you want to make sure you are not trafficking a child?  Do you want to make sure you are not buying a child?  Do you want to make sure you are not taking a child from a family that wants that child?  One big way to help prevent these atrocities from happening is to follow your money.  It is not enough that an agency tells that a big lump sum of money is "on-ground fees".  You can and should know how all that money is being spent on the ground.

If they tell you that $3000 is used for an orphanage donation (originating/referring orphanage).  Then ask them how they know that money is being used for the orphanage.  Ask them to see the receipts from the orphanage.  Ask them how regularly the visit the orphanage and verify the children are thriving and not being abused and that the said food/donations are being used as they said they were.  Ask them how they know that the money is not given in exchange for the child (in other words, how do they know they are selling the child to the highest bidder).  Ask them if the orphanage would allow the adoption without any money exchanging hands.  Ask them if they have programs with the orphanage outside of adoption.  Ask them about their transparency and accountability.

If they tell you that $800/month is used for foster care fees.  Ask about that. Ask why you are paying so much when formula costs about $100/month.  Ask how they prevent corruption in foster families if a family is being paid about 20x more than an average salary in their country?

If they tell you that DGM costs $1000.  Ask why, when it should be no more than $200.  Ask about lawyer fees.  Ask about the birth certificate costs.  Ask about the supplemental judgment costs.  Ask about the adoption decree costs.  Ask how much a certificate of non-appeal costs.  Ask ask ask.  You can get a receipt for anything in DRC.  Ask where your money is going and ask why it is being used that way.

Money means power.  If your agency will not delineate the on-ground fees, you should be extremely concerned.

2.  Orphan investigations.  NO ONE should trust the orphanage documentation alone.  Nor should they trust the police report or social services reports alone either.  The only way to verify that your child truly is an orphan that needs a home is to do independent investigations by third party investigators.  Otherwise you could be taking a child away from a family that wants that child.  These are done in other countries.  They are an essential piece of your adoption.  Go to your agency.  Tell them you want this done.  You want to be able to hire a third party to investigate the claims of orphan status.  This includes--going to the site of abandonment and interviewing people, radio ads in the area of abandonment, video taping of surviving family member stories, interviewing of orphanage staff and social services, police, social workers that are familiar with the case.  We are the consumers.  We are the ones paying the agencies money.  This is expected in other countries as a baseline requirement for an ethical adoption.  Demand these be done.  Verify your documentation and stories.  

There are other very important pieces to ethical adoptions in DRC, please see side bar on right to read more.  Also, please consider very cautiously before signing privacy/gag clauses from agencies.  Who does that benefit if there are problems?  

Chantalle, 2 years old.  She is living in an orphanage in DRC and
has a father who is planning to bring her home.   Help
protect children like her from abuse, exploitation, and
trafficking that can occur if we don't work towards change
in international adoption in DRC.  We are the ones that
can make change happen.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

With thoughts of you, "other mommy"

We are very very fortunate to have a photo of Ellie and Mia's mother.  What a gift!  We have it on our mantle with the rest of the family photos.  I put it up there a few months ago (once I unearthed it from all our boxes).  I showed it to Ellie and Mia first.  I said, "here is your mommy, your other mommy, you have two mommies".   They, of course, love her picture.  They love showing anyone that walks in the room, "dat's my odder mama, I have dwo mamas!"  We talk about her beautiful brown skin and look at their skin.  We talk about how she carried them inside of her, in her "tummy".  We talk about how she is from Congo and that is where they were born too.  We talk about the fact she died and that she is with God now.   We talk about how that is why they needed another mommy to love them and take care of them.  We talk about how we all lived in Congo before we moved here and how we met some of their family.  We talk about their other mommy a lot.  They are only 2 1/2 years old.  They don't really get it, I know that.  But somehow it is so right and I think as they grow she will be a natural part of their (our) lives.    In honor of their mother, on Mother's day, I'm reposting a link to a post that is just as appropriate for tomorrow as it was in November.  I think if I was really savvy I would repost the original post, but I'm not sure how to do that!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

my little bargain with God (bearing witness to a miracle)

I've been wondering what to title this post.  I've been mulling words over in my head, like "the most special story" or "a very very special little boy" or "a family together" or "miracles in DRC".  All those titles would be true to the story I want to write, but then I remembered.  In a dark night of the soul, on a black night in DRC, in the middle of Africa, I went down on my knees and uttered a plea, a bargain, to God.

