Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest Post: When adopted children linger in DRC indefinitely, should we still respect DRC laws?


Today I have the pleasure of hosting another guest on my blog. Amanda Bennett is an American lawyer passionate about obtaining justice for vulnerable families and children. Amanda has a JD from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, Illinois and now lives in Kigali, Rwanda with her husband and son. She serves on the board of directors for Reeds of Hope, a non-profit serving vulnerable families and children in DRC, and she blogs about Jesus, adoption, orphan care, and life at AfterAllItsASmallWorld.com. She is the  co-author of In Defense of the Fatherless, Redeeming International Adoption and Orphan Care, which will be published in early 2015 by Christian Focus Publications.

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The DRC international adoption situation has, as many predicted, descended into chaos.

On a regular basis, we hear stories of families faced with an impossible choice – wait forever, pay forever, in complete uncertainty or go to any lengths necessary – even breaking the law – to get “their” children home.

Most recently, several American families were caught in the middle of such a decision. Apparently, escorts attempted to bring their children across the border without valid exit letters from DGM in Kinshasa. As a result, the adoptions were invalidated, and the families arrived home empty-handed.

A heartbreaking result for everyone involved. We don’t know the circumstances that led to this result, and we likely never will. Whether we agree with the decisions that these families made is irrelevant. As Christians, we are called to walk alongside them, weep with them, comfort them in their distress.

But how can families still in process move forward in this continued uncertainty? In many ways, it appears that a corrupt and violent government is holding their children hostage? Why should they respect the laws of such a place?

We can think of extreme circumstances where people stood up to evil laws and have been heralded as heroes – Germans who hid Jews in their basements, mothers in China who saved their daughters, Iranians protesting a harsh regime. Were these people wrong? Should they have just followed the law?

Far be it from me to suggest that laws should always be followed under any circumstances. I will also refrain from suggesting that it’s no big deal to break the law.

But I will argue that to equate a DRC immigration law with the extremes just described is unwise.  We have to look at the facts and circumstances here and not our emotional reactions to the situation.

DRC Immigration (DGM) has made a decision to suspend the issuance of exit letters to legally adopted children while they consider re-writing adoption laws and conduct investigations into adoptions. They cite worries about trafficking and re-homing in the adoptive countries.

We can surmise and hypothesize about other, more sinister motives, and we might very well be correct. But the law and the reasons are what they are.

It’s also confirmed that there have been illegal adoptions conducted, that children have been removed illegally, that documents have been forged, birth families have been lied to and coerced, and children have been re-homed in the United States after being adopted in the DRC.
It’s my opinion that to pay bribes, sneak children across the border and to forge documents is to contribute to the suffering of real people and real children rather than alleviate. With every bribe paid, the corrupt officials are emboldened to ask for more. With every document forged, the lesson is that being honest is irrelevant, and it gives DRC more evidence to keep adoptions shut down. With every child snuck across the border, we make the decision that the end justifies the means.

I urge parents facing this choice to respect the law, however arbitrary it seems. The only way that international adoptions in DRC should continue is if they are done ethically. If we don’t follow the laws of the country from where we adopt, then we are doing nothing to help the people of DRC. Rather, I believe, in this circumstance, that following the law, is to respect the people of DRC and stand with them against the widespread corruption in their land.

I am always willing and interested in speaking with parents who desire to follow the law and want to discuss how to proceed in this uncertainty. 

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If you would like to contact Amanda, her email is delighted.bennett@gmail.com.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Changes for the New Year (a Reeds of Hope Update)


As we come to the end of 2014, we at Reeds of Hope, have been reevaluating all our programs and looking at the future of our work in DRC.  Over the past couple of years we have seen our mission shift from direct care of children living in an orphanage to caring for vulnerable families.  Moving forward, we have come to realize that family reunification -- and family strengthening -- work is where our hears lie.

In moments of crises, in times of extreme poverty, or in tragedies -- such as the death of a mother during the birth of her child -- families often break apart.  We have seen Congolese men and women come together during these times and care for each other, either preventing the family fracture, or caring for the children when it does break.  We want to partner with programs and projects that do this hard work --groups that keep families together in the vulnerable moments when they are at most risk of falling apart. Walking alongside someone in the midst of their suffering brings hope.  

We also want to help Congolese women and men who have been supporting vulnerable children in their communities by providing family structures for those who don't have families or need new families.  We support and applaud the amazing work of the Congolese women and men who have been doing this work for years in their local communities.  It is humbling to consider the amazing networks that reach out to each other in times of insecurity, extreme poverty, violence, lack of infrastructure, lack of justice, and lack of basic human rights.  We believe in supporting these efforts and that in building up the capacity of local programs to care for each other, families can get the support they need when they are threatened.  Keeping families together and supporting new family structures brings hope.

