Monday, 6 July 2015

Guest Post: David Smolin shares his experience as a speaker at this years Christians Alliance for Orphan (CAFO) summit

In CAFO’s own words their summit “inspires and equips Christians to care for orphans with wisdom-guided love. The CAFO Summit has become the national hub for what Christianity Today called, “the burgeoning Christian orphan care movement.” Last year’s conference drew 2,600 foster and adoptive parents, orphan advocates, pastors and leaders from 35 countries. Together, we explore effective foster care, adoption, family preservation and global orphan ministry. CAFO2015 will include unforgettable plenary sessions with top national and global speakers, stirring music, more than 100 workshops, and an array of one-of-a-kind experiences you won’t find anywhere else”
At this years CAFO summit, David Smolin was invited along as the “critic” of the movement to take part in one of the breakout sessions between him and Jedd Meddfield.   The session lasted one hour and both Jedd and David had equal amounts of time to express their opinions. 

Question and answer session

David, thanks for agreeing to share with us your recent experience at CAFO.  You also shared in a similar way at last year’s CAFO conference.  Were there any differences, did you feel there was more openness to listen to your point of view this year than last year?
CAFO for the last several years has been undergoing a transformation in which intercountry adoption (ICA), which had been emphasized early in the movement, receives less attention, while other kinds of interventions and ministries receive greater attention.  In addition, many Christians active in the spheres in which CAFO operates have become more informed about the complexities involved in adoption and “orphan” care, and more vocal in questioning the prior simplistic narratives.     Some in leadership, such as Jedd Medefind, are open to dialogue.   The changes are evident looking back over the last four years.   These positive trends continue to gain momentum, although they still have a long way to go.    Of course the continuing decline in the numbers of intercountry adoptions, while controversial as to causes, continues to underscore the need to emphasize other interventions.   If the movement is mainly about ICA, then by the numbers alone the movement would be a failure, as ICA to the U.S. is down 70% over the movement’s decade in existence.  

What were the main points that you made and wanted to get across in the session?
While acknowledging the positive developments with the movement over the last several years, I issued a call for the movement to repent from its original approaches to international adoption.   Merely de-emphasizing ICA as compared to other interventions is not enough, when the old, erroneous, ICA-centric narratives were so powerfully presented for years, and many of the older, misleading resources---books, films, etc.---are still being disseminated.   I believe the movement needs to take responsibility for their mistakes, for a number of reasons:   1. In the absence of a clear repudiation of the movement’s original, simplistic ICA-centric narrative, many continue to act in the present based on those past narratives.  A subtle shift in emphasis is not enough to counter years of an erroneous message.  2.  The U.S. approach to ICA created a flawed system designed for failure, and is largely (although not exclusively) responsible for the decline of ICA over the last decade.  The Christian adoption movement advocated for this failed model of ICA, and thus bears a significant part of the responsibility for the decline of ICA.   CAFO’s  very recent advocacy of the deeply flawed CHIFF (Children in Families First) proposed legislation, without even an acknowledgement of the relevant points of controversy at CAFO 2014, illustrates the problems with failing to acknowledge responsibility for the past, for the result is simply repeating the same mistakes.  3. Many people---children, first families, adoptive families, communities, and the adoption system itself---have been harmed by the mistaken approaches to ICA advocated and implemented by the movement.  Those harms are ongoing, for adoption is not just a moment-in-time invention, but alters the lives and trajectories of lives permanently. 
What issues did you and Jedd agree on?
I do not want to speak for Jedd---who is quite articulate himself---and I cannot easily summarize what he said.   There were points of agreement, and his willingness to dialogue both privately and publicly is positive.   Jedd is involved in a difficult balancing act in his role as head of a particular organization. I am hopeful that over time, with the increasing involvement of more diverse voices in CAFO, that Jedd will increasingly move closer to where he needs to be.  I think it is very important that he and leadership hear from a lot of people—adult adoptees, people involved in the field in various countries, first families/communities, and adoptive parents who over time become more aware of the greater complexities.   In some ways, CAFO is being forced to change, since on the ground the huge decline in ICA and accompanying struggles of adoption agencies require re-orientation. 

What issues did you disagree on?
Again, without purporting to speak for Jedd, what I heard from him was that I was emphasizing one side of things, and he sees himself as trying to bring things into balance.   So I think he saw himself primarily as trying to balance out what I said, more than primarily disagreeing.    From my perspective, it is not just a matter of balance---i.e., how pro-ICA are you?---but of doing things correctly.  Good intentions are not enough.   I think there are some issues he sees as a matter of balance, or a matter of the inevitability of making some mistakes in a movement, that I see as a matter of the movement making some harmful and avoidable mistakes which it needs to rectify. 