"If you would just let this little boy live long enough to get to his new family, I will believe in you again."

small scared words
afraid to confess
to acknowledge the state of my soul
my desperation
my vulnerability
my frailty

all coming together, and wrapped up in one very special little boy and his life

(the below story is shared with permission from the adoptive family)

Three years ago I visited my first orphanage.  It was an old catholic orphanage that is situated in a gorgeous village setting in eastern DRC.  It is lovely.  I was going to the orphanage to meet a little boy we were hoping to adopt to be our son.  I spent that day holding this baby boy, while my hand was being held by another little boy at the same time.  This little boy was named Patric.  He was 5 years old at the time.  He had come up early on and just stood by me.  Quietly talking, singing along with the other kids.  I knew he had a medical problem, I also knew there was something very special about him.  Patric's head was bigger than what it should be; I thought he had hydrocephalus.

Every time I went back up to the orphanage, I immediately looked for him.  One time he was sick in the hospital, this had happened a lot over his lifetime I was told.  I kept visiting.  Then our adoption fell through and I stopped visiting.  But before I did, I asked the nuns, "can I find a family for Patric (I had learned he was a true orphan (both parents had died) and I knew he had big medical needs, even though I didn't know what they were)?"  They said "no".  I decided to do what I could medically for him in DRC.  I left them with $300 to take him to the big hospital in town where I knew there was a CT machine and a neurosurgeon.  I never heard from them again.  I figured they had used the money for something else and forgotten about Patric getting the scan.   Despite this, I didn't forget Patric.

About a year later, the head mother of the catholic church in that area drove into my driveway.  She wanted to talk to me.  She said, "Patric is very sick.  We used your money, we took him to Kigali (and here are the receipts and the medical reports), we did the CT, but it is not his head, it is his heart!  They put him on heart medicines.  He is doing better.  But he will die here in Congo.  We don't want him to die.  Please find him a family."

I was astounded.  I wrote this about Patric and posted about him on an adoption board.  I didn't know if anyone would be willing to adopt a child that might die before the adoption is finalized, that has an unknown heart condition and that could die as soon as they got him home.  But I knew that Patric was very special.  He had never left my heart, I knew this was something I was supposed to do and God would figure out the rest.

There was a lot of silence (as you might imagine).  Then, I heard from a couple families.  I wasn't experienced with this.  Both eventually said no.  I heard a lot of opinions.  I was told to let him die peacefully in DRC.  I was told that there wasn't much of a chance for him, that no one would adopt a child with a likely death sentence.  It was a dark time.  I really felt like I wasn't supposed to give up on him, despite how crazy it sounded and everyone telling me to let it go.  Yet, doors weren't opening.  And how long could a (now 7 year old) child live in DRC in an orphanage with a heart condition that required 3 cardiac medicines to keep him semi-stable?

Whispered desperate words in the secret night.  A plea.  A bargain.  If only, then I will believe again.  

Then I heard from one more family in February of 2011.  The Simpsons in the northeast of the U.S.  They had done previous adoptions.  They wanted to adopt a little boy b/w the ages of 6-8 with special needs.  They wanted to do an independent adoption.  And, Johanne was willing to fly to DRC to meet him beforehand.   AND they were excited!

So, Johanne flew to Congo.  She had never been to Africa.  She went up to the orphanage and stayed overnight (by herself).  Patric, well he called her mama.  I remember Johanne telling me about her first meeting with him.  That he was sicker than she realized, but then he asked her "will I have a cell phone in America and my own room?".   And she realized, it was going to be okay, he's just a little boy, a sick little boy, but still a little boy.

Johanne and Patric in DRC in my home, one year ago

The adoption took longer than I thought.  I was worried and stressed about Patric's health and about his handling the changes, what the stress would do to his body.  Johanne would reassure me, "Holly, he's not going to die".

Me with Patric in DRC last year

And, you know what?  He didn't die.  He made it to Kinshasa and met his new dad, who he called, "Papa America".  When he said goodbye to the nun who had traveled with him across the country, he gave her his blanket, "since he wouldn't need it anymore and she could give it to the kids at the orphanage".

And you know what else?  Howard Patrick Simpson is in the U.S. with his new family.  And he is in school (and is described as a little rascal :).  He is well loved and he has his own family, for the rest of his days, however long those maybe.

Howard Patrick has sickle cell disease (SCD).  He doesn't have a heart problem.  And yes, he would have died in the DRC.  And it is a miracle he has lived so long, in an orphanage with SCD.  He has already been hospitalized twice here in the U.S. and his family will need a lot of strength, courage, and love for the years ahead, as this is a hard diagnosis.