We believe in education.  We know that for many children who have returned home to their families, paying school fees can be an insurmountable barrier.  We believe in helping these children continue their education as long as they want to attend.  We also believe that the groups that are supporting children in family units often need help to send all their children to school.  And older children need job trainings and job skills.   Education brings hope.

We are excited about the work we will be doing in 2015 in DRC.  We support the amazing work of the heroes of DRC -- Congolese men and women who make an impact in their daily lives as they reach out to those around them that are passing through a vulnerable fragile times.  We are thankful for the opportunities we have had to serve in the past and we look forward to the new ways we will be serving in DRC in the future.

Most of all we are thankful for the support of those who have come alongside us for so many years and continue to walk with us today.  Thank you for your continued belief in the Congolese people and their strength, beauty, resiliency, and courage.


If you are a regular donor with Reeds of Hope, please check your inbox for more details on changes to our projects and our future work in DRC.  We will be updating our website over the next month to reflect these changes.  www.reedsofhope.org   Also, follow us on facebook!   We will be sending updates of our new projects!

If you are working with an orphanage in DRC or want to learn more about what we consider important and essential components to our work in DRC, please read these two posts--found here and here.  These posts are close to my heart and I consider them very important.  



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

slow

We are over a year into our second "life overseas" journey.  Almost 8 years ago we moved to Eastern DRC.  Then we moved to the U.S. after 4 1/2 years in DRC.  That lasted 2 years before we looked again to east Africa--the land we missed.  Our second big move overseas started a bit over a year ago and brought us to the country of Tanzania.  Ironically, we share a similar climate, location (on a lake), and coordinates (almost) to our previous home in DRC.  DRC is only one country away.  Swahili is still the language spoken.  And life has again slowed tremendously for me. 

When we moved back to the states 3 years ago, I had such severe reverse culture shock.  Some of you who have read this little blog that long might remember I would have panic attacks in the grocery store and often seek out the "international food" aisles and hold cans of Nido to my chest while I deep breathed.  You might remember the embarrassing public bathroom trips with my bunch of little ones and the terrors of automatic toilets, of trying to encourage walking on sidewalks and of mailboxes.  We were surrounded by open land, there were no more compound walls, barbed wire, and UN vehicles and soliders in our lives.  There was rushing clean water and strong electricity and so much food. 

There were so many white people--so many white children!  So many people speaking English!  I felt so overwhelmed and soon work, child care, PhD studies, and life with a family of small children caught up with us and we felt like it was hard to breath.  We sought refuge in a small Baptist Church on Sundays with a predominately Black population of church goers and our hearts felt easy again.  I remember one Sunday sitting in my pew and tears running down my cheeks during communal prayers--the loneliness and stress had overwhelmed me and in the community of believers of this church and the Spirit of a loving and present God I could weep unabashedly.  I remember in that moment feeling the heavy, easy, loving pressure of a hand on my shoulder.  Just letting me know--I wasn't alone, we weren't alone. 

Perhaps we "escaped" back to East Africa, but we felt that it was the only and right decision for us with our small children and where our hearts rested.  The work felt right and resonated with us.  We felt like it would be good to give our girls a gift of being so near to their homeland, surrounded by those that looked beautifully just like them and those that spoke the same language that their mama had long ago.  Somehow, we knew this would be the right decision for them.  And for me--it felt completely right for me as well.  A small window of time that I could be with my children again without that same feeling of drowning in stress, trying to fit in, trying to make ends meet, trying to make friends, trying to make it to daycare pick up on time as the light is fading in the winter, trying to find common ground with those that had no idea what to do with previous life changing years in my life, trying to understand the changes in myself and my heart, unexpected struggles with illness, trying to fight consumerism and trying to fight the loss of memory of our lives in DRC. 

A gift.  A gift to slow down.  For however long it lasts. 

Lately, I have been thinking about the days here.  They are so much slower.  We live close to the school the twins attend and to where my husband works.  We are homeschooling the older girls.  I'm home with them everyday and we just spend time together.  It isn't always easy and some days I feel the slowness of the day as a struggle, but most of the time I feel overwhelmingly thankful for these days.  I realize they won't always be like this, that with four children at some point my day will be exploding in activity.  And there will be gifts in that life as well. 

And because our days are slow I notice so much more than I had time to notice before when I was running around never getting anywhere on time.  For example, we live in an area of Tanzania known for the variety of birds.  What a gift it is to have the time to watch the birds in my yard!  I sit humbled day after day and never tire of their colors and activities.   My mind is filled with memories of my small Hungarian grandmother and her simple pleasure in feeding the birds in her yard.  It is so fun to share this with the children, to be able to say "look at the beautiful world we live in, isn't God an amazing God that He has given us so much beauty to enjoy!" 

