I’m still buzzing with the incredible energy from the event and working collaboratively with our global community to present to the UN Committees and Rapporteurs as victims of illegal intercountry adoptions!
Our community is amazing when we can harness our power and work collectively!
It’s no small feat to overcome the individual traumas, in and ex-adoptee group politics, national and global politics, the power struggles and toxicity that can deter many individuals from stepping up to become an advocate whilst living the ongoing consequences of our illegal adoptions. But on 20 September we showed what can be achieved when we work together!
To watch the UN event again click here on this Enlace. To read the UN’s summary click aquí.
To read ICAV’s collective paper that I presented in my 5 minute speech, presenting our lived experience and suggestions for how to move forward, click aquí.
The paper represents input from adoptive countries (9): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, USA; and birth countries (19): Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam.
To read my speech and hear our top 4 priorities of action, click aquí.
To watch the incredible family voices of 3 countries of origin, see short 5 minute videos below which we played at the UN meeting.
Click on CC for subtitles in English
I’m so proud of the many who contributed and worked with ICAV to make the UN event the success that it is. Thank you for your trust in ICAV to represent your voice, to work with us to present, and to Voices Against Illegal Adoption (VAIA) for making this possible! May we one day see the end result of our efforts, which will still take no doubt years more work to achieve, but the momentum is growing as we push for the changes needed!
There IS beauty in diversity! It’s a universal truth that we don’t have to be white skinned and fair to be considered beautiful but for so many transracial and intercountry adoptees like me, we can often grow up feeling like we are not as beautiful, especially when raised in isolated areas or with few racial mirrors.
Growing up in rural Victoria, Australia was challenging for me as I was often the only person of colour except for some Aboriginals. I absorbed an unspoken assumption that white is best and hence I felt ugly and ashamed of my ethnicity because I was always surrounded by white peers in the community, on the media, and within my adoptive family. These feelings were enhanced by comments I received all the time of being salvado y rescued by white people and culture and assumptions of how lucky I was.
My white adoptive family were never taught that we would grow up feeling different, they were naively told, “Love her like your own and everything will be ok”. So my Asianness was rarely acknowledged, my country barely spoken about except in negative ways, and Asian people were considered “foreigners” but yet when I questioned this, the answer would be, “Oh, but you’re not one of them!” My family certainly didn’t understand how to help me look after my long black straight hair, or my darker skin. I got picked on for my flat nose and slanted eyes. Is it little wonder I grew up hating how I looked? I know I’m not alone in my experience because when I speak with some black adoptees, they also mention the lack of understanding by their white families on how to look after their black skin and hair, how people want to touch their hair as if it’s exotic and how they are treated by strangers because of the hue of their skin.
As a young adolescent, looking in the mirror and having my photo taken was immensely challenging as it confronted me with my non-whiteness. I internalised the shame of how I was different and doubled with feelings of abandonment and rejection, it meant my feelings of inferiority as a person of colour, ran deep within and it took me many years to learn self love!
So from this perspective, I wanted to utilise the ICAFSS small grants funding to create an event in Sydney, Australia that would give some adoptees the opportunity to feel proud of who they are, as people of colour, as a diverse group who share the complexities of this journey that only other transracial and intercountry adoptees can relate to.
I created a day where 10 adoptees could come together, be taught how to apply makeup on our differently hued skin and varying shaped eyes, have our makeup be fully done for us, get a portrait photo taken, followed later by going out to celebrate over a sumptuous meal.
Check out our short video of our incredible day together! It was just beautiful to see the joy and pride these adoptees felt in connecting together, learning about how to take care of themselves, and enjoy being in space with people like themselves!
We need more occasions like this in our community to help bring us together and celebrate our diversity! Aren’t they just a gorgeous bunch!
Muchísimas gracias a
Lisa Johnstone from Relationships Australia ICAFSS for taking time out of her day to spend helping me setup, clean up, and supporting us all Linzi Ibrahim for sourcing and organising the professional make up artist – Shay Gittany and assistant Chris Relationships Australia NSW for providing us free use of their office and facilities Relationships Australia ICAFSS for the funding via the Small Grants program Australian Federal Government DSS for making this possible via ICAFSS
por Maddy Ullman, born in China and raised in the USA.
I wrote this on the last day of disability pride month (July).