 From my perspective, the movement did not merely rhetorically over-emphasize international adoption, it actually undermined international adoption by advocating flawed practices. 
I think we may also disagree on the fundamental nature of adoption, viewed Biblically.  I believe that the “as if” legal model of adoption in the U.S., in which the adopted person is treated as though they had been born to the adoptive family, and not born to the original family, is fundamentally contrary to scripture.   Jedd implied that the willingness to fully bring children into the adoptive family is a positive development of a Christian understanding of adoption which has not yet been implemented in many non-Western cultures, but which should be implemented everywhere.   However, I am not sure if Jedd agrees that it is equally important to affirm that the adopted person is always, in significant and permanent ways, deeply connected with their original family.  As the movement increasingly emphasizes bringing the practice of domestic adoption into more nations and cultures in which Western forms of adoption are rarely practiced, the question of how to define adoption will be increasingly significant.   If Biblical, Old Testament law and narrative affirmed a form of form of substitute family care that does not sever original family relationships, and if the New Testament church did not practice “adoption” as we understand it, can we say that cultures lacking the U.S. kind of adoption are deficient, from a Christian perspective?   Can a child be fully in their adoptive family without practicing an unbiblical “severance” of original family relationships?   Does the Biblical command to honor our parents apply to adopted persons in relationship to their original parents?  Although we did not have a chance to fully engage these questions, I suspect that if we did there might be some disagreement.  

How many people attended your session? Were you preaching to the choir or did you feel that you were really helping to educate some of the audience who might have been hearing some of these facts for the first time?
In both 2014 and 2015, the dialogue with Jedd was a well-attended breakout session, scheduled in a large room, held toward the very end of CAFO.   In 2014 there were audience questions, but this year all questions during the session itself were from the moderator.   I think the audience was a mixture of viewpoints. 

We heard that you put a call out for the need for repentance in your session.  What did you feel people/the movement needed to repent for?  What was the reception like from the audience?
As mentioned earlier, I am urging CAFO to clearly and publicly repent of its erroneous approaches to international adoption.   However, I like to think it was evident from the dialogue that Jedd and I respect and like one another, and so this probably reduced the tension that might otherwise arise from making such a strong statement.  In addition, I stressed my own work in adoption as a product of my own repentance in relationship to these issues, as well as the need of the Christian to be constantly repenting of his or her errors and sins, as represented, for example, by the weekly confession of sin in liturgical services.    
All that being said, I do not expect the movement to publicly repent, as I have proposed.  Instead, the movement will most likely continue to increasingly emphasize interventions beyond international adoption, without really taking responsibility for the mistakes of the past.  In the rapidly changing context of international adoption and child rights, this halfway approach will not be enough, but it will be better than nothing.  

Do you feel CAFO’s primary focus is predominantly international adoption or do you feel international adoption is equally balanced with other types of care for vulnerable children?
The emphasis at CAFO has been changing over the past years so that international adoption is no longer the main emphasis.  Again, the 70% decrease in intercountry adoption to the U.S. makes this almost inevitable.  

Do you feel there is a conflict or at least a constraint on CAFO due to their current and historic links to adoption agencies?
CAFO cannot afford to be too reliant on international adoption agencies, due to the sharp decline in numbers.  By point of comparison, the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), which for years was in effect the trade organization for U.S. based international adoption agencies, reportedly ceased operations as of June 30, 2015.  For years they tried to transition to being more than the trade organization for ICA agencies, but apparently were unable to create a sustainable model for survival.  

CAFO most likely has a broader constituency and membership beyond adoption agencies, which will be important to its survival and relevance moving forward.   
Yet, I do think it is likely that CAFO’s ties to agencies have been a constraint on coming to terms to the extent of illicit practices.   From my perspective, most of the people who work for international adoption agencies are good people with good intentions.  However, most have been slow to understand how the system they helped created and their typical practices undermine international adoption and children’s rights, at least when they work in vulnerable nations with high corruption, weak regulatory capacity, and a high proportion of the population living in extreme poverty.  

Do you feel CAFO has a real understanding of the corruption going on in countries that are doing international adoption and do you think he is aware of the crucial role that adoption agencies are playing in this?
One odd thing about CAFO is how little information about illicit practices in international adoption is actually available at CAFO events.  So far as I can tell, there have been no planned sessions and little discussion about either the specifics of illicit practices, nor the current crises in Ethiopia, DRC Congo, Uganda, and (in the recent past) Guatemala, Cambodia, Nepal and Vietnam (for example) that are related to illicit practices.  CAFO claims to present the best information on international adoption and children’s rights, and yet you could attend all of CAFO with virtually no information or discussions of these issues.   Of course my own breakout session with Jedd cannot hope to adequately address these current and historical problems.  
This avoidance of topics is another sign of a lack of repentance, which leads to decreased effectiveness.  You cannot operate effectively in the current international environment without being well informed on the topic of illicit practices, past and present. 

