Whenever I sit down to write about this trip, I usually end up staring at a blank page. How can I pen down emotions that I still struggle to explain to myself? When people ask me about my trip to Korea, I show them pictures and tell them about the culture, the sites I visited, and about the children I cared for in Naju. They always respond with either, “how life changing,” or “wow, you are so lucky.” I am very lucky to have been selected to visit Korea, but my luck goes beyond that. I am lucky because I was given the opportunity to experience, if only briefly, what my life would have been like if I had not been adopted.
Life is full of “what ifs,” all life changing to various degrees. What if I had left for work fifteen minutes earlier? What if I had studied a different major in college? What if a different family had adopted me? What if my biological mother had decided to raise me? The latter thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but knowing next to nothing about her, it was difficult to imagine how different my life could have been. I was given the opportunity to read my adoption file for the first time at Social Welfare Society and learn about my biological mother. I found out that one of the reasons why she decided to give me up for adoption was because she was unemployed and did not have the financial stability to care for both of us. But what if she had decided to raise me even though life would be difficult? As I walked through a neighborhood in Seoul, lost and frustrated, that was all I could think of. Would my life have been like this? Living in an area with rundown walkups, boarded up windows, and broken, narrow streets littered with shattered soju bottles? As I walked around and gazed at my surroundings, I could not help but feel that I was face to face with a life that could have been mine given different circumstances. It was scary, saddening, and eye-opening all at once. I was lost, both spatially and emotionally, as I stared at a world I was so unfamiliar with while trying to imagine it as home.
The experience was such a shock that I believed that the trip could not hold any more surprises for me. When I arrived at Naju, I began to think more about myself as an adoptee. Growing up, my thoughts on adoption were always positive. While I often thought about what life would be like if my biological mother had kept me, I hardly ever thought about not being adopted at all. Being adopted was something that I always felt grateful for but, in a way, also took for granted. When I went to Naju and lived at Ewah with the orphans I began to wonder, what if I were never adopted? Would my life have been like little Juno, who is so trusting and innocent? The two of us got attached to one another and he quickly became my favorite child at the orphanage. He would always greet me with a smile, give me a hug, and ask me to play with him. One morning, I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. When I woke, his caregiver told me that Juno was running around looking for me. He asked, “Did Sam-emo leave? She didn’t say goodbye. I miss her. I hope she comes back to visit me.” It made me sad that this adorable boy would miss me so much when I left, but it also broke my heart imagining the countless number of people before me that he has grown to trust leave as well, and all the people that will in the future. It is hard and painful to imagine a life where the people you meet and become attached to continuously leave. It must feel like abandonment at some point. Is he old enough to understand why? Or does he believe that he is the reason that so many people come and go? Will he grow up able to form long, stable relationships, or will he seclude himself out of fear and resentment? I hope that he grows up to be strong and self-assured, and I hope that I would have too if our places were reversed.
Even though I have finally managed to write something down I know that these stories do not even come close to expressing what I really feel. There are many stories to tell about my month in Korea, many of which are more uplifting, happy, and less complicated than what I have just written. But at the end of the day, those two experiences are the most important to me. As time passes and I begin to forget about all the places I visited while in Korea, I know that I will still remember these emotions. It is possible that all adoptees imagine what life would have been like if they were never adopted, and I have been fortunate enough to get a glimpse of that alternate world. It is something that I will never forget.
To learn more about Summer Programs in Korea visit www.spence-chapin.org/koreasummerprograms
Spence-Chapin’s mission is to find families for the most vulnerable children, including older children, sibling groups, and children with special medical needs.
As you begin to think about growing your family through adoption, one of the first steps is deciding the age of the child you will be parenting. Spence-Chapin can help you explore the reasons an older child could be a great fit for your family. We know there are some questions about older child adoption that people are often too afraid to ask, so we’ve started a list here.
- What is the age range of a child who is considered “older”?
- What are some of the differences between adopting an older child from foster care and adopting an older child internationally?
- Can we adopt an older child if we have younger children we are currently parenting?
- Can a single parent/older parent adopt an older child?
- As a single parent, can I adopt an older child who is not the same gender as me?
- Do older children have behavioral and emotional issues?
- Would we be able to have a bar or bat mitzvah for our child if we adopt an older child?
- How much will I know about my older child’s history?
- Have all older children been living in an institutional setting since birth?
- How much input does an older child have into his adoption plan?
- How can I be fully prepared to adopt an older child?
- What language will my child speak? Will my child speak or understand English?
Are these the questions that you were thinking of too? Our team can provide the answers to all these and more. Give Kara, Heather and Jamie a call – 212-400-8150.
Spence-Chapin is able to share the profiles of international children who are considered to be the most in need of a loving family, and who are ready to be matched immediately. The Waiting Child profiles often consist of children who are older or part of a sibling group. In order to respect the privacy of these children, the Waiting Child page has been password protected.