I started disability pride month at a conference on a panel discussing the intersectionality of disability and adoption. The audience heard me and my truths saying things like:
If someone handed me a magic cure today, that would get rid of all my disabilities, I wouldn’t take it. I don’t know who I’d be without disability and there’s beauty in that.
Disability has taught me to be adaptive and resourceful. I have more empathy. More drive.
I am so proud to call myself disabled and I have cultivated a full life with it.
That is my truth.
It is not my only truth, though. In all honesty, I am exhausted. I am angry. This world is not made for anyone with disabilities in mind. Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of my existence. Let me tell you more. It takes so much more every day to exist and function in society with any health condition. I work hard just to exist. The people around me have to do more if the environment isn’t accessible.
Disability is the one of the few marginalised groups anyone can be a part of, at any time in their life.
For the first time, I brought my walker to a conference. It absolutely saved me. The walker is something I’ve had to struggle with my vanity to use. Even though it helps me out so much. My walker is a beautiful red colour, carries so much, and I walk better with it. Still, it’s a struggle to use what helps me so much. There is accessibility but it’s usually far and hard to find. Little things like doors make all the difference. Especially when the doors are heavy.
I love my walker. What does it say about society and accessibility when it actually takes more thought for me to use what helps me? This internal struggle is something I’m always at war with. One day, I aspire to use my walker every day with pride.
I have to remind myself every day. Yes it’s okay for me to take up space. I am worthy of that space. I have to give myself permission to be enough. I am always prepared to make that space if it doesn’t exist on its own. Spoiler alert, I often have to carve it out with my bare hands. Every time I step into a room, I have to set the standard. I have to be extraordinary.
With all that said, I am choosing to honor disability pride month by allowing myself to sit in the discomfort. I give myself permission to be enough and live well without guilt and matter what productivity the day may bring.
Friends, please remember your existence is enough and you are worthy of whatever space you may hold. ❤️
On 30 July, I ran our Reunión y más allá webinar, part 2 of this series in searching and reunion in intercountry adoption. I couldn’t be more proud of our 8 panelists who did an incredible job of sharing some of the nuances and complexities involved! Thank you to each of them!
Ae Ra (born in Sth Korea, raised in Belgium), Alex (born in Romania, raised in Germany and New Zealand), Jonas (born in Haiti, raised in Australia), Sam (born in the Philippines, raised in the Philippines and the USA), Maria (born in Greece, raised in the USA), Ben (born in Guatemala, raised in the USA), James (born in Colombia, raised in Australia), and Raya (born in Russia, raised in Canada).
For those who are time poor, I’ve provided a time code so you can flick to the relevant parts. For those who want a summary of our key messages, they are also included as a pdf.
00:00:00 Intro – Lynelle 00:01:32 Why this webinar 00:07:16 Introduction of panelists 00:07:22 Ae Ra 00:09:17 Jonas 00:10:33 Maria 00:11:25 Raya 00:13:10 Ben 00:15:42 Alex 00:16:52 Sam 00:20:40 James 00:23:05 Questions 00:23:15 What do you recommend in preparation for reunion? 00:23:30 Maria 00:28:33 Ben 00:32:20 Raya 00:35:25 What challenges have you faced in reunion? 00:35:42 James 00:40:22 Jonas 00:43:19 Raya 00:45:48 Ae Ra 00:49:35 Tips for a media facilitated reunion 00:50:05 Alex 00:51:34 How to deal with differences in language and culture? 00:51:51 Ben 00:55:38 James 01:01:04 What role do I want for adoptive family in / after reunion? 01:01:26 Alex 01:03:10 Jonas 01:06:34 Ae Ra 01:09:47 How do I support myself in reunion? 01:09:53 Jonas 1:11:14 Maria 1:16:12 Sam 1:21:19 How do we manage the financial requests? 1:21:42 Sam 1:23:58 Alex 1:26:12 Ben 1:29:30 What’s it been like to find answers to your questions? 1:29:41 James 1:31:58 Raya 1:34:39 Sam 1:36:52 What role should government and adoption agencies have in reunion? 1:37:12 Ben 1:39:18 Maria 1:42:49 Ae Ra 1:45:56 Closing remarks and thanks
por Ae Ra Van Geel, adopted from Sth Korea to Belgium
Thoughts after the adoption retreat July 2023
I was given a name,
from my grandma.
