Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Natalie: Never Forget (part one)

Given I committed to posting every day until I move to Tanzania, I will do my best to honor that commitment.  I found myself struggling to post "new original content" today.  So, though I will still post something every day, it just might not be that original or only from me.  (This is a good time to send me a post if you want to do a guest post).  The following post is one I wrote a couple years ago.  I'll post the follow up tomorrow.  I also have a couple guest posts about some exciting work in Kenya and in eastern DRC to share this week as well.  Check back and thanks for following along. 


About three weeks ago I had the honor of delivering a special gift to a man here in Bukavu.  The gift was from a friend of mine in the states.  She had met this man when she was here last year and felt compelled to send me money to buy him this gift.  Which I finally did three weeks ago.  It took two very memorable trips, and Natalie (our four year old) came with me on both of them.  This is a letter to her.

Dear Natalie,

There are so many things about living here I don't think you will ever remember, in fact, I think you will forget most of it.  Your home has been Congo and you have lived your whole life here, yet you won't remember this place, the people, and our life.  There are many things I want to tell you about your life here, and I will one day.  But when it comes down to it, I hope that you never forget two very special days of our lives here.  The two days when we met Laurent and we brought him his bike.

The first day I really didn't know what I was getting in to.  I brought you and Isla (2 years old) with me (I probably wouldn't have if I had known what a crazy morning it was going to be!).  The driver picked us up and off we went.  We headed out to Herikwetu.  It is a local center run be the catholics to treat people with handicaps or who need orthopedic surgeries or prosthetics.  You had been there before with me, because the women and children who are deaf make beautiful crafts that we have bought before.  I had ordered the bike about 2 weeks ago and I was supposed to pick it up that day.  My plan was to pick up the bike and deliver it to Laurent.  A bit naive of me, looking back.

It had been raining and raining.  Industrial ( the area where herikwetu was located) had just had a mud slide/flash flood two days before.  It is an area with one main road that runs in front of the prison.  The road sloped up into the neighborhood of Kadutu (known for it's huge outdoor market, overcrowding and levels of extreme poverty).  When heavy rains fall, the water rushes down from the hills above Kadutu, into Kadutu and through Industrial, sweeping cars, objects, trash and sometimes people with it (and sometimes it goes all the way into the lake).  Well, as we drove up to the center, I realized how very muddy it was.  We saw mud everywhere.  The road was atrocious.  It was like ice skating in mud.  There were two trucks flipped sideways in the ditches.  People were trying to clean up in the rain ditches that were full of rushing muddy water.  Houses and shacks where filled with mud and trash.  But I wasn't worried, we were only going up the road a little bit in our nice landcruiser, no big deal.

We got to Herikwetu.  They showed us the bike (or tricycle).  I was so excited; it looked awesome!  Then, they said, "Madame, where is Laurent?  Didn't you remember to bring him with you for the fitting of the bike?".   Um, no, I didn't remember that.  Amazingly, someone at the center knew Laurent.  They gave us directions to his place.  No big deal, we would just go get him.

So, off we went, rather, up we went.  I didn't really think about it until it was too late, but we were heading up into Kadutu to head over to Essence where he lived.  At first, Natalie, you were excited.  There was so much to see!  So many people, animals, vehicles and stuff!  We struggled our slippery way by the market (that place astounds me--a different post later).  People out in the mud selling anything and everything you can imagine.  You liked pointing out different things, like "mom, do you see the suitcases, or the toys, or the clothes, or the toilets, or the pieces of cow (mom, gross!), or the soda, or the flour, or the rice, and on and on".   Well, as we went up, the road got much worse and we started slipping all over and had to really squish our way through the people, goats, motos, and cars.  Finally we got to a point where we had to stop.  There were three trucks stuck in the mud up over their tires and one narrow way to get through which didn't look big enough for us, let alone the trucks lined up.  And it was such a traffic jam.  And you and Isla were getting so much attention (everyone probably thinking, what are two little blond white girls doing up in Kadutu?).  You started panicking!  You started crying, and saying "mom, why did you bring me here, why did you think this was a good idea? We are going to slide off the road in the ditch!  We are going to run into someone!".  I was ready to cry too.  There was no turning around, and to me, it sure didn't look like we could go forward (oh, and did I tell you it was raining?).  Isla was having a blast.  Kept looking out the window and waving.  So we sat and waited, with lots of people around our car.  We inched our way through the small narrow passage with  the truck stuck in the mud on one side and the pile of bricks on the other (it was close enough to scrape our car).  Then we slipped and slid our way through the rest of Kadutu.  I was trying my best to distract you, Natalie, but it was really hard when we kept coming so close to sliding into people who were walking all around us, motos, goats, or stuck trucks (often with only a hair breadth of room).  After about an hour (!), we made it to Essence.