Did you attend any other sessions or hear anyone else speak, if so who stood out to you and why?
I was not able to attend other sessions this year.  My impression, from last year, and reviewing the schedule for this year, is that CAFO has had some outstanding programs on topics beyond international adoption, such as last year’s presentation of contrasting viewpoints of orphanages.
Within  CAFO and CAFO partners there is a great deal of labeling children and usage of vernacular which is not only stigmatizing but can lead to inappropriate interventions – terms like ‘orphan’, ‘orphan care’, ‘least of these’, ‘redemption’, ‘redeeming’ etc are all used to promote various work.  What are your views on this and is there any hope that CAFO and their partners are willing to start thinking about a different way, less harmful way, of communicating challenges that children may face?
I spoke to Tara VanderWoude at CAFO about a breakout session she gave on “language within the Christian adoption community” which addresses many of the issues implied by your question.  I think her concern was more about how such language can harm adoptees, given the losses and complexities involved in adoption

Did you feel that voices from across the spectrum of child care and child welfare reform were present and given adequate voices within the conference?
CAFO’s range of views on international adoption are weak.  I am presented as an outsider, relatively isolated radical and yet in the larger adoption world and other events I attend the views are much broader than what you see at CAFO.  In fact, there are many in the broader adoption world with much more critical views than my own on intercountry adoption.   My views generally correlate with international legal standards (the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Hague Adoption Convention; Alternative Care Guidelines), and thus in international contexts are not radical at all, but mainstream. 
CAFO has started to have some adoptee and perhaps first/birth parent speakers, but representation there is still much weaker than what is occurring in the broader adoption world.   Outside of CAFO, this is increasingly a time when adoptees are taking center stage in the adoption community.   CAFO seems at an early stage of incorporating some adult adoptee voices, most likely beginning primarily with only the more “positive and approved” adoptee voices.   I have personally learned a tremendous lot from the more critical adoptees and first parents, and think it is critically important that CAFO incorporate those voices.  

What direction would you like to see CAFO go over the next few years?
Particularly as CAFO emphasizes the development of domestic adoption options in other nations, CAFO needs to engage the core issues around the different forms of adoption and adoption-like practices.   This engagement needs to be both Biblical and cross-cultural, without assuming that forms of adoption currently dominate in the United States are normative.   Before we try to spread “adoption” around the world, we have to engage the debate over what the Bible actually says about adoption, and about the varied cultural practices involved.   We have to be willing to subject our Western practice of adoption to critical viewpoints, rather than assuming it as a positive starting point.

CAFO should be educating on the huge role of illicit practices in shaping the past and present of international adoption.  

CAFO should engage the question of when Western money corrupts rather than assists the development of child welfare systems, both private and governmental, in other nations.  This includes both international adoption and Western support for specific interventions, whether they be orphanages or otherwise.  

CAFO should engage the question of whether/when short term mission trips to programs for children, such as orphanages, helps or hurts children, as well as its cost-effectiveness.  Why is so much of short term missions seemingly for the benefit of the ones going, rather than for the benefit of the people who theoretically are supposed to being assisted?  

CAFO should engage the question of how to responsibly assist people who have been harmed by illicit and substandard adoption practices.

CAFO should continue to engage the many controversial questions on alternative care practices apart from adoption, such as the debate over “residential care” such as orphanages.     

What advice do you give CAFO so they have a more positive impact in the church on children without parental care?
Study, and educate on, international standards:  the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Hague Adoption Convention, and the Alternative Care Guidelines.   You need not accept these as the gospel truth, but being ignorant and reflexively critical of them is not helpful.   Personally, I think these standards, while not perfect, are generally pointing in the right directions, particularly on issues related to adoption and children without parental care.   These standards also are significant throughout the world to governments, international organizations, and the NGO-sector, and so it is foolish not to be educated on them.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I hope that people will encourage and stand behind your (Keren and Mark Riley’s) important work in Uganda and beyond.    Although improved practices have been put in place in many nations, the several African nations opened up for large-scale intercountry adoption in the last five or so years (Ethiopia, DRC, and Uganda) are still in the eye of the storm of illicit practices.   I hope people will listen to you as you tell them how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it can be for a nation to develop a proper child welfare system and practices in the midst of large amounts of foreign (i.e., U.S.) money coming in through international adoption and orphanage development.    For me, it is personally sad to see the same mistakes made in Africa that were made in years past in Latin America and Asia.


