University of Oregon graduate Ally Tritten recently completed a six-month, IE3 Global Internship at the Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF) in Thailand. Here, in her third and final blog, she reflects on her experience working alongside HSF’s dedicated staff in their efforts to find homes for children with special needs. Many of these children are now in Holt’s Waiting Child Program.
My name is Ally Tritten. From September 2010 to last February, I interned at Holt’s partner organization in Thailand – top social welfare agency Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF). For six months, I worked alongside HSF staff to complete a project for the growing number of children with special needs living in Thailand’s government institutions. The ultimate purpose of the project was to find loving adoptive families for about 250 Thai children with special needs.
While working closely with HSF staff members, I also became a part of the “HSF family.”
This, I didn’t expect. Not at first.
My initial impression of the HSF staff was that of a tight-knit group of individuals who defined strength and commitment to helping children and families attain success in life. I was immediately consumed with their high energy level and strong work ethic. As I entered each office room, the HSF staff scurried about their business – taking phone calls, working on computers, and looking at files stacked about a foot high on each desk.
I was excited to begin my work for this organization.
And within a few days, I was one of them – files piled high on my desk as I completed one task, just to begin another.
During my first week in Thailand, I also had my first business trip. About 16 of us traveled five hours north of Bangkok toward Cambodia to visit some of the foster families in HSF’s foster care program. Through this experience, I was able to get a first-hand look at the diverse social welfare services HSF provides for families and children. Throughout the coming months, I would be called on several more journeys deep into jungles, walking through water and over small wooden planks covered in fire ants in order to make a foster care home visit – a trip HSF staff often struggle to make for follow-up info on children eligible for adoption.
A woman and her husband wake up early on a Saturday. They brush their teeth, eat breakfast and do some last-minute packing. Once they are confident they have everything they need, they smile at one another in nervous anticipation, grabbing their plane tickets and suitcases. As they head toward the front door, they pass a bedroom and briefly glance inside. The room is filled with a small bed, books, footballs, clothes and toys. Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in this couple’s journey – a journey that will lead to filling their vacant room — and their lives —with happiness and love. The journey to their new son.
The journey to Adam began unexpectedly. The couple first fell in love with the cheerful and happy 5-year-old when they saw his picture and story on the Holt International blog. They had seen stories like his on the blog before, but something about this child spoke to them.
Maybe it was his photo – his glowing eyes, or his friendly grin. Maybe they fell in love with his personality traits as they read his story…..
“Adam loves to play football with his friends,” they read. “Very curious and outgoing, Adam loves trying new things. He likes pressing keys on the computer keyboard and dialing numbers on cell phones, often playfully imitating adults in the process.
The husband stopped reading for a moment and thought about playing football with Adam in the backyard. The wife dreamed about helping Adam with his homework and one day teaching him how to drive a car.
What may have sealed the deal for this couple, though, was when they read about Adam’s helpful and kind nature. “Adam can often be observed helping the other children put their shoes on or helping children find their toys.”
“This is our son!” The couple said, tears filling their eyes. “We are sure of it!” They knew it wouldn’t always be easy, but they also knew that they didn’t want to spend another moment without this child in their lives. Continue reading “A Story for Adam”
Several years ago, word spread like wildfire about the need for families to adopt from China, where thousands of girls were being abandoned as an unintended consequence of the country’s one-child policy.
Today, this perception persists – a perception that girls need families more than boys.
But it’s a false perception.
In truth, there is a very strong need for families to adopt boys. As most families pursuing international adoption assume girls are in greater need, the most common request is for a girl.
This assumption has created another unintended consequence: today, boys often wait longer for families than girls.
Last October, while in East Africa to bring home their son Joseph, Stacie and Taylor Forsberg met another boy living in the care center.
Like their son, this boy also waited for a family. But no family had yet come for him.
None yet has.
Seven months have passed, and this boy is now 6-and-a-half years old. He has a warm, confident smile, cheeks that glow with good health, and shining dark eyes from which emanate his greatest possession of all.
“This child has a beautiful spirit,” says Stacie Forsberg.