She called me ae ra
Last weekend for the 7th time, the annual summer retreat for adopted people took place in Zeist, Netherlands. 41 adoptees from different countries of origin (Mexico, Nepal, Bangladesh, Colombia, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Netherlands, India and South Korea) got to share, experience, grieve, laugh, dance, sing and heal a little bit through systemic trauma work led by Hilbrand Westra.
When I introduced myself at the beginning of the weekend, I said that I was born as Song, Ae Ra but by adoption I grew up as Renate Van Geel, that Ae Ra grew bigger, that I am and always was her, even though I was never called that.
I didn’t suspect then that 3 days later when driving home I would dare to follow the desire to be called Ae Ra, also in the ‘outside world’.
It means more Korea, more me but inevitably also less Belgium and less the other. My neighbourhood is losing another piece of who they always knew. I’m also paying a price again, this time to be able to become more myself. I give up, I lose. Renate is getting smaller.
In addition to that, there will also be peace, it doesn’t all have to be immediately.
I’ll just start at the beginning: my name is Ae Ra. After almost 39 years, call me by my own name.
Thanks to my colleagues from @adoptieoplingen, an honor and also a pleasure to form with you this weekend.
Finally, a deep bow to everyone who was there, thank you for your presence, inspiration and strength.
On 26 June, a panel of 6 transracial and intercountry adoptees adoptees from the ICAV network presented to the New Zealand Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children teams who work in adoption on a variety of questions.
Click below to watch our webinar: (If you are using Google Chrome, click on “Learn More” to view the video)
For those who are time poor, I have provided a time code so you can skip to the parts you want to hear:
00:18 Peter McGurk intro 00:41 in English 03:47 Lynelle welcome and introductions of panelists 05:22 Alex K 06:09 Alex G 7:25 Bev 08:58 Gabby 10:58 Mike 11:38 Importance of consulting with a wide range of generations impacted by adoption – Lynelle 13:00 What is ICAV 15:46 ICAVs Vision 16:32 ICAVs main achievements 18:49 ICAVs key achievements Australia 22:20 ICAVs current priorities 24:28 What are some of the distinct stages adoptees go through in our lifetime 33:52 The need for post adoption support services 34:11 Alex 37:46 Mike 40:22 Bev 42:07 Understanding racism 42:19 Mike 46:15 Gabby 51:51 Search and reunion 52:14 Alex 1:02:35 Key messages for workers in adoption 1:03:01 Alex 1:05:56 Gabby 1:09:28 Bev 1:13:32 Main issues for Central Authorities to think about – Lynelle 1:22:34 Peter and close
For those who would like a Resumen de mensajes clave, click aquí for our pdf.
We thank Peter McGurck and the New Zealand Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children for asking us to present to their adoption teams!
I was born in Cali, Colombia in 1993 during the midst period of civil war, disruption, political instability known as ‘la Violencia’. This period saw the degradation and exploitation of state civil services through corruption, war and systematic racism, which in turn resulted in tremendous damage to the lives, human rights and cultural heritage of millions of Colombians, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Colombians whom who were displaced from their tradition lands an often subject to violence and systematic oppression. As a result of these circumstances and internal corruption within the adoption industry, I was separated from my biological mother and adopted to Australia at the age of one. I have a close but complex relationship my adoptive family.
Growing up, I loved to be outside and activate like most Aussie kids at the time and spent most of my time, fishing, kicking the footy around, and riding bikes around the neighbourhood with friends.
While I was always social and enjoyed making friends, I also struggled with bullying, racism, and the spectre of isolation/identity crisis/lack of racial mirrors that many of us adoptees experience. I fondly remember finding refuge and solace in books, stories, myths, and legends, everything ranging from magical fantasies like Harry Potter and the Homer’s Iliad to biographies and the encyclopedia on the Fall of Rome.
I distinctly recall being in grade 1 and recall reading Harry Potter and afterward, daydreaming about an imaginary time when my biological family would appear in a fireplace one day, tell me I was a wizard and take me off to enrol at Hogwarts with the other Wizards.
As a child, although I recall some intense moments of isolation and loneliness, I also had a close relationship with my younger brother, immediate and extended family who always made me feel welcome and as part of the family. It is only as I entered by teenage and adult years that these relationships began to shift and change, not as a result of any ill intent but largely due to the development of my own awareness about my place in the world (or lack thereof) as a black Afro-Colombian/Afro-Australian and subsequent experiences with racism and micro-aggressions.
