Tuesday, December 31, 2013

certain days and children in schools

There are certain days when I sometimes want an uncomplicated life.  Today I roamed around the house with the girls feeling restless and angry, frustrated about things that I could not change and frustrated about wrongs I wish I could right. Then tonight, I happen to be going through a bunch of photos (both new and old) of the children we support in eastern DRC.  We support a total of 131 children, 82 of whom live with their families.   I found a photo of a young girl who we support with school fees.  She was standing by her home.  Somehow, seeing that photo encouraged me tonight.  She is one of the older children we support to go to school.  Enrollment rates in secondary school are 20% (source).  Tonight, I'm happy that we are sending Bonane to school and I'm happy she has a home and a family.  I do believe it makes a difference in her life.  A very big thank you to her sponsor!

Thank you to all the recent donations!  Not only will we meet our budget for formula and powdered milk this month, but we are more than half way there to make our goal for paying the second trimester of school fees that are due next month.  If you would like to make a one time donation, please feel free to use the paypal buttons on the right side of the blog or at our website, www.reedsofhope.org.  You can also visit our website to sponsor a child (a school aged child or a child living in the orphanage).  All donations are tax-deductible. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Days old

There has been a lot on my heart lately.  Often it feels like a burden, but one that I wouldn't cast off.  Burdened for those that suffer and struggle alone.  Those that are small or weak in body, that are caught up in nightmares with no seeming way out.  Injustices that are small and others that are big, that leave so many feeling hopeless, overwhelmed and discouraged. 

Yesterday, I talked with some friends in eastern DRC.  More babies have arrived at the orphanage we support.  One is only 2 days old.  More women dying in child birth.   I hear stories of friends caught in very hard circumstances, children waiting to join their families, mothers weeping for their little ones.  Some days, it feels like too much.

Our family celebrates Christmas, the birth of Jesus.  A small light born in the darkness, full of promise.  Often, when I see the love we show each other and the ways we keep optimism and hope close in our hearts, I think the light shines even brighter.  The promise is easier to hear when we reach out and come beside each other, especially those that are suffering.   

We have certain dreams at Reeds of Hope.  Dreams of supporting families in eastern DRC.  A mother dies.  A small newborn is carried in the arms of her father, to the only place that takes in newborns and gives them formula.  A small hope.  A broken heart.  Our dreams have grand aspirations.  They are of meeting fathers and other family members before a newborn baby is even brought to an orphanage.  To keep the baby with her family.  To help them care for their baby.  Our dreams are of babies that are left at the orphanage being regularly visited by their fathers and other family members. We dream of babies moving home before they are one year old, given quality care while they are in emergency care at the orphanage. 

Would you consider helping keep our dreams alive?  There are so many ways we can help keep families intact and reunite children with their families in DRC.  Right now, all of our monthly budget is sent to support the orphanage (with the exception of school children sponsorships we are grateful to have right now), the biggest part of it is in formula costs. 

There are now 49 children at the orphanage we support, most are babies.  Thank you for the support you continue to give us.  Thank you for helping a light of hope shine for the babies, children, and their families we support in eastern DRC.

Abwine, one of the many babies we support.  She weighs 5 1/2 lbs. 

If you are interested in supporting our work, there are paypal links to the right of this blog.  If you would like to learn more about the work we are doing in eastern DRC, please visit our website at www.reedsofhope.org.  On our website you may also choose to sponsor a baby or toddler (or child under 6 years old) at the orphanage we support or one of the 60+ school aged children that used to live in the orphanage and are now in homes.  We pay for their school fees, uniforms, and notebooks every year.  Thank you!   

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Guest Post: We don't like messy.

I received permission to repost the following (original found here) from Kelsey Nielsen, over in Uganda working with the Abide Family Center.  This is the "messy" that we are working towards doing in DRC with vulnerable families.  Helping to strengthen families.  Moving forward  in spite of fear and overwhelming obstacles. 


"We've built hundreds of institutions in this country to remove children from messy families. I don't believe that this was the intention originally, but that is what is happening. Most children in orphanages have families, so why do we keep building?

We see it over and over again in the Bible. God works through brokenness and dysfunction- you know, the ugly, messy stuff. We serve a God who used prostitutes, tax collectors (think corrupt people who abuse power) and murders to further His kingdom.

Not us, we run from mess. Like far away. And we do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t find us.

Peter is one of my favorite screw ups in the Bible. Man, what a mess.

And still, when Jesus chose His disciples, He chose Peter. He intentionally chose a man of weak faith. A man He knew would deny Him. He knew Peter wasn’t going to make things easy, He knew what He was in for. Jesus wasn’t so focused on Peter’s mess itself. He was focused on how in and through that mess, His Father would be glorified.

Running from the messy makes sense. Especially when we don’t know what the outcome will be. Jesus sort of had a one up on us with this didn’t He? When Jesus took on Peter, He knew it would turn out alright. He knew He would be entrusting Peter as a leader of the early church.

When we work with families here, we don’t know what the outcome will be. Each family will have unique needs and obstacles they must overcome to make family preservation possible. We can't expect this to happen without proper supports in place.

An institution must not be viewed as an acceptable or proper support for families. We can do better than that. We've just got to be willing to roll up our sleeves. To get a little messy.
Sometimes we will try and fail. Broken families will not always become strong enough to care for their children properly, regardless of how many services or supports are in place. However, in our experience, this is the exception rather than the norm.

One thing is for certain- in working with vulnerable families, we can expect messy. It takes time. Real relationship building. Discipleship.