And sometimes if I am lucky, while I'm sitting on the back porch watching the kids run and play, I can catch the birds with my small camera (that doesn't have a lens to properly photograph birds)--at the right moment, I can catch a bird bathing and dancing in our pool.










Perhaps a birder can help me out here--is this an African Paradise Flycatcher? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Guest Post: Sharing our experiences with AAS



Personal note from the author of this blog (Holly):  this post was written by a third party, which I am offering for educational purposes as well as to give these families a voice.  I welcome any response from AAS.


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The following story is a compilation of stories from multiple families who are currently adopting or have adopted children through the adoption agency AAS, written in the first person.  Due to the delicate matters discussed, names of the families are being withheld to protect the privacy and safety of the families involved, and so that ongoing investigations are not jeopardized. The information contained in this post has been shared by AAS clients.  The author of this post has taken reasonable steps to verify the truth of these statements, but as always, readers should do their own investigations of the information presented in this post. 

When we decided to adopt from the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, we were thrilled to find what we thought was an ethical adoption agency who really cared about both the children and their adoptive families.  The agency then called DRCAS, now known as Africa Adoption Services, or AAS had rave reviews from former clients, and its founder, Danielle Anderson, had worked at the US Embassy in Kinshasa.  DRCAS website led us to believe that Danielle created the adoptions unit at the Embassy, but given that adoptions were being processed there since at least 2001, this appears to be an exaggerated claim (Ms. Andersons employment status can be verified by contacting the American Embassy in Kinshasa at AEKinshasaConsular@state.gov or by telephone at 081-880-5847).   AAS is also run by an adoptive parent named Amy True.

As we moved deeper into our adoption process, we began to question some of the things that we initially thought were positive about AAS.  The agency was really adamant about only referring children who were true orphans kids who had been abandoned and who had no known birth family.  They also said that they did not work with orphanages, and instead got their referrals through social services.  We thought that was really great wed be adopting children who really needed to be adopted.  But the more we dug into this, we realized that these abandonment cases werent actually situations where the kids were true orphans  that many of these kids had known birth families, many of whom were found by the Embassy when doing investigations for visas or when families performed their own independent investigations (clients could pay AAS between $350 and $500 to perform an investigation which never seemed to reveal the existence of birth families or paperwork errors).  It seems to us that abandonment cases were only preferred because there was a higher chance of getting a visa (without birth parents to interview and to obtain consent from). Many of the cases had fraudulent or erroneous paperwork, which AAS charged adoptive parents to correct so that APs had to pay for their agencys mistakes (for example, charging $100 for fixing mistakes in the kids abandonment documents). Many AAS cases do actually involve known birth families; AAS recently informed their clients via email that many biological parents are revoking their consent and taking their children back because of negative news stories about American adoptive parents.  We also learned later that AAS claim that they did not work with orphanages to be false, as AAS received referrals from several orphanages including One Destiny, an orphanage that AAS later told us had been raided by the Congolese authorities.

The fees raised another huge concern for us.  Having done a fair amount of research into international adoption, we knew that paying lawyers or facilitators large fees to find children can be viewed as child buying.  The AAS fee schedule included a $1,500 fee to search for child which seemed a lot like a child finder fee to us.  AAS assured us that this wasnt a child finder fee, but a fee that includes the abandonment documents and commune approval.  They also claimed that the attorney only gets a $5,000 fee, and all of the other foreign service fees (totaling $15,180 at the time) went to third parties.  The foreign service fees were set out as follows:

FOREIGN SERVICE FEE                                  $15,180.00                 
            I.  LOCATION OF CHILD       
            Search Child: $1500                                                   
            Gift to the orphanage: $500                                       
            Preparation of Documents: $1000                             

            II. JUDICIAL PROCEDURE
            Judgment of adoption: $300                                       
            Supplemental Birth Certificate Judgment: $250                      
            Act of adoption: $100                                                            
            Birth Certificate: $100
            Costs and expenses: $1000

            III. FOSTER AND GUARDING
            Salary for foster mom: $1600
            Living expenses of the child (Pampers, milk, food, and medical):  $2400

            IV. OBTAINING PASSPORT AND OUT PERMISSION.
            Legalization documents at City Hall: $100
            Obtaining a passport to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: $450
            Slip obtained from the Ministry of Gender and Family: $450
            Child Visa:  $230
            Obtaining permission to leave the DGM: $200

            Attorney receives $5,000 for services.