Monday, 4 May 2015

Retire or Resurrect

We have been busy living life and so this blog has been terribly neglected.  We can't believe the last post was 14 months ago!  We are now deciding what to do - whether to retire it or to resurrect it. Until then enjoy some incredible paintings by the Ugandan painter Mark Kassi.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Internationally adopted adult series: Janine Vance (of the Vance Twins)

Where were you adopted from? How old were you when you were adopted? Did you have any other birth siblings?  What was the adoptive family set up like?  How many other children were in the family and were you the only nonwhite child in that family?

My twin sister and I were six months old when we were adopted from Seoul, South Korea by what is considered now to be the pioneering and most ethical international adoption agency. In 1972, they had placed us into separate foster homes until they matched us with a couple in the US, particularly in a small emerging city in Washington State.

Our adoptive parents were the all-American dedicated Christian family. We grew to love them—in fact, we thought they were a perfect couple--like typical young children do of their parents. Today, my 83 year old adoptive father is my closest friend. My adoptive mother passed away from cancer in 1997. When they adopted my twin and me, they already had two sons, ages six and four.

Did you live in a diverse community? Go to a diverse school?  Struggles with identity?

Despite growing up in a small community, I actually didn’t get hit with racism as a child like other intercountry adopted people have, but I do remember being given disgusted looks that suggested I, an Asian minority, had no right to be in the U.S.. There were a few minor incidences here and there, like the time while walking to school a group of elementary school children pulled back their eyes, stuck out their middle fingers at my sister and me, and yelled “chinks, go back to China!” (The funny thing is that I wondered to myself, “where? Where are the chinks?” I fully identified myself as “White American.”) But we did not experience overt bullying, such as pushing, shoving or violence. Also, it is funny to note, that after my trip to Korea, my adoptive father still thought of me as his Caucasian daughter—it took a few arguments to convince him that I’m actually Asian.

The “racism” I deal with as an adult is just an overall assumption made against me based on my ethnicity mostly while I’m in public helping my adoptive father in such places as the grocery stores, parks or restaurants.  People might assume that I am my adoptive father’s nursing assistant or worse, his mail-order bride. I might get scowled at, pointed out, or asked intruding questions by disapproving spectators, and there have been plenty of disapproving looks as if I’m trying to take advantage of a nice elderly man. In fact, one quite disturbed and curious man marched up to me and asked my (a) father and me how long we had been married. It’s one of the hazards of being a female transracial Asian-born American-bred adoptee. As tiny tots, people used to adore my father when he cared for my sister and me. In contrast, the sight of me, as an adult, taking care of him triggers some disgusted looks toward me. In fact, it really is not uncommon for people to stand in the middle of a grocery store aisle in order to stare at me while I help my eighty-three year old adoptive father buy his groceries. But I’ve learned to ignore the looks.

Are you in reunion with your birth/first family?

While at the 2004 Korean adoptee gathering, my sister and I requested for our files. We were told they were in Oregon. Once back in the states we were told our files were in Korea, the same office we had originally asked in. Then back in Korea in 2007, we were given a few more (nonhelpful) papers. 
I waited seven years after my adoptive mother passed away before deciding to search for my Korean family. Some adoptees have the audacity to wonder about their biological family as young children. (I didn’t think I had that right back then.) I fully believed with all my being that I was an orphan, therefore the thought of a Korean family hadn’t even occurred to me until the age of 32 when I attended the Korean Adoptee Gathering and watched as Korean adoptees all around me were reuniting with their families. The curiosity for one’s biological family might happen while we are teenagers or not until we are much older. Up until very recently, I gave more consideration to the adoption facilitators than for my own birth rights—because at the time I didn’t know that I even had rights!

What are the losses for you for being internationally adopted? And the gains?

Because of my adoption, I have lost my Korean family and the Korean community that comes with it. I also lost a beautiful and peaceful philosophy that used to be a part of Korean culture. Most people might think this loss is not a big deal--especially due to an overall aversion against all of Korea in the minds of those in my adoptive community. However, I’m the type of person who believes every society is made up of individuals and I’ve always had an interest in humanity, therefore I find value in my ethnicity despite being severed and segregated from it.