If we were around back then, Peter would not have been our first pick to make it on to Jesus' team of 12. In fact, he might have been one of the last.

Many of these families wouldn't have been our first pick for these children. But God chose these families for these children. Should we not be striving to provide a child the chance to grow up in the very family God hand picked for them?

It's been hard to understand why people keep building orphanages here or adopting children from families without offering support. In the last few weeks I've really been trying to understand our fear of the messy. Our fear that a child wouldn't have the future we envisioned for them if they grow up in the village. Our fear of caregivers who were pretty sucky at one point. Our fear of the time it will take to help an entire vulnerable family stay together against the time it takes to simply remove the child from the vulnerable family.

I understand those fears. I have them too.

We need to challenge them. We need to challenge them because institutional care does not replace a family. Because God doesn't just love the 'orphan', He loves and desires what is best for the entire family."


I’m Kelsey, a Philly-born American that helps run an NGO, Abide Family Center, located in Bugembe, Jinja, Uganda. Conservative Christian bred- turned-liberal Christ-captivated Social Worker with too many tattoos to be on the mission field. After almost breaking from the American church on multiple occasions, what has always pulled me back in is the Gospel in its purest form. I’m so captivated by a Gospel that transforms- that digs deep into the messy parts of our lives and our world. That’s what I love and that’s why I’ve stuck around.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A post worth reading tonight: Weeping

Please take some time tonight to read this post that tells the story of two families.  Likely, if you are reading this and are an adoptive parent, one of the families might sound a lot like yours.  The below expert is from only the beginning:

Not everyone has a merry Christmas. This is an all too familiar story.
A mother is poor and struggling to care for her children. She is approached by a woman who tells her that there’s a place her children can go for help. A place where they can get food, medical care, shelter, and maybe even school. She makes the heroic choice to travel and take her children there, trusting in the person who seems to care.
Then she’s told that she can’t care for her children. She’s poor, uneducated. She has nothing. Her children will starve. They will die of malaria.
She’s told that instead of sure death in her care, if she signs a few documents, the children can go to America. They will live in a home with loving parents. They will go to school. They will get jobs. They will always have food.
They will have a second set of parents. They will write home, and she will receive updates. She will see their pictures as they grow and know that they are doing well.
When they grow up, they will return. They will never forget their family. They will take care of her. Maybe she will one day get to go to America.
The mother agrees. She takes her children to the orphanage. She tells them to be strong and that she will always love them. She goes home and weeps. She comes back to visit every week, but then it becomes hard. She’s still struggling, and she has to care for the older children who stay at home. She weeps, and she trusts.

Please continue to read it here.  It is a very important post and the ending is different than you might expect.  Once upon a time, I helped facilitate adoptions.  I sat in on conversations when birth parents were being counseled about adoption.  I was an observer.  I watched fathers looking confused, trying to understand the word "adoption".  I heard words being said like, "it's about a relationship, they will be your family too, they will visit you again." 

Powerful words in DRC culture where the family code law (the only place adoption is placed) specifies that the adoptive family MUST keep ties with the birth family.  The adoptive family MUST help the birth family if the birth family needs help.  Laws that creates a forever relationship, one that promises care for the birth family and a connection that is never severed. 

On the other hand, most adoptive parents are told not to help the birth family, they are told not to be in touch with them, they are told that the birth family will receive updates through the orphanage directors, they are told that it is a closed adoption, they are told if you help them other families will give up their kids, they are told that the birth family didn't want to care for them, they are told the birth family couldn't care for them (but meanwhile the birth family is caring for siblings), and on and on.  Most adoptive families are not fully aware that they are adopting children from families that were simply too poor to care for them.  Families that never understood what adoption meant.  Families that want their children.  Families that love their children.  Families that were given one solution to their poverty: adoption (the removal of their children from their family).  Families that were often lied to and recruited for adoption. 

Something has to give.  We must stop the injustices of what is happening in international adoption and especially in eastern DRC.  We can't let the story of two families in the post above be the story of our adoption.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Guest Post: Why culture and context cannot be the scapegoat for corruption in IA

There is no question that international adoption in Congo is rife with corruption.  The recent announcement by Minister of the Interior Richard Muyej Mangez about the suspension of international adoption in Congo stressed that such a move was necessary due to the criminality surrounding the practice.  In a separate statement, the U.S.  Department of State noted that this suspension was due in part to the submission of fraudulently-obtained or falsified documentation by adoptive families.  Over the past year, there have been reports of birth parents misled about the nature of adoption, children being removed from orphanages by their birth families after allegedly relinquishing them  and the bribing of government officials.

In the face of these reports, the expected course for those involved in the business of Congolese adoptions would be to look inward, and to question whether any of its only polices or procedures contributed to the corruption described by both the United States and Congolese governments.   This has not happened.  Instead, certain American adoption agencies are trying  to shift the blame:  to the media, for sensationalizing reports of corruption; to the United States government for investigating orphan visas more closely; and to the Congolese people themselves.     Such scapegoating will not help to correct the situation; it serves no purpose other than helping the agencies avoid responsibility for their actions.

One agency has decided to do a series of blog posts on corruption in international adoption, which thus far appears to be focused on blaming the sending country for any problems.   It is far too easy to point the finger at cultural norms for corruption; every country has different cultural practices and different ideas about what constitute ethical practices, and what appears corrupt to an American (like grease payments) may be just how business is done in Congo. But doing so absolves the adoption agency from all responsibility, and does absolutely nothing to bring about change.  American adoption agencies, operating under American law, should know better and should do better.  In fact, Americans doing business abroad can be held criminally liable for bribing foreign officials in certain situations.   Culture and context are weak excuses for failing to live up to your own legal, moral and ethical obligations.  

