Two years

This week we watched the movie Philomena. I would not recommend watching that movie unless you are ready to have your heart crushed. It’s really a great movie, but the story is just tragic. It’s based on a true story (that unfortunately is not an unfamiliar story today). In short, a mother traces her son who was stolen from her for adoption in 1950s Ireland.

This time, two years ago, we were in Kinshasa meeting the family of the children we planned to adopt. This is a bittersweet time of year for me. The sadness and heartache are no longer fresh, but the scars are there. At the same time, it was the end of a terrible experience for those kids having to live in an institution away from the love and care of their mother.

This summer, our adoption agency – One World Adoption Services, Inc. – had their accreditation revoked by the Department of State for substantiated claims of corruption and fraud. This was a huge victory for many families in DRC, the US and Canada, but OWAS’ victim list is long. There are dozens of families in the process who are unsure about whether their adoptions will ever be finalized or whether the children should be adopted at all, and there are few people to help get those questions answered. The lawyers that OWAS employed in DRC are now extorting families who seek to retrieve their paperwork or move the children to foster homes. The pain is never-ending, it seems.

Meanwhile, the suspension of exit letters remains so few children who have been adopted have been allowed to leave DRC. Other agencies who have engaged in practices similar to OWAS remain in business, and families continue to wait and hope.

It’s an absolute mess with no obvious solution. I wish I had an answer for the families who contact me. I struggle with wanting to end all communications that I have with people on the topic because the situation feels so hopeless. I get angry when I see people defending the ethics of DRC adoptions and proceeding with adoptions without questioning whether it’s a good idea. When do you stay and continue to fight and when do you throw in the towel?

The community that I have made with other people involved in DRC adoptions is priceless. If it’s possible to be great friends with people you’ve never met in person, than I certainly am. These women get it. They get the pain and the loss and the beauty of adoption. We keep hoping and fighting because we believe it can be glorious. Thanks for sticking with us on this journey.

Call for Action

Thanks for reading Wednesday. I wrote that post after being up all night thinking about what I want the world to know about Jesus. And I when I finished, I was filled with awe at his love and grace towards me – I need to be reminded about how massive my sin is and how huge his grace is. So I appreciate you joining me in that exploration.

Today I want to switch gears. I’ve been informally collecting stories of fraud and corruption that families have experienced in their DRC adoptions through One World Adoption Services. I’m sad to say that the stories keep coming. I want to formalize this collection.

My goal is this: to compile these stories and submit them as a group to various authorities (State Department, Justice Department, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, and any licensing offices in the State of Georgia). I believe that there is strength in numbers. If you have a story that you believe constitutes visa fraud, misrepresentation, or corruption, I want to hear it! I will keep all submissions confidential, and I won’t use your story in any way without talking to you first. Even if you aren’t sure whether your story rises to the level of criminal activity, send it my way. Together we can protect the families of DRC and hold those who are breaking the law accountable.

Email your stories to delighted [dot] bennett [at] gmail [dot] com.

Victory!

The fight against international adoption corruption and the fight for the rights of vulnerable families rages on, but we’ve had a few great victories in the last week.

Last week, the Department of Justice arrested four adoption agency representatives on charges of visa fraud. This is a huge signal to adoption agencies that they can’t ignore what happens on the ground (duh!).

Yesterday, One World Adoption Services, Inc. (OWAS) posted that they are closing their DRC adoption program. And we are celebrating this victory!!! So many things have led up to this – the DRC exit letter suspension, these charges of fraud against the agency in Ethiopia – but I can’t help but think some it has to do with the many, many families who have been speaking out against the unethical and fraudulent practices of OWAS in DRC. We must continue to speak out against corruption and speak for the victims in these circumstances.

It’s not an easy or fun thing to speak out against. I have had nasty things said to me. I have been banned from certain Facebook groups and called a liar. I have friends who have adopted and friends who are adopting, and I’m sure many people worry that by speaking out, adoptions are threatened, and as a result, kids are stuck in orphanages.