The gains of adoption have to do with the fact that, as an adopted person, I am a beneficiary. On the surface, it appears as if I have only gained. Pro-adoption workers place value on the materialistic (and sometimes the religious) things that an adoptive family can give to a child as if things can replace family. Many presume that the “poor” mothers are incapable of giving their child “real” love. I appreciate all of my adoptive parents’ attempts to provide a decent home, but they assumed that a religious education was their only responsibility and that it was enough at the time. I will always appreciate their efforts. However, based on experience, I know now that owning more things does not fulfill adults or children. My adoptive mother was a hoarder. I grew up in an unfinished 4000 square foot (cold!) house that was crammed pack full of possessions, which crowded us out. My adoptive father owned thirteen vehicles, including Cadillac Limousines. This did not mean they knew how to love us more than our Korean parents could have. Like typical children, I ignored our adoptive parents’ flaws, and accept them for who they were. I accept the past, but this does not mean I am for adoption any longer--especially after learning how children have been and still are manipulated and unethically obtained for adoption and how much money is involved depending upon the child’s race.

Do you think international adoption should ever happen, rarely happen or never happen? And why?

Before there was international adoption in South Korea, there was peace. There was no fight for the rights to gain children between stakeholders. There was no cause for demand. There was no profit made for each child moved overseas.

I dislike the rhetoric adoption facilitators use—especially the saying “every child has a right to a family.” That one bothers me the most. What about the right to the family we were born into? Why do strangers have the right to take that away? Adopted people don’t want “a” family, we should be given a right to know and be cared for by our own biological families—and if mother is gone, we should at least have the right to know our father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents are. As a child’s right advocate, I do not see adoption as “Child Protection” like adoption facilitators claim it as, but rather a violation on the child’s natural born right to know and be cared for by our parents, which is not only given divinely but also recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

After having listened to adopted people for almost a decade and looking at the history as well as the global scale of it, I believe that the roots of the practice is built on lies, ignorance, manipulation, and outright deception, which can be considered child trafficking. Far too many inexperienced parents have been exploited and not presented with the long-term ramifications against the family unit that adoption causes. It’s taken me years to get to this point in my life—even after years of researching, collecting and listening to hundreds and thousands of stories and being tossed into the trenches myself—I didn’t ever consider myself to be “anti-adoption.” Adoption has become so glorified that if one part of it is questioned, you will be labeled anti-adoption and dismissed, ignored or even attacked. After scrutinizing all parts of it, I now disapprove of the practice. There are too many risks involved—risks that can last a lifetime and never be corrected.

What advice would you give to people considering international adoption?

The adoptee community is changing rapidly. What is acceptable now might not be ten or eighteen years later. Personally, I don’t recommend adopting at this time. I foresee the community demanding an inquiry and accountability against governments. Scrutinize the application form prior to signing. Don’t write the check until you have a clear understanding. There are some organizations that will start you off with small asking amounts but eventually ask for more, they might send you a different child than the one you originally wanted, or give you a disabled child and before you know it, you owe them $60,000. Watch out for some-sort of discreet silence clause intended to prevent you from speaking out or seeking justice if something unforeseen happens or if the adoption agency fails you.

When my sister and I started the Adoption Truth and Transparency Worldwide Network Facebook Group, we had no idea that there were so many parents (of adoption loss) who needed to speak out against the practice. We started the group because we wanted to hear the real voices of mothers (and fathers) who had lost their children to adoption rather than base our assumptions about them by agency hearsay. As you know, the voices can appear radical at times, but I see it as a much needed space even though it’s controversial for those who have mainly heard of the “positive adoption language” led by adoption facilitators and their followers.

Do you think that there should be certain stipulations on what kind of family should be allowed?

I believe that temporary or permanent guardianship is a better option for children and is more in line with Children’s Rights. This would allow the child to keep his true identity and to maintain a relationship with his or her biological ties and birth culture. This way, if the “match” is not made in heaven, both parties have the option to “divorce.” As it is now, “matched” families are obliged to continue the dysfunctional relationship created by some random social worker or agency employee. Because I co-owned and operated an adult family home (for people with disabilities) here in the states, I also believe that group homes are a valid solution.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), countries are not required to send their children out for adoption if it is not part of that country’s culture. (I was very fortunate to have this explained to me by Roelie Post and Arun Dohle of Against Child Trafficking. This is something I instinctively felt but didn’t know I had a right to believe while I was studying Bertha Holt’s memoir.)

When you read Bertha’s memoir, her husband Harry (they were a farming couple, first cousins and set up the child welfare program in S. Korea) and his cohorts, entered S. Korea zealously believing they were “God’s appointed people” who were providing “child protection” for the Korean people—despite the fact that they were also ceorcing the Korean mothers and the Easterners did not understand that adoption meant, “a clean break and forever,” as said in Bertha Holt’s memoir. The Holt legacy has built a sanctioned system that now Korean born adult adopted people are trying to reform. I think we should kick out the adoption lobbyists, follow the UNCRC and allow/trust S. Korea to take care of their own children.

Intercountry Adoption does not solve a country’s problems, it actually adds to the problems and places additional burdens upon children. 

What would you like to see happen more in the communities/politically so that children don’t have to be internationally adopted from overseas.