The list of examples of corruption in international adoption offered by this agency was apparently supposed to show how different cultural norms can potentially halt an adoption, ultimately hurting the child.  Interestingly, all but one of the nine examples given are clearly unethical (regardless of cultural norms) and potentially violate both U.S. and Congolese law.  These examples include everything from a birth mother being paid for abandoning her child to documents being forged or altered and birth parents being lied to about the permanent nature of adoption.  It is curious that this agency would use these examples which it hastens to note that it wasnt involved in to argue that unethical practices should not jeopardize a childs adoption, and that we shouldnt use the word corruption to describe what are really just different cultural practices.  Distilled to its essence, they are arguing that ethics dont matter if a child is a true orphan and is in need of a home.  In a separate blog post, this agency further claims that different cultural norms and values, plus extreme poverty, lead to situations which we might deem corrupt, but are just how business is done (note:  contrary to assertions to the contrary, holiday gifts to the court are NOT considered an ethical practice for lawyers (source)). This argument cannot go unchallenged if international adoption in Congo is ever to resume. 

It is no coincidence that reports of adoption corruption in Congo rose dramatically as the number of adoptions skyrocketed. Considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world as well as a failed state, Congo was ill-prepared to handle such an onslaught.  The demand for adoptable babies and children in Congo combined with a tidal wave of money flooding the local economy, resulting in ever-increasing reports of adoption-related corruption.  

Lets be clear:  when we talk about corruption in international adoption, we are NOT talking about a mother being given a bag of rice or a foreign employee using money intended for the care of orphans to feed his own family.  We are talking about finders fees, about lying to birth parents about adoption, about abusing medical visas to get children out of the country more quickly, about sneaking kids out of the country without proper documentation, and about trafficking children for adoption.  Each and every one of those problems is firmly within the control of the adoption agency (all adoption agencies, not just the one who wrote these posts!).  Not a single one of these issues can be chalked up to cultural norms.

Adoption agencies must look past these easy excuses and think about their behavior, and how it influences what happens on the ground.  What sort of behavior are they incentivizing?  When a foreign employee is paid $1500 for finding a child for adoption, and that money is more than most Congolese could hope to see in a year, what is the result?  If an agency isnt demanding detailed breakdowns of costs and expenses from its foreign staff, what is preventing the staff from bribing officials to achieve the desired results more quickly? If the agency doesnt question paperwork inconsistencies, what is stopping its staff from simply falsifying documentation in order to get paid?  If American staff are not regularly in-country to oversee operations, how can the agency be sure that its ethical obligations are fulfilled?  What good are Affidavits of Ethical Practices or trainings on ethical behavior if the foreign staff is given extreme financial motivation to keep finding more adoptable children, and is never questioned on the validity of such referrals?

Cultural norms are not to blame for corruption in international adoption.  The Congolese people are not to blame.  Good intentions do not negate the possibility of corruption.  Those who are profiting the most from the business of international adoption and make no mistake, it IS a business are the ones who must shoulder the blame for the resulting corruption. It is only through real change in agency practices that the vulnerable children who most need our help will be able to receive it, and that the families waiting to bring their children home will be able to do so. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Raising three 4 year olds and a 6 year old.

Given that it is just the 15th of December in the states as I write this post, I think I can still fit it in (although Isla is already 5 years old here in Tanzania).  Isla is 11 months older than Ellie and Mia, so for one month we have three 4 year olds and a 6 year old.  I should be an expert on parenting four year olds, right?  Wrong.  Really, I have no idea.  Last year I wrote this long post on raising three 3 year olds and a 5 year old.  This year, I don't have much.  Some things are easier, some things are harder. 

The fact that they are all out of diapers finally and can pretty much dress themselves makes it easier.  The fact that they fight a lot about every little detail about their lives makes it hard.  I had three younger brothers growing up.  Things were pretty physical around our house, fighting meant a lot of wrestling.  Around here there is a lot of drama.  And it is high stakes drama.  The kind that is screamed at the top of your lungs type drama while promising that "you will never be my sister again!"  Words are already used very well to articulate every single emotion that is expressed during the 13.5 hours they are awake every day.  They are excellent at using tears, whining and everything in between to express themselves.  We do not have the type of household where anyone wonders what someone else might be thinking!  As an introvert, I hide behind my book a lot in an attempt to just get a moment "alone". 

Raising four girls is interesting.  Some care about their clothes, some could care less.  One will glare at me for hours if I don't let her wear her party dress everyday, one has to be reminded to change into clothes everyday and underwear is a fight.  They all love the outdoors.  The four year olds love their bikes and scooters and racing each other around the yard.  They love swimming, though that means something different for each one.  The three 4 year olds are the same height, give or take a 1/2 of an inch, though I suspect the twins will pass Isla by very soon.  Drawing is a favorite activity, as is book reading and driving cars all over around the house.  Stuffed animals come alive in their little imaginations. 