Born on Christmas Eve in 2004, Jake* spent the first three months of his life in his mother’s care. She often took him to an elderly woman in town who offered a daycare service. Then one day, she didn’t return.
Perhaps also recognizing the beautiful spirit behind those dark, soulful eyes, the elderly woman named the boy after a Roman Catholic saint. She cared for him for the next five years. But as she grew older and more frail, she knew she could no longer provide the kind of care a young boy would need. So she brought him to a local care center.
Here, he quickly attached to his new caregivers as well as the other children living at the center. In February of 2010, shortly after his arrival, a child protection officer wrote, “Jake is an extremely outgoing, social, jolly child and loves to care for the younger children at the center.” She wrote that he “easily fits into the center with no challenge,” is in good health, and gets along well with everyone.
“He is a caring and responsible child who is turning into a good leader,” she wrote.
Stacie Forsberg also describes Jake as “very sweet and caring.”
After a year at the center, his caregivers have had the chance to observe Jake in all seasons and in many different situations. The words they still use to describe him are “caring and responsible,” and loving toward the other children. Although he has shown he has something of a temper, it’s nothing uncommon or inappropriate for a boy his age.
What is uncommon about Jake is the spirit that always shines through – in pictures, in first impressions, and in long-standing friendships.
A beautiful spirit, a beautiful boy, calmly waiting for a family of his own.
Jake needs a family who has parented past his age, preferably has experience in older child adoption, and comprehends loss and grief issues for intercountry adoption. Couples must be between the ages of 25 and 44, married for at least two years, and may have up to five children in their home.
Shane and Angel Moffitt have adopted twice through Holt’s China Child of Promise program for children with minor to moderate special needs – Holt’s most popular track to adopt from China. The first time was easy. The second time was anything but.
by Robin Munro, Senior Writer
Lightning struck. And everyone fell in love.
On December 11, 2006, Shane and Angel Moffitt met their first daughter, Jaili, in China. The next day, Angel wrote an update to family and friends and adoptive parents following her blog, where for the past seven months she had chronicled her “Journey to Jaili.”
“By the wonderful grace of God we have been blessed with the most amazing and breathtakingly beautiful girl,” she wrote. “She is the most special little one. Shane and I are awestruck and so in love.”
She was sweet and gentle and playful and goofy, slept for hours and woke up happy. On Day 3, on a visit to her orphanage, Jaili made it clear she knew who “Momma” was – snuggling into Angel’s sweatshirt and ignoring her former caregivers. Shane and Angel were simply astonished. Hours passed in minutes as they held, fed or simply stared at their 11-month-old wonder. They couldn’t imagine their lives without her.
Once home, they experienced the usual bumps and backslides – Jaili pushed Angel away, attaching to Shane more at first. But nothing unexpected. And nothing they couldn’t handle. For the most part, she was just a joy – “a joy to sit and watch play, sleep, whatever.”
And then, a fairy tale ending. Jaili, born Hepatitis B positive, naturally converted to negative status. “She is,” wrote Angel, “our true miracle.”
We Have A Daughter!
Shane and Angel adopted Jaili through what is now known as the China Child of Promise program – Holt’s track for children from China with minor to moderate, correctable or manageable conditions. In 2005, when the Moffitts began the process, fewer families considered adopting children with special needs. They didn’t think of it. This wasn’t the typical profile of children needing homes. In the previous two decades, the number of abandoned children had grown by the thousands in China – an unintended consequence of the country’s one-child policy, designed to curb population growth. Most of the children found abandoned were girls. Most of them were infants. And most of them had no known health conditions. As news of this crisis spread, families throughout the world opened their hearts to these children. Between 2002 and 2006, over 30,000 children from China joined adoptive families overseas.
Everyone championed the cause. Even Oprah did a segment on “China’s Lost Girls,” in December of 2004. Among the thousands who viewed it was Angel Moffitt. After sharing with Shane, and a considerable amount of prayer, they decided this was the path for them. In July of 2005, they applied to Holt.