(Essence is a place I have talked about before on this blog.  It is an area that is very congested, overpopulated with a very narrow unmaintained road.)  Natalie, you were so happy to get out of Kadutu!  You told me to not do that way again, that was a bad way, and again "what were you thinking, Mommy, you should have left me at home!".  We slid our way through essence (also very slippery with the added dimension of a drop off into peoples homes on one side of the road!).  And we kept asking people about Laurent on the way, trying to figure out where he lived.  Well, we finally got there.

You were so excited.  I had told you about Laurent already.  That he was a grown up that didn't have very good legs so he had to crawl (or in his case, more like drag his lower body around).  I told you how it was really hard to crawl everywhere because it was so muddy and dangerous to be on the ground in an area like essence that had so much traffic congestion. You had already seen the hand pedaled tricycle that had been made for him, and you were so excited to meet him and give him his bike.

Even though my friend had told me about Laurent's physical body, I don't think I was prepared.  You, on the other hand, where completely prepared and quickly put him at ease, with a quick, "bonjour, do you want to share my cookie".  I was trying not to cry.  He was full of dignity and very excited.  I was definitely the one who needed to pull my act together.

Laurent had polio (most likely) as a toddler.  As you know Natalie, you had a shot so you would never get Polio.  Laurent didn't get a shot and he got Polio.  His legs stopped working and because of that they sort of shriveled up and he had to use his entire upper body to move around.  He didn't have a wheelchair or anything else to help him and over time his upper body had overcompensated for the lack of function in his lower body which led to his torso becoming twisted and mangled, and incredible arm and upper torso strength and muscular development.  Because he lives in essence, where there is only mud and mud and mud, and because he is poor (and because there are no "handicap accessible areas"), he crawled everywhere.  What mattered most to you?  You were really worried about his hands and his knees.  You were worried that crawling around in the city of Bukavu wasn't a good idea because there was a lot of trash, mud, sharp objects, cars and danger to someone that had to crawl.

So, we headed back to Heirkwetu (on the longer route which was a lot less congested and you weren't scared at all).  You kept stealing shy glances at Laurent and asking if you could talk to him.  We made it back and realized that the bike was too big for him (because of his back being so twisted he has a very short upper body and couldn't easily reach the hand pedals)!  I was bummed, he was really bummed.  He didnt' want to get off the bike.  He as actually sitting up at a level where he could make relatively easy eye contact.  He was off the ground.  I think it was really hard for him to get off that bike and back onto the ground that day.  So, we drove him home with a promise to come back the next week.

On the way home, you told me, "Mom, why does Laurent have no legs?  Mom, why did God make Laurent that way?  I'm going to ask God when I see him in Heaven one day, Mom.  I sure have a lot to ask him, don't I?".  (me too, baby, me too)

I love you Natalie, and your big gracious heart,

part two tomorrow

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nothing occurs in isolation

Please see addendum at the bottom of this post. 

In the world of international adoption it is easy to point fingers.  It is easy to blame someone else for the problems and challenges in trying to adopt a child, especially from DRC.

Two days ago, another adoption alert was posted.  It was a very hard announcement for those in the process, because it leaves their children they have been trying to adopt in limbo.  Will the suspension be for two weeks or 12 months?  Sadness, fear, hurt, anger are normal reactions when faced with such possibility, especially if adoptions are delayed by a year of children that may even already have their visas from the embassy.  There are a lot of unknowns.  And dealing with unknowns can be terrifying.  Especially when little ones that truly do need new families are the ones that will suffer because of the delays.

