Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Who, When, Why to Have a Birth Family Search Conducted, Part II

When the “Deceased” Birth Mother Isn’t

I began to think about Aster’s birth mother long before the nanny handed her to me. It took many months for my daughter’s biological mother not to enter into my daily thoughts. I felt such a deep sadness for this child who, we were told, would never have the opportunity to know the woman who birthed her. She supposedly had no other blood relatives, so seeking out her birth family would never be an option for Aster.

I wrote the above for the epilogue of my book, and as that part of the story evolved, both solicited and unsolicited information began to arrive, clearly indicating that not only was Aster’s birth mother alive, but other blood relatives were too. Though we had come upon this surprising and comforting news in the summer of 2009, it wasn’t until the fall of 2012 that my husband and I committed to hiring EthioStork to conduct a birth family search.

* * *

With shaking hands, and tears already welling in my eyes, I pushed the DVD into the computer. Traditional music accompanied a panoramic view of Wukro, located in the north of the Tigray region, the birthplace of our daughter. We had not taken the time to travel north of Addis Ababa during our short stay back in December 2008, so this visual addition to what we thought would only be an interview felt like we had struck gold. Once the camera became still, a girl who looked to be pre-teen entered the frame (Aster’s sister, if you can imagine that!), then slowly the focus was the birth mother of our child, the woman who had allowed me to become a mother. By now, I could barely see the computer screen; tears marred my view. But the interview that was about to begin would make my initial emotions seem meaningless, for the questions and answers that were about to be revealed would bring solace as well as longing, two intense feelings that I would have to deeply experience before knowing what to do next.

*  *  *

You may ask why, after uncovering some of the facts of our daughter’s social history that we were not originally given, did it take us three years to move forward with a professional search? The reasons are many; so let me take them one at a time.

1. Back in 2009, in what now seems like the dark ages of international adoption, we did not know what a “professional birth family search” was. Without this awareness, we had to “be good” with knowing that someday we would be able to go to northern Ethiopia and find birth family on our own. Some day.

2. But … as the months, then years rolled on, my anxiety grew. What if she is ill? What if she becomes so ill, she dies before Aster has a chance to reunite with her? My worried mind would not rest; the negative thoughts accompanied my every waking and sleeping moment. And each time my three-, then four-year old daughter would mumble words about her “first mommy,” such as, “she’s probably dead anyway,” my heart shattered. I knew I could not live this way indefinitely.

3. With the publishing of my book in early 2011, my story slowly entered the ethers, with the book cover image of Aster and I tugging at others’ curiosity. I heard from a woman in Addis Ababa who wanted a copy of my book. Her daughter, by the way, just happened to be living in the USA, in Virginia. That daughter was Duni Zenaye.

4. When I made contact with Duni shortly after this communication with her mother, a glimmer of hope poked through soggy corners of my mind; perhaps my tears of frustration and grief could turn to tears of joy?

Still, another 18 months would pass before we chose to send in the deposit for a birth family search. Why? Because, What if it doesn’t work? We will be out a lot of money, and a whole lot of heartache. It was a gamble. Though we were lucky in that we did have a name for Aster’s birth mother, and we did have the city where she was born, that was it. Would the crew be able to get way up north and ask the right people and the right questions in order to help our wishes come true? And once we got the information, then what? Would this be the best thing for our daughter, to see her first mother’s image? To know that she is alive, and gave her to somebody else to raise? Would it be better if we didn’t know?

As a memoirist who has spent much of her adult life encouraging others to know thy past in order to better know thyself, there was no way in this world that I could deny our daughter the right to know from where she came.

Thus, in the fall of 2012, we made the most important financial decision of our lives: we hired EthioStork to find Aster’s birth mother.

Weeks later, the results were in. Two copies of the DVD arrived in the mail, and our lives absolutely changed for the better (such an inadequate word), forever. 

By, Dina McQueen, M.A. 

I hope our story will bring other adoptive parents, children, and first families an opportunity for answers and perhaps even reunification.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Who, When, Why to have a Birth Family Search Conducted

Part I – Is your child the type who would benefit from a birth family search?

By: Dina McQueen, M.A. 

I hope that in sharing our story, I can facilitate other adoptive parents and children to achieve the clarity they have been seeking, and perhaps even complete their journey with first family reunification.

Some adopted children will not express interest in knowing their past. Others will become obsessed with exploring their roots. In my experience as an adoptive mother of one daughter from northern Ethiopian, you will not know which personality your child owns until she acquires the language to tell you so.

Around eighteen months, while side-by-side in the bath, Aster began placing her tiny arm next to mine, clearly interested in the difference she saw. Her minimal language skills at the time included pointing out colors, perhaps because my husband, her dad, is an artist and art supplies fill various corners and rooms of our home. At this early age, she seemed to take some pride in correcting me when I would choose a pink crayon, call it pink, because she knew that it was “light pink,” as opposed to “dark pink.”

At the park, on rare occasions, various pale children would open their mouths and burst through with uncensored comments, such as, “Hey, why is that girl black and her mommy is white?”

My child didn’t understand. Or maybe she did.

Even though I waited it out, hoping that we might be okay living life as it was, by the time Aster approached four, I knew for sure our daughter did not belong in the “not interested” category; it was time to do something to help her know from where she came. Unfortunately, our adoption agency had given us nothing to go by. But, I did have some clues. And I knew that it was my responsibility as her mother to do everything humanly possible to find out if her first mother was alive, and if she was, I needed to continue until we made contact. If it was the last thing I ever claimed to do right as her mom, by God I was going to do it.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Welcoming our New Executive Director at EthioStork LLC!