According to this document, $10,180 went to various people other than our attorney (including $4,000 for foster care fees).  But where?  We knew from the US Embassy that an exit letter from DGM did not cost any money.  Why was AAS charging us $200 for it?  Where was all of this money going?  To bribes/expediting fees/wheel greasing?  We simply did not know, and our questions were never really answered other than with things like, Thats just the culture and Things are different in Congo.  When we asked for receipts, we were told that nobody in Congo gives receipts something we knew to be untrue from other families receipts from other agencies and some of our own experiences in Congo. We did learn that the search fees went to the attorneys who were supposedly only getting $5,000 for their services.  It turns out that ALL of our money was funneled through the attorneys, including foster care fees.  We dont know how much they kept on top of their $5,000 fee.  When we have questioned the amounts paid to the lawyers, we were told that the attorneys need to feed their children and support their families.  In a recent conference call, AAS informed clients that the attorneys are not responsible for verifying that the children are adoptable or that their stories are true which leads to the question of what exactly these fees were for, if not for the attorneys to do these things.

Once the suspension started in September 2013, we learned that we would be charged $500/month per child for foster care expenses, on top of the $4,000 that we had already paid per our contract (which was for 8 months of foster care per child).  We knew from this blog that the average monthly salary in DRC was only $50/month, but we believed AAS when they said that the money was necessary to take good care of our children.  Later, we found out from postings on online adoption groups that our childrens foster mothers were only getting $160 out of $500 to care for our children, and that the money was being paid directly to our attorneys who apparently did not provide an accounting of the remaining $340/month fee.  When families questioned this arrangement, the attorneys moved their children out of the foster homes where they had been living for over a year and refused to tell the adoptive families where the children were living.  We were told that we could not be in contact with foster families, and that communicating with them was not permitted.  AAS admitted that all of this was happening, and gave families permission to move their children to private foster care.

But when families tried to move their kids to private foster care, they ran into a problem the lawyers wanted more money to release the kids and the documents.  They claimed that they werent paid for certain months of foster care and although the families could provide proof of payment through cancelled checks and paypal transactions, the families were sometimes required to pay again for foster care.  The lawyers also demanded more and more money to release documents above and beyond what had already been paid or what was already due.  It felt like blackmail from these lawyers, and like AAS was playing a role in it although AAS insisted that it couldnt control the lawyers, and that they couldnt do anything about any of these demands.

Throughout the suspension, there were strong rumors of many AAS families getting out of the country through supposedly legal means despite the fact that the official position of the Congolese government was that no one could take their kids out of the country legally.  We were told that there was a loophole and that they could exit legally through Goma.  When waiting families would talk about who had reportedly gone through Goma (including members of AAS board), they were harassed and bullied by AAS told that the rumors would only hurt the families and the process.  Harassment and bullying is a common AAS tactic, with various methods Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, email, text message and phone calls used to intimidate clients into giving them information or answering questions. One example is when clients talked about their negative experiences with AAS, either privately or in small online forums, they would receive emails about how they are jeopardizing their adoptions and/or could face legal action.  If clients discussed with each other AAS families who had brought their adopted children home during the suspension, Danielle and Amy would call, text and message them repeatedly, demanding to know where they got this information.  These communications were particularly ironic, given that many clients had trouble getting timely reply emails or phone calls from AAS but when Amy or Danielle wanted to talk to you, they would contact you through every means available, repeatedly, until you answered. We all have multiple screenshots of these communications from Amy and Danielle.  AAS seemed to be particularly concerned with social media postings and rumors, apparently encouraging clients to take screenshots of other adoptive parents private adoption pages or postings on adoption ethics groups, and emailing clients directly to confront them about these postings.  These tactics fostered an atmosphere of fear and distrust among adoptive parents, and did little to contribute to actually moving cases forward. 

Case progress remains a major concern for us.  All of us have been in process for over a year, but many of us are nowhere near bringing our kids home even without the suspension. Many of us have found significant mistakes and errors in our court documents, requiring us to essentially start the process over again.  Others have seen absolutely no progress in their cases in months, and cannot get straight answers from AAS about what exactly is happening.  When clients complain about these items or even just ask for help, we are told that we are free to leave AAS and find another agency if we dont think that they are ethical or that they are doing a good job. They claim that complaints (including Hague complaints) and asking questions just distract them from doing work on cases. We were also told by a board member that Amy and Danielle were not being paid, and that they work harder than anyone else for us as though they were innocent victims in all that has happened, rather than the creators of this mess.

Over the course of the suspension, many of us have learned through independent investigations that our kids stories were false, and that they do have living birth families.  AAS has now announced that families who contact agency attorneys, orphanages or facilitators, or who engage third party providers (like independent investigators) without prior written permission will be in breach of contract and will have their contract cancelled with no refunds given.   It seems like AAS goal is to end as many contracts as possible, given that they have announced that when their contractual obligations are finished in DRC, they will close the program.  They have created a gigantic mess in DRC, and appear to be very eager to get out of it even if it comes at the expense of their clients and their adopted children.  AAS is apparently starting new adoption programs in other countries in Africa, including Niger and Uganda.