The wording of this particular announcement made it easy for adoptive parents to cast blame.  It is the fault of a series of article on rehoming, it is the media's fault for reporting on abuse of adopted children, it is a blogger's fault for sharing the story of loving her newly adopted child.  At the end of the day, casting blame like this (it is the fault of one person or one article) is absolutely ridiculous.

Let's assume that DGM Kinshasa is following every media report that is out there about DRC adoptions or even adoption in general.  Let's imagine they read all our blogs and scour sites for news of disrupted adoptions or abuse in adoptions.  If we assume this to be true, I would put forth that there have been plenty of reasons to stop issuing DGM exit visas before the rehoming report ever was published.

Glance through blogs over the past two years or so and what will you find?  Stories of lost referrals, children dying, children gone missing in DRC.  Stories of funds that never showed up at orphanages.  Stories of corruption and bribing.  Stories of adoptive parents knowing about corruption, child stealing, and still staying with their agencies.  What else will you find?  Agencies that list children that are from disruptions that needs home, children from DRC.  Stories of families that have been denied their visas and/or given NOIDs.  Stories of families that will say congolese law regarding adoption is irrelevant, you just have to get waivers.

The media hasn't exactly been silent either.  An article like this can easily be found and certainly makes many accusations against DRC adoptions and adoptive parents (by the way, I certainly don't agree with his methods in this article and I think some of the sources should have been verified and checked).  Or this very disturbing report (anyone know what the story is behind this?  I just can't believe it is completely true as reported.) Head on over to and search "congo".   Check out the PEAR warning statement on DRC.

My point is nothing occurs in isolation.  I'm going to jump on in and give my opinion about this warning statement and the suspension of exit letters.  I might be wrong, but here is what I think. I don't think it has to only do with media statements, blogs, or adoption agency media posts.  I think it is about what it happening on the ground. 

I take a step back and look at adoption from when I first starting getting involved in adoption in DRC.  This was fall of 2009.  I didn't know that much.  OFA was the only group doing adoptions at the time (yes, they were doing adoptions before MLJ).  I learned what I could from them and I also did my own research.  But how I learned the most was living on the ground while trying to adopt.  Our first adoption we walked away from because of concerns we had about the adoption.  Even now, we couldn't list the exact reasons why, but we knew something wasn't right.

Then I started facilitating adoptions for a pilot out of eastern DRC.  I talk all about that in other posts.  I started having concerns about everything I was learning about doing adoptions in DRC.  And at this same time, I was living in DRC and had been experiencing the corruption that is common there (not even as it related to adoption).   As well as the lack of infrastructure.  I was watching friends try to start businesses and hit walls as they tried to deal with local government.   Finally, in August 2011 I started speaking out about my concerns about adoption in DRC.

Here are some things I have seen or heard about in DRC adoptions since fall of 2009.  DGM Kinshasa came to Goma and Bukavu in the fall of 2011.  They had serious concerns about the adoptions in DRC and gave strict guidelines about children exiting the country.  This directly impacted us because it meant that though we had our adoption decree for our girls we couldn't cross the border with them (even though we were residents of DRC).  Over the last 2 1/2 years, I have watched families leave DRC without DGM exit papers.  DGM in other areas of DRC decide to allow children to leave via their border crossing without a letter from Kinshasa.  Adoptive parents try to circumvent DRC adoption law over and over again.  Paying DGM money for exit letters is still common place.  I have learned of investigations not only of DGM but also of other authorities in Kinshasa into trafficking rings in orphanages in Kinshasa.  I could go on and on.

My point is this:  I know only a small drop of what is happening in adoption in DRC, and what I know isn't good.  DGM Kinshasa and the other authorities in Kinshasa know so much more than I do.  There are reasons that this isn't the first suspension that has happened.  There are reasons that the embassy is denying visas and that they are instituting investigations.  And all of these reasons are why adoption from DRC will shut down unless we pull our heads out of the sand and start changing things. 