I like the idea of children being brought up in villages and small communities. I’d like to see more community building. I have noticed that the consequences of my adoption have been passed down to my children. They, too, have been isolated from their Korean heritage and family lineage, unable to communicate with Koreans and even if we do find our Korean family, we would need an interpreter to communicate. A potential relationship would be superficial at best and take time to develop. Despite my acceptance for my own uninformed status, it’s disheartening to see my daughters deprived of their Korean grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and unable to have deep understanding and connection with other Koreans.

Have you given birth yourself? If it is not too personal what impact has this had on you and how has it affected how you view your story?

My husband, who left home (his parents, family and Vietnam) at the age of 14, has always been fiercely independent and resourceful. We are a very progressive couple. Our attitude towards parenting has been completely non-traditional compared to the training I received while young. We believe that parents need to earn respect, not automatically receive it. We’ve earned respect by being able to see our daughters for who they really are instead of trying to force our will and our beliefs onto them, which in the end only causes rifts and feelings of suffocation. We let them decide for themselves their philosophy but we have also discovered that they instinctively emulate our attitude and actions. The way we taught them was to try to be our own best self. The mantra my husband would suggest to them while they were growing up was, “Know Your Rights,” and my mantra was: “Treat people the way they want to be treated.”

In 1992, when I first learned of my pregnancy, I was scared and was made to feel ashamed by the religious community I had been raised in. I left that community and learned how to be a parent by just taking action--and not thinking nor judging my status as a young mother. We just did it by believing in our capabilities every day until one day--before we knew what had happened in 2010--our oldest was graduating as valedictorian of her senior class. And our younger daughter, now in college, found her passion for photography and videography. Our daughters are now 21 and 18.

How do you cope with transitions, loss, rejection, acceptance?

While my girls were growing up, I transformed my formal living room into a sanctuary and have spent the last fifteen years living in isolation in what I call a meditation sabbatical so that I could concentrate on reading and writing. My passion has always been studying world religions, reading true life stories of varying cultures and philosophies. During this time, I shed many layers of who I was perceived by others in order to look deep within myself, and as a consequence, I found strength in my S.E.L.F. (Sacred Energy Life Force). I like to help other adult adopted people and parents of loss to shed some of the layers in their own lives, which is the reason I started an online wellness center called Sky Sanctuary via my Vance Twins website. I like to ask, “what if God is all of us?” I enjoy meditating and tuning into the silence within and around me.
Just this past year, I’ve been compiling an anthology called Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists, which has helped me come full circle. After reading diverse stories from (domestic and intercountry) adoptees, I realize that we are all connected. We may be from different countries, but we can all identify with each other’s experiences one way or another. The biggest theme in the collective—and this may seem cliché to those of us who have lived adoption—is that we are constantly living between two worlds never really belonging to either one. I trust the path I am on because I know that we’re all in this together. To me, knowing that I am part of a larger like-minded community is liberating. Through activism, I believe the adoption community will heal itself.   

For more information 

Thursday, 27 February 2014


In social work anywhere in the world you never get a 100% success rate.  In all the resettlements "Reunite" has done, only one placement has disrupted - twin girls. I was absolutely devastated about this and it took me a long time to get over it.  I felt very guilty that maybe I didn't do enough/did too much/wasn't wise in my decision process etc and there was so much  guilt on my part surrounding the break down of this placement.

With all the families we work with, we get very close to them.  When you are fighting the system to get their children back, you get very close to these families and quickly.

Even though this placement broke down in August 2012 after five months, we followed the girls to their new childrens home.  We took responsibility for the placement and for the break down and have been  working with the social work team in this new home for a solution ever since. We have tried working with a few family members for the last few years  but it just doesn't look like we can resettle them to anyone else in the family.  So we then took their case to the Alternative Care Panel last December and were advised (after we proved that no family member was prepared to parent them) to try to find a local family to foster or adopt them instead.

Please pray for wisdom in this case, please pray that we able to find their father again or their mother, please pray for a miracle to happen.  If you live in Uganda and are interesting in fostering these girls - then please do get in touch and I can connect you to the social work department of the home where they are currently staying.   Thanks!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Coming to America!

I (Keren) will be coming to America at the end of April to attend a wedding in Austin.  I am hoping to visit friends in Chicago before hand (approx. April 25th -May 1st) and in Atlanta afterwards (approx. May 8th-12th).