Do I believe in God again?  Well, the thing is, I realized I never stopped.  Through the good and the bad, He has always been there beside me.  I have been on my knees before, begging for others to live.  They have not.  Did this mean He didn't listen?  No.  He listened and He was with me.  This is the promise, the hope, that He is with us and there is life everlasting.  In the end, it is far beyond me to know the ways of God.

God is good.

Today, I will bear witness to this special miracle of the life of Howard Patrick.   Through the faith, the courage, and the strength of his new family, I was humbled, awed and filled with hope.

And I am thankful beyond words for the family that opened their hearts and home to Howard Patrick, who took a chance that not many would have taken for a little boy that now has a chance at life.

This is what Johanne wrote me recently,

"He is such a special little boy, I am so happy that I happened to see your post looking for a family for him -  I just can't believe that I am the lucky Mama that gets to raise him!  He is truly a gift."

Johanne and Harvey Simpson with three of their children,
Casey, Camden and Howard Patrick

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Defending the cause of the motherless

All the children at the Save the Children orphanage have lost their mothers, most in childbirth.  And in their country they are called orphans.   They are not really orphans.  They have families.  They have fathers. They have aunties.  They have grandmothers.

Imagine for a moment you are that baby in congo.

When you lose your mother in Congo there are few left to defend your cause.  Because you lost your mother.  You lost the one that would have carried you on her body from the moment you left her womb.  She would have wrapped you in 20 blankets to make sure there was no possibility you would have been cold.  You lost your mother, who would have breast feed you despite her own malnourished body.  You lost your mother who would have wrapped you tight on her back, where her heart beat is still close.  You lost your mother who would have made sure you got fed, if there was food to be had.

You lost your mother and your father is lost in grief and the idea of caring for a squalling hungry newborn is completely overwhelming and frightening without his wife.  There are realities of being poor in eastern DRC that cannot be ignored even when you mourn and wail.  Perhaps your father does his best.  He tries.  Your aunties try.  Your grandmother tries.  But you grow weaker and weaker from hunger and malnourishment.  They do the only thing they can to give you a chance at life.  They walk a long distance and leave you in the care of strangers.  At a place surrounded by green misty mountains.  Where they are promised there is milk and that you will be okay.  They whisper words of love, they still mourn the death of your mother and the walking away from you is another painful rip and severing of a family.  A grief that they couldn't avoid.  They walk away and you cry.  They walk away.  They cry.  They promise to return.

Time goes on and they do return.  At first they come often, once a month.  They are so happy you are doing well.  They can't take you back yet.  The father has no way to feed you.  He is in a mining town working all hours.  He sends money back to his village when he cans, sometimes he doesn't do that.  He visits again a few months later.  He calls the director to check on you.  He loves you, but cannot take you.  He gets married again.  He comes less often.  Pretty soon it has been a year.  And another year.  And another.   And there is no one left to defend your cause.

This is a model of orphan care that I would love for the orphanage we support to practice.  The kids have families.  We know who they are, but the longer the children are at the orphanage the harder it is to place them back with their families.  There are many reasons for this but I think a big one (and overlooked one) is bonding and a reciprocal feeling of need.  It is when a father (or other family member) doesn't recognize or know their child anymore the child becomes like a stranger to them.  The child may run away when they visit or cry when they try to hold them.  Also, when the father gives up his child to the care of the orphanage he is acknowledging he can't care for the child.  After time the orphanage provides that child's basic care.  The child is well cared for (to some extent) and no longer needs the father and the father also may feel like he can't care for the child the same way as the orphanage did.

There are so many negative effects from long term institutionalization of children.  No matter how well you give care (and we still have a long way to go in that area even!).  I strongly believe we need to keep the children in the orphanage for one year or less.  And that the only way to do this is by training and hiring a social worker on the ground to work with us to do strong family support, education, training and follow up.  It's hard work.

How can we get to this very important next step?  We have to get our basic monthly funding set up.  We need sponsors for all the children at the orphanage so we have enough formula to be able to feed the children.  That is a basic need we have to meet.  Then we can work on improving that year spent in the orphanage at the same time as hiring a social worker to work with families.

What makes a child a true orphan in my mind?  When that little baby from above is rejected by  his or her existing family and become unwanted.  That is the second tragedy that occurs in that child's life.  We want to prevent that from happening.  We want to keep families together.

Please consider sponsoring one of the remaining children (or giving a one time donation).  And please pass on this blog.   Please consider defending the cause of the motherless.  Thank you!

The baby on the right in this photo, Noella, went home to live with her father at one year old.