This tumultuous but unique start to life, in conjunction, with the lived experience of navigating the word though the lens of an Afro-Colombian/Afro-Australia male, has aided in the development of a nuanced but balanced understanding of cultural, adoption and racial politics of today’s multicultural Australia.
This lived experience, is further supplemented by an academic background in law, investigations, government, politics and international relations, the pursuit of which in retrospect and with the aid of therapy, was both my innate curiosity to learn more about the world, a desire to effect change, and my inner child seeking validation and identity through achievements.
It was during this period, that I spent a year studying and playing college basketball at Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom. Not whole lot of studying was done and the academic transcript upon return was not great but I can honestly say this was one of the best years of my life. I say this, as it was the first time in my life where I was not the only person of colour but also the first time in 21 years that I was around racial mirrors and a large Afro British/West African community. I think, in only my second week, I joined both the African and Latin American societies and immediately felt welcomed and at home.
Fast forward to 2022 and that sample feeling of what it was like to belong, in conjunction with the covid pandemic and the BLM movement, I was motivated to start to take some concrete steps to look into my own background and search for my biological family in Colombia. I really started to ‘come out of the adoptee fog’ as we tend to call it.
I joined a number of extremely welcoming and supportive online adoptee support and re-unification groups and through one of these groups, I was fortunate to connect with an extremely kind and amazing Colombian adoptee who explained further the history of illicit adoptions in Colombia and how and what documents I would need to start my search.
I diligently followed the advice provided and unearthed the limited documents I had (a birth certificate, a few medical records, abandonment certificate and adoption paperwork) and wrote a short blurb about myself with some baby and current photos. I then posted to range of reunification groups both here and in Colombia.
I was sceptical that anything would come of it especially knowing the current social and political climate of Colombia both now and at the time of my birth. I had grieved and accepted that I would most likely never find my biological family or that that they would be deceased.
Despite those initial reservations, approximately 24 hours after I had posted the search, I woke up to hundreds of messages on Facebook from people all around Colombia (nurses, doctors, private investigators and ordinary people ) offering to help or sending pictures of profiles of people who fit the description based on the information I had provided.
One of the groups who reached out was Plan Angel (an adoptee led organisation that specialise in biological reunification in Colombia). They sent through Facebook the profile of a lady with the same name as the woman listed on my birth certificate. Funnily enough, this happened to be a profile I had come across in my own searches but had discounted it as the date of birth did not match my birth certificate.
Plan Angel explained they had been contacted ‘by a lady, who knew a lady, who use to baby sit children that looked like you’ and asked whether I ‘would like them to make further enquires to confirm’. With my heart in chest, I replied, ‘Of course!’ 8 or so hours later, Plan Angel called at 7am in the morning saying, ‘We have confirmed that it is your biological mother, would you like to arrange a time to speak to her’. I calmly replied yes, expecting that this meeting would occur in few days, weeks or months but to my great surprise, the lady pressed a button and in a little box at the top of my cracked iphone and for the first time in 30 years, I saw the face of my mother, this illusive woman whose face and personality I had imagined since as long I could remembered; a woman and a queen who had generously carried me around for 9 months and made me 50% of who I am. I think in that moment, even if it was for a split second, I felt at peace and knew what it was to truly have a point of reference for identity and place in this world.
As soon as we saw each other, we burst out in tears because we knew. Looking back, I can honestly say this was a call that changed my life, as I went from not knowing my place in the world, feeling culturally isolated and from a close loving but small two sibling family, to 25 minutes later being the 3rd oldest in a crazy Afro-Colombian family of 13 and finally understanding and having a sense of culturally finding home and place! Here, I was not only accepted for who I was, but I was celebrated.
Since that day, life and process of navigating the reunion process has been one wild, humbling, joyous, sad, grief filled, soothing yet erratic adventure that has really felt like the screenplay to a classic Latin telenovela. It has an unpredictable mix of horror, happiness, scandal, secrecy, crime, horror, drama, pain, love and family all mixed together.