We are disappointed that we have been so badly betrayed by AAS, and we hope that by writing this, others will be made aware of their actions in DRC.  We have seen fraud, incompetence, bullying, harassment, corruption, and negligence in our dealings with this agency.  We are all too far into our adoption processes to simply walk away we are the legal parents of our children, these children rely on us for support, and we do not have enough money to pay another agency.  Our hope is that by raising these issues publicly, we can shed some light on the issues that may arise in the course of an adoption and perhaps save some families considering international adoption some heartache.





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Learning compassion through children's literature

I mentioned in the prior post that I feel like children learn compassion through reading quality children's literature.  We don't have access to a library like we did in the states and I enjoy holding a physical book when I read to the girls at night, so often we are scrounging around trying to find the next good book to read.  Along our travels I came across an old unabridged version of three stories by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  We recently finished "A Little Princess."

I read it myself many times when I was young, but had forgotten how rich the vocabulary is throughout the book.  I was worried the girls wouldn't understand the story because I felt as if every sentence needed explaining.  It certainly followed the advice of "reading stories aloud to children that are above their current reading level" that I often hear as I study the development of good reading skills.  However, despite the interruptions and explanations, they were very involved in the story and couldn't believe that the "Indian Gentleman" was looking for Sarah Crewe and didn't know she lived only next door.  The suspense in their faces every night was worth all the pausing to explain what a particular word meant.

There are so many wonderful themes and stories throughout the book.  Rich stories about strength, humility, dignity, and courage are spread throughout the book.  The girls soaked in life lessons as they listened to the story unfold.

One small part of the book (it seemed at the time) was when Sarah gave up most of her bread on a day when she was starving and could have easily justified eating it all herself.  Instead, she saw a child that was hungrier and even more desperate than she was at the time and gave 5 out of her 6 buns away to the other girl.  This struck the notice of the bakery owner in the story who was astounded that a small starving girl would give away her food to another little girl.  We talked about it then (her compassion towards the little girl), but it wasn't until the end when we see how that seemingly small act of kindness changed the little girl's (Anne, it turns out was her name) entire life.  Not only was there an act of charity that fed a little girl, but she eventually was taken in by the shop keeper as her child.

We talked a long time about that, how that small thing Sarah had done (which was really a big thing for Sarah in that desperate moment of her life) changed someone's life for the better.  We talked about compassion and about understanding the desperation in being hungry and knowing what it is to walk in the same shoes as another child.  We talked about that she was generous in her poverty and she was generous in her wealth at the end of the story.

It made me think of DRC and our lives there.  How time and time again I was humbled by the generosity and compassion of those that had so little towards others in their communities. We talked about compassion, about what it means to think about the struggles of another child as if you were that child.  We finished the book talking about how the small decisions to act in kindness to those around you, to those that are in your path, are often much bigger in the eyes of the person who is struggling in that moment. How an act of compassion or a listening ear helps each of us know in a deep way we are not alone.  We talked about how giving and acting in kindness often changes our hearts too.  We talked about the daily choices we have in our attitudes and how gratitude can change the color of our world.

Sarah and Anne, at the end of the book shook hands and looked at each other with the acknowledgement that they were the same, that the difference in wealth didn't change their common humanity.  And that they cared about each other.  It is a challenge for all of us, to choose compassion instead of selfishness, to walk in gratitude for what we have, to choose humility over false pride, to choose forgiveness over anger and resentment, and to listen and act in love instead of fear.

Two girls in the morning in Tanzania.
  


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sheltering our kids (googling stun grenades)

Overall, I haven't jumped into too many topics that are tough with the kids.  Natalie is 7 1/2 and though she gets it that there are "mean" people in the world and that bad things happen, I somehow have wanted her to believe there is mostly good and beautiful around her.   And in order to do that, I try to shelter her from some of the harsh realities, suffering, evil, and desperate pain in the world around her.  We read children's book that talk about big topics that can be scary for children but often when they are presented in away that children can understand, I find she is less overwhelmed and scared.

Despite all my best intentions, I can't always shelter her from all of the pain, suffering, tragedy and the truly evil things people can do to each other.  I realized this last spring, shortly before school let out here in Tanzania.  It had been a normal day, the girls were all at school.  I was sitting in the same place I am right now, when I started hearing "booms".  I ignored them at first, thinking maybe they were fireworks.  But they continued and I had to admit to myself that they seemed much louder than the normal firework.  The thought "bomb" crossed my mind, but I didn't give it much attention.

