Thursday, January 23, 2014

The three most important documents in your adoption in DRC. Do you have them all?

I once wrote a post saying there were three essential documents you must see with your own eyes and have in your possession to know you had an ethical adoption in DRC.  Of course, they are all important, but these three are the most important.  And of course, possessing these documents is not the only way to assure you had an ethical adoption in DRC, but it is one of the many ways. 

One, you must have an adoption decree (or judgement).  Without that you have not adopted a child.  You should receive a copy of this judgement from your agency or organization and eventually you should be given the original copy.

Two, your child must have a visa from the U.S. embassy in their Congolese passport.  If they don't have one, they will not be able to legally leave DRC to immigrate to the U.S.  Remember, that even if you are their legal parent in DRC the child is still a Congolese citizen and will not be a U.S. citizen until they come to the U.S.  As a Congolese citizen they need permission from the immigration of their country to leave the country as an adopted child of a foreigner (on a U.S. visa, in our case).  Which brings us to point number three.  

Three, you must have a DGM exit letter that states you were given permission to leave DRC with your adopted Congolese child.  (Notice I said Congolese child.  Because your child is still a Congolese citizen.)   This is a piece of paper signed by the director of DGM (Congolese immigration).  There is no fee for this letter.  And as you all know, issuance of this letter is currently suspended in DRC.  Do you have a copy of your letter?  You should.  Otherwise you will not know if you legally exited DRC.   Or if you used an escort, you will not know that your Congolese child legally exited DRC.  These are official paper documents (not electronic documents) that were being issued as early as 2010 (stamped by the office of DGM).  I had mine in my possession from the middle of 2011 because we had to show the original paper document at all border crossings in DRC (and every country we passed through on our way to the U.S.).  I have friends that have theirs from the end of 2010. 

If you don't have it in your records (go look), ask your agency or organization for a copy of it.  They will have it in their records for your child.  Remember, if your agency is a Hague Accredited agency, then they are required to keep all your documents pertaining to your adoption for 75 years!  (source)   Various state laws also require detailed record keeping (source).   No one wants to be accused of smuggling their Congolese child out of DRC.  It's very important to have that document in your records and hold on to it.

Maybe you are reading this and you don't have the DGM exit letter in your possession.  Maybe you ask your agency and they do not have the letter.  Maybe you feel concerned that your child didn't legally exit DRC.  Your adoption is still valid in the U.S. when you child processes through immigration in the U.S., but it does mean that your child illegally exited the country (even if it was completely unknowingly to you) and you should hold your agency accountable. You should demand answers as to why you do not have the exit letter.  It is important we all abide by the laws in DRC.  Sometimes we aren't even aware of when we aren't abiding by those laws.  That is why asking hard questions to your agencies and organizations are very important.  

Shutdowns and suspensions will only continue to happen unless we hold our agencies accountable for their actions on the ground.  Not abiding by the DRC laws and processes are why the country will close to adoption.   Hold your agency and organizations accountable for their actions.  Ask hard questions.  Take a stand for the children of DRC. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When we hold all the power.

I read this tonight.  Remember the documentary "Mercy, Mercy"?  I wrote about my reactions to watching it here.  When I read that her biological parents have still not been able to be in touch with her or even hear how she is doing, my heart broke all over again.  They have NO power in the situation.  They have NO rights.

It is the same for the biological parents of the children we adopt from DRC.  Per U.S. law, they have no rights to know anything about their children who are now our adopted children;  we, as their new parents are not required to keep in touch with their biological parents, and we are not forced to have an open adoption.  That is U.S. law.

Congolese law, on the other hand, says that we MUST keep ties to the biological family of our children!  That we even are obligated to help them if no one else can help them. 

Is it any surprise then that biological parents in DRC do not understand adoption?  Adoption, to someone in DRC (by law, please see my links to the laws on the right) means that they will remained tied to their child, they will keep in contact, there will be a relationship with the adoptive family.  The relationship to their child (by birth) is never severed even when the adoptive parent is the legal parent.  AND, the law further says that the adoptive parent is supposed to help the biological family when they have no one else to help them.

I wonder how many agency and organization representative explain this in detail to adoptive parents?  The differing laws and expectations between the two countries?  I wonder how many on ground staff fully explain this to the biological parents that are consenting to the adoptions?  That is is a complete severing of the tie of the bond between parent and child?  That they will have no rights to ANY information about their children?  That despite the laws in DRC governing adoption, the parent in the U.S. is only under the laws that govern them in the U.S., not the adoption law in DRC. 