A big part of what made this journey possible and survivable, has been the ongoing support, guidance, mentoring, exchange of shared experiences, friendship, healing education and community offered/provided by Lynelle and other adoptees through ICAV, Plan Angel as well as the wider adoptee community. It is my hope, that by sharing my tale, I am able to pay it forward, raise awareness around the realities of adoption (the need for improved support services), hopefully provide guidance and a relatable perspective to other intercountry adoptees both in general and for those who are thinking about reunification.
Click here to RSVP to ICAVs upcoming webinar on Reunion and Beyond:
As the second part of our ICAV Webinar series on Búsqueda y Reunión en Adopción Internacional, on 29 July (Europe / USA timezone) / 30 July (Australia timezone) we will be presenting to you our next webinar, Reunión y más allá.
Here’s an introduction to our amazing panelists:
Ervenotte is a 46 year old adoptee from Haiti sent to a French family in 1985. She currently works and lives in the UK, having built her own life with a husband and two children. She is a very creative person who loves art, music, languages, and travelling.
Ervenotte reunited with her Haitian family in 2010 and they are still in great connection regularly.
Born in Romania, adopted to Germany and living most of his life in New Zealand, Alexander has been involved with Soy adoptado in New Zealand as a Board Director since it was established in 2015. Within this role at I’m Adopted, he provides resources, raises topics, creates events and gives support for those in the adoptee community. He’s also been involved with ICAV partnering together in 2021 for the documentary screening and discussion of Reconociendo la herida primordial held in Germany.
As a Romanian adoptee, communities like Soy adoptado y ICAV are important not just for adoptees who have been adopted internationally but adopted from everywhere. A highlight was sharing his adoption journey in a Charla TEDx and co-presenting adoption research at ICAR6 with Dr.Scherman in Canada in 2018.
Professionally, Alexander is a sustainability strategy consultant and he enjoys meeting new people, traveling and having adventures with a highlight being a 134m bungy jump.
Maria was born in Patras, Greece in 1953. At 3 years of age she was adopted by a family in San Diego, CA., USA. Her childhood was challenging with a wonderful, loving mother but an unstable father who agreed to adoption to save his marriage.
Maria began a 31-year teaching career and traveled to Greece for the first time in 1984. Through sheer serendipity she found her orphanage and then her birth mother, a woman with many secrets. It took 10 years before her birth mother would tell about the rest of the extended family. They spent the next 34 years gathering as a family as often as possible.
In a story that reads more like fiction than fact, Maria chronicled the unlikely tale of her mother-and-child reunion in the book, Más allá de la tercera puerta: basado en una historia real.
Maria travels to Greece, enjoys playing pickleball with friends, and spending time outdoors in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Sam Roxas Chau 姚 (Yao)
Roxas Chua 姚 (Yao) was born in Manila, Philippines. He is a foundling and was adopted by a second generation Chinese family living in the Philippines. He found out he was adopted at age 12 and sadly, his family had no intention of telling him.
Roxas-Chua 姚 is also a student of poetry, visual and sound arts. He is the author of Fawn Language, Decir tu nombre tres veces bajo el agua, Echolalia in Script, y Querido alguien en algún lugar, an adopted-person’s audio podcast journal. His poetry and calligraphy works have appeared in various local, national, and international journals. His art and writing intersects with various disciplines and has led him to speak at universities as a visiting author.
Roxas-Chua 姚 recently completed an Artist-in-Residence program at the Portland Chinatown Museum and he is currently creating musical scores for independent film.
Renate Ae Ra Van Geel
Renate Ae Ra Van Geel was born in South Korea but moved to Belgium in order to be adopted. She is 38 years old and is married with two children.
She found her Korean parents, sisters and brother 11 years ago. Only after both her adoptive parents died was she able to come out of the fog and dive into ‘the process’. It has been a valuable but very bumpy ride ever since. She visited Korea 3 times over the last 2 years, including one time with her husband and children.
As a psychological consultant she counsels and coaches mostly adult adoptees and she is also part of Adoptee & Foster Care (AFC) based in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Ben Fossen was adopted from Guatemala at 4 months old in 1990 to a family in the USA. He is an engineer, investor and entrepreneur. He co-founded Adoptados con raíces guatemaltecas, a global community of people adopted from Guatemala and currently serves as its Board Chairman.
Ben has been back to Guatemala 30+ times and reconnected with his birth family in 2015. He is very close with them and visits multiple times a year and they have welcomed him as a member of the family.