I can’t imagine anything worse than a child stuck in an institution. All the research shows that institutionalizing children is terrible for their brains, their development, their health. In terms of long-term development, it is much better for a child to live in poverty with a family, then to live in an institution. While institutions can serve a necessary function, it should always be temporary and should never, ever be an option if there are families who can fill that role.

But many families in the developing world have bought into the lie that it’s better for them to leave their children in an institution where they can get food, schooling and possibly a trip to America than for them to live with their families. I believe that if these families were empowered with the knowledge of how damaging it is for their children to be institutionalized, they would choose differently. Of course, the international adoption recruiters always leave that part of the story out.

This is why I must continue to speak out. Families have a right to raise their children. We should not be adopting the children of poor families. And adoption agencies who take advantage of such poverty must be brought to justice.

 

 

 

 

What we know

One World Adoption Services is getting a lot of press these days. (See my brave friend Cara’s recent posts: http://caralitchfield.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-mothers-prayer.html and http://caralitchfield.blogspot.com/2014/01/looking-up-part-one.html)

In response, their director, Susan Manning, has penned on her interpretation of the adoption requirements set forth by US Immigration. http://www.oneworldadoptions.org/blog/misconceptions-in-international-adoption-part-1/

I would love to take a few moments to respond:

While OWAS is able to cite the law on what the term orphan means for the purposes of adoption (as defined by USCIS), as shown by Cara’s story, our story, and at least 20 other families that I have spoken with directly, the staff of the OWAS orphanage routinely falsify documents to make the children that live in the orphanage meet the definition of orphan so that they can be adopted. For example, as in Cara’s case, they indicated that children were abandoned on the street, when in fact, the children are living at the orphanage with their biological mother, and in our case (and many many others) they say that fathers are unknown when they are known by everyone but the adoptive parents. Last year, the former director of the OWAS orphanage that said she routinely indicated that fathers were unknown because she knew that’s what USCIS needed to see to approve adoptions. This is what we know.

As Susan told me when I met with her in August 2012, the staff of OWAS in Georgia do absolutely nothing to verify the documents they receive from DRC are true. Even after receiving multiple complaints other families in 2012 of falsified documents, they never did an audit of the children living in the orphanage. This is what we know.

While Susan encourages her clients to ask her caseworkers for more information, many of us have experienced serious deception by caseworkers. We’ve been told that no information is available only to have documents show up later. We’ve been told that children have no family to later discover large extended families. We’ve been given ages of children that were clearly lies – even the children themselves instructed to lie about their ages to make them seem more adoptable. This is what we know.

And while Susan may not be lying when she says that visas are always granted for her clients, that ignores the issue. Just because a visa is issued doesn’t mean the child is an orphan or, more importantly, that adoption is in the best interests of the child. The US Embassy can only do so much. They don’t have the capacity to travel a country three times the size of Texas to track down family members and get the full story. Moreover, they aren’t making a decision about whether adoption is best. To hide behind the excuse that if a visa was granted, then the adoption is not corrupt, is disingenuous and dangerous.

And, we all know people who had visas issued in cases where fraud was involved. The US Embassy does its best, but the orphanages and adoption agencies are in a much better position to ensure that the children they refer are truly in need of adoption.

But you all know all that. If you’ve been around long enough, you know the evils that many adoption agencies facilitate in the name of “saving orphans.” If you watched 48 Hours on CBS last night, you know that people who facilitated adoptions of stolen babies in Guatemala are now facilitating adoptions in DRC.

Why doesn’t this change? More to come…

 

Faces of Adoption

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 was very successful working in Kinshasa. T 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, T 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.

T 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.

T 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 T 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, T makes more money.

T has another sister, M. M lives with her husband about a 2 hour plane ride from Kinshasa. They have six children and another on the way. T tells M 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. M’s family tells her that she is not a good mother and cannot adequately care for the children. With trepidation, she agrees.

The three chidlren 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 what adoption looks like all too often 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 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!

 

*** edited on February 6, 2014. I received a message from one of the family members who disagrees with some of the facts (such as whether the birth mother was married and the family history). I’ve researched this to the best of my ability, and the small facts are not relevant to the bottom line point of this message – that international adoption was not the right answer for this family. I’ve also removed identifying information to protect the family’s privacy.