In the age of social media, more and more biological parents in DRC are going to find the new adoptive parents of their children.  They will seek out news and information, they will search for what they expect given the laws in their country on adoption. 

Something to consider. 

(And yes, we have an open adoption with our girls' family in DRC, we have kept their ties to their family and we do try to help them when needs arise.  I am happy to talk about what this means to anyone that is interested.  My email is top right of the blog.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

unmeasured strength

There is an image in my mind.  It is of a tall slender woman, a mother.  A shy gentle smile and proud bearing.  Stronger than I can imagine.  A mother of many children.  A baby sitting on her lap.  Hiccuping, exhausted, tears covering her small face.  Her body pressed so close, her head next to her mother's heart.  Her mother, holding tightly, taking a gentle hand and wiping away her tears.  And then a man's voice says, "It is not her baby, she [the baby] belongs to the Canadian, Mr. xxxx".  Her mother with eyes downcast clinging to her child. 


But she made a decision.  After she relinquished her children to the care of an agency recruiter and after she was told they would be getting an education and then returned to her, after this she followed them.  She sat by her son's side when he was injured and needed surgery. 

she never left his side

She now lives in the orphanage with her children that is guarded by men who are police.  She watches over her children.  While battles rage around her and the fate of her children are decided by others, she cares for her children.  

this is a woman whose strength cannot be measured 

She feeds her children everyday.  She changes their clothes.  She plays with them.  She holds them when they cry and when they sleep.  She does everything in her power that she can do to care for them.  She is their mother.

and she is not powerless

There are dark forces at work, ones that cannot be seen.  Light is flickering in the darkness.  Hope is fragile and ever beyond her fingertips.  Yet, her love, her love shines, blinding in the dead of night. 

love, the root of the greatest sacrifice


Prompted by reading the story on this blog:  Post onePost twoPost three.
And here is a very well written analytical response to this same story.     

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Important stories to consider: DRC, Uganda, and China

From DRC two days ago: This story, "Faces of Adoption," is a follow up from the first piece written one year ago.  I think it is unusual when an adoptive parent can go back to visit the family when there is a case of a failed adoption.  It is both an amazing story of a mother who is still caring for her children with the help of her family and a horrific story of a family that was almost torn apart.  Reposted with permission:   

I want to tell you a story of a family living in Kinshasa.
Grandma lives in Kinshasa in a humble home. She’s supported by her church since her husband was the senior pastor for many years before he died. They have six children and many grandchildren. One of their daughters, Therese, was very successful working in Kinshasa. She first had a job with the government, and then was hired to run an orphanage and facilitate adoptions for an American adoption agency.
Life is hard in Kinshasa. It’s an expensive place to live, and unless you know the right people, it can be difficult to find work. The justice system is lacking, making life more challenging for the poor. Disease and conflict are common.
Grandma is raising about 10 of her grandchildren while her children work various odd jobs, go to school far from Kinshasa or otherwise live outside of Kinshasa.
By facilitating adoptions for this American adoption agency, Therese makes a lot of money, more money than she’s ever made. Her friend also works for the organization as the lawyer. He makes a lot of money too. Life becomes very good for these people.
Therese sees Americans drive up to the orphanage in big cars. She sees photos of happy American families going to Disney World. She sees that they live in houses larger than any she’s ever seen, and she sees that all the children in America go to school, have medical care and never go hungry.
Therese has a daughter, a beautiful young girl that she loves. Seeing an opportunity to advance this daughter’s life economically, she fills out the paperwork to have the daughter adopted to America. She hopes that her daughter will keep in touch, and that the Americans will send her pictures so she can see the woman she grows up to be. Then Therese has her sister do the same for her daughter. Neither woman has ever heard from her daughter again.
Every time a new child comes to the orphanage or signs up to be adopted, Therese makes more money.
Therese has another sister, Monica. Monica lives with her husband about a 2 hour plane ride from Kinshasa. They have six children and another on the way. Therese tells Monica that if she gives her three middle children to the orphanage, they will be adopted by an American family to go to school in America. The children will stay in touch. The American family will send photos and be part of their own Congolese family. She tells Monica that Monica is not a good mother and cannot adequately care for the children. With trepidation, she agrees.
Ives, Ivonne and Chaty live at the orphanage for one year. They see their aunt at the orphanage; they go home to the grandmother’s house when they fall ill. They are told that they will go to America to go to school.
This is the face of adoption in DRC.