“Everything proceeded fantastically,” Angel wrote on her first blog post. They completed their dossier in early February and by March 14, 2006 it was officially logged in at the China Center of Adoption Affairs (now the China Center for Child Welfare and Adoption, or CCCWA). “This was a fantastic day. I was ‘paper pregnant’ !!” wrote Angel. “Now all we have to do is wait and wait and wait and wait a little more until we get her referral.”
So they waited. And waited. By June, they were getting antsy. “Every month, the referral time increases,” Angel wrote on June 7th. “We are not exactly sure why this is occurring.”
What had occurred was a critical mass of dossiers at the CCCWA. Between 2005 and 2007, the Moffitts were just one of thousands of families who had decided that adopting from China was the path for them. As a result, hopeful adoptive families began to outnumber eligible children. The process slowed, referral times increased, and after the CCCWA announced stricter guidelines beginning in May 2007, families rushed to beat the deadline – completing and submitting dossiers en masse. Those hoping to adopt a healthy infant girl – the profile of child China was known for – faced an even longer wait. By 2007, what was once typically a 7-to-9-month wait for referral continued to lengthen by the minute. Today, the estimated timeframe to adopt a child from China with no known health conditions stands at five years.
But because Shane and Angel chose to adopt through the special needs track, the wait would not be long at all.
In June of 2006, even as they agonized over the lengthening referral times, they couldn’t anticipate their next blog post – a little over a month later – would be a surprise announcement: “We have a daughter!”
Journey to Jaili
At the outset of their adoption journey, Shane and Angel made a critical decision. They decided to open their hearts to a child with a minor special need.
“It was never an issue – whether special needs or non-special needs,” says Angel.
They filled out a medical conditions checklist – researching conditions and marking off the ones they felt comfortable and prepared to manage. They also consulted their social worker, Kathie Stocker, and Holt’s director of services for China, Beth Smith.
by Susan Seunkoom Cox, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs
Participants from around the world gathered in Washington D.C. (April 14-16) to celebrate fifty-five-years of intercountry adoption at the International Forum sponsored by Holt International and Adoptees for Children. The conference was an unprecedented examination of international adoption and child welfare through the lens of adult adoptees.
Since the environment for international child welfare and adoption is influenced by global concerns and challenges more than ever, Washington D.C. was selected as the conference site so national and international policy makers could participate. Notable presenters from various countries presented during the conference. This was the first significant conference to highlight the unique personal perspective of adoption professionals who also happen to be adult adoptees. Too often the influence and voices of those who have lived the experience are not represented. As the organization that pioneered intercountry adoption, Holt International benefits from the experiences of three generations of adult adoptees.
Many of these adult adoptees attended the International Forum and represented the critical importance of adoption in the lives of children. The adoptees met with government officials, international guests, child welfare experts and Members of Congress and their staff.
The International Forum began with a press conference at the National Press Club (entire event can be seen at www.holtinternational.org) and the premier book signing of the new adoptee anthology, “More Voices.” The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute hosted a luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room and Korean Ambassador Han hosted an amazing evening of Korean food and dance at his residence. The Forum concluded with a Gala dinner and program Saturday evening with Holt adoptive parent, the Honorable Marjorie Margolies serving as host.
By Marissa Leuallen, MSW, China Program Social Worker
Imagine growing up without the ability to hear or speak. Now, imagine being six years old, left alone and confused, and growing up in an orphanage. Instead of these obstacles holding you back, you embrace them. You learn sign language, and learn to read and write. You excel in school and sports. More remarkably, you develop a way to communicate with your caregivers through gestures and facial expressions. Your caregivers consider you the “ joy source” of the institution.
When I heard Zane’s story for the first time, I thought about how difficult it would be for a child to thrive amidst such adversity. When I finally met Zane at Xiamen Social Welfare institute on April 22nd, his smile and demeanor told a different story. I was immediately drawn in by his bright smile and strong eye contact. He exuded confidence, wisdom and joy; no doubt products of his life experience. His sense of humor and easy-going nature came across. No words were needed.
Zane was abandoned at six years old outside of the Xiamen City fire department. His parents could not be located and he was moved to the institute in Xiamen City. It was determined that he was deaf and mute, as well as a carrier of Hepatitis B.
