Adopting from Ukraine is not easy.
The adoption authorities require everything from a home study and a copy of criminal records to medical information and proof of income. The Kerleys had to travel to Salem at least six times to ensure their paperwork was in order.
Adoptions are overseen by a part of Ukraine’s Ministry of Family, Youth and Sports called the State Department for Adoptions and Protection of Rights of the Child.
According to the U.S. State Department, during the fiscal year 2007, 606 immigrant visas were issued to Ukrainian orphans. That’s significantly fewer than China, which had 5,453 children adopted in 2007. Many more children are adopted from Guatemala, Russia and Ethiopia.
Parents register with the Ukraine department, and once their application is approved, they receive an appointment to come to the department in Ukraine and see information about available orphans.
But just to get to that point proved difficult for the Kerleys.
Throughout most of 2006 and into 2007, Ukraine cut off all international adoptions as it altered the adoption infrastructure.
In February, Rob, Erin and Bethany finally boarded a plane to Ukraine, with an appointment at the state department in Kiev. They were placed in an apartment and three days later met with adoption officials.
They were allowed to see two dossiers containing information on available children.
“The dossiers had pictures, but it was all in Cyrillic (the Russian alphabet),” Rob said. “You either accept or reject. You have about 15 minutes to decide.”
Nevertheless, the Kerleys took a chance on Simon and Sarah, and 10 days later they were on their way to the Antoshka Orphanage, a 12-hour train ride away in Kramatorsk.
After the visits, parents choose whether to adopt the children. Then a court date is set, and a judge decides whether to allow the adoption. Once final, there is a 10-day waiting period.
— Sheila G. Miller
Welcome to No Place Like Home.
Monday, June 30, 2008
7 Reasons Why 90% of the World’s Orphans Will Never Be Adopted
Did you know that there are nearly 150 million orphans worldwide? You read that correctly. 150 million. It’s a number I can’t even wrap my mind around.
Did you know that 90 percent of the world’s orphans will never be adopted?
I can think of seven common reasons for this:
The orphaned children live in countries in which adoption is not culturally accepted.
The children are taken in by extended family members and are not formally adopted.
A government system cares for orphaned children (usually in orphanages) until they “age out” of the system.
Some orphans are deemed “un-adoptable” due to their medical, developmental, or cognitive needs.
Some children tagged “orphans” are not truly orphaned—many have at least one living birth parent.
Birth parents leave their child at an orphanage and promise to return later to pick up the child. If they never return and do not relinquish their parental rights, the child remains in limbo.
An orphaned child contracts HIV/AIDS.
The March issue of Adoption World eZine provides doable tips for how you can impact the life of an orphaned child. Since the eZine “went to press,” I’ve heard from several orphan care organizations. Each of them provided me a brief overview of what they do.
I hope the work these organizations are doing will inspire you to think about what you can do to impact the life of an orphan. Be sure to check out their Websites for detailed information.
Food for Orphanshttp://www.foodfororphans.org/
Food For Orphans is feeding orphans in Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Gary VanDyke, founder and CEO, says:
We seek out and evaluate new orphan care projects that need assistance in providing food to hungry orphans. Our goal is to make sure that every orphan receives at least one nutritious meal per day.
orphanCare International/Dillon Internationalhttp://www.orphancareintl.org/
For over 36 years orphanCare International/Dillon International has been dedicated to helping orphaned and abandoned children along with poverty-stricken families in some of the most neglected areas of the world.
Tonnie Dosser, Associate Director of Development, says:
“By providing educational support, medical care and daily care we hope to help create a brighter future for God’s children.”
Orphan Outreach and Mission Backpackhttp://www.orphanoutreach.org/http://www.missionbackpack.org/
Orphan Outreach has developed a clear mission to serve orphans and children at risk of being orphaned by providing a quality Christian education that prepares them for a fulfilling independent life in their community.
“Our school model focuses on advanced technology, economic development, bi-lingual education, spiritual development and community service. The focus of our educational program is to provide early intervention, quality education, and spiritual development, as well as improve the lives of orphans and children at risk of becoming orphans.”
If you want to get involved with Orphan Outreach, consider donating a school backpack to an orphan who lives in Guatemala, Honduras, India, or Russia.
Forever Families Foundationwww.foreverfamiliesfoundation.com (website coming soon)
A not-for-profit, 501C3 organization dedicated to bringing orphan awareness and education to the body of Christ in Northwest Arkansas. Director Joetta Schork writes:
“We welcome opportunities to speak to church groups, civic organizations, and anyone wanting to learn how to become involved in Adoption, Foster Care or Orphan Ministry.
