No Mother, No Child

Rarely do we hear or see intercountry adoption from our biological family point of view but without our mothers, there would be no us! Adult intercountry adoptees are gradually becoming aware of how we can collaborate with our biological families and encourage them to become more visible.

I would like to introduce you to one such adoptee, Yennifer Villa who was adopted to Germany and born in Colombia. She is about to fly to her birth country where she will undertake a 6-9 month project entitled No Mother, No Child to capture mothers and their stories of relinquishment via the art of photography. She plans to showcase the end result of her work as a pop up photo exhibition to be held in Cologne (and possibly throughout Europe) towards the end of next year.

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Yennifer is currently 29 years old and was adopted at approximately 2 years of age. Her age is estimated because she does not have official birth information about herself. From some paperwork provided through the German consulate and orphanage in Colombia, it appears she may have been with her mother for the first 3 months of life until she was placed in her orphanage. At some point, her mother’s visits stopped and Yennifer has never known why her mother never returned.

Intercountry adopted and raised in a small German town with an adoptive family who never talked about adoption to “try and make things easier”, Yennifer grew up hearing a comment said about her biological mother – “she was probably a drug addict and now dead”.

What a harsh reality for a young adopted person to have to grapple with! I can relate to the damage this has on our psyche growing up for I was told a similar thing about my biological mother – “she was probably a prostitute”.

As adults now, Yennifer and I know our adoptive parents didn’t tell us things like this about our mothers to be mean – it was the propaganda adoption agencies/lawyers/governments told to justify not knowing the nuances of why we were needing to be adopted.

Understanding the good intentions of her adoptive family and not wanting to be rude or disrespectful, Yennifer feels compelled to see for herself the truths of mothers in Colombia. She suspects mother’s stories are more complex and nuanced and via her project, aims to open the door to a greater understanding of why mothers in Colombia give up their children.

Yennifer is currently studying Sustainability & Design at Akademie für Gestaltung (Academy for Design) and it is through this, that the funding she collects will enable her to complete her project. She has not travelled to Colombia since being adopted to Germany as an infant so this trip will be momentous and memorable. Yennifer has peer adoptee contacts who will support her during her year in Colombia taking time to locate the mothers, spend time with them, and photograph them after learning about their experiences. Yennifer has been planning this project No Mother, No Child for the past 2 years and is feeling very positive and excited. The importance of her project is to change the narrative of “she was just a drug addict” to bring the realities and nuances of each mother who has had to relinquish to light via her photography.

This is not the first adoption project Yennifer has been involved with. Decoding Origins, the first Colombian anthology of adult adoptees was completed last year and Yennifer utilised her art skills as the lead graphic designer for the book’s website. Proceeds from the sale of the book have been collected to fund DNA test kits for Colombian biological families, some of which Yennifer is taking with her for distribution to mothers who contribute to her photography project.

Read my review of Decoding Origins.

Yennifer flies to Colombia on 10 November this year. Her goal is to raise $5.500EUR to provide funding for her equipment, travel and living expenses. She is ready to go and has a vision of what the photos might be but wants to meet the mothers, talk with them, engage them, and allow them to contribute to define the project so that it is truly about them.

We look forward to seeing some of Yennifer’s work on this project in the next year and hope it inspires other intercountry adoptees to consider how we might collaborate with our biological families and encourage them to become more visible in the intercountry adoption arena.

The Power of Peer Support

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I was recently reminded when providing the history of how ICAV came into being that we originally started as a support network for intercountry adoptees by intercountry adoptees. We began because I experienced nowhere to turn when wanting to connect in with others like me. Since then, I’ve learnt many times over about the power of peer support and that it cannot be underestimated!

I constantly hear from adoptees about the lack of post adoption supports that could improve the complex journey of being an intercountry adoptee. Wherever we are adopted to and from, the lack of accessible and known post adoption support is the common theme across our sending and receiving countries.

Today, I share Stephanie’s experience, a Filippino adoptee from the mid 1980s. Her story highlights the extent in which some intercountry adoptees can feel alone. I use the word “some” because I don’t want to over generalise but instead point out that no-one in our governments actually faciliate surveys to assess how we as adult adoptees fare once our adoption is transacted.

It is peer support groups like ICAV that become the melting pots for en masse experiences of intercountry adoptees around the world.

Our governments should not underestimate the power of our peer support and the positive impacts this can have in helping reduce the sense of isolation many can feel. I hope one day we will see our governments who facilitated our adoptions, provide the much needed funding to financially support peer group support organisations (formal or informal) like ICAV and those associated with ICAV.