Soon I began receiving texts from friends explaining that there were street riots happening in town over the police trying to physically remove street vendors off the streets (we live close to the center of town) and I should stay home for now.  I learned that tear gas was being used.  That still didn't explain all the "booms" that continued to go on. I also thought of one of our girls that was across the town in preschool, not in the main school that was close to our house where the other three girls went to school.  I made the decision to go get her early.  As I was waiting for the taxi to come, a friend wrote and told me the loud booming noises were from "stun grenades".  I had no idea what they were and googled them.  I learned they were non-lethal grenades and used with tear gas sometimes.  I was grateful for that information, because though I still startled with every boom I heard and knew it meant people were hurt and scared (which in and of itself was awful), I knew at least that people were not being bombed and killed.

It was a long day.  Thankfully I was able to get my daughter without problems.  The streets were quiet and other than young men running from the market area we encountered no problems.  It was 10 hours of  loud "booming", though.  The other three girls came home from school in the afternoon, they seemed fine overall, kids are resilient.  But when I asked my oldest daughter about what had been explained to her at school about the noises she told me that she had been told they were "bombs".  I asked her what she thought that meant and she told me she thought people were killing each other.

It struck me that she had sat in class all day thinking people were dying.  I explained to her that though there are bombs that kill people that is not what that noise was today and though people were hurt and scared, people were (hopefully) not being killed.  She was reassured.  And I couldn't help but think about other moms around the world that hear bombs and wonder about their children at school and don't have the assurance google brought to me, that instead of non-lethal means being used, family and friends were dying.  I wondered about the conversations they had with their children about bombs that do kill and what that does to the hearts of little children.

Last week, Natalie again was faced with human cruelty.  We found out the neighbor of a friend had had acid thrown on his face and chest and was in critical condition at the local hospital.  I tried to make sure Natalie wasn't around when it was brought up, but she overheard from someone else a couple days later.  How do you explain to a child why someone would do such an awful act to someone else?  I floundered.  Most of all I was at a loss, because I don't have the answers myself even though I know that evil (sin) exists and the world is a broken place.  Still, on a heart level, I just cannot grasp such cruelty and I don't know how to explain things like this to a child.  And again, I wondered about other mothers and what they are having to explain to their children around the world.

Natalie came home from school with these prayer flags shortly after the street riots last spring.  "I hope Isla never ever get killed buy a bane (bomb)." And, "I hope my dad never ever gets a bad infecssen (infection) ever agan". 


Lately, I have been talking to Natalie a lot about beauty and goodness, the awe-inspiring world we live in.  The God who created it all.  About love and kindness. About helping the person in your path and never withholding forgiveness and grace. About being a person of peace.  I don't know if they are answers, but somehow I find that when my eyes are turned in the direction of a loving God, the world He made, and the love of my family and friends, a peace comes that I cannot explain.  That we are never alone, even in the darkest moments.  Immanuel.






Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What we are doing in Tanzania (100 giving 22).

What are we doing in Tanzania?  I say "we" because though it is really my husband's job and work, I feel like I am a part of it because I support and care for our family.  We are in it together.  Mike works for a wonderful NGO called Project Concern International (PCI).  We moved here just about one year ago.  We are very thankful to have the opportunity to live here and do this work.  And what is the work?  Believe it or not, we are working with school children! Lots and lots of school children--70,000 school children!! Pretty amazing. They are doing a lot of really good work, but the biggest part of their work here in Tanzania is feeding children so they are not hungry in school. 

"The Food for Education program benefits 70,000 children and 880 teachers, and reaches approximately 260,000 community members in the districts of Musoma Rural and Bunda located in the Mara Region of Tanzania, which suffers from some of the highest levels of chronic poverty, persistent drought and food insecurity in the country. These challenges contribute to poor education outcomes in Mara Region, where the pass rates in primary school were a mere 52% for boys and only 34% for girls in 2011, the second worst region in the entire country (BEST, 2011). Prior to project interventions, 90% of female caregivers in Bunda and Musoma Rural districts reported that their children “rarely” or “never” consumed a meal prior to going to school. Through the Food for Education program, the daily meals provided to students in 103 schools are now resulting in significant increases in enrollment and attendance." (source)



As you might know, my thoughts and heart has been on school children a lot recently.  Not only sending off our girls to school (well, for two of them, it is home for school), but on the 70 children we are hoping to send to school this fall in eastern DRC.

For the 70 kids we have been supporting, they will likely never be a part of a government program like the one PCI is doing in Tanzania.  For many reasons, but one of them being that they live in remote areas and spread all over the territory of south Kivu in small village schools.  Our manager had to travel on a motorcycle for one entire day to find one of the schools, and that was just to visit ONE child.  And he was worth it to us. 

Traveling to visit school children in eastern DRC.
The school at the end of the journey


The two children at the end of the journey--brother and sister.