As most already know, Duni Zenaye has accepted the exciting opportunity to serve as the new Ethiopia Country Representative of Children's House International.

Christa Jallorina has replaced  Duni Zenaye as the Executive Director of EthioStork LLC. Christa Jallorina has a masters in social work and has been serving adoptive families since 2005. Christa lives with her husband Jay and their children Zoe and Jase in Northern Virginia.

So as to avoid any possible conflict of interest, EthioStork will no longer contract with families adopting through Children's House International.  As their representative Duni will be able to assist families adopting through Children's House International and offer them them the same expertise. However CHI families currently in the process can no longer directly contract with EthioStork LLC.  Families who have already completed an adoption may contract with EthioStork LLC for a birth parent search for their children who are already home.

EthioStork LLC will continue to serve directly all other adoptive families who are not adopting through Children's House International 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Congo Adoption Report

Adoption Status in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Report commissioned by EthioStork LLC
Date Submitted: January 8, 2014

Adoption in the DRC Overview
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). The Congolese government states that one thousand one hundred and six children have been adopted in the Congo between the years 2009 and 2013.

On September 25, 2013, fifteen embassies in the Democratic Republic of Congo received a letter from the Congolese Ministry of Interior and Security and the General Direction of Migration (Direction Générale de Migration, DGM) announcing a suspension in international adoption. The countries affected by the suspension are the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Burkina Faso, France, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Australia. The suspension is going to last twelve months pending ongoing investigation and review of welfare of adopted Congolese children from 2009 to 2013.

Why The Suspension?
In the spring of 2013, the Congolese embassy in Canada launched an investigation about adopted Congolese children living in Canada from information it received from an undisclosed source. It found that some of the children were no longer with their original adoptive parents but with a new family. The ambassador alerted the Congolese Minister of Interior Richard Muyej Mangez and in April of 2013, the DGM suspended temporarily some exit permits for adopted children.

The Minister tasked the DGM to verify the information received from the embassy and DGM corroborated the findings. The DGM report stated that some of the children were left homeless and others were sold/trafficked to same-sex couples. A decision from the ministry was made to suspend any and all adoptions to verify the whereabouts and well-beings of over 2000 children adopted in the Congo since 2009. On September 25, 2013 a letter was sent to 15 embassies from the Ministry. That same day, the director of the DGM, François Beya confirmed with the press that the international adoption of Congolese children has been suspended for the next 12 months, not on a legal basis but more so administrative.

What’s the difference between a ban and a suspension?
First, this is simply an administrative suspension and it does not carry the force of the law. It is not a ban. The Ministry of Interior and the DGM have stated numerous times to foreign embassies that later this year, starting September 2014, the international adoption will resume with a new adoption process in place. It is not clear if the country will sign on to the Hague Convention or not, though there are groups locally who have been pressuring the government to sign on to the Convention.

Are there events that helped in getting an inquiry on adoptions in Congo?
Since the French-Chad adoption scandal of 2007 which concluded in 2013, the Congo and other African countries have been more diligent in reviewing adoption. On February 12, 2013, French citizens Eric Breteau (founder of Zoe's Ark) and his partner Emilie Lelouch, were found guilty by a French Court for attempting to smuggle 103 children out of Chad claiming they were Darfur war orphans and dfrauding would-be adoptive parents in France who had paid large sums to “save” children in crisis. They were sentenced to two years in jail. The group was arrested in Chad in 2007 trying to load the children on to a plane bound for France, where they were to be adopted. They claimed the children were orphans from the war-ravaged Darfur region in neighboring Sudan, but Chad's government accused them of kidnapping and it later emerged the children were not Sudanese and most still had living relatives. An investigation by Unicefand the Red Cross found that at least 85% of the children still had living parents and were from Chad, not Sudan. The charity workers were arrested and sentenced to eight years' forcedlabour in Chad, before being transferred to a Paris jail and then pardoned by Chad's president, opening the way for a French trial.

What other concerns exist around adoption in the Congo?
Please read the two articles below:

May 31, 2013 New York Times Article
“Eager to Adopt, Evangelicals Find Perils Abroad.”

June 18, 2013 investigative reporting
“Christian Saviors and the Adoptions Industry in Congo - Exploiting Africa's Most Precious Resource: Children.”

December Washington Times Article
“An American mother fights for her adoptive daughter in the Congo.”

If adoption was approved before September 25, 2013, what’s next for the family?
If adoption by a couple was approved before September 25, 2013 by the Congolese Ministry of Gender and Family, the adopted children will still be able to leave the Congo with their adoptive family. The Congolese government does not accept any more adoption from single parents. More details on US process for adoption can be found at adoption.state.gov.

Additional Info

You can contact the offices below for more information regarding adoption in the Congo.

Direction Generale de Migration (DGM)
Attn: Mr. Albert Luyinu, Administrative Secretary
65, Boulevard du 30 Juin
Commune de la Gombe
Ville de Kinshasa, R.D.Congo
Email: dgm@dgm.cd or dgmetatmajor@yahoo.fr

Embassy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
1726 M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036

U.S. Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
310, Avenue des Aviateurs