Warm Blankets Orphan Care Internationalwww.warmblankets.org/
Craig Muller, co-founder of this non-profit Christian mission, writes:
“With 140 homes on three continents, we are focused on restoring the childhood on the lives of orphans.” The ministry serves as a means to help indigenous villagers care for orphans in their own countries.
They work in partnership with churches, corporations, organizations and individuals who have a passion to help needy, parentless children. They use everything from cellular systems to satellites in coordinating efforts to rescue orphans from extremely remote and often life-threatening situations.
World Orphans http://www.worldorphans.org/Abandoned-Orphaned Blog 1-888-ORPHANS
World Orphans is committed to rescuing millions of orphaned and abandoned children, the strengthening of thousands of indigenous churches, and the impacting of hundreds of communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ…through the cost-effective empowerment of church-based orphan prevention, rescue, care and transition programs in the least reached areas of the world.
Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans, writes:
“We have funded over 500 projects in almost 50 countries in the developing world. The majority of these projects have involved the building and running of family-style homes for orphans, built on the property of indigenous churches.”
More orphan care organizations coming in the next post! If you’d like your orphan care organization featured this week, please e-mail me a brief description.
Friday, June 27, 2008
This family is currently in the Ukraine to bring home their new son Dennis. These are amazing parents who have adopted a large number of children and have formed a beautiful and loving family. Their travel blog is The Ukraine Train
Had to post this picture to let all of you know that John finally got his milk last night. Let me tell you---- he enjoyed his bowl of cereal.
We are loving our time in Ukraine in general. We have been surrounded by some of the most wonderful people and we can't say anything negative about our experience thus far. I personally feel like I couldn't be in better hands with our in-country facilitator. She is amazing, down to earth, and while our relationship is probably supposed to be more on a professional level, I've enjoyed getting to know her on a more personal level. I know that I will miss everyone here once we leave. Last night we sat up quite late drinking homemade Coffee Americana with the owner of the apartment as her son set up high-speed internet for us, our facilitator, and our driver. I was in good company.
Last night, the owner heard that all of the water would be shut off for a couple of days and so she prepared by filling every empty bottle and pot in her home. John doubted such a thing would happen but just as I finished taking my shower at nearly midnight last night, the water did get shut off! And has only been on a brief amount of time in the early morning since last night. Thankfully, we have the water in the pots.
Here is a view outside of our apartment window. Very nice.
I think Dennis would enjoy watching the birds feed. Someone was here spending time with the birds yesterday evening. Reminded me of the episode of Hey Arnold (a kids cartoon) where there is a pigeon man.
Around 8:45 this morning, we were off to visit Dennis. Today we had a driver since we had to go to the notary between visits, but tomorrow we will walk to and from the orphanage.
When we got to the orphanage to visit, we had to make sure that at least one of us checked in by signing a book. Then we were allowed to go to Dennis' room.
They brought him to us all fresh and smiling with his hair combed back............. a stark contrast from yesterday's first meeting. I really got the sense he remembered us. His outfit, although still an orphanage outfit was adorable. His pants were pulled up to his chest....... but on him his outfit looked so cute.
I know you guys are probably waiting for a picture of his sweet smile----but neener-neener- neener you'll have to wait till after court per Ukrainian law. We are hoping that that may be as soon as early next week!
Have I told you just how smart Dennis is? At first he was holding and drinking from the water bottle that John had given to him. Once he saw me get out the little cow and sit it on his lap Dennis quickly chucked his beloved water bottle on the floor since he thought he was now getting something better. :) Very typical for a small child. :)
Here is a picture of him crinkling up the photo page I was telling you about yesterday. I'm not sure if you can tell, but his hands are so petite and just beautiful. On his right hand he does have some redness that the orphanage doctor says is from him gnawing on his hand and finger but thankfully it is looking a little better today. Yeah!
Dennis loves to wrap his little fingers around ours-----especially to pull himself up.
Not long after we started visiting with Dennis we were asked if we wanted to take Dennis outside to watch a program that the orphanage was doing for the kids. Of course we said yes....... who would want to miss that?
Here they are instructing the kids about an obstacle course they will be doing-----kind of like a gymnastic event------baby style. I must say that the kids are very well taken care of here. The orphanage staff do a tremendous job of caring for each of these children.
Near the end of the program everyone got up and danced, including John. They also danced to "I wanna be a chicken." It was so cute to watch the children move around.