We provide an immense amount of support around the world that is currently either not provided at all by our governments, and/or some supports that cannot be provided by professionals who do not understand the lived experience.

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The power of peer support comes from providing true empathy, removing the sense of isolation derived from a/some situation(s) and giving someone (figuratively speaking) a hand to hold onto; from those who have travelled before and intuitively understand the challenges.

Some examples of current peer group support within ICAV’s wider informal network:

  • Search & Reunification, including DNA Testing
    (Australia currently provides a free service via ISS Australia funded by our Federal Government but in most other sending & receiving countries, no such government funded service exists).
    Some adoptee led groups providing this: United Adoptees International (UAI), Brazil Baby Affair (BBA), Born in Lebanon, Plan Angel Colombia, 325Kamra
  • Return to Homeland
    Some adoptees setup home stay places for other adoptees
    Knowledge is shared in FaceBook groups from adoptees who have returned before
    For those returning to live for an extended period, knowing how to navigate visas, finding work, or where to go for translation services
    Some adoptee led groups providing this: International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) and their large network for Korean adoptees, Adopted Vietnamese International (AVI), The Voice of Adoptees (La Voix Des Adoptes – French), some individuals for Sri Lanka & Vietnam
  • Informal Mentoring for the every day experience of being an intercountry adoptee
    Being available via social media 24×7 (which can be exhausting and difficult with little stated boundaries and all support provided by volunteers)
    All Adoptee Led groups listed by ICAV
  • Books, Artwork, Films, Multi Media of the lived experience
    Some adoptee led groups providing this: Decoding Origins (Colombia), Adoptionland, ICAV, Lost Sarees, Out of the Fog, The Rambler, L’Hybride
  • Face to Face Contact
    Informal social events that facilitate friendships and networking
    Formal events like conferences, gatherings, meetings,
    Some adoptee led groups providing this: UAI, AdoptionPolitiksForum, ICAV, Adoptee Rights Campaign (ARC), The Voice of Adoptees, Asian Adult Adoptees of British Columbia (AAABC), I’m Adopted, Chinese Children International (CCI), Also Known As (AKA)
  • Advocacy to improve our situations and educate the wider public of the complexities we face
    Some adoptee led groups providing this: AdoptionsPolitiksForum, Adoptionland, UAI, ICAV, ARC, The Voice of Adoptees, Adoption Museum Project, CCI

I would like to have a heading named Research but I have yet to see any adoptee or adoptee led organisation who has established a research entity (formal or not) specific for intercountry adoption. It’s on my wish list!

Hopefully this gives you some insight into the immense amount of work being provided by adoptee led organisations and individuals who provide for free, peer support to our fellow intercountry adoptees. We want to reduce the number of experiences like Stephanie’s and ensure that for those already adopted, they are provided the support they deserve.

Note: all groups listed above are provided on ICAVs page Adoptee Led Groups

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Vulnerable children are not blank slates

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Today I want to share with you Joey’s Journey. He is one of the few male Chinese intercountry adoptees adopted out of China who I hear from, due to the 1-child policy that has seen an unequal proportion of females being adopted out, rather than males.

Joey’s experience highlights the issue I wrote about in my LION review early this year; of trauma that occurs prior to adoption and how adoptive families cope (or not) with this. How it impacts everyone in the adoptive family and how our society turns a blind eye to this aspect of adoption.

Adoption agencies and governments (both sending and receiving) need to step-up and be accountable because after 60-plus generations of  intercountry adoption worldwide, with all the blogs and forums now available where adult intercountry adoptees are actively speaking out, governments and agencies need to embrace what we who live it are saying and start to make changes in intercountry adoption policy and practice. Without this, we continue to repeat the same mistakes.

Change could include things such as:

  • family preservation and support first to be reunited if lost, support if a known disability exists, micro financing if poverty is the reason why families are placing their child in an orphanage to begin with.
  • extensive trauma training within our sending countries. It begins at the start. Carers of vulnerable children need to recognise the trauma a child goes through in being separated from their genetic family. Having multiple carers go through a child’s life while in an orphanage or foster care is not optimal. Look at ways to reduce this and ways to identify those children more at risk and develop early intervention pathways that flow into the transition a child undergoes when being adopted to a foreign country.
  • mandatory trauma training of social workers and professionals who are assessing prospective adoptive parents. How can we expect adoptive families to “get it” if those assessing them don’t even understand the depths of trauma that vulnerable children are living daily and will live with, forever?
  • mandatory trauma training of prospective parents who are deemed eligible not just in the early phases of considering adopting a child, but once they’ve been approved and when matches are made, this trauma training needs to continue long past picking up the child and bringing them home.
  • develop centralised portals of trauma specialists who adoptive parents can turn to from the beginning of their journey and through out, to ensure they are surrounded by the right professional supports.
  • adopting multiple children to one family at the same time should not happen if the adoptive parents have no experience in adopting/fostering or caring for vulnerable children. I’ve written before about the practice of separating biologically related children (twins) and keeping bio siblings together should be the only exception for allowing multiple children into one family at the same time  – but with the requirement that a full support plan needs to be in place.