If you would like to hear more about our adoption programs or request the password to the Waiting Child page, contact us at 212-400-8150 or email@example.com.
Roma people represent around 12 million of Europe’s overall population and Bulgaria is home to the third largest population of Roma in the world. We see this reflected in the large population of Roma children in need of families in Spence-Chapin’s Bulgaria adoption program. Though the Roma are an estimated 5% to 10% of the general population in Bulgaria, around 60% of the children in need of permanent families are of Roma descent. Why are such a large number of Roma children in need of adoptive families?
To begin scratching the surface of why many Roma children are waiting for families in Bulgaria, exploring the larger scope of Romani history is an important first step. The Roma make up the largest and most vulnerable ethnic group in Europe. After migrating from India over a thousand years ago, the Roma people have endured oppression and discrimination. Yet quite remarkably, they have been able to preserve Romani language and culture. You may be more familiar with a commonly used term for Roma – “gypsy”. This term is an outdated and historically inaccurate word stemming from a time when Roma people were thought to have come from Egypt. As the term has negative and derogatory connotations, the most widely accepted term today is Roma.
Centuries of structural discrimination and social exclusion have led to the difficulties that Roma people are faced with today, leaving Roma children vulnerable and, at times, in need of loving homes outside of their birth families. The most prevalent issues faced by Roma families include discrimination, poverty, and limited access to education and medical care. While it can be difficult to picture the realities of what social exclusion may look like for a Roma child in Bulgaria, poverty is the most common reason Roma children are over-represented in child care facilities. The World Bank estimates that the poverty rate for families of Roma descent is 6.7 times greater than non-Roma in Bulgaria. Housing conditions illustrate a powerful snapshot of what living in poverty can look like for a Roma family. While sewage and water supply are available to 93% of the Bulgarian population, 50% of Roma families have no sewage and over 30% of families do not have access to a water supply system.
Regular school attendance can be difficult for Roma children due to circumstances caused by poverty. Issues include a lack of transportation, caring for younger siblings and experiencing discrimination in the school system. Teenagers who experience unplanned pregnancy are also faced with difficulties not only in school attendance but also with their health due to a lack of medical care access. This culminates in only 13% of Roma people with high school diplomas compared to 87% of employed non-Roma Bulgarians.
Lower levels of education lead to higher levels of unemployment and combined with the discrimination faced when seeking work, the Roma experienced an unemployment rate of 59% in 2010 while the national average for unemployment in Bulgaria was 11.6%. Since joining the European Union in 2007, many Roma who have not been able to find employment in Bulgaria have migrated to other European countries for job opportunities. This can create a difficult decision for parents who may not be able to parent their children as they leave the country and then choose to make an adoption plan.
Another factor in the over-representation of Roma children who are adopted internationally highlights the discrimination the Roma people receive within Bulgaria. If a child cannot be raised with their birth family, it is the best choice for a child to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country. Due to a long history of falsely held beliefs and discrimination against the Roma population, Bulgarian families may choose to adopt ethnic Bulgarian children, leaving Roma children waiting longer to be placed with an adoptive family in their home country.
Hundreds of years of oppression have created an environment where Roma children are more vulnerable to factors that leave children in need of a family. While the reasons any Roma child in Bulgaria are in need of a family are complex, Spence-Chapin’s mission is simple – to find families for the most vulnerable children. We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition. There are thousands of school-age children, sibling groups, and children with special needs languishing in orphanages and foster care in Bulgaria. These children blossom when given the opportunity, support, and resources to live within the stability and safety of a permanent loving family.
To learn more about adoption through our Bulgaria program or to view profiles of Waiting Children in Bulgaria ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Arriving in South Africa one is immediately struck by an intense color contrast never seen walking the streets of New York City. Bursts of purple are framed against the blue sky, the green landscape, and the white exteriors of buildings.
We are told by our hosts that we have fortuitously scheduled our visit during the brief window of time that the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. We have come to Johannesburg to learn from our South African counterpart, Johannesburg Child Welfare (JCW). JCW is a vast child welfare agency providing services within Johannesburg and its surrounding areas. The work they do spans from child abuse treatment to family integration. It is a privilege to see the broad range of their work and to hear from the adoption team about the realities that inform our shared effort to find homes for children where no domestic adoptions exist. For one week, against the colorful backdrop the Jacarandas have provided, we will make visits to the various institutions and shared group homes where many of the children JCW advocates for reside.
Our first stop is Othandweni, a JCW-run institution located in the township of Soweto. Othandweni has the capacity for about ninety children, thirty children live in the nursery and sixty older school age children live in five cottages that are segmented by age. There are close to fifteen full time staff. The environment at Othandweni is lively, bright, and loud.