Within minutes of the program starting, a doctor came to take Dennis to get a full medical report on him. It was nice to see things moving along so quickly with our process.
Though we were free to go, we asked to stick around to play with the children. It was wonderful playing with all of them. This frog that wanted to kiss and eat their noses kept their attention for a very long time. A few children I could tell had FAS-----but their personality was such that I wish I could take them all home. But honestly that wouldn't be fair to Dennis at this time because he needs our full attention as do our other children at home---which being surrounded by these children made us also miss. We miss you Adam, Caleb, Rachel, Julia, Annalyn, Sveta, Anna, William, Andrew, and Jonny! So instead, I will be coming home looking for families for all of these children, so start spreading the word. :)
We asked the children if they wanted to put the puppet frog on their hand. Only this little girl was brave enough to give it a try.
While waiting for our facilitator to get back from the notary, we went for a walk around the orphanage and surrounding area.
Here is whimsical piece of art on the orphanage wall near the front door.
These look like a long strip of garages separate from the tall apartment buildings behind us. Kind of like a mini storage unit back in California.
This road was made of dirt and led to somewhere beautiful.... I imagine. Can't say for sure because we didn't have time to explore. Maybe tomorrow.
Not too long after this, we said goodbye until 4:00 PM and headed off to have lunch.
We took out our driver and facilitator for lunch----- a very small token to show our appreciation for all that they have done for us. We had a delicious lunch----- I had a garden salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, and dill, later followed by quail lapsha with hard boiled quail eggs and chunks of quail meat. Very tasty. John had Trout shashlick and vegetable rice which was also very tasty.
After lunch we headed to the notary to sign documents and after we visited a park across the street.
In the middle of the park was this fountain surrounded by water. It was fun to watch three children running in the water. If we lived here, there would have been thirteen in the water. :)
Since it is about time to go and visit Dennis again, I will say goodbye for now. But I will leave you with one last picture of......... a Ukraine bus.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Group Shot at the Teng Wang Pavillion
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM/GRANDMA!!!!
Wow, I have so much to report. First, though, let me thank each of you for your patience. I know (because I've done so myself for years) that you anxiously check for updates and might be disappointed when there is nothing new to see and read. Let me tell you, that it's hard to carve out computer time when you've got two little ones who require lots and lots of attention -- not to mention when you're borrowing a computer!
So today, we thought we would be able to sleep in, as we weren't supposed to meet to tour the Teng Wang Pavillion until 10:00. However, someone not too far from our hotel decided to shoot off some major fireworks at 6:00 AM (yes, 6:00 AM -- and they went on for several minutes). They were kind of pretty (Daddy got some video) and when we asked our guide, Karen, why in the world someone would shoot off major fireworks at 6:00 in the morning, she said it would either be because someone got married or because someone died (she thought someone probably died)
Back to the TWP, it is, according to guide Karen, the only place in Nanchang that the tourists must see (actually, she said it is the only place in Nanchang that is worth seeing). It is a AAAA attraction in China. It's gorgeous and very impressive -- both the buildings and the grounds. We walked around outside before going up to the top floor for a Traditional Chinese variety show. Fortunately, there was an elevator so we didn't have to climb all the way to the top with the babies. We did, however, take the stairs down.
The Teng Wang Pavillion was built by one of the Emperor's sons. He enjoyed living the good life, and built it as a place to party.
Once back on the ground, we enjoyed feeding the ravenous goldfish in the ponds, and for 1Y (about 15 cents) we bought a bag of fish food and let Katie feed them. The video Dad shot would amuse you -- it certainly amused Katie, who screamed with delight every time the hundreds of goldfish (really, Koi) tried to out maneuver each other for the morsels. The boys often got splashed by the aggressive fish.
Both girls fell asleep either at the Pavillion or in the van on the way back to the hotel. After the nap, the girls played for a while before Dad, the boys and Katie went to the swimming pool with Gary and his girls, and sweet Ella and I spent some alone time together. During that time, I was able to see her sweet personality emerging. She definitely has a glint of mischeviousness in her eye, I think she's going to be a handful! She did bite into a rice cake type cracker, and used her broken front teeth to do so. That was a huge relief, as we thought she might have cracked them and couldn't use them because they hurt her. She attacked that cracker, so it couldn't have hurt too much.
In other Ella news, she's beginning to walk a little bit, holding on to hands, of course, and very unsteadily. She has no strength at all in her legs, but she will get lots of opportunities to use her legs each and every day. She's already done a couple of laps around our halls and through the "open space" where the babies are able to play.