Ben was involved in lobbying the Guatemalan government and President to get services for Guatemalan adoptees that were approved and implemented in 2021.
James was born in Cali, Colombia in 1993 and was separated from his Colombian mother and adopted to an Australian family at the age of 1 year old. Via a long and tumultuous journey of self discovery and unraveling the truths of Colombia’s history of illegal and illicit adoptions, James reached out to the adoptee community on social media in search of his biological family. Not expecting much, he was overwhelmed by the offers of help and assistance within 24 hours of posting his search information. One of the groups, Plan Angel reached out and it was within a very quick timeframe, that his mother had been located and they were speaking together.
In 2021, James was involved in ICAVs Video project for Professionals that developed a much needed resource to educate teachers, doctors, and counsellors about the lived experience of intercountry adoptees.
Outside adoption, James enjoys basketball, music, video games, fishing, travel, history/international relations, music festivals, salsa dancing, reading, a good fiesta, bar hopping, practicing Spanish, cooking and being a snack addicted coach potato.
Raya was born in Ivanovo, Russia in 1989. At the age of 8 she was privately sold by a biological great great aunt to people in Canada and taken into custody by a Russian speaking family. She now consider herself not an adoptee but a displaced person, trafficked from her birth country into another.
Raya is a contributor to Fireside Adoptees and helps with support, graphics, promotion and hosting weekly chats. She has also been involved with Reconociendo la herida primordial, promoting the documentary and offering resources. In past years, she was in the team from Soy adoptado, interviewing adoptees, sharing about her life as an adoptee and connecting with other Russian adoptees.
With all the struggles and trauma many adoptees face, Raya has decided to undergo certification in trauma informed coaching to help adoptees acknowledge their grief and re-teach the brain new ways of thinking which allows adoptees to notice their trauma responses and the ways it affects them in the present. Raya believes we can’t change the past but we can change where we are in the present by diving deeper into ourselves.
This incredible team of panelists and webinar host and ICAV Founder, Lynelle Long, look forward to sharing our lived experience with you at our upcoming webinar. If youwish toattend the webinar Reunión y más allá, click on the RSVP button below:
por Damian S Rocco, adopted from Vietnam to Australia.
I share with you the next chapter of my journey!
This photo is from the 1970s. When I was getting picked up from a Saigon orphanage to be sent to an Australian couple in the 70s, the orphanage said to couple, “There is another half black /Asian child and these two seem to be playing together a lot. Can you take two?”
The couple said, “We only asked for one!” But they took Luom as well.
Although we are not biological siblings, our journeys are the same and brotherhood is not always defined as having to be biologically related.
Soon after we arrived in Australia to be with this couple, they decided after some time, not to keep Luom. He was given up to the State and then went on to vibrate on his unknown journey.
We reconnected some 25 years later in the 90s, then through some life challenges, I withdrew from our journey together. Fast forward to 2023 and we have reconnected.
Luom, like myself, has also found his African American family in the USA. This brought absolute joy and happiness to me.
Luom had his Antwone Fisher moment. For those who have seen the movie, you will know what I mean – the last scene in the movie!
Luom was met by his African American family with placards and all.
I apologise to Luom that his unconditional brotherly love for me was not enough back in early life to get me out of some dark places. Thank you for always not giving up on me.
Coming Next: You can RSVP for ICAVs second part webinar on Reunión y más allá
This is the last in our blog series dedicated to Búsqueda en Adopción Internacional. These individual stories are being shared from our Papel de perspectiva that was also shared with our Webinar, Searching in Intercountry Adoption by Adoptee Experts
por Raya Snow born in Russia, raised in Canada
I was born in the city of Ivanovo Oblast, Russia 1989. It is located North East of Moscow with a population of 361,641. After I was born, my mother and father moved to the Caucasus of Russia, Derbent. After I turned 3, my parents got divorced and my mother and I moved to Stavropol, North of the Caucuses.
Eventually, my mother met another man and we started living together in a two bedroom apartment. He was a very abusive and narcissistic man who would abuse both my mother and myself. I believe my mother one day left him, leaving me in his care. Not being his blood relative, he shortly dropped me off to my mother’s great-aunt’s place. This is where my journey really unfolded.