We would love to help all the children in the schools, every one of them deserve to not sit in school hungry.  And we are doing what we can with the children that are the most vulnerable.  The "orphans" that have lost their mothers (a child in that area of DRC is called an "orphan" when they have lost their mother).  We are not only paying their school fees, but we are making sure they have uniforms and notebooks so they can attend school.  And maybe one day we will even do more.  Maybe one day we will be able to help one of their villages in a bigger way.

But the first step is to get the kids to school.  Here in Tanzania, in the 103 schools that are targeted for the school feeding program, the students do not pay tuition; they are government schools.  In eastern DRC, that is not the case, the government schools are not free and many families cannot afford school fees.  7 million children do not attend school in DRC (source).  32% of all secondary aged students do not attend school in DRC (source).  The majority of the children we support to send to school are secondary students that would otherwise not be attending school.  This is a success story.

Honestly, fundraising is not easy.  I don't have anything flashy to share (and even my little giveaway is just that--little).  I'm not the best writer out there.  I can only do my best to advocate for the 70 children that would be easy to forget that live in eastern DRC.  I can only do my best to make sure we don't forget them.  When our manager finally was able to visit all the kids we support this year, the message he received from these kids over and over again was that they were happy to be able to go to school, that their lives were very hard, and yet, they said thank you.

Let's continue to give them hope for a brighter future, that they are not forgoten.  If 100 people each gave $22 we would be able to finish our fundraising and send all the children to school this fall.  Would you consider a one time donation of $22?  Any donations can be given through the paypal links on my blog or our website: www.reedsofhope.org.  Thank you!  

Yvonne, secondary school



Neema, secondary school


Byemere, secondary school




Wednesday, August 27, 2014

School fees for the children living in the mountains of eastern DRC (and a giveaway)

As children return to school all around the world this month, the children we support in eastern DRC are hopeful to return as well.  Every trimester we raise the funds for the students that currently do not have sponsors to attend school.  We want to make sure that there aren't any students that cannot attend due to lack of school fees.



We have been supporting these children for 4 years to attend school.  Almost all of the children were left at the orphanage as infants and then reunited with their families.  Most have extremely poor families that cannot afford to send their children to school.  Our Reeds of Hope manager on the ground pays the fees directly to the schools and verifies all children are attending school.  



We need to raise $2770 FULLY FUNDED over the next week to help send the 50 students who don't have sponsors to school and make sure they have uniforms, notebooks, and pencils.   Would you consider helping us?  As the money is raised, each day I will update the amount we need to raise.  Thank you for sharing about our fundraiser.  Any amount will help and can be given via the paypal links on the right side of the blog. 



And to kick off the week of fundraising we have a giveaway to share that includes two gifts.

1.  A $50 gift certificate to MamAfrica Design.  "MamAfrica Designs is a non-profit organization based out of Bukavu, located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Our mission is to change the lives of the women and the future of the children that have been most affected by conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo. We take a holistic approach to creating this change by providing education, healing arts programs and economic opportunity. This fosters self-empowerment, community and sustainability for the women and will ultimately result in generational change. Our programs reflect the basic premise that when women have equity, nations and the world become more secure." (Taken from their website, found here).  Bukavu is the city closest to where all the children we support live in eastern DRC.   Below is a photo from their shop and some of the women that work at MamAfrica. 



2.  A craft made in eastern DRC.  This craft was particularly meaningful to me because almost all of the children we support currently have lost their mothers (many giving birth).  Educating children, especially girls, is an important way we can work to lower maternal mortality (mothers who die in birth).  "Educating girls for six years or more drastically and consistently improves their prenatal care, postnatal care and childbirth survival rates." (UNICEF, source found here.)








Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to report problems with your agency or with your adoption in DRC.

There are many ways to report problems with your agency and your intercountry adoption in DRC.   Complaints can fall into seven general categories and it would be wise to consider sending complaints to all the different groups:

1)   The state licensing body for the agency.

Your agency’s licensing authority is most likely located in the state where the agency operates.  Sometimes, it is not the same states where the agency operates.  The licensing authority gives your agency the license to operate.  Visit this website to find the list of state licensing authorities: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=15&rate_chno=AZ-0008E  Once you find out what state your agency is licensed in then contact that licensing authority to find out how to register a complaint with them. 


2)   The accrediting body for the agency. 

DOS has authorized COA (Council on Accreditation) as the accrediting entity for the U.S.  This is who gives your agency approval to operate a program in DRC (or any foreign country). Currently this applies to Hague, as of July 14, 2014, it will apply to all IA.  To find out if your agency is accredited visit this website: http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/agency_accreditation/agency_search.php  

Is your agency accredited?  Then report them here at the Hague Complaint Registry (HCR)*:  http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/agency_accreditation/complaints.php   


3)   The U.S. Department of State (DOS) 

When you file a complaint with the HCR, generally the complaint is also shared with DOS, Office of Children’s Issues (OCI).  It is best to provide DOS with a separate copy as well. ASKCI@state.gov

What if your agency in DRC is Non-Hague or pre-UAA** (grandfathered case)?  You can send a copy of your complaint to DOS/OCI via ASKCI@state.gov. 