And, for those who are adoptive parents, we were thrilled to be able to change a smelly diaper today -- yippee!
In Katie news, she's doing well, but gets frustrated at times, of course. She definitely gets jealous when she wants Mommy and Mommy is holding Ella. Of course, Ella gets jealous right back when Mommy is holding Katie. Often, I end up holding both of them at the same time. Last night at dinner, Katie asked for "Rice Syrup" and it took us a moment to realize she was really asking for Soy Sauce.
Okay, enough for now, I've got some kiddos to play with. We have no big plans for the rest of the day, but I think we'll go outside and explore some. Tomorrow we go outside of Nanchang and visit the countryside.
We love the comments, thanks so much! Enjoy the pictures -- if you click on one, it will enlarge and you can view them all (with comments in slideshow format).
Monday, June 23, 2008
Tonight I had the privilege of talking to Amanda and I asked her how she started the Starfish Foster Home. She sent me this article that she wrote.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
This post is taken from Ashley's blog 'The Butterfly Princess & Little Miss Ladybug'
Last May (2007), I traveled again to China to adopt my second baby, beginning my trip once again in Hong Kong. My best friend and I decided to leave a few days early so that we could further explore Hong Kong. She loves jade and enjoyed visiting some of the jewelry stores in the city. I especially enjoyed touring Po Lin Monestary on Lantau Island. It was lovely. Unlike the first trip in 2003, our travel group only went from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, giving us two full weeks at the White Swan and plenty of time to shop.
Here are a few highlights from each of my trips. I hope my readers enjoy them.
FAVORITE SPOT #1 (Guilin countryside in Guangxi Province, birthplace of Big Sister.)
FAVORITE SPOT #2 (Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island in Hong Kong). You can get there by car or cable. If you are afraid of heights, I don't recommend the cable because the cars are very small and they travel very high up in the mountain. We opted for the taxi which was a harrowing experience too with drivers who speed like lightening through the winding roads. Once we got there, we were happy to have made the journey, but we looked for an older, calmer driver for the way back down.
BEST LUNCH CHOICE #1: (If you are craving American food, try the club sandwich and French fries from the White Swan Hotel cafe. If you don't mind a little hard-boiled egg on your sandwich, it is delicious! You can sit by the pool if the weather is nice and order it there too.)
BEST LUNCH CHOICE #2: (From the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong, my traveling companion and I enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal of fresh steamed vegetables, mushroom soup, and spring rolls. The spring rolls were some of the best I have ever had.)
FAVORITE FINDS FOR CHILDREN:
SQUEAKY SHOES (They come in every color and are extremely cheap so buy as many as you can. They make great gifts for friends too!)
Hello Kitty Utensil Sets (includes chopsticks)
FAVORITE FINDS FOR ADULTS:
(PEARL FACTORY) - Guangzhou has many pearl factories where they will hand string beautiful pearl necklaces, bracelets and earrings while you wait, all reasonably priced.
Japanese wooden dolls
Gotcha Day (February 11, 2003 with my ex-husband)
Adoption Day: (May 16, 2007)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Erin Kerley, center, plays with Simon, 4, and Sarah, 23 months — orphans adopted from Ukraine — as their new sister, Bethany, 6, looks on at Townshend’s Tea House in Bend. The challenges of adoption, the expanded Kerley family is discovering, are far from over, and Erin is finding her three children constantly fighting for attention.
Photos by Melissa Jansson / The Bulletin
New language, new culture, new family
Going overseas to adopt Simon and Sarah, who were adopted from Ukraine, have lived in Bend for just 10 weeks. For them — and for their new big sister, Bethany — adjusting has often been overwhelming.
By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin Published: June 15. 2008 4:00AM PST
Adopting from Ukraine is not easy.
Erin Kerley, 32, cleaned the bathroom, while her husband, Rob Kerley, 33, tried to keep the children out of her way.
Rob twirled Sarah, 23 months, through the air and 4-year-old Simon tried to help his mother by sweeping the dining room and kitchen floors. Across the street, 6-year-old Bethany doted on a neighbor, helping her with chores.
The in-laws were coming to town, and there was work to be done.
But the Kerleys aren’t just any family.
Until 2½ months ago, Erin, Rob and Bethany lived quietly in their craftsman home on the east side of Bend. Now they’re in the midst of the challenge of a lifetime. After 3½ years of paperwork, squabbling and travel, the family has adopted Simon and Sarah, Ukrainian orphans. And now the hard work of helping the kids feel safe and welcome in Bend is just beginning.