You can blame someone else, but in the end if you give a single dollar for an adoption in DRC and you don't know how that dollar is spent you are as much to blame as someone else.  If you are a part of an congo adoption forum, you should be discussing how your money is spent in DRC, you should be discussing how much lawyers are paid, you should be discussing orphanage donations, you should be discussing money given to DGM, you should be discussing congo adoption law, you should be discussing which orphanages have had cases of corruption or child trafficking so others can make sure they aren't adopting a child that has been trafficked.  You should be discussing if it's possible to do an ethical adoption from DRC right now and how you can make it as ethical as possible.  We cannot control the decisions of people on the ground in DRC that may accept a bribe.  We cannot control our agencies poor choices.  But we can control our own actions and we do have power to make change happen.

Don't stay silent any longer.  Speak out!  Respect DRC.  Abide by their laws.  Don't pay bribes and participate in corruption (and ignorance is not an acceptable excuse anymore).  Don't take advantage of the lack of infrastructure in the country and the high levels of corruption (and don't let your agency do it either).  Don't pay child finder fees.  Know how ALL your money is being spent.  Do investigations to verify your child's orphan status and story.  You are not helpless.  If you stay silent you are going to be a part of the eventual shutdown in DRC adoptions.  Since when did being a Christian mean stifling the truth?  Since when did it mean not speaking up about injustice?  Since when did it mean becoming complacent?  Since when did it mean not defending the cause the orphan and vulnerable (and their families) and the widow?  If you stay silent you are part of the problem.  If you point fingers at others and don't acknowledge your own part in what is happening in DRC adoptions, you are part of the problem.   As friends remind me, it is our privilege to give children homes that truly need them in DRC, we are not entitled to them.

Walking away from our first adoption was the hardest thing I have ever done.  We left Moses in an orphanage.  During our second adoption the judge threw out our dossier the first time we submitted it because we found a forged document in it.  We didn't know if they would accept it again.  It took us a year to get DGM approval to leave the country, a year to get our exit letter.  In the end, I will repeat what I said in the my second paragraph.  The ones that suffer the most is the child that truly needs a family and that is left in an orphanage where care is suboptimal or in long term foster care where care might be better but it is not a permanent solution.  In the end, we shouldn't only be speaking out because it's right, but we should also be speaking out to get our kids home that truly need homes.   For those that have their adoption decrees and have their visas (or close to it), this suspension is unbelievably hard.   And it is for these children and their new families that I share this post today.  In the hopes that change can happen and the children that need new families will come home.

Addendum:  It has come to my attention that for the past 4-5 days comments haven't been coming through.  I made the hard decision to moderate comments after I received a very nasty insulting comment.  I have only ever moderated that one comment.  I'm not sure what is going on with my comments, but if you tried to post recently and it didn't go through, I apologize.  Try again, I think I fixed it.  You can always contact me by email (above right) if it isn't working.  Thanks.  By the way, moderating comments is currently off. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Listening to the rain fall

I have been silent here for a couple weeks.  I suppose the biggest reason is that I am recovering from surgery still, but a smaller reason is that I don't know what to publish.  I write a lot, but they sit in draft form.

It's raining here.  I love the sound of rain.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.  Rain means home.

Here are some things I have been reading:

Stories of hope and love in Kenya.  This post from MaraSafari.
There are big tragedies in this world, and it’s easy to feel scared and helpless.  Take a stand against the chaos, and you protect that quiet gentle part of your heart that can die a little with each horror.  The good news is that love wins:  a thousand acts of quiet compassion are more powerful than the headlines.
Stories of a different sort of "rehoming".  The really good kind.  The most beautiful kind.  The kind we should be celebrating and working towards all over the world.  From this blog:  Pearl to be found.
When I did learn how to see the bigger world all around me I saw that these children I thought of as dirty and poor were actually really happy. They had freedom to run around all day. They took on household chores and felt proud of themselves for being an active member of the family. They were loved and cared for by parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and older siblings. There were always friends to play with.
When I saw these kids go home I saw them transform in the same way I’d seen kids transform when adopted internationally. I realized that a family is a family wherever you go and that what kids needs way more than nice clothes or TVs is love.
I also realized that I defined poverty way to narrowly. I looked at a family and saw that their possessions were limited and labeled them poor. Now I look at a family and I see that their love is overflowing and I label them as rich.
Rage against the Minivan had a great post about Orphan Care.  It is close to home because Reeds of Hope works with an orphanage and I strongly believe our work must include family reunification and limited time in an orphanage setting, otherwise we shouldn't be working with orphanages.