Part of the reason why this welcoming and safe atmosphere exists is the presence of the Grannies. Othandweni is the site of our Granny Program, which we first established in 2011. Fifteen women from the local community dedicate their time to visit with the thirty children who live in Othandweni’s nursery. They come Monday through Friday for at least 4 hours a day, dividing their time between caring for two children. The children they are working with are between birth and 6 years of age and have a range of significant special needs, from HIV to cerebral palsy. The dedication, consistency, and passion of the Grannies bring to life a specially-designed curriculum that helps these children meet their developmental milestones. The visible impact this program has had on the children who have benefitted from a relationship with a granny makes it easy for everyone involved to wholeheartedly buy into this program. It is a model that JCW hopes to implement in other institutions as its benefits have proven to extend beyond its original goals, the “gogos” speak of the sense of enfranchisement this program has brought them – as one gogo puts it, the program “has given me a new lease on life”.
Over the next two days we visit three other institutions. Princess Alice is a JCW-run home for infants and is located in a particularly affluent neighborhood of Johannesburg. The focus at Princess Alice is on providing a nursery and pediatric services to infants who have been abandoned or orphaned. Many of the children at Princess Alice have special needs and are on medication regimes that need to be strictly monitored. There are between twenty and thirty infants residing at Princess Alice and a combination of full time staff and community volunteers who are a constant presence. We next stop at Cotlands, which is an institution caring for infant and toddler age children. Cotlands had recently reduced their capacity at the time of our visit and was focused on expanding its community-based family services while still providing care for around fifteen to twenty infants and toddlers. Like any other institution in Johannesburg there are many special needs infants. Learning about the particular profiles in the care of these institutions continually reinforces why Spence-Chapin is doing the kind of focused work it is doing in South Africa. The population of special needs infants and toddlers is significant in size and growing domestic options for these children is a work in progress for JCW.
Ethembeni, a Salvation Army-run institution within Johannesburg, is our last stop. Ethembeni has the capacity for close to fifty or sixty infants and toddlers. There is a nursery and separate living areas for the toddlers. Ethembeni is a longtime presence in the child welfare landscape in South Africa and has done a lot of important work on behalf of vulnerable children in Johannesburg. Continuing the theme of the trip, we met many toddlers with significant special needs including children with a combination of cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities. There is a sizeable population of children with minor to severe cerebral palsy and also Down syndrome. Part of the normative mindset of caregivers and administrators at these institutions is that finding homes for these children is a near impossibility, an idea that we have seen be defied time and time again by families who possess the expertise and resources to responsibly provide homes for children with these specialized needs. Sharing our optimism with them will hopefully encourage them to continue their active advocacy on behalf of these children.
We return to Othandweni on our final day in Johannesburg to meet some of the older children who live in the cottages. We are greeted with a performance of music, dance, and poetry. As the older children at Othandweni come from a variety of tribal backgrounds their presentations are cultural fusions of their different backgrounds, combining the features of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and other cultural traditions. We met many children whose legal statuses were not settled and/or they still maintained connections with their birth family through visits and other forms of communication. However, there certainly are children who desire to be part of a permanent family and Spence-Chapin hopes to be able to work on their behalf.
It was a poignant time to visit Johannesburg as the one year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing was approaching. His work on behalf of the marginalized is an evident influence to the incredible work that JCW does on behalf of children who are vulnerable. Spence-Chapin is privileged to be working with such an ethical and altruistic organization. I returned feeling energized about the focused kind of work we are doing and with a deeper sense of accountability to the children who we met.
By Ben Sommers, Associate Director of International Programs, Spence-Chapin
Maria Gacovino, a Spence-Chapin adoptee of Colombian heritage, celebrated her Quinceanera this year. Along with her parents, Steve and Christine, Maria wanted to do something special to mark the occasion , and decided to use the celebration to raise funds and awareness about international adoption.
Maria, along with brother Michael, were adopted from Colombia, while their brother Luke was adopted domestically, each through Spence-Chapin. Maria’s goal was to ensure that more waiting children in Colombia had the opportunity to be matched with loving, permanent families.
The Gacovinos’ along with their family and friends, eventually raised over $10,000.00 in support of Spence-Chapin’s International Adoption programs and our humanitarian “Granny” program. This funding will go primarily to ensuring that older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs living in international child care centers in Colombia, Bulgaria, and South Africa are placed with waiting families. We are proud to be a part of Maria’s Quinceanera and to have the Gacovinos as a part of the Spence-Chapin Community.
December 2nd is Giving Tuesday, a global initiative to inspire people to give back to the charities and causes that they celebrate. At Spence-Chapin, we work to connect children with permanent homes, deep parental love, and a lifelong sense of security. We can help more children find homes by alleviating all financial barriers to families looking to adopt - but we cannot do this without you! Please participate in Giving Tuesday by making a contribution to the Spence-Chapin Annual Fund.