Erin first knew she wanted to adopt a child in late 2004.
“It’s a God thing,” she said.
It started at the gym, where she ended up watching a show about adopted children. Next she came across a magazine article about adoption. Another day, she turned on the radio and a segment was playing about adoption.
It was all around her.
“It sounds like a long string of coincidences,” she said. “But you step back and say there’s no way that many things are a coincidence.”
The Kerleys decided to adopt through America World, a Christian organization that processes adoptions. They felt called to adopt from Ukraine, where many children are in orphanages because of intense poverty.
Once Erin and Rob decided to adopt, they realized just how hard it would be. But they persisted.
After years of tribulations that included paperwork glitches and a government shutdown on adoption, the family headed for Ukraine.
“We felt like, these kids are ours, and they’re not here,” Erin said. “The year (the country) closed down, we thought we’d switch to China. We prayed about it. But Ukraine is where they were.”
The Kerleys traveled nearly 6,000 miles to Ukraine in February with an eye toward adopting at least one child. When they arrived at Antoshka Orphanage in Kramatorsk, Erin said it looked like a typical former Soviet orphanage, with bare walls and an institutional feel. Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union.
The children at the orphanage were separated by age group, with the infants all in one area.
“There were quadrants of beds, with a dirty blanket and a pillow,” Erin said. “Then there was a main room where they ate, mostly soup and bread. Most of their life took place in the great room.”
Both the children were small, at less than the fifth percentile of the growth chart for both height and weight, meaning they lagged behind 95 percent of children. Sarah, now nearly 2, was tiny. She didn’t speak, and she didn’t cry.
“She would smile, but it was fake,” Erin said. “It was more like playing with a doll.”
The kids couldn’t be taken from the orphanage, so each day Erin, Rob and Bethany would arrive at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for 112- hour visits.
After visiting with the child, parents can decide to move forward with the adoption. If all is in order, a judge then grants the parents custody at a court hearing. But because of a hang-up in Sarah’s paperwork, the court hearing and adoption finalization were delayed for weeks.
Bethany, whose brown hair and eyes matched Simon’s and Sarah’s, had been keeping up with schoolwork by using education software. But during the trip, she was stricken by the Ukrainian flu and nearly died. After eight weeks in Ukraine, Bethany and Rob returned to the U.S. so Rob could get back to work and Bethany could return to school.
To help out, Erin’s mother, Mary Davis, of Bend, made the trip from Bend to Kramatorsk in early April.
Davis described the orphanage as bleak.
“They’re doing the best they can with what they have, and they don’t have a great deal,” she said. “To me it looked like the 1950s, and it looked like all the pictures out of Russia from the 1950s.”
Davis said Simon was still a little unsure of his new family, but that Sarah was accepting of the attention.
“The first time I saw her, my heart just jumped in my throat. I was so happy,” Davis said. “I was kissing the back of her hand, and she would hold it up to kiss it.”
Finally, it was time for the court hearing. Passports were issued for the children, and then, after much haranguing and 11 weeks in Ukraine, the adoption was finalized. Erin was going home with two new children.
When the four finally boarded a plane in Kiev on April 5, they faced 27 hours of travel.
The group traveled from Kiev to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, then to Portland.
“It was hairy,” Davis said.
When they touched down in New York City, Simon and Sarah were U.S. citizens.
Just because Simon and Sarah had arrived in Bend didn’t mean the hard part was over.
The Kerleys had expected to spend about $25,000 in the entire adoption process. But all told, the Kerleys estimate that adopting two children and spending 11 weeks out of the country cost them more than $50,000.
To handle the burden, Rob now works mornings at UPS sorting packages. That provides him with benefits and allows him to spend the rest of the day doing what he loves, custom home design for Lasting Traditions, which he owns. But work in some ways had to take a back seat.
The newness was overwhelm- ing.
Simon and Sarah, who share the same biological mother, have dark brown eyes and hair, smooth skin and big smiles. But those smiles weren’t always evident, especially in the first days.
Simon had never seen a dog before, so the Kerley’s dog, Barky, terrified him. That wasn’t the worst part, though. In the orphanage, Erin said, he was only allowed to use the bathroom twice each day. So he would wait and wait, often urinating in his pants. He also went through a phase where he bit and scratched Erin. Her arms bear the scars to prove it.
“Simon had been handled, not raised,” Rob said.
When he got a treat, like a cookie or a toy, he’d hide it under his legs, as he’d done in the orphanage to keep other kids from taking it. And Simon never seemed to rest, instead choosing to pace back and forth or run around with a toy.