Raising four girls is interesting.  They have long debates over what words are truly "potty talk".  They have decided that some words are debatable.  The merits of the word "toilet paper" as a potty-talk word get discussed way too much.   I have good parenting moments and bad parenting moments.  I yell sometimes and I wish I didn't.  There is a lot of "desperation parenting" done that I never thought I would do.  Yes, I am the parent who actually took all four of my kids out for ice cream cones this past summer and gave one of the girls an ice cream cone with no ice cream in it!  Because she had been so very naughty that week and almost made the babysitter quit.    I have bribed, threatened, coerced, pleaded with varying degrees of success.   I have done all those things that I never said I would do as a parent. You know, like that day when three of the four kids were driving me nuts (yes the three 4 year olds) and I gave the fourth kid (who was acting like a normal human being) an instant coveted snicker bar saying to the three little ones,  "you could have had that snicker bar too but now you have to watch your sister eat it!"  Yup, stellar parenting. 

In the end, there is the parent I thought I would be and the parent I am.  And they don't match.  It's okay in the end.  The kids know that they are loved and they love each other.  They fight, they forgive each other, they keep on going.  Life lessons.  They teach me a lot.  They humble me every day.  I'm so grateful I get to be their mom. 

Taken today in Tanzania

Just as a last word and reminder, we are raising funds for Reeds of Hope for the end of the year and the next six months. Please check out this post.  Also included are recommendations for organizations to give to at the end of the year. 


Friday, December 13, 2013

Giving and sharing (organizations I love and ways to give to Reeds of Hope this season)

My inbox was recently filled with updates about school children and the children we support at the orphanage.  We receive regular updates from the children at the orphanage, but because of transport costs associated with getting our manager to the school children (who live spread all over the province) we haven't been receiving photo updates from them.  So, I was pretty excited to finally see a lot of their faces given it had been a long time since I had any new photos.  Our manager still has to visit some of the children in remote locations, but I'm thankful he was able to check in on the ones that live close.  If you sponsor one of the school children we will be putting their updates into all the accounts over the next week. 

We are in the middle of a transition time at Reeds of Hope.  Moving to the model of family reunification and alternative care that we have been talking about the last 2 years here on my blog.  It is a pretty exciting time and also overwhelming.  We continue to be encouraged by those of you who support us and are excited about the direction in which Reeds of Hope is moving. 

With all of this in mind, we have many needs that will need to be met before we can move forward and at the same time we still need to pay the monthly ongoing costs in our budget.  These include:  formula, fortified powdered milk, staff salaries, manager salary on the ground, school fees, and items like transport costs. Our monthly budget is $2200/month for the orphanage.  We currently have raised $1800/month through sponsor support and regular donations.   Also, we currently need 69 sponsors for the school children we support.  Because we are committed to sending all the children to school whether or not we have sponsors for each one of them, we continue to raise money every trimester for all of their fees. 

If you would like to give an end of the year (or start of the new year) one time gift to our work in eastern DRC, please use the paypal buttons on this blog (on the right side) or through our website- www.reedshope.org.   If you are interested in sponsoring a child at the orphanage or a school aged child you can also find the links to do so at our website. 

In addition to the ongoing needs mentioned above, we are specifically raising money for the following needs:

1.  Second trimester school fees:  $2000

2.  Motorcycle for the manager's use to visit children as well as their families:  $5000

3.  Social Worker salary:  $200/month (we already have $50/month of this raised from a donor) 

 Thank you for your support of Reeds of Hope!  


I wanted to share a four (of the many organizations) I love, that you might want to support as well.  I am purposefully sharing smaller organizations of which I personally know the founders.

1.  Channel Initiative (Maternal Health Care in eastern DRC, guest post here)

2.  ReUnite  (Reuniting children with their families in Uganda)

3.  Kupenda (Helping children with disabilities and special needs in Kenya, guest post here)

4.  Forever Angels  (A baby home that does family reunification and support work in Tanzania) 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Suggestions regarding adoption in DRC during the DGM 12 month suspension

If you read my blog or are involved in the DRC adoption community, you know that Congolese adoptions are in a state of turmoil.  Many families (including some of my friends) are caught in the middle of the current DGM shutdown, bearing the heavy emotional and financial burden of waiting for an indefinite period of time to bring their kids home.  My heart goes out to those waiting families, as well as all of the children who truly need families and have also been affected by the shutdown.  Many of you probably feel helpless right now -- just as I have felt when I've been contacted by families asking for my assistance in getting their children home.  There is obviously quite a lot that we can't do, but I've tried to outline some of the things that we can and should be doing right now -- and the reasons why I don't believe that anyone should accept a referral for a Congolese adoption right now. 

First, please don't accept a referral to start an adoption in DRC right now.  Consider a few facts.  After you accept a referral, it will likely be 6 months (or more) for the adoption judgment (decree) and for all of the paperwork to come through. After the decree is granted and the paperwork is in order, it will be another 6 month wait while the embassy investigates your visa application.    It has now been a year since referral.  After their investigation, you will likely still have to wait either for DGM to re-open or, if they have opened up already, for them to process the hundreds of  families that have been waiting during the year your adoption processed.  This may take up to a year.  In my estimation, if you accepted a referral today, it may take up to 2 years to bring that child home.   This is an optimistic estimate; it will likely be a far longer wait.  Alternatively,  DGM and/or the DRC government may discover even more adoption corruption and close the country entirely to international adoption. This is a very real possibility that could happen at any time during your 2 year wait.  

Given this, I would strongly advise that no one start a new DRC adoption right now. Everything is very uncertain.  Wait for the 12 month suspension to lift, and start an adoption only if the irregularities and widespread corruption in DRC adoptions has been dealt with by their government during those 12 months.  