Zane excels in Chinese sign and written language, and likes sports, especially basketball, ping-pong and soccer. He also enjoys playing video games and is not afraid to say that he’s pretty good at them! His caregivers describe him as extroverted, fond of learning, happy and humorous. He has remained in good health since coming into care and continues to develop well for his age both physically and cognitively.
An American Non-Governmental Organization working with Xiamen Social Welfare institute offered to personally prepare Zane for adoption. Because he will age out of the system on his 14th birthday, his future family needs to have a dossier in China or have completed an adoption from China less than one year ago.
I suppose when life’s path is paved with challenges you either do what you can to meet them or they hold you back. It’s clear that there is no holding Zane back! He deserves the opportunity to build on his many talents and to thrive in a loving family of his own.
Five years ago, we rarely placed 6-year-old boys from China. Thankfully, for the many older children who still need families, times have changed. I truly believe there is a family out there for this boy….but he is running out of time! Please, ask yourself if you might be the right family for him. Please, contact the Waiting Child program to learn more about adopting this amazing young man!
Interested in learning more about Zane? Contact Erin Mower
When I think of my childhood, I can’t resist thinking of good ole Navin Johnson. You know, he’s Steve Martin’s quirky character in the 1979 movie, The Jerk. Navin grew up as the only white kid in a black family from Mississippi and was obnoxiously delusional about his upbringings. And despite loving his adoptive family more than anything else, he had a whole world to see.
My mom hated that movie. But oddly, there’s something I can still relate to.
Just like Navin, I grew up a poor, white kid in rural Missouri. Okay, we weren’t really poor, but my parents certainly made sacrifices for me. I was a first-generation college student. My dad spent a lot of hours operating a backhoe on various construction sites to get me through my undergraduate years. My mother gave up her own education to cart me around to tap classes and basketball practice in high school. I was a good point guard, but I wasn’t that good.
For the most part, I grew up like any other white girl in the Midwest. I was the only Asian-looking girl in my class up until high school graduation. I had little interest in anything that sounded Asian-y. I once remember throwing a fit when my mom suggested I take a martial arts class. Of course, now I regret not knowing any self defense moves.
The point is, as a child, I thought I was white and nothing else. Then, I grew up.
Some people might assume it took meeting my birth family to make me realize that yes, indeed, I was Korean. That’s partly true. After all, we reunited when I was practically a kid. At 18, I discovered my birth family was intact. My three sisters and I were all born within about 5 years from one another. They were learning English. I had already coincidentally registered for Korean language classes at the University of Kansas. We were well on our way to adding each other to our family trees. My parents at home felt like they got three more Korean girls out of the deal. Life was good.
So, I took my newly-found Korean roots to KU. I joined the Asian American Student Union. I started hanging out with Korean kids from my language class. Then something weird happened. A few of my new friends turned on me.
“You’re so white-washed,” one girl said.
“You aren’t diverse enough,” another guy told me.
“It’s a shame you’re adopted,” another one said.
I remember feeling betrayed because I had put so much effort into becoming their friend. Here I was, unnaturally calling the older boys “ohpa” and learning phrases like “maekju masheetda” to cheers a beer, and what did I get in return? A swift kick in the shins.
It made me angry because these kids were actually born in the United States, unlike me. And they wanted to scold me about diversity? Most of them only hung out with Korean students in the science library, speaking only Korean to one another. Where were their non-Korean chingus?
I was confused. No white kid saw me as white. No Korean kid saw me as Korean. Who was I?
I’ve heard so many adoptees ask this question. Even though many are living happy lives, many will also tell you they don’t feel like they fully belong in any place. In one breath, my friends would tell me they just saw me as Michelle, but in the second breath, they’d make some wise crack about me being Asian. I could never escape looking different in the United States. Continue reading “There’s a Little ‘Jerk’ in Us All”
Last summer, while visiting orphanages in China, I met so many children. Children I’ve been writing about and gushing over for months – like this boy, who made me laugh, and this boy, who performed handstands, and this boy, who went rummaging for a Minnie Mouse key chain. Children so adorable and funny and memorable that I’ve made it my mission to find them homes. Many of them were older boys with special needs – three traits that make them especially hard to place with adoptive families. Traits that label them and limit them – limit educational and employment opportunities in China, and limit the number of families interested in adopting them – but barely even begin to define them.