The changing face of pornography (the article is excellent, everything else on the site is fairly offensive)  and why we should pay attention because it affects us all.  I am a health care provider and I work with children and teens.  I care about this issue.  We need to start talking to our children before they are teenagers about internet pornography and how easily it can be accessed and viewed.  We need to talk about the dangers, about addiction, and about how it can affect their futures.  A good resource for more information is:

This post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.  (I don't think she would mind she follows the pornography article since that is how I first saw the link.)  I appreciated this two post series on her thoughts on World Vision and child sponsorship in general.  I liked the encouragement she gives to try to give in ways that not only resonate with your on a deeper level but also that we make educated decisions about how we give and why we give. 

I'm going to make a goal of posting once a day until I leave the states.  Check back in! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Parent Voice in Addressing Ethical Concerns in International Adoption: Haiti and DRC

Speaking up about ethical concerns in the adoption world is not a popular thing to do. This topic is polarizing, particularly in the world of blogging and social media, and can invoke strong feelings in readers.   When an adoptive parent (AP) or a prospective adoptive (PAP) has concerns about their adoption agency, the parent often struggles with finding their voice.

Often, parents remain silent about ethical concerns in their adoption process because they fear that their adoptions will be cancelled or that their agencies may make the process harder for them. Families in process have already invested time, emotion, and finances into their adoption and often worry that this will be all for naught if their adoption is terminated or cancelled (often times, this happens under the guise of a referral being “lost” or a child suddenly becoming “unadoptable”). Agencies threaten that they will not refund money due to contractual obligations or they point out unenforceable "gag clauses" or "online restrictions" to threaten the PAP into silence. Agencies and adoption workers who label themselves as "Christian" may tell PAPs they are going "against God's will" by speaking up about concerns since the agency is doing "God's work for orphans." PAPs and APs are called "anti-adoption" by agencies and other adoptive parents if they even hint at an ethical problem with an agency, country or program. Those that do express concern are told they are "going to close the country to adoption" or that they will anger the sending country.

To truly understand how many families are unwilling or unable to speak out about ethical concerns, it is crucial to understand just how the process works and how PAPs become so emotionally invested.  In international adoption there are many red flags that may alert PAPs to potential issues (  However, these red flags are often not seen until parents are well into the program, and have invested both financially and emotionally in their potential child(ren). The financial investment is obvious: international adoption is costly, and parents may have written checks for tens of thousands of dollars before the referred child is legally theirs.  The emotional side may be less obvious, but it is no less real.  Typically, PAPs wait for a length of time between referral and travel. As the parents wait, the child begins to feel like 'theirs" even though the adoption is not finalized and they do not have physical or legal custody. Just as biological parents do, PAPs go into a nesting stage and tell their friends and family about the child(ren) that they are hopeful will soon join their family. Often, PAPs share the news of an adoptive sibling with their children already at home.  An entire community of people becomes invested in the adoption -- frequently well before it is definite that the child will absolutely become the PAPs’ legal child. Ending the adoption because of ethical concerns, or having the adoption cancelled by the agency because they spoke out about those ethical concerns, causes emotional turmoil for PAPs and everyone who has shared in their joy. The termination of an adoption also likely results in the loss of a significant amount of money, which for many PAPs means the end of their adoption dream.  For these reasons, PAPs are incredibly reluctant to speak out about ethical concerns in their adoption programs. 