Sarah handled things differently. At first, she didn’t cry at all. Then she began crying all the time, even crying herself to sleep for a while. Because she’d been treated like a baby, even as she neared age 2, she didn’t know how to feed herself or walk. Her only form of communication seemed to be tantrums on the floor, screaming at the top of her lungs.
When she sat down to eat, she would polish off adult-size portions. Sometimes she’d eat until she threw up.
Many of the families the Kerleys have been in touch with about adopting read books about what to expect from adopted children, as well as books about attachment disorders, when children struggle to form relationships with their adoptive parents because of past traumas. Erin didn’t read the books. One day, she flipped through them but was frustrated by the chapters about self-esteem and cultural differences. They didn’t really relate to what she was going through.
“It was like, respect the homeland, which is nice,” Erin said. “But I’m trying to get him not to pee his pants on purpose, to get him not to bite me.”
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in Boston, said these sorts of behaviors are common in adopted children.
“There’s a lot of adjusting they have to do. It’s going to take sometimes months and sometimes years,” Pertman said. “These aren’t infants who don’t know anything. These are human beings who have had life experience already, and it can be tough.”
It’s not just getting used to a new language and a new culture. They also must face new relationships.
“You cannot live in an orphanage and not be affected by it. Those are not ideal circumstances,” Pertman said. “So these are kids who are trying to make a major adjustment in their lives, carrying some real loads on their backs to do it.”
But Pertman said most children show progress quickly, like Sarah and Simon have, although some will have serious attachment issues.
“What I can say generically is that you can’t expect them to experience orphanage life and not be affected,” Pertman said. “The likelihood, the common eventuality, is that they’re going to be good and fine, and everybody will be a beneficiary.”
It wasn’t just Sarah and Simon going through big changes. Bethany also struggled to deal with her new brother and sister.
She was jealous and started needing more attention, asking for more stuff at the grocery store and vying for time alone with her mom and dad.
“It’s like the princess dethroned in a coup,” Erin said, laughing. “She either loves them, or she can’t wait for them to go home.”
Bethany had a harder time with Simon, Erin said, because he didn’t always do what she said.
“She had periods of extreme jealousy,” Rob said. “But she is inherently mature and capable. She’s far better than most 5- or 6-year-olds.”’
Improvements across the board
Now that the children have been living in Bend for 212 months, the changes are clear. Many of the changes came naturally. Erin and Rob have worked hard to treat the adopted children just as they would Bethany, to have strong, clear expectations of them. Erin makes each of the children put away their own laundry; Rob refuses to make Simon a special meal just because he doesn’t like something.
And they shower the kids constantly with positive praise, hugs and kisses. They’re making it clear they’re not going to abandon the children.
On Tuesday, Sarah will turn 2. Just four months ago, she was teetering around, taking her first steps. Now, she’s running, learning to climb steps, and perhaps most importantly for the family, she’s started being friendly.
Much of the change is evident in Sarah. She’s growing like a weed, has learned to stop eating when she gets full and she’s showing more personality.
“Before she was more of a mouth,” Rob said, someone who just ate and cried. “Now she has more of a distinct personality. She has expressions. And there’s more of a range of emotions than just being upset. She’s generally happy.”
Erin said when Sarah first arrived home, she was “outraged” that she was expected to learn how to walk and feed herself, and try new things. Now she’s accepted it, drinking out of a sippy cup and trying to speak. On Thursday, she climbed over the step leading into the house, giggled when Rob lifted her, and smiled at her sister and brother.
“It was better than I’d expected,” Rob said. “They’re both very healthy, which is essentially an impossible thing. They’re both healthy and smart, and they’re adapting.”
Simon has also caught on quickly. He understands English, and is speaking in four- and five-word sentences.
He’s started eating more, after struggling with foods that weren’t served at room temperatures or that had flavors. The first time he tried ice cream, he spit it out.
Now, though, Simon is testing authority.
“He’s convinced he’s the boss,” Erin said. “He’s trying to pit Rob and I against each other, kissing and hugging one of us and ignoring the other one.”
Once, he ran away from Erin in the parking lot, and she told a friend how upset it made her, and how she thought it was that he’d never interacted with cars in Ukraine. The friend told her she’d had the same experience with her son. Trying to distinguish between little-boy behavior and orphan behavior, the couple said, is one of the challenges.
And Bethany, too, is accepting the changes.
“She’s doing better. She’s accepted Simon as a brother rather than as a regretful roommate,” Erin said. “She doesn’t talk to us about sending them back as often.”