It’s an easy thing to do.
When so many children need love and attention, it’s easy to focus on those who immediately grab your interest – or, as a prospective parent, to zoom in on children who meet a certain profile – and overlook the rest.
In China, I was so preoccupied with the more outgoing children that I missed out on meeting some wonderful little ones – children with shyer natures, quieter demeanors, and eyes that sparkle with intelligence and wonder.
Children like Natalie.
Natalie lives at one of the orphanages I visited – the same orphanage where I met Sam. So recently, when Holt’s waiting child program manager suggested I write about her, I had to ask, did I meet her?
Jessica’s notes say Natalie was crying and had a sad face. In the pictures we took of Natalie that day, she looked more frustrated than sad – her forehead scrunched in consternation, her little rosebud mouth turned down in a tight frown. She probably wondered why we made her stand before the camera, holding up a piece of paper with her name on it. Reports from caregivers say Natalie is “quiet, timid and fairly introverted.” Naturally, posing for pictures would not be high on her list of favorite activities.
But in other pictures, on different days, Natalie is smiling, and surrounded by friends. Most likely, she knows the person taking her picture. In the one where she looks happiest, she is engaged in another activity – not standing still before a camera.
I look at Natalie’s wise, thoughtful eyes, observing her surroundings, and I see a storyteller. Her reports say she likes to read books and draw pictures. Maybe one day she will grow up and tell her own story. Maybe she will write a book, a memoir of her childhood – like adult adoptee Thomas Park Clement, profiled in the upcoming Holt Magazine. Maybe now, as she hangs back from the group, watching and absorbing, the scenes are imprinting on her memory.
What potential this little girl possesses. So easy to see now that I look closer.
Natalie has spina bifida. As a consequence, she is incontinent. But don’t stop there. Look closer, and see the girl that I now see – described as rational and self-disciplined, a capable learner. A little girl shy with new people, but fun and playful with her friends – like all of us, different with different people, and in different settings.
Natalie has reminded me to look beyond the surface. As a little girl, I was just like Natalie – shy and timid, always absorbed in a book. But unlike Natalie, I had a family who saw all my potential. Lets hope a family takes a closer look at this beautiful 6-year-old girl with big, thoughtful eyes, and sees all the potential waiting there.
Natalie would thrive most in a family comfortable with her diagnosis and able to provide any therapies or medical treatment she may need. Experience parenting past her age is preferred.
I always knew that Holt International, the wonderful agency that brought us our children, offered “Homeland Tours”. When your adopted child turns 18 they are invited to join other adoptees and return to the country and the orphanage where they were relinquished. It’s a chance to meet and interact with other adoptees, visit their country of origin, and even find out if the agency has other information about how, when, and why the child was relinquished. Tour participants also experience Korea together as they visit national and historic sites and learn about Korea’s rich cultural heritage.
I have always had an intense curiosity about all three of my children’s relinquishment history. At the point of adoption, we were provided with some information about that, but because it was a “closed” adoption, the information was scarce. I knew that our boys had two living parents and older brothers. And I knew that our daughter’s birth mother was young, single, and worked in a factory. That is all we were told and I was looking forward to hearing more of their story, and perhaps even finding my children’s birth parents. Holt even provides adoptees with help finding birth parents, if this is what they wish to do.
Our entire extended family talked a great deal about making this trip together. Our extended family is not that large, but we are all very close and it was a group effort raising my three children. We had all traveled together as a group many times, and talked about the impending trip to Korea.
When the boys were 17 years old, our extended family was together for dinner when we began to discuss our upcoming trip. As everyone was talking about how exciting it was going to be, I finally looked over at my twin boy’s faces. They could not have looked any more frightened, overwhelmed, or sad. I am so glad I was tuning into how they were feeling. As usual, they were not saying anything until they got me alone — my boys are intensely private people. Continue reading “Surviving, Learning, Laughing: It Would’ve Been a Bit Awkward, Don’t You Think?”