It isn’t necessarily easier for APs who have completed the process to talk openly about adoption ethics.  Adoptive parents who speak up about concerns after their child is home can also be bullied into silence by PAPs. They are told that they are making things harder for families in process by speaking about concerns. They are told they are being "selfish" and "hypocritical." An adoptive parent with a child home may not have seen problems or realized concerns until the end of their adoption, or may have feared agency retribution during their adoption and waited until their child was safely home to warn parents in process or new clients signing onto a program. Instead of being seen as assisting these new parents or parents in process, they are seen as a problem. Ethical concerns, they are told, have no place in adoption discussion. 

It is because of these concerns that most adoptive parents never feel able to speak up about ethics in adoption.  More new clients sign onto the program, and more parents feel alone in their concerns when red flags appear. The ethical problems are never addressed because everyone is afraid to speak.  If these issues are not fixed, the sending country may ultimately end adoptions due to rampant corruption. 

This all could have been prevented. Things could have looked much different had experiences have been heard and valued. 

A group of very brave adoptive parents from Haiti are speaking up about concerns with their international adoption program. They have banded together in solidarity to create a blog to express and voice their concerns about the exploitation of children in Haiti. These parents should be lauded for their bravery and emotional fortitude in the face of extreme pressure from their agency, various organizations and fellow PAPs.  

Alarmingly, the stories told by these parents may have connections to adoption programs in other countries.  The same players facilitating adoptions for children and families in Haiti are also working to facilitate adoptions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

MLJ Adoptions, is an Indiana based for-profit adoption agency run by attorney Michele Jackson. This adoption agency has partnered with Giving Hope Rescue Mission, run by Heather Elyse, to facilitate the adoption of Haitian children by North American families.   MLJ Adoptions is also incredibly active in the world of Congolese adoptions, claiming to have facilitated more than 50% of all international adoptions in Congo.   

As adoptive parents, we believe it is important to speak the truth about our own stories in whatever way we are able.  Recently, allegations of corruption and child trafficking in Congolese adoptions has led to more stringent requirements and investigations from both the United States Embassy and the Congolese government.  We need to be more vigilant than ever.  Speaking the truth means advocating for more transparency and accountability with our agencies (including finances that are clearly detailed), speaking out against gag clauses, demanding copies of all of our documents (including DGM exit visa letters), refusing to pay bribes, refusing to pay child finders, insisting on private independent investigations, or other ways that protect instead of exploit children in DRC.  


Concerned adoptive parents of DRC children

Sunday, September 8, 2013

you are not alone

Lately, I've been learning a lot about control and how when I don't have control of what is happening in my life I struggle.  The last three months have been hard.  I have been sick, we have moved from our home of the last two years, we packed up our house and sent our belongings on a container to Tanzania, and I had surgery. 

Then, I found out I needed even more surgery and my kids went with my husband to Tanzania while I stayed here in the states.  Talk about things being out of my control. 

It has been really really hard to open my hands and let go of the tight control I had on my life.  Saying goodbye to my kids was almost impossible.  Facing major surgery this week is just plain terrifying.  Deciding to have my husband stay with the kids when I have surgery was a necessary but very difficult decision. 

But, in the letting go process I have heard reassurance.  I have heard words spoken by my God in dark moments when I have been too despairing to lift my head up.  I have been given comfort when I felt overwhelmed and afraid.  

I have heard, "you are not alone, you will be okay, I am with you, you are not alone."  And peace floods my heart.   Everyday, I am given mercy and grace.  Everyday, I am given the strength to trust a little more that no matter what happens in the future, I am not alone, He will never leave me or forsake me.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guest post: An Option You Didn't Know Existed: Open International Adoption

The post below is written by a fellow adoptive mother from Democratic Republic of Congo.  
I never thought that I’d have an open adoption.  Choosing international adoption -- from Congo, no less, the proverbial “heart of darkness” -- made that option seem impossible.  That is, until it wasn’t.