I’m not saying we adoptees have the answers or that any solutions will be easy, but at least we can start the conversations and bring these issues to the forefront!

 

 

 

Meeting with US DOS & ICAV

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A group of intercountry adoptees met with the US Department of State (USDOS) to discuss Citizenship issues that are impacting intercountry adoptees raised in the USA.

See ICAV DoS Meeting Minutes 13Jul2017.

Special thanks to those who contributed to our Citizenship – ICAV Perspective Paper which laid the foundation to help educate and raise awareness at a political level.  A massive thanks to the ladies Joy, Maline, Sara and Becky who were willing to participate in this meeting.

During the time I’ve been engaged with intercountry adoptees who are fighting for their Citizenship, I’ve come to better understand their realities and understand why they are afraid to be exposed and loose everything they value, by speaking up.  This is because the risk of deportation is real and remains the most visible means of highlighting the issues in the media. It’s a really tough call to put yourself out and actively advocate not only for yourself, but other adoptees facing the same issue. I applaud these brave people for their courage and am honoured to know and work with them!

Please join the fight for recognising the rights of adult intercountry adoptees in the USA to have real permanency by being granted automatic Citizenship. Contact Adoptee Rights Campaign and ask how you can help.

MOVEnSHAKE for Young Adoptees

Anna

Hello! My name is Anna and I am a Filipino intercountry adoptee who came to sunny Queensland (QLD) in Australia at eighteen months of age. I’ve been very blessed to have been raised in one of the most multicultural hubs of South Brisbane, so I can’t recall experiencing huge amounts of racism or discrimination.

For my adoption journey the biggest struggle was trying to make sense of the anguish of rejection and hiding the constant fear of the uncertainty I had experienced so early in life. My adoptive parents did everything they could, firmly believing that love could fix everything which compounded my debilitating guilt to be a “good” and “happy” child – when beneath the surface every fake smile would send heartbreaking cracks through my internal shell.

When I turned five my parents adopted another daughter from the Philippines. I had a secret hope that having another brown baby in our family might help me feel less alone but I quickly discovered she would be completely the opposite to me. This extremely cute and bubbly toddler, even to this day, will often be at the centre of any social gathering filling the room with laughter, whereas I still struggle with an unfortunate combination of social anxiety and self doubt. When I use to run to my sister’s room in tears needing someone to talk with about my adoption struggles, she would leave the room before I could finish a sentence or just silently glare at me with a blank expression. It wasn’t until recently that I realised this inability of others to just sit and be with me in my time of need, led to me developing a fear of reaching out to other people including other adoptees because of fearing further rejection and abandonment.

So, over the course of time, and as I do more of my own journey I have learnt to be braver and to fear failure and rejection in the right way. I started to turn up to adoption gatherings and wanted to become more involved behind the scenes with Intercountry Adoptive Families of Queensland (IAFQ) and International Adoption Day. Through this support group I’ve met some beautiful adoptive families and incredible adoptees. I’ve found encouragement and hope in the connection with other people who know by experience what it is like to loose family and friends because they simply do not understand the indescribable difficulties of adoption.

As I continued to push the boundaries of my comfort zone I connected in with ICAV and formed wonderful friendships with Lynelle, Lan and other incredible adoptees. Now I can attend adoptee support groups without feeling petrified of finally being seen and heard for who I am. It’s been liberating to be authentic me, to own my imperfections, flaws and quirks, as I continue to piece my identity together.

With a bolder perception of myself and the world that I inhabit, a passion grew from the place that once only generated oppression. One of my things I loved as a kid was blasting music in my room and trying out some funky dance moves. Thankfully at the time no one had to witness my ‘unco’ groove therapy, but that’s totally what it meant to me. After considering the similarities intercountry adoptees have with one another I began to see an opportunity for an adoptee led group. I realised there are different cultural adoptee dance groups in Brisbane which are primarily parent led and organised – so I thought this could be the ideal link of us adoptees to connect with one another from across the borders of ethnicity.