Second, we need to think critically about finances.  Let's say there are 400 adoptions processing in DRC right now -- this is probably a low estimate given how fast the program has grown in the past three years.  If you are a family with one of the more popular agencies (perhaps one that processes the bulk of the adoptions in DRC), your agency may have 200 families (or children) in process right now, AND may still be accepting new families and giving referrals.  It is likely that your child will be put in foster care, which is billed at a cost of around $600/month PER child.  If you do the math, you may realize that your agency would be billing $1,440,000 in foster care fees over the 12 month DGM suspension!!  Over one million dollars in foster care fees alone!  

But all of this money is going to take care of the kids, right?  It can't possibly be profit for the agency, can it?  And no agency charges that much for foster care, do they?  Let's step back a minute.  First, it is clear that $600/month/child is within the realm of possible foster care charges.  This link shows the wide range of foster care fees that different agencies charge in DRC.  Second, average salaries in DRC are far, far less than $600 a month.  A doctor may make  $550/month, but the salary for an average worker in DRC is $50/month.  House staff in DRC may make up to $100/month if they are very well paid. At the orphanage that we support in eastern DRC, we pay staff a salary of $50/month. It is clear that $600/month/child cannot possibly be the salary for a foster parent.  Third, the cost to care for a Congolese child is simply not that high. A month of formula for a baby costs $80/month, and food for an older child would cost under $50/month (if you want them to eat meat, milk, eggs).  When our twin daughters were in foster care for 3 months, we only paid for their formula costs ($160/month, totaling $480 for the three months they were in care).    So even if the foster parents are being paid a high salary of $100/month, and the children are eating very well for $100/month, that is still only $200/month.  Even if a child is being checked monthly by a doctor, the cost should not be $600/month.   Where is that money going? Someone is making A LOT of money, and I sincerely doubt that it is the foster parents.  Perhaps you can follow my line of thinking here.  

Think very carefully and critically about the foster care fees charged by your agency.  If they are encouraging you to accept a referral during the DGM shutdown, how much money could they potentially make in foster care fees alone during that time? If we go back to the 2 year waiting period, you are looking at paying $14,400 per child in foster care fees alone.  How feasible is that for your family? 

Third, watch your agency's behavior closely during the shut down.  Are they becoming more transparent with you?  Are they reassuring you with actual facts and documentation that they are working ethically in DRC?  Are they open to questions from outsiders about their practices on the ground?  Are they making sure that they are doing independent investigations of each case?  Can they show you how they verify the stories of their referrals?  Can they breakdown all their "foreign fees" so that you know what every document costs and how every dollar of your money is spent?  Is your agency working to make sure their adoptions follow DRC law?  Is your agency respecting DGM's efforts to decrease corruption in Congolese adoptions?  Or, instead is it taking steps to end the DGM shutdown, including applying external pressure and suggesting they will take legal action?  Can your agency demonstrate to you that it did not pay bribes to DGM for your exit letter?  Does your agency give you access to all your adoption records (especially your DGM exit letter)?  Does your agency tout their Hague accreditation as why they do ethical work in DRC but never explain what that actually means in a country that is not a Hague signatory?  

If your agency is vague about its ethical practices and will not provide detailed cost breakdowns, think carefully about whether you should proceed with an adoption through this agency.  Repeating buzzwords and touting credentials is not the equivalent of actually ensuring that adoptions are ethical!

Fourth, if you haven't done an independent investigation of your adoption and you have an adoption decree, now is the time to do it!  Your child can't leave the country right now.  Verify the story!   As more and more stories come out about birth families that were lied to and misled by agency representative, it is so very important that you do the work on the ground to make sure that your child wasn't trafficked or otherwise taken from his or her family on false pretenses.  Because if it IS your child's story, then you need to work on reunifying that child with their family. That is what adoption is truly about after all: helping children find families that need them.  And sometimes your adoption story may be one that helps your referred child find their way back to their first family that never understood what it meant in the first place. 

Independent investigations are the key to ensuring that your referred child truly is an orphan, and that this child truly needs a new (American) family.  They are also critical to your ability to talk honestly to your child(ten) about their history when they do come home. 

Finally, if your child is truly one that needs a new home and international adoption is the only way he or she will find a family, then there are still things you can do during this year.    Advocate for your child.  Make sure your child is getting good care in-country with regular medical check ups.  Visit your child and their foster home.  Advocate for vulnerable children in DRC that may not need a new family but may need help moving back home.  Most of all, be a strong advocate for ethical adoptions in DRC.  Demand transparency from your agencies, and demand that they comply with the law and that they don't cut corners, bribe, or falsify paperwork.  DRC is only going to allow adoptions to continue if we become adoptive parents that respect their laws, their government, and their people -- regardless of whether or not we agree with their laws or decisions.  

The lives of vulnerable children are at stake.  We must demand that our agencies work with integrity.  We are the voices that can make change happen in DRC.  More than anything,  I want those children that truly need new families to be able to go home to their new families and those children that have wrongly been taken from their first families to be reunited with their families.  There are some incredible, loving, well-prepared families that are ready to bring their children home.  Now is that time that we should work together to change the way that adoption in DRC has been operating.  Now is the time that we share the truth and demand our agencies work with integrity, transparency, accountability and honesty.  Most of all it is the most vulnerable children in DRC that are harmed by corrupt agency practices on the ground.  The only way that DRC will remain open to international adoption is if we demand change and ethical behaviors. Please, take a stand for all of the children of DRC and change the way adoption is currently practiced in DRC.    Please. 