4)   The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa. 

The Kinshasa embassy is the embassy that approves visas for family adopting from DRC. Providing the Embassy with complaints about a certain ASP, attorney, children’s home or facilitator will enable the Embassy to more closely and thoroughly examine cases involving those person/entities and alert them to possible ethical/legal issues. 

Complaints can be mailed directly: 
U.S. Embassy Kinshasa/310, Avenue de Aviateurs/Kinshasa, Gombe/République Démocratique du Congo or emailed:  KinshasaAdoptions@state.gov

5)   U.S. Department of Justice 

       If your complaint involves the payments of bribes (any “expediting fee” or “motivation fee” and sometimes even a “processing fee” where there is no public document fee required), you may wish to contact the US Department of Justice in order to file a claim under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  

By mail: U.S. Department of Justice/Criminal Division/Fraud Section/ATTN: FCPA, Coordinator/Bond Building, 4th Floor/10th and Constitution Ave. NW/Wasthington, DC 20530-0001
By fax: 202-514-7021

6)   The FBI. 

If your complaint involves suspected fraud on the part of the your Adoption Service Provider (payment of “expedited” fees, “motivational” fees, “processing” fees where there is no states expected authorized fee , exorbitant charges for foster care, suspected fraudulent documents, suspected trafficking or smuggling of children, misrepresentation of program details and viability), please contact the FBI at 202-324-3000, or online at https://tips.fbi.gov. 

7)   Local Authorities. 

If your complaint involves suspected fraud by your Adoption Service Provider, you may also want to contact local authorites, such as police departments and Attorney General’s Offices where your agency is located.  You can find contact information for AG offices here: http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php


Some final comments:

States license your agency with is your adoption service provider.  And they also license attorneys.  You can find the state licensing authority for each in your state above and contact them about registering a complaint. 

Complaints against a Hague accredited agency are also filed via the HCR (Hague Complaint Registry) on the DOS adoptions website (see above) and then forwarded to COA for investigation.  For adoptions that happen on foreign soil (intercountry adoption), COA is the Accrediting Entity for DOS for U.S. agencies. 

COA itself offers many types of accreditation for various welfare organizations, including private adoption services agencies.  These are different from Hague standards and only a few Hague Accredited agencies are also COA accredited.  So, if you agency is Hague Accredited, but not on this list: http://coanet.org/accreditation/who-is-accredited/organization-profiles/
then you only file via the HCR.  If an agency IS accredited both by Hague and by COA (if your agency’s name is on the list above) then you can use the “Complaints” section on the COA’s website. 

With regards to intercountry adoption, COA has very limited powers.  It can investigate alleged violations of Hague Accreditation Regulations.  If there is no alleged violation, they cannot investigate.  (see here for more information: http://regulations.justia.com/regulations/fedreg/2006/07/18/E6-11362.html)

*Before you file a complaint with the HCR (Hague Complaint Registry), you must first register the complaint with your agency via a formal grievance process UNLESS you have reason to believe doing so would endanger yourself or a child, in which case you may bypass, but must state this in your complaint.  If it is a 3rd party (i.e. someone other than a client of the agency), there is no reason to address first with agency.  The agency must respond to the complaint within 30 days.  A family can still complain to HCR if the agency does address the APs complaints through the formal grievance policy.  Agencies also must provide COA with reports about complaints that way COA can compare the report submitted by the agency.  If an AP/PAP has reasonable fear of retribution from their agency because they submitted a complaint they can include that in the complaint and use the HCR (you can do this via email copies as needed).  

According to the COA website, normal investigations by COA are completed within 12 months.  High priority cases which get investigated within 6 months include: allegations of child trafficking or child buying, allegations of imminent danger to a child, and/or complaints filed by a Federal, State, or local government official or a Foreign Central Authority or official. 

Get specifics from here:  coanet.org/programs/hague-accreditation-and-approval/monitoring-and-oversight/
 
Questions about their investigation process can be sent here: haguecompliance@coanet.org

**The Universal Accreditation Act (UAA) of 2012 comes into effect on July 14, 2014.  This law means that all agencies that work overseas must be Hague accredited or approved.  You can find more information about this law here:  http://adoption.state.gov/adoption_process/faqs/uaa_2012.php 

A huge thank you to Gina Murphy Pollock who helped to write and edit large portions of this post.  Thank you, Gina!