If anybody in Chicago, Austin or Atlanta would like me to share at their church/university/business about the work of Reunite, "orphan" care, ethical adoption and being an advocate for the poor then please do get in touch at . I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 24 February 2014

He meant everything he said

Over two and a half years ago I was working in a baby home in Kampala helping to resettle the children in their care.  We were successful and managed in a short space of time to get 7 children home.  We were also in the middle of working with  other families when we had the rug pulled from under us and we were no longer allowed to work there anymore.  I was heartbroken and really grieved the fact that these families and their children wouldn't get the chance to go home, that I would never get to find out what had finally happened to them and also hugely concerned that some of these children might be re-labeled "orphans" and get internationally adopted.

One of the families that we were working with at the time was a single father who had twin girls in the baby home.  Like a lot of single parents he had struggled to make ends meet and a work colleague of his had suggested that he admitted his daughters to the baby home temporarily while he got himself back on his feet.  But getting back on his feet never happened.

His daughters were very evidently being impacted by life in an "orphanage" and we were very keen to get them resettled as soon as possible.

Anyway, imagine my joy when I received a phone call off him a few days ago to tell me that even though we weren't working there,  he had still taken his children home for good.   He really HAD been serious and he really HAD meant everything he had said to us at the time.  Also, the people in charge of this baby home had told him that he had to take them out and quickly, with very little notice, with no preparation or long term plans on how he would cope financially!  We have seen this approach a lot, that if children are no longer viewed as "orphans" because family are obviously on the scene, it makes them more difficult to internationally adopt out so often the family are shown the door quickly.

Anyway, thank God, he has been doing so well looking after them and the twin girls we met today were healthy, happy and evidently very contented to be with their father - such a contrast to 2.5 years ago.  It was such a pleasure to spend the morning with them and hear about how life has treated them over the last few years.

Reunite can now put this family on our programme  (maybe 2.5 years late but at least we can work with them now) working towards economic empowerment. A regular, sustainable income is key to a successful resettlement.  We are also exploring options on how he can get his children into school .  If you want to help and to donate to  this family  please contact us here

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A few snapshots of what we have been up to recently.

We have been incredibly busy recently and  we haven't had much time to share whats been going on.  Here are a few snapshots of what we have been up to.

We were asked by an American family to help them in an emergency situation. They had been referred a child who had been called an "orphan" to adopt but then had discovered whilst in Uganda to adopt her that she had trafficked and her family desperately wanted her back.  We helped the US family walk through this very complex situation and were able to resettle this little girl just before Christmas.

We have been  involved with this Ugandan family ever since, visiting them regularly at home in their village and looking at ways we can help them.  This little girl is doing exceptionally well now and her family are so happy to have her back.  The American family have been incredibly supportive and donated funds to help this resettlement to take place and for the follow up visits . The American family have been incredibly brave and did what many wouldn't -  they let the little girl go home. They want to help this family, so we are currently assessing the best way for them to do that.

Reunite has also taken on an investigation case of a Ugandan child who was internationally adopted 3 years ago. The  adoptive family wanted to see if the story they had been previously be given could be confirmed and also to see if any of the birth family could be found.  We are still in the middle of this investigation, but have been able to so far, both confirm and discard some of the information from the file which has been helpful for the family.  This is the first time we have done this kind of investigation.

We are also happy to have been involved in the fostering of these two lovely girls who I first met in 2005.  We are so excited to be working with this Ugandan family who are joining other families who are pioneering fostering as a solution for some children  in Uganda. 

If you would like to support Reunite please get in touch!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Our largest Reunited family

The Uganda academic year begins at the end of January/beginning of  February and ends at the end of November.  So the children on the Reunite project are all about to return to school.  Generally we don't pay for school fees, unless there is an emergency or if the international family who were going to originally adopt the child decide they want to pay for the childs education. In some cases however we do make an exception and help towards the fees especially if the family can't afford it and I would like to share a little about a case that falls into this camp.

We resettled J back home in July 2011.  At the time she was one of seven daughters and her mother had tragically died in child birth.  When we traced Js family (which wasn't hard at all - the fathers name and mobile number were in the file) we discovered that he had since remarried and his second wife had just had a new baby - a boy to join all those girls! The father had apparently been visiting the baby home regularly with some of his other daughters on the weekends but it had never been noted in the file and nobody chose to tell me any differently.  I had thought J was an orphan/abandoned baby along.  When we were doing our investigation and pre-resettlement assessment, the step mother had been VERY open to J being resettled with them.  When I asked her how she viewed J, she said with a smile "She is my daughter". We felt very confident about the reunification and as expected the placement has been  very successful and the step mother has proved herself to be a very competent and loving mother.

Here is a photograph of the family in July 2011, when they were one of the families chosen to feature in the Governments "Children belong in Families not Orphanages" campaign.

Fast forward to January 2014 and the father and step mother now have 7 daughters from the fathers first marriage, 1 son and 1 daughter from their second marriage and now the oldest daughter has had her first child and so they are looking after their first Grandchild too.