As with many international adoptions, my son’s story unraveled soon after we landed
in the United States.  In Kinshasa, I had given his foster mother my email address in a
letter thanking her for caring for him.  She sent me an email within a week of returning
to her village.  As we corresponded, some shocking facts began to emerge. My son
was supposedly an only child who had never had contact with his birth father.  From
his foster mother, I learned that my son actually had siblings and a birth father who was
very much in his life prior to his adoption.  Less than a month after I brought my son
home, I was in direct contact with his birth father.  We continue to email regularly, more
than 2 years later.  I send pictures and updates weekly in a mix of Swahili and English,
and he writes back when he can (approximately once every six weeks).  He thanks me
repeatedly for “saving” his son (a phrase that I hate), and tells me that he is so happy
that his son is with me in the United States.  Because he views me as part of his family
now, he has asked me for my advice on major life decisions, such as remarrying and
whether he should flee his village for good and search of a safer place to live.  He is
desperately poor and living in a war-torn region, yet manages to find a computer on
a somewhat regular basis and send us a message to let us know that he is safe and
thinking of us.  He has never asked me for money.

Having a connection with my son’s birth family -- the thing I once thought to be
impossible -- has been one of the most amazing experiences for our family. My son
will ask me to take a picture to send to his baba (Swahili for father), or will announce
that his baba will be so proud when he learns that he can swim underwater or ride a
bike.  The pictures that his baba sends -- including pictures from his wedding to my
son’s Congo mama and more recent shots of him with my son’s siblings -- adorn our
walls.  We eagerly await word from him, and read his emails together.  My son tells me
that he knows that his baba loves him so much and that he is lucky to have two families
who love him.  We are planning and saving for a trip to visit his baba and the rest of his
Congo family when my son is a bit older and when the region is a bit safer. 
An open international adoption is not always simple or straightforward.  I struggle
with what pictures to send -- can I really send snapshots of our trip to the beach to a
man who has been living with his family in a refugee camp in Uganda for the past 6
months?  Can I send him a picture of my son at an amusement park when he struggles
just to provide basic food and shelter for his family? I worry constantly about their
safety, particularly as rebel activity continues to threaten the security of the region.  At
times, I’m wracked with guilt -- that I have so much while he has so little and that tragic
circumstances forced him to choose adoption for his youngest son.  And of course, it is
an entirely lopsided relationship; I have virtually all of the power because I am the one
with the resources. I could end the contact at any time, and I am the only one who can
realistically plan a visit.  It is also a limited arrangement by necessity:  we can’t Skype
or FaceTime, we can’t otherwise talk on the phone, and we certainly can’t see each
other in person since we live thousands of miles away from each other. Despite these
limitations, it is one of the most valuable relationships in our lives:  a connection to my
son’s birth family and country.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

My agency did not set up this open international adoption.  They weren’t thrilled when
I established contact or when I learned that my son’s story was partially fabricated by
the agency and/or its employees (thankfully, the crucial details -- such as his reason
for being available for adoption and his father’s desire for him to be adopted -- have
been confirmed).  But what my agency wanted is irrelevant -- this open adoption is
what is best for my son.  And it proves that it IS possible to have an open international
adoption.  Even in remote villages in one of the poorest countries of the world, the
internet exists -- and it permits a desperately poor itinerant farmer living in a war zone to
reach across the world with messages of love for his son.  If your agency tells you that
it isn’t possible, don’t believe them -- reach out to those who cared for your child(ren) or
hire an investigator to find family, and make that connection.  I wrote one simple letter,
and it led to an amazing, invaluable relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Monday, September 2, 2013

For Carrie.

Carrie, over at More Love Mama, nominated me for a Leibster award.  I had no idea what that was, so I had to go look.  I'm still not very savvy as it comes to anything media related (blogs included).  But anyway, I thought it was so sweet that she reads and likes my blog so I wanted to at least attempt to answer some of her questions.  Oh, and another lovely thing about Carrie is that she is creative and talented in the sewing department (as close as I have come to knowing how to sew is the one time I took a class to learn how to make a quilt because my mom had bought me a sewing machine instead of the drill I had asked for that Christmas.).  And she once sent my little girls some dolls that she had made.  Her are some photos of them with the dolls.  They loved them!