From here, MOVEnSHAKE began to take form and rhythm. What was originally going to be just a teen group for intercountry adoptees, has now led to two seperate age groups. The Juniors group, for ages eight to twelve and the Teen group from ages thirteen to seventeen. The maximum age gap in any one group is five years to help nurture connection. Both groups are run back to back on the first Sunday of the Queensland school holidays as a way to connect with adoptees and to have a heap of fun experiencing different dance styles.

In April 2017, we had our very first MOVEnSHAKE session with an incredible turn out of almost fourteen participants for each age group! The dance studio atmosphere was full of energy and excitement for the Hip Hop theme. Although I am by no means a professional dance instructor, there is an intentionality and structure to the sessions to help cultivate confidence, connection and input from all the participants. We start with a fun introduction game and I spend time planning and practicing a dance routine to share with the group. We spent time working with the routine and as a group we learnt and adapted moves from one another, even spending time being amazed by each others slick moves. I gave the groups opportunities to decide if they wanted to have some time to put together their own dance set, which we all later got to showcase to one another.

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As time goes on the plan for MOVEnSHAKE is to invite adoptees along to share their cultural dance style and genres with the group.

To date, I have only run two MOVEnSHAKE sessions and both have been fantastic! I am amazed at the incredible talent and energy of all of the participants and I continue to be encouraged by each of their courage and willingness show up and get involved. There’s an immense joy knowing kids are being encouraged and supported by their parents to come along and participate in MOVEnSHAKE. Some families travel up the coast and across the state border as a massive testament to the parents dedication and appreciation for the adoptee led connection group. There are already requests to start an even younger age group, for kids as young as six.

The space and the environment to nurture these invaluable adoptee connections is exactly what I grew up desiring and needing but also fearing. Witnessing the potential for life long friendships which have already begun to develop is a huge motivation for me to keep maintaining and evolving MOVEnSHAKE. The simplest way to explain my crazy passion and heart to help other adoptees, is that I got to a point in my own journey where I didn’t want adoption to continually impact me. Instead I set out to find ways to impact adoption. So I am super excited to continue this journey!

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Below are some of the comments and feedback from a few of the gorgeous MOVEnSHAKE participants:

What I love and enjoy most about MOVEnSHAKE its the diversity of the kids who participate in the fun activity. The adoptees come from places like the Philippines, Ethiopia and Taiwan which leads to a great range of people altogether enjoying themselves. The freedom that we get from MOVEnSHAKE is always amazing. Everyone’s able to express themselves without fear of criticism and judgement from the other adoptees.”

Alex

“It was a lot of fun and we could do some free style dancing which is awesome. The best thing is that all our friends came and could choose a style for next time. We also learnt different dances to songs and if I could describe MOVEnSHAKE in two words it would be “energetic” and “fun”. I don’t know how Anna did it but it was fun and cool to hang out with friends we don’t really see very often.”

Mitia

“Move n Shake is awesome!  It is a good way to get together with my friends and have fun.  I think it is important for me to be able to connect to other adoptees to know I am not alone and I have friendships that understand me.  It also allows me to meet new friends.”

Sorayut

For anyone interested in participating or being involved in MOVEnSHAKE, please contact Anna.

Citizenship should be guaranteed in Intercountry Adoption

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Intercountry adoption is often portrayed by adoption agencies using words like “forever family” to attract couples wanting to adopt, assuming a child in need is matched into a family, as if born to.  One assumes the adopted child’s place in that family becomes permanent, right?

Wrong!  Intercountry adoption does NOT equate to permanency.  The reality we see today goes against everything that adoption is meant to be about.

Here are some images from the United States (US) Department website:

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If we google the definition of adoption, Wikipedia tells us:

Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person’s biological or legal parent or parents, and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents.

Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction.

Today’s practice in the US of actively deporting adult intercountry adoptees back to their home country because they are not guaranteed citizenship (i.e., permanency), portrays a different message to the definition of adoption.  Why should we take note of how the US are treating their intercountry adoptees?  Because the US is the largest receiving country in the world for intercountry adoption.

How can citizenship not be automatically given?  How is this “ethical” or “transparent”? Why aren’t intercountry adoptions, dating from the 1950s to early 1980s in the US, considered enough to provide permanency to the adoptee as a citizen in their adoptive country?

Here is our newest Citizenship – ICAV Perspective Paper which demonstrates the lack of justice and ethics in intercountry adoption for the child, who grows up to become an adult.

Citizenship of the adopted country SHOULD be an automatic right for the child who is intercountry adopted!