Here is a recent photograph of them now.

In Uganda you have to pay for school fees if you want a half decent education.  In this family the fathers wages are only enough to pay for one of his oldest daughters education and that is all!  Along with a grant from "Families for Children" we helped  the step mother to set up a salon business last year.  But until it gets properly established, there is not enough profit to be able to pay for all the school fees of their children.  We regularly have conversations with the parents about their family size.  They are a devout Catholic family and as expected they have strong views on birth control. They have however been very receptive to hearing ideas how to control their family size and they have reassured us that they have no desire to add to their family.

This term Reunite has decided to help raise the funds for the seven school aged children. We need to raise money for their  fees (see below), school shoes and bag, their school uniforms and then various extras.

Here are photographs and costs for each child.  If you or anybody you know wishes to help towards their funds, thank you so much - we would LOVE to hear from you and share how you can help.

J is 18 years old - S3
Annual School fees - 1,380,000 ugx
337 pounds/ 558 dollars/408 euros

S is 1S is 16 years old - S2
Annual School fees - 1,380,000 ugx
337 pounds/558 dollars/ 408 euros

R is 11 years old - P4
Annual School fees - 570,000 ugx
139 pounds/230 dollars/168 euros

C is 10 years old - P4
Annual School fees - 570,000 ugx
139 pounds/230 dollars/168 euros

P is 8 years old - P3
Annual School fees - 570,000 ugx
139 pounds/230 dollars/168 euros

J is 4 years old - Middle Class
Annual School fees - 570,000 ugx
139 pounds/230 dollars/168 euros

J is 3 year old - Baby class
Annual School fees - 540,000 ugx
132 pounds/218 dollars/160 euros

Here are the other two children from the family who aren't old enough to be in school yet.

If anybody would like to contribute towards this families education, then we would LOVE to hear from you. Every pound, dollar, euro etc will make a huge difference in this families life.

If you are interested in supporting this family then please click here for details on how to help!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

"Adopt a Village"

Today Jesca and I went to meet the LC (Local Council Leader) who we have been working with for nearly 3 years.

Due to previous discussions about the needs of his village, the LC  had called a meeting for leading business men and women from the village to meet us and to hear our ideas and for us to hear about the needs in their village. In true Ugandan style, the meeting started late - but only by 2.5 hours and overall we found it to be a very productive meeting!

Jesca and I  began by explaining to the small group gathered there why we had decided to try a pilot project called "Adopt a Village" in their particular village. We had resettled two children back to their Grandmother and father to this village in July 2011. Also a few months ago it had also been flagged up that this village had also been targeted by child traffickers when a vulnerable mother and her three children had been offered the "opportunity" of international adoption to the US.  We therefore decided there was a urgent need in this village for widespread education about international adoption, child trafficking and child protection to protect all the children and their families from potential exploitation.

We wondered if it would be useful to the village if we employed a part time social worker to be based there for a dual purpose. To potentially work on preventative measures to stop children entering the orphanage system in the first place and also to prevent children from being trafficked into the system for the purpose of international adoption.  We also wondered if it would be helpful for the village community to have access to an adult literacy and numeracy course because being illiterate makes you even more vulnerable to having your children taken away from you and from being taken advantage of.  We also wondered if it would be helpful to set up some economic empowerment projects to continue to not only empower the family who are already on our Reunited programme but also to put other vulnerable parents/legal guardians on  who would be flagged up to us for participation by the LC (local council) , the Probation services and/or by the local child protection police officer so that they could have the opportunity to work their own way out of poverty. The parents/Grandparents there shared how appreciated they were of the fact that our pilot project was going to be an inclusive project including the adults as well as the children and not an exclusive project only focusing on the children which in essence would separate and discarded the significant adults in the childrens lives.

As our very own Jesca Akello Otai says  -

"The family have to be the first mechanism for child protection mechanism within the community.  By leaving out the family we are essentially leaving out our best chances of  a successful outcome"

We worked with the most charming and humorous translator we have had the pleasure of working with in Uganda so far.  When I shared a little bit about my background with them all about how I used to be a professional singer, as sharp as a knife, the interpreter asked me to sing them all a song!  The fact that this gentleman is successful AND blind is even more impressive in the fact that  he has made such a success of his life in a country that doesn't always give equal opportunity to people with a special need or a disability.  It was genuinely a pleasure to work with him.

Here are some photographs of all the people who were present  at the meeting yesterday.  The LC will chat with them all over the next week to see what they thought about the issues we discussed and he will them arrange another meeting for us to talk again.

We are really looking forward to seeing how our pilot project -  "Adopt a Village" develops.