One day, with no explanation, the children return home for good. The Americans never come for them.
They now live with their aunt and their mother in Kinshasa with their twin sisters and a new baby on the way.
I met them three weeks ago. We were supposed to adopt them. At lunch, the aunt continued to try to convince me to take them while their mother wiped their noses and looked at the floor.
These three beautiful children, being cared for by not one, but at least 4 biological caretakers, were almost adopted by me. I almost caused them one of the greatest traumas that would have occurred in their lives because I didn’t know any better.
They spent one year of their lives in an institution because the staff of the One World Adoption Services Orphanage was making money like they’d never seen by keeping them there and because the American adoption agency never bothered to verify that they were referring actual orphans for adoption.
By the grace of God, he spared these children the fate of being torn away from their family and country, but not all children are so lucky.
Seeing them was a sobering blessing to me. I have wondered at times whether we made the right decision walking away from this family, but I saw how the biggest mistake I made was walking into their lives in the first place. The worst thing that happened to this family was crossing paths with One World Adoption Services and me. Thank you Jesus for saving them from international adoption!

The next story is from Uganda and can be found here from yesterday. The following is a small part of the bigger post and story:

Mariam was lied to, like countless other mothers, and was told of a better life for her child. She, like so many others, was coerced into giving up her child and convinced that lying was the only way to get help. In her mind, like so many others, she truly thought it was for the best.
We share all of this with Mariam’s blessing. She wants others to know her story, so that they might learn from her story. Sadly, so many of these cases end up with the parents never seeing their child again.
Trafficked, adopted, transferred. Lost in the system.
We are in no way opposed to adoption or fostering. We believe adoption and foster care is necessary and beautiful, both internationally and domestically. We are opposed, however, to mothers being oppressed into thinking the western world can offer their child a better life.
Two months after that meeting with Mariam, Amy was resettled. Redemption is a beautiful thing. Forgiveness is freeing. Mariam, we love you and Amy, and we are so thankful for you and your courage.

The last story is from China from two days ago.  It can be found here.  The following is only a small part of the bigger post. 

The definition of human trafficking used by the United States Department of State is an equation that must result in either slavery or prostitution in order for a situation to be deemed illegal.  But considering the children who are being purchased from their biological family or taken under the guise of educational opportunity, should not the practice of creating orphans for the purpose of adoption also be considered human trafficking?  Should we not also protect these children and their families?...
We are in no way opposed to international adoption.  International adoption is a dream we continue to hold dear.  We are, however, opposed to the falsifying of files for the creation of orphan status when such status cannot be documented.  We are opposed to the manipulation of children and their birth families for the purposes of creating orphans. We are opposed to governments who would rubber stamp orphans into existence and not allow foreign agencies to question facts presented in an orphan’s file. We are opposed to adoption agencies who simply ignore warnings of fraud because they can hide behind the offending country’s legal documentation. We are adamantly opposed to all forms of child trafficking.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Current updated needs with Reeds of Hope (and a brief overview of our work)

Good morning from Tanzania everyone!

We have so much going on at Reeds of Hope these days.  We are committed to helping children find their families (and short term quality care while they wait) through reunification efforts though family support (or alternative care when they can't be placed back in their homes).  We are committed to coming alongside those that are already caring for children in a permanent way in their homes.  We believe children should attend school as one way to help break the cycle of poverty that often entraps vulnerable children and their families.  This is such exciting and valuable work.

Chiza (Family Bethlehem)

Briefly here is how this is practically happening in the ground through our work in eastern DRC through our two projects:  Save the Children orphanage and school children AND our new partnership, Family Bethlehem

1.  How we are committed to helping children find their families (or alternative care if they can't be reunited with their families)?

We are in the transition phase with our work at the Save the Children Orphanage.  There are two real needs of RoH before we can move out of this transition phase to actively work in reunification work.  We have some great assessment tools and training materials that will be translated into french.  One, we need to complete our fundraising for a motorcycle for our on ground staff.  We are hopeful this might be completed at the end of this month.  Two, we need to continue to fund raise for the salary of a social worker and his or her training.  We have some committed regular funding but still have a ways to go in this area.  

We provide quality care to the children waiting in the orphanage by providing all the formula needs for the babies, fortified milk powder for the older children, and staff to care for the children.  

Family Bethlehem has been doing reunification work for about 30 years and needs more comprehensive support and training to continue to do this for the children in their home that are only there for temporary care or that could be reunited with their family.