One of the many little ones we support in eastern DRC. 

For those that need some encouragement and are celebrating advent, this post really is worth reading.  "Just when we are so burdened as to not hear, at the most difficult of times, when life's loads crush and our forms bend, they minister most.  Immanuel, meaning "God-with-us," attends us as His invisible person, the Holy Spirit, and He is attended by angels.  The heart of God is to meet us at life's darkest intersections with comfort, encouragement, a touch of heaven, and a breath of hope."   May you experience this comfort, encouragement and breath of hope. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest Post: What does it mean when you decide to adopt internationally using a Hague accredited agency? (Part 3 of 3)

This concludes our series on what Hague accreditation means when you adopt from countries like DRC that are not signatories.  The series should be read from the beginning, please start here 

Sara is a Christian writer, mom and adoption advocate. Sara and her family adopted a little girl from Uganda three years ago. Sara is writing a book about reforming adoption and orphan care from a Christian perspective. The book will be published in the United States and United Kingdom in October 2014. I'm very excited and honored to have her writing this series of posts on a very important subject, Hague accreditation.  When Sara is not busy writing her book, she blogs at Family, Hope, Love.  

But what is missing from the complaints? Corruption. Fraud. Bribery. Trafficking.
In researching my book, I’ve talked to dozens of families who have used Hague accredited adoption agencies in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and other countries that are not party to the Hague Convention. Some of these families have experienced their adoption agencies knowingly and willfully falsifying documents, bribing officials or coercing birth families. By the time these families arrive home to the United States – with or without the children they hoped to adopt – their eyes are open. They feel confused, angry, betrayed.
Under the current system in the United States, these families are required to first file a complaint with their adoption agency. And when they do, families are often bullied into silence. Complaints never reach the Council on Accreditation – and adoption agencies are not held accountable for their illegal and unethical actions.
As an adoptive parent, I believe this is not good enough.
As a Christian, I believe children are designed to grow up in families where loving parents protect and provide. I believe international adoption is a miracle for children who genuinely need it. I am not against international adoption.
But I do believe taking a child from a desperately poor mother who fears there is no other way for the child to survive is exploiting the poor. In too many countries, poverty leads desperate families to place their children in orphanages or for adoption. Vulnerable families are at risk of being exploited by a system of international adoption that lacks safeguards against corruption.
Hague accreditation in the United States does essentially nothing to hold adoption agencies accountable for their actions in Democratic Republic of Congo or Uganda. We have a responsibility to take this issue seriously, to make sure our own adoptions are ethical, and to fight for an adoption system that protects vulnerable children and families first.



Guest Post: What does it mean when you decide to adopt internationally using a Hague accredited agency? (Part 2 of 3)

Today's post is part two of three on a series about Hague accreditation and what it means when you use an agency that is accredited and adopt from DRC (a country that is not a signatory).  Please find part one here.

Sara is a Christian writer, mom and adoption advocate. Sara and her family adopted a little girl from Uganda three years ago. Sara is writing a book about reforming adoption and orphan care from a Christian perspective. The book will be published in the United States and United Kingdom in October 2014. I'm very excited and honored to have her writing this series of posts on a very important subject, Hague accreditation.  When Sara is not busy writing her book, she blogs at Family, Hope, Love.   

Part one is found here and the post below continues where it left off.   


This all sounds good…what is the problem?
While the Hague convention is a good start, I believe it does not go far enough to protect vulnerable families, fight trafficking, or encourage the adoption of the children with special needs. In the United States, two-thirds of international adoptions are from non-Hague countries, including countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo where corruption is widespread. In 2014, the United States will begin to require all international adoption agencies to be Hague accredited, even when they are placing children from non-Hague countries.

But what does Hague accreditation mean?
There are three bodies of the United States government that are involved in international adoption: the Secretary of State, Attorney General and USCIS, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and is responsible for immigration. Adoption agencies are not licensed by the federal government. Instead adoption agencies are licensed by the states.
In the United States, Hague Accreditation is handled by the Joint Council on Accreditation. The Joint Council is responsible for making sure adoption agencies meet minimum standards. For example, to be Hague accredited adoption agencies must:
Provide adoptive parents with 10 hours of training in the home study process
Disclose their policies and practices, their fees charged for adoption, and disruption rates
Have qualified staff and expertise to provide adoption services
Keep good records and protect private information
On paper, the Joint Council holds Hague accredited agencies accountable for their actions overseas. For example, adoption agencies that are found guilty of willfully creating fraudulent documents or paying bribes should be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Here’s where it gets complicated…
Many Hague accredited adoption agencies have been involved on unethical and illegal practices in countries such as Vietnam, Guatemala and Nepal that later closed to adoption because of widespread corruption. Many of these agencies continue to facilitate adoptions in countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo where corruption continues to be widespread. Very few of these agencies have ever been held accountable.
Adoption critics argue that the Hague standards were developed by the adoption industry to maintain the status quo. The Hague does very little to regulate the fees in adoption. While Hague accredited adoption agencies are required to disclose their fees to adoptive parents, humanitarian donations and in-country fees are not regulated. These donations and fees often end up in the hands of corrupt attorneys, government officials, orphanages, or adoption facilitators.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the current Hague accreditation system is the complaint procedure. When a family experiences or witnesses unethical or illegal actions in their adoption process, they cannot complain directly to the Council on Accreditation. Families must first file their complaints with their agencies. Twice a year Hague accredited agencies are required to report complaints to the Council on Accreditation. Only when a complaint cannot be resolved between the family and the agency does the Council on Accreditation get involved, theoretically to investigate. The Council on Accreditation then publishes a report of substantiated complaints and adverse actions. Most of the complaints in the report are about relatively minor things – an agency failing to list an adoptive mother’s pregnancy in a home study, for example.