 

A Time to Act

Thanks to you all for making yesterday’s post the most read on my blog. I didn’t get any mean comments, so that must mean a lot of you agree and want this madness to stop.

I received so many messages from people who felt like there was a bit of their story in the post – stories from Haiti, Guatemala, Uganda, Ethiopia. My heart breaks for you. Thank you for speaking out.

So we must now act. It’s time to stop the money train that flows to these adoption agencies who profit off the backs of widows, orphans and hard-working Westerners who want to open their homes to those in need. We need to say no when they charge $300 per month per child for orphan care when they have no intention of caring for orphans. We need to ask questions when the say they can’t get any information from their in-country staff. We need to laugh in their faces when they tell us that they have no control over what happens in the sending countries.

We’ve taken this abuse for too long. We sit silently by and let families on both sides of the globe get destroyed. No longer. We have the power. We control the money. When they stop making money, we will see change. As long as we continue to send them money, they will continue to exploit the poor. I wish it wasn’t true.

I know that many of these men and women didn’t get into running adoption agencies to traffic children. They believed they were doing good. But somehow, they’ve lost their way. When agency representatives pay bribes, falsify paperwork, smuggle children across the border, demand exorbitant fees, and withhold medical care to children who need it, then they are no longer trying to help children.

It’s time to read the handwriting on the wall. Adoption is a beautiful thing, but it’s become a business – a very, very lucrative business where children are commodities. Let’s stop buying them.

It is well

BB and I are in a big fight today because he wanted to take my computer to work, and I said I needed it.  Now I have to blog and upload photos and Skype with people all day to prove that I was right.  That’s marriage advice for you, free of charge.

I have the day off today because it’s Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.  As usual, it’s another gorgeous day in Kigali.

Maybe we are fighting because this week marks the one year anniversary of our trip to DRC.  About this time last year, we were waking up at St. Anne’s guesthouse in Kinshasa terrified that we were either going to meet our kids or that we weren’t going to meet our kids.  Tomorrow is one year to the day that we knew it was all over.

[Side note:  Almost every day since we’ve been here, we have broken out into gut wrenching laughter at the absurd things that the staff at One World Adoption Services told us about Africa.  Our favorite: they told us they couldn’t possibly get info about the kids background from DRC because there are no cell phones in Africa.  We knew that was ridiculous then, but it still makes me laugh.  I don’t think I’ve met an African who owns fewer than 2 cell phones since we’ve been here.]

Being back in Africa has stirred up these memories.  I was flooded with memories long-buried when we got off the plane.  I know it’s a different country, but the sights and smells of Kigali are not unlike the smell of Kinshasa.  It feels like the kids might turn a corner here and run into our arms.  I can still picture every part of them even though it’s been a long time since I studied their photos.  In fact, we actually found some of their photos in our luggage here – photos I hid in the suitcase when we were in Kinshasa. Funny how they continue to travel with us.

Here in Kigali, we meet a lot of families who have adopted.  I think Africa gets in your blood in a way that you can’t get rid of it.  If you’ve adopted, you are forever connected. If you’ve traveled here, you have to get back.  I love meeting these families, but the jealousy comes.  My heart is still raw.

Months ago I started reading Finding Fernanda, a book about corruption in Guatemalan adoptions.  I put it down because it was too hard.  Last night I picked it up, but I had to put it down again.  It’s as horrifying as you can imagine – stolen babies, duped mothers. How is it that we live in a world where millions of babies are aborted and then other babies are stolen from their mothers (literally from their wombs) and sold like a pair of shoes?  It’s impossible for me to not believe in the fall of man.

Thursday, August 9, 2012 was the worst day of my life.  The scary thing is there will be worse days to come – that’s just part of living.  Weeping and thrashing, unable to sleep, the Lord met me – through my husband’s embrace, through middle of the night text messages with friends in America, and through his promises.  Through our tears, we sang.

 When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say

It is well.  It is well with my soul.

Today we remember Chaty, Ivonne, Ives.  We pray that they are well and that we will meet them someday and thank them for teaching us to see God.