It’s hard when you’ve been the center of the universe, just like every firstborn child,” Davis said. “She is working very hard. If Simon hurts himself, she runs to comfort him. Learning to share has been a little difficult.”
Davis said she knew Bethany was really making strides when one day recently she asked to talk to Simon on the phone.
“She’s doing big-sister stuff,” Davis said.
The Kerleys say they’ve had plenty of help to make the transition more smooth. Their friends at Eastmont Church threw them a shower. And Mary and Jim Davis, Erin’s parents, have helped out as well.
On Thursday, Bethany celebrated her last day of kindergarten and spent time lounging on the lawn with Simon. Next year, the family hopes Simon will be ready for pre-kindergarten classes. To prepare him, he’ll attend some summer classes at Eastmont Community School. He’s excited to go to school and hopefully help him improve his English.
Still, the challenges aren’t over.
“Yesterday, there was a struggle for attention. One of the kids jumped on my lap, and the other two were fighting for it. So I had to switch every few minutes,” Erin said Thursday.
To Rob, the kids’ history in the orphanage doesn’t mean a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“Life isn’t going to hand something to you because you’re an orphan,” he said. “He’s not going to get a half-point off his mortgage.
“We can’t change their past. We can only go forward from here.”
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
By JOSEPH BERGER
Published: June 15, 2008
Wendy Carlson for The New York Times
Milana Jaffin, 5, of Russia, with her adoptive mother, Liz, in Woodbury. Milana’s birthmark is called a hemangioma.
MILANA Jaffin has staked out her territory in her adopted land.
A year ago, this 5-year-old with dark eyes and an ebony pageboy was living in a Russian orphanage, destined to spend her childhood in such institutions because of a disfiguring facial birthmark. Now she lives with Liz and David Jaffin in an antiques-filled 1850s Cape in this vintage New England town and has her run of the place.
“You want to see my room?” Milana asked a visitor. She clambered up the stairs, visitor and mother in tow, and announced, “That’s my room and that’s our kitty.”
Her kitty, a brindle named Gypsy, lay napping on the bed. “Scratch her head!” Milana urged. She clicked on her pink CD player, declaring, “That’s my music,” and strummed along with a toy guitar she got from Santa.
Milana is a frisky child who quickly charms people who meet her, even as they cannot help but notice her striking blemish. Milana was born with what is medically called a hemangioma on the right side of her face. It has grown to fist size and virtually blinded her right eye. She has had two operations so far to reconstruct her face, with another to follow in July to build up her eye socket so that she can simply blink.
Yet, with the hurdles they knew lay ahead, Liz and David Jaffin sought Milana out as the child they wanted to adopt. “Her picture immediately touched our hearts, and since then we have been waiting eagerly for the day that she becomes our daughter,” Ms. Jaffin, 47, a British-born occupational therapist, wrote the Russian judge who eventually approved the adoption.
Most families who undertake adoption make inquiries to assure themselves that the child is, as the song goes, as normal as blueberry pie. But there are couples like the Jaffins who cannot resist a particular child and take on the handicaps as well.
Happy Families International, an adoption agency in Cold Spring, N.Y., that handles 60 adoptions a year, not only handled Milana’s adoption, but also arranged last year for a Dallas couple to adopt Sasha D’Jamoos, a 15-year-old without legs, from a Russian orphanage. The couple paid to have Sasha fitted with prosthetic legs and trained in their use. He is now skiing.
“I always believe that there is a personal aspect,” said Dr. Natasha Shaginian-Needham, the agency’s executive director. “When you see a child like Milana in the orphanage, your heart is broken. This child definitely does not have a chance to have a normal life. The potential parents open their hearts and soul.”
The Jaffins, who married in 2005 when Ms. Jaffin was in her mid-40s and her husband was past 50, were too old to qualify for adoption through most agencies that handle American children, so they searched overseas. Along the way — through friends who attend a local Catholic church whose priest had a parishioner working for an organization that brings disabled children to the United States for medical care — the Jaffins heard Milana’s story and eventually saw her photograph.
“My husband looked at a picture of her and said, ‘She looks just like you.’ ” Ms. Jaffin recalled. “We both have short dark hair.”
At that point, Milana’s hemangioma obscured much of her face, but the Jaffins concentrated on what she could look like with surgery by world-class experts like Dr. Milton Waner in Manhattan.
“We wanted to adopt a child because we wanted to be parents,” said Ms. Jaffin. “You can’t separate the fact that we would be helping her, but we didn’t adopt her because we wanted to help some child.”