2.   How are we coming alongside those that are already caring for children permanently in their home?  

We are starting a new partnership with Family Bethlehem.  Mama Sifa and Papa Jerome have been caring for children that have lost their families for 30 years.  Most they have offered a permanent family solution, some they have helped reunite with their families and others they have found alternative permanent homes within their communities.  As years of insecurity continue they have more and more children that need their assistance and their own ability to care for so many children on their own has dwindled.  We are coming alongside their work to offer them support.

3.  How do we help children attend school?

We support the school fees of 82 children that once lived at the Save the Children Orphanage and who now live with their families in eastern DRC.  Many are attending through secondary school in their own communities.  Through our support of Family Bethlehem we will also be contributing school fees of the children that live in the Family Bethlehem homes (of which there are two).

Chombo (one of the many school children we support)

How can you help?  General one time donations are needed during this time that would be used towards all the different projects listed above.  Sponsors for the babies and small children in the Save the Children Orphanage.  Sponsors for our school children that used to live in the Save the Children Orphanage.  Sponsors to hire a social worker.  And once changes have been made to our website over the next couple of weeks, we will need sponsors for Family Bethlehem.  If this work is close to your heart, would you consider giving?  Or sharing our work with friends or family?  Or doing a fundraiser that would support the children and their families in eastern DRC?

Bruno (Save the Children Orphanage)

Please visit our website at  Thank you for the ongoing support!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Resources and links to learn more about family reunification, family support and alternative care models of support. (How to best help an orphanage.)

Everyone that has been reading my blog for the past few years will know that I believe orphanages harm children and that instead of building new ones we should be looking for ways to support families in keeping their children.  You also know that I believe that if you do support an orphanage, it should have a clear plan for how the children will be in their care short term (under a year, ideally less than 9 months) and that should be accomplished through quality care while comprehensive social work works on family assessment and/or alternative care for each child.  If this is not in place and the orphanage is unwilling to work on these models, then I believe you should not support that orphanage.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about family reunification, family support and alternative care models, I would recommend the following sites and resources.  Please take the time to really study and learn about good practice models that have been implemented throughout Africa.  This will be an ongoing post, so I will update it as I learn about more information or programs.  And please comment below if you know of good programs that support this work and I will add them if it looks like they fit the alternate care framework model.  If you are interested in chatting more about this, I would love to talk.  My email is at the top right of this blog.  Thank you-this is exciting work!


1.  Better Care Network

"The website is a vital source of information for people working on issues related to children who lack adequate family care. The website library contains over 1200 research, policy and program resources related to the care and protection of vulnerable children." 

2.  Alternative Care Framework

"This campaign is a government and civil society partnership to promote family preservation, reunification and a rights-based alternative care system for orphans and vulnerable children in Uganda."


1.  Child's i Foundation

"Child’s i Foundation believes children should grow up in families, not orphanages.
We've proved it's possible to find families for abandoned children instead of placing them into long-term care in Uganda. Our ambition is to share and replicate our project so every child across the globe can grow up in a family." 

2.  The Abide Family Center

"We seek to decrease the number of children living in institutional care in Uganda by providing alternative solutions to families caring for orphans and other vulnerable children. We do not believe poverty should be the reason children are raised by orphanages instead of families"

3.  Thrive

"Thrive is a non-profit organization that provides economic empowerment and social support to vulnerable families and their children, thereby strengthening families and communities so that they can raise, educate and nurture their own children as well as the orphaned and the vulnerable"

4.  Bring Love In

"Creating new families from widows and orphans in Ethiopia"

Ushindi.  Children belong with their families, not in orphanages.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy 5th Birthday Isla!

Isla turned 5 years old last month.  She reminds me that she promised me she would stop growing at age 7 and live with me forever, but she's not there yet (though I have to admit that the other day she threw a raging tantrum and screamed "I'm going to grow up and move away and NEVER visit you again!").  Two years ago I wrote this post when she turned three years old.  I commented there that she had a bit of a "princess" problem going on (more of a problem for us than her, really).  Well, she is still the princess of the family.  For whatever reason, all five of us think we should do her bidding anytime and no matter what the demand. 

She wanted us to turn her into a fairy for her birthday.