 Tomorrow will conclude this series of guest posts.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Guest post: What does it mean when you decide to adopt internationally using a Hague accredited agency? (Part 1 of 3)

Sara is a Christian writer, mom and adoption advocate. Sara and her family adopted a little girl from Uganda three years ago. Sara is writing a book about reforming adoption and orphan care from a Christian perspective. The book will be published in the United States and United Kingdom in October 2014. I'm very excited and honored to have her writing this series of posts on a very important subject, Hague accreditation.  When Sara is not busy writing her book, she blogs at Family, Hope, Love

When our family started the adoption process four years ago, I was confused by the controversy around ethical adoption. If there were millions of orphans in the world who were all alone, growing up in orphanages or on the streets, how could adoption ever be bad? My eyes were open, my heart was broken, and I believed God was calling our family to adopt.

But before we started our adoption paperwork, we spent about a year learning and praying. In this season, we began to read articles and watch news reports about corruption in adoption. At first, I did not want to believe that Christian families or adoption agencies could be involved in things like buying babies. I wanted to be able to trust that a Christian adoption agency would do the right thing. Little by little, my eyes were opened to the truth.

Corruption is common in international adoption – and it’s hard to avoid even when you have good intentions.

As families are becoming aware of the complicated moral issues in adoption and don’t want to be involved in trafficking or injustice, many are looking for ethical adoption agencies. Many adoption advocates suggest that the best way to avoid corruption in adoption is to pick a Hague accredited adoption agency.

But is this enough?

In the adoption world, there is a huge amount of confusion about the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, often simply called the Hague. Some adoption advocates blame the Hague for making adoption more difficult and expensive. They claim the Hague is red tape that keeps children stuck. Others take a more moderate approach, seeing the Hague as a reasonable set of standards preventing corruption in adoption.

In general, adoption with a Hague accredited agency in a Hague convention country is one of the best ways to avoid corruption in international adoption. Hauge countries such as China, Colombia and Latvia have relatively stable, ethical adoption programs that tend to place waiting older and special needs children with adoptive families.
Countries that are not a part of the Hague convention, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, tend to have more problems with corruption in adoption. But doesn’t picking a Hague accredited adoption agency make a difference? Isn’t this the best way to navigate the complicated adoption process? Doesn’t Hague accreditation mean adoption agencies are above reproach?

Over the last two years as I have been research and writing my book, I have interviewed dozens of families who experienced or witnessed corruption in their adoption journeys. Many of these families were adopting through Hague agencies. While these agencies often did things by the book in the United States, they were willing to bend the laws overseas.

Holly asked me to write a guest post for her blog about the Hague convention – and why picking a Hague accredited agency isn’t enough to have an ethical adoption. To do this, I will answer a few questions.

What is the Hague and why does it matter?
Under international law, nations from around the world have agreed that children have rights. These rights are spelled out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The most basic right children have is the right to grow up with their families. Children need the protection and provision provided by a family to thrive. The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is an agreement between nearly one hundred nations about what should happen when a child is orphaned, abandoned, or separated from their biological families.
The Hague relies on the principle of double subsidiarity to guide decisions about what is in the best interest of a child who has been orphaned or abandoned. Whenever possible, it is in the best interest of the child to grow up with their biological family. Vulnerable families have a right to receive support in order to parent their children. When a child is separated from their parents, the first step should be considering reunification with the family. If this is not possible, the child has the right to a new family through adoption. It is best for children to be adopted into a family in their own community and culture. When this is not an option, a child has a right to international adoption.
The Hague convention was developed to prevent corruption in international adoption. The treaty serves two purposes: to create a set of safeguards protecting the best interest of children and to develop a system of cooperation and communication between sending and receiving countries. The Hague convention is a minimum set of standards. To be considered in the Hague, a country must sign the treaty and implement adoption laws and procedures that meet the requirements of the treaty.
Under the Hague Convention, all adoptions should consider what is best for the child. Hague countries are required to set up central authorities to decide who can adopt and who needs to be adopted. Governments are also required to implement safeguards to prevent solicitation of birth families and trafficking of children for the purpose of international adoption. Yet every country that implements the Hague develops their own laws and procedures. This means that while all Hague countries meet the same minimum standards, the adoption process still varies from country to country.

Benjamin and Chantal, two little ones who moved home with their fathers.


Assuming I have power and internet over the next few days, Post two will be up tomorrow and Post three will be up on Tuesday.  They will continue to address questions around the Hague accreditation and what that means.  Please check back to continue this important series of posts!  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on a quiet evening, strength for today

We are overseas again and it is the evening when we would normally be sharing a thanksgiving meal with family and/or friends.  This morning was the kid's Christmas play.  Then it was a busy school day for them.  I stayed home with a plumber and carpenter.  It wasn't the normal thanksgiving.  In DRC, we had many friends from the States and our kids were small so didn't have school commitments.  We shared a meal with friends.  Our turkey would come from a small island on Lake Kivu.  It would roam in our yard the days before the meal.  I remember one thanksgiving when Natalie stood with Isla looking out the window at the turkey as it gobbled at them.  She said in classic straight faced Natalie form, "Isla, tomorrow we are going to chop that turkey's head off, then we are going to let all the blood go out, then the feathers will be pulled out, then we will take all the insides out, then we will cook it.  And then we will eat it."  And though there was no "we" in the chopping part, that is pretty much what happened.  It was the size of a giant chicken and enjoyed by all. 