In December 2006, Liz Jaffin, armed with Russian lessons and a thick coat, flew to Moscow and drove six hours to the city of Kostroma. Milana, who had been abandoned by her mother shortly after birth, was brought out dressed in a velvet dress that the orphanage issued to any child meeting prospective parents.
After one tight hug, Ms. Jaffin fell in love. Ms. Jaffin showed Milana photographs of the bedroom she would live in and of the family’s black Labrador, Hugger. A half year later, in May 2007, she returned with Mr. Jaffin, 54, the chief operating officer of a Manhattan financial company, and they claimed Milana.
“All of a sudden, we had this wham-bam 4-year-old full of personality living in our house,” said Ms. Jaffin.
At first there were more than a few temper tantrums, partly because Milana had to deal with parents whose Russian was good enough to say, “How do I find my way to Red Square,” but was not always good enough to decipher a child’s desires.
Before she put Milana in preschool, Ms. Jaffin made sure to show the children there a photograph and tell them that Milana’s deformity did not hurt her and that they could not catch it. Now, Ms. Jaffin said, Milana has play dates and goes to birthday parties and has two favorite boyfriends, Quinn and Christopher.
Milana calls the growth on her face a bump. It is smaller and flatter after surgery, but Milana can still be a startling sight on the street, and small children are not always tactful.
“What’s wrong with her face, Ma?” Ms. Jaffin has heard a girl say, or convey the same feeling obliquely by hiding behind a mother’s legs.
But when friends and relatives have gotten to know her, they, too, have fallen in love. “She’s got such a personality you forget about the hemangioma,” Ms. Jaffin said.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Savannah-Hope was found on September 1, 2007. She was just 4 days short of 4 months old. Savannah-Hope was living with her mother who was gravely ill. She weighed only 4 pounds. She was wrapped in rags and in a very fragile medical state.
On September 4, 2007 Savannah-Hope was relinquished by her birth family and.....
...was brought to the Good Samaritan Children's Home in Maponga Malawi.
The Children's Home is run by Baptist Missionary Gardiner Gentry.
The Children's Home is directed by a Malawian woman named Thandie. Thandie personally oversaw the care of Savannah-Hope. Savannah-Hope also had a full time nanny named Violet who lived next door to Thandie in the staff quarters.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Earth, we started the immigration process to bring Savannah-Hope home. It was a much longer and bumpier journey than we had originally thought. Both in the U.S. and in Malawi. I won't go into it here, but the adoption process was a complete leap of faith. I have no doubt that Savannah-Hope's adoption was orchestrated by God.
On November 11, 2007, Savannah-Hope's mother died. We were saddened by the loss, but rejoiced that she made a profession of faith and had accepted Jesus as her personal savior.
On March 4, 2008 exactly 6 months to the day Savannah-Hope was found, we received approval from the United States Homeland Security to adopt her.
On March 17, 2008, I kissed my husband and 4 other children good-bye and headed off for what I thought was a 19 day trip to pick up our sweet Savannah-Hope.
Gotcha! On March 18, 2008 I was able to finally scoop my sweet Savannah-Hope into my arms.
Adoption Day! Savannah-Hope officially became a Johnson on March 20, 2008. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the Court room, but this picture was taken just after the hearing.
On March 24, 2008 I went to Savannah-Hope's home village. I was able to see the house that she lived in with her mother and maternal grandmother. I was able to meet her twin sisters Sidala and Tamandani and her brother Jameson. In the picture above, Savannah's paternal uncle is holding Tamandani. I am holding Sidala, Thandie is holding Savannah-Hope and Jameson is standing in front of Thandie. This was an extremely emotional visit. To read more about it click here.
On April 3rd, I received word that our U.S. Immigration paperwork was logged-in at the National Vista Center in the U.S.. Waiting for this to take place is what delayed my trip beyond the scheduled 19 days. Once this took place, the National Visa Center sent the approval to U.S. Embassy in Malawi. Then more waiting.....
Here is a picture of the U.S. Embassy in Malawi. Our paperwork arrived there on April 14th, but we weren't granted an appointment/interview until April 22nd. The interviews went well and we were issued Savannah-Hope's adoption visa the next day.
After 40 long days.....yes FORTY DAYS!!!....my amazing travel partner Mrs. Miller, Savannah-Hope and I boarded a plane headed to America.
FOREVER FAMILY DAY- April 26th, 2008
Thank you Lord for our sweet Savannah-Hope! We are truly blessed!