Check out her store and all the awesome things she makes in her spare (um, she has six kids, so she must be another super hero) time.   So, here go the questions she wants me to answer--

1. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
  Chocolate Obsession by Soy Delicious.  Yummmm!  ( I can't eat lactose.)
2. Do you have any special skill that most people don't know about?
Hm, I can play the oboe.  Does that count?  I can lead people into the wilderness for 12 days and we won't die.  Maybe that sounds better? 
3. What was the song or movie that defined your high school years?
That would be Dirty Dancing.  Wait, that wasn't high school.  Huh.   
4. If I had time to read one book this year what would you recommend?
 Cold Sassy Tree.  Fun, touching, and makes you laugh (and maybe cry).  
5. What is your secret guilty pleasure?
Musicals.  Any and all.  
6. What is your best parenting tip?
Don't compare yourself to anyone else.  As a wise friend of mine once told me, "comparison is from the pit of hell."  Go with your gut, give yourself some grace, love your kids, and just keep going.  It will all get better. 
7. What famous person do you have a crush on?
 John Cusack. 
8. Mountains or beach?
9. What is the coolest gift you've ever received?
 My grandpa sent me a huge box that was full of boxes of crackers my freshman year in college.  He was worried I would be hungry.  
10. What is something that is different about your life than you expected it to be?
Congo.  I never even thought I would travel when I was in college, I wanted to work in the rural U.S.  I even managed to do a MPH without taking one international health course.  I never expected I would take my baby and move to eastern DRC with my husband.  Never. 
11. If money were no object and you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?
I would build a family care center in eastern DRC for at-risk vulnerable families and children, so that children would never be separated from those that love them and I would partner with organizations that work in maternal health care so that mothers never die in birth from preventable causes.  And I would support grass-roots peace building projects in eastern DRC to end the years of war and upheaval. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Doing the unbelieveable

One of the biggest misconceptions I face as I talk about alternative care (if family reunification isn't possible) is the belief that there are not people in Congo that would take in orphans and vulnerable children if they aren't related to them.  And furthermore,  IF they did take them in they would be treated like slaves and abused. 

It simply isn't true.   I wanted to share about an encouraging and inspiring woman I met in DRC.

Congolese women and men take in orphaned and vulnerable children daily and care for them as their own.  They may not always have the resources they need to care for them like they would like, but they use everything they have at their disposal.  (Of course, there will always be the situations in DRC and also all over the world where orphaned and vulnerable children are taken in and abused.  However, this is not the majority of situations, they are the minority.  And attitudes towards orphans can change.)

When I visited eastern DRC in June I visited with a woman that has taken in and continues to raise children who need a home: children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or their surviving parent was unable to care for them (or extended relatives could not be found or were unable to care for them).  She is unrelated to the children.  She raises them as her own, they sleep in her house, in her bed, and most importantly, they call her mama.  They are sent to school.  The older ones help care for the younger ones.  The rooms are small and children sleep crowded together in beds.  Food sometimes is scarce, but there is always something to eat. 

The youngest child she cares for is an infant and the oldest is a 18 year old woman who hopes to be a teacher.  Many of her children are teenagers, most have been with her since infancy.   Teenagers that are not on the streets, that are attending school and have dreams and aspirations for the future. 

The children that live with this amazing woman are happy, full of energy and life, and hopeful despite their hardships.  They are her children.

She and her husband not only raise the children in her home, but they also reach out and try to help 70 more north of the city.  Her resources are small, she relies on donations from those that know of her love for helping vulnerable children in her midst.  She calls her home Bethlehem.

She is one of many around the city that take in children and raise them as their own.  

Here are some of the faces of the children that call her mother.  That are a part of a loving family.  Many of the children she has taken into her life and heart are just like the children we support, a parent died.  For some of the children we support that won't be able to be reunited with their family, alternative care models in country keep children in families and out of institutions.  You can see the differences in their faces and smiles.  Children should be in families.  Not in institutions. 

I will be sharing more about this amazing woman and the children that call her mama in the days and weeks ahead.  Thank you for caring about the beautiful children and their courageous and brave caregivers in eastern DRC.