This year I found a frozen turkey (shipped from Kenya) for $50 at the local store.  They get them in stock for thanksgiving for the Americans.  I debated whether or not to buy it for a couple days.  Someone just sent me the funds to hire one more mama at the orphanage.  Her salary will be $50/month.  The cost of my turkey.  In the states I might question the cost as well, but it would be easier to forget that my turkey is the cost of someone's monthly salary.  I remembered again that moving overseas creates many situations like this that leave me wondering if I made the right choice.  That made me really understand what I was paying for as I gave the money to the teller at the store, the unease is real, I can't forget all that I have and been given.  It is defrosting in the freezer right now.  We will have some new friends over on Saturday.  A friend is visiting from the States and she volunteered to make stuffing from bread and cranberry sauce from dried craisins.  I will attempt to make my first pie without my mom and aunties help.  It will be a good day. 

A friend that recently visited took this great photo of the rock formations where we live in TZ. 

The last three months have been rough.  But they also have filled me with gratitude beyond what I can describe.  Sitting here tonight in good health was something I didn't expect and didn't even know was possible.  It leaves me humble and full of a deep joy.  I have an incredible family and an amazing group of friends.  I have a God I love with all my heart.  And I have the privilege of being able to live in Africa again.  Perhaps there has been pain and struggle reaching this point tonight, but I think it makes me appreciate every bit of this moment all the more. 

I also am filled with gratitude for those that speak the truth, fight against injustice and take a stand based off of the conviction of their hearts and the words God speaks to them.  For those that fight for the vulnerable.  There is a certain courage that comes with standing for what is right, true, and good.  For those that fight for their children even when their hearts are breaking, for those that love long after the feelings are gone, for those that keep sacrificing and walking forward day after day.  For choosing a path that is full of love, mercy and humility.  For clinging to God in the midst of the storms. 

I am reminded of the words of the hymn, Great is thy Faithfulness, "Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow".  I remember the story of a woman in DRC, she carried extremely heavy loads on her back for maybe 50 cents a day.  She was often bent over by the weight and could only see the ground before her.  She fought harassment by others and scorn by most.  Yet, she would stand in church and say, "I thank you God, that you gave me the strength for one more day."  

I, too, thank you God, that you gave me the strength for one more day, and for the bright hope your bring me for my tomorrows. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Updates on the children we support and prayer for Abeli.

Today I received further updates on the children we support that live in the orphanage.  Information like how tall they are, how much their head circumference measures, what stage of development they are at, and what is their overall temperament.  We also received information about how many times their family has visited and when they were hospitalized or been sick.  I thought I would post some more photos of the older children we have been supporting.  I would also ask for prayer (for those of you that pray) for one of the youngest ones, he has been frequently sick (and hospitalized three times) and is not gaining weight.  He is very vulnerable right now. His name is Abel, or Abeli.  Right now he is six months old and weighs 7 lbs. 

Sweet Abeli in September.  

Siblings Chance and Benjamin are doing well.  Chance is starting to attend a school nearby the orphanage and I'm so excited for her.  Some of you may wonder about the older children in the orphanage, why are they still there or why can't they be adopted if the family doesn't want to come get them.  This sweet sibling pair is not eligible for international adoption and the only option they have is to either be reunited with their father or find alternative care in country.  Children like these two are ones we want to help.  They should and need to begin the process of reunification or alternative care.



Rachel Sanasana and Shagayo Antoinette moved home to live with their families.  I love these two photos of them.  (They are not related). 

My brother with Shagayo (she is on the right) who has a big smile.  She was always smiling and playing whenever we visited.  A little girl full of happiness despite her circumstances.  I'm so thankful she lives with her family now, I know she will be a warm light in their lives.

All the mamas (and Shagayo!) cheering Rachel on as she took her first steps!

Writing about Shagoyo brings up a very important point.  We still support Shagayo!  Often, when children move back to their families, the family has a difficult time paying for the school fees of the child who has just moved back home.  We pay those school fees.  Shagayo is now listed under available children who need  a sponsor ($15/month).  Paying school fees is one of the most important things we do at Reeds of Hope.  Many of the children are now in secondary school, some are in university.  This is one important way of breaking the cycles of extreme poverty, especially for those that are most vulnerable (children who have lost their mothers).  Second trimester school fees will be due in the next month and a half.  We will start fundraising for those soon.  Some of the children have sponsors, but most do not.  So right now we fundraiser for the bulk of the school fees every trimester so that the children can all remain in school even if they don't have a sponsor right now.  Our manager on the ground will be visiting the school children over the next month. 

I'll sign off by sharing a few more photos from the recent update.  We get photos every few months or so (sometimes more often).  I am finally finding the time to upload them all into the sponsors accounts. 



Bertin, always with a smile!

Ah, handsome Gloire. 

Interested in joining our work?  You can give a one time donation on the right side of this blog through paypal (or a recurring donation).  We have 11 children that need sponsors who live at the orphanage ($25/month).  You can go to our website here to sponsor one of them.  Interested in sponsoring a school aged child?  We have 69 children that need sponsors.  You can go here on our website to learn more about sponsoring an older child ($15/month).  Thank you!!