I decided that now that she is five, I had to let her know the very sad sad fact that she actually is not the only star in the sky, but there are many, including her other sisters.  Pretty sure she growled at me.  Overall, I would say she is very much her own little person.  She continues to be laid back (on her terms).  She doesn't get anxious very often and is always willing to join into something new or different, like when she moved to Tanzania with her dad and Aunt Sara and started a brand new school while I was in the States having surgery. 

She loves to have buddy "special time" with Mia and Ellie (though only one at a is actually quite challenging for them to get along when there are three of them!).  She tries her hardest to manipulating them into whatever she wants them to do.  Though she is their size, she likes to assert her elderly status over them.  She loves to threaten them with "well, then you will not be my buddy anymore!  Though you are still my sister".  This will cause Mia to dissolve into tears and she will often acquiesce to whatever Isla wants.  Ellie, she just says "fine" and goes and plays with Natalie. 

Her biggest fan (beside us) is her big sister, Natalie.  For whatever reason, Natalie has just always had a big soft spot for Isla even before she was born.  She used to whisper to my pregnant belly "come out Isla, I want to play with you."  When Isla falls apart and no one can make it better, Natalie can.  When she is scared, she calls for Natalie.  When she falls down, Natalie picks her up and carries her.  When they flew to Tanzania Natalie let her sleep with her head in her lap.  There is something about big sisters...

On the flight to Tanzania

Natalie teaching Isla how to play chess. 

She has a very vivid imagination and has been known to scare her friends on play dates with her elaborate stories of monsters, ghosts, mummies, and ways the characters die. (Last year, she came home with a skull painted on her face.  She was four.)  I'm convinced she is going to be some kind of novelist that writes thrillers one day.  She gets so involved in stories that she sometimes can't figure out what is "real" and what is "pretend".  One night, she told Mike (her dad) that she was going to turn him into a dragon.  He then pretended to be a dragon.  She was terrified and wouldn't stop screaming until I came into the room to confirm that he wasn't actually a "real" dragon. 

We love you Isla!  And are so grateful for the sweet gift you are to us.  

Isla and Mia

Saturday, January 4, 2014

There is beauty everywhere-Family Bethlehem.

In eastern DRC, there is a Congolese couple that has been taking children into their home, adopting them and raising them as their own for over 30 years.  They never gave birth to any children of their own.  As years of insecurity increased the numbers of children that needed a home increased, some they were able to find other permanent homes for and others they raised as their own, still for others they were able to find their families and reunite them.

At one point they had a steady income from property and farms, but over time and with war and political changes in eastern DRC, they lost their means of self support.  That combined with increasing numbers of children that were brought to them meant that they were unable to provide for their children like they wanted to when they first started adopting children.  Donations from the local catholic church as well as individuals that wanted to support them have sustained them over the years, but barely.

Mama Sifa and Papa Jerome have dedicated their lives to giving children permanent family situations, most by adopting them and becoming their parents.   For the remainder of the children they work work on reunification and alternative care.  Their work to help vulnerable children in their midst is called Bethlehem Family.   

Papa Jerome and Mama Sifa

Reeds of Hope believe that children should live with their families, not in orphanages.  We believe in permanent long term solutions for vulnerable children.  We support Congolese men and women who are providing families for children.  We believe in supporting families through crisis (like maternal death) so they can keep their children.  We believe in helping those parents that provide loving homes to children who cannot stay with their families.  We believe children belong in families. 

That is why we are excited to start sponsoring and supporting Bethlehem Family.  I was fortunate to visit Mama Sifa in June when I was in eastern DRC.  Here is where I first shared about their work. 

Not only does Bethlehem Family need help with general support caring for the numbers of children they have in their two homes, but they also need help with reunification efforts and permanency plans for the children that won't be adopted. 

Because of our commitments to the Save the Children orphanage and the school children, we are currently limiting our level of commitment to Family Bethlehem to the number of children that we can match with interested sponsors or funds raised specifically for Family Bethlehem.  All children sponsored live with Papa Jerome and Mama Sifa, are sent to school if the funds are available.

If you are interested in sponsoring any children at Bethlehem Family you will receive a history of the child, as well as the interests of the child, grade in school and subjects enjoyed at school.  You may also have the opportunity to communicate with your child through Reeds of Hope. Children will be put up on the website this week (along with updates on currently sponsored children).  You can also contact me through my email at the top right of the this blog for more information. 

Thank you so much for your support of our work in DRC.  

There is beauty everywhere.

Here are two of the many children that live at Bethlehem Family.

Chikurru Timothy (older twin), 3 years old

Chito Timothy (younger twin), 3 years old.