My great-great aunt ( Elvira), was a religious older woman whose life revolved around the church and God. We lived somewhat happily together, but I would always wonder about my mother and her whereabouts. Sometimes my mother would come to the house to see me, but those were always incredibly short visits. Due to her never being around, the neighbours started to question my health and education. Elvira then thought to start looking for a forever home for myself.
I remember, she would advise me to be on my best behaviour, to listen well, in order for a family to take me or to buy me off of her. Being only about 5 years of age, I was very excited to be able to visit other families with children, play with them, and get to know them. Deep down in my heart, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay with them because some were far worse off than I was, living with my aunt.
One day, there was a lady that came to the door, asking to speak to Elvira about a family from Canada wanting to adopt a little Russian girl. Elvira was so pleased about this news that she allowed the woman to take pictures of herself which she would then send to the family in Canada. The woman let us know there would be a man who would come in the following weeks to advise if the Canadian family was interested in the child, me. In the meantime, I was still going from home to home, to see if anyone showed any interest in purchasing me.
A month or two later, there was another knock on our gate and as the lady mentioned, there was a man (George) who came to see Elvira and I. George brought us fruits and sweets which I would eat while the two were speaking intently. He let Elvira know that the Canadian family took an interest in me and was willing to pay a big sum in order to adopt me. She let him know the process would not be an easy one as all my documentation was lost in a car accident where both of my parents died tragically.
According to her statement, I survived miraculously by the will of God. She then showed George the death certificate of my parents, leaving me, a little orphan in her will. George suggested we start the process by recreating new documents, stating my mother’s name and him as the biological father in my new birth certificate.
Me, being this little girl, understanding that my mother will never return back to me, as she had left and I hadn’t seen her maybe for months, I felt a new adventure was about to unfold. George started coming by the house more often, gaining my trust and I his. We became great friends and I enjoyed having a “father figure” in my life. On the weekends, I would go over to his house and meet his wife and children, who took me in with open arms.
A turning point was about to happen when Elvira spoke to our neighbours and let them know she was going to take the money and myself up West, to the Ural Mountains where the rest of our family resided. The neighbours were saddened by this news as I was a very malnourished little girl who needed attentive medical care, so they called George straight away and let him know the alarming news. George of course, called the potential family in Canada and let them know that they needed to save me and hide me while the rest of the documentation was being prepared. The Canadian family agreed and I was brought to a small city near Moscow, where the biological relatives of their family lived. There, I met my wonderful adoptive mom, with whom I gained an instantaneous attachment because of desperately wanting to feel loved and cared for.
I believe I lived with the family in Moscow for about 6 months. While my documents were getting done, I started attending pre-school, spent time with relatives on the weekends, went to church on Sundays and welcomed a new package from my Canadian family every few weeks or so.
It was sometime in June when George came back into my life again. This time, we were going to begin our travels to Canada. The process was a very tricky one, I had to learn to call him “dad” and he would call me “daughter”. George let me know that we had to fake a bond, where authorities would not be able to question our relationship to one another. Our lives were at stake if any one of us did something questionable, I could be sent to an orphanage and he to prison.
We first began our trip to Moscow, where we stayed at George’s blind father’s place for a few days before heading out on a Cargo ship to Turkey. I remember the ship well and I grew fond of the people in it. Once we reached Turkey, we took a flight to France which I don’t have any memories of, and from there we flew to Canada.
Once we got off the flight, I could see in the hallway above me, there were many people waiting to greet their loved ones. My adoptive parents were one of those people, who were waiting with balloons and a cam-recorder for that very first hug. George and my adoptive mom ended up getting married and this “happy” ending lasted for a couple more years until George and my adoptive mom separated (finalised the divorce) and then she claimed full custody of me.
Twenty-five years went by, I started on my search for my biological parents which I have found with great success. I had help through a friend of my adoptive mom who was able to help me find my biological mother on a Russian app. I have found my biological mother, who is still well and alive with a beautiful, big family who has been supporting her throughout the loss of her child, me. I have also reconnected with my biological father, whom I found through a Russian tv show and he had been at war in 1994 – 1996 between the Chechens and the Russians. After the war ended, he began his search for me, with no leading answers on my whereabouts or my biological mother from Elvira.
This is a true story. It is a story of grief, loss, abandonment and also happiness. I would like to bring awareness that abduction happens, that childhood trafficking exists and it needs to be spoken about. Adoptees are lacking support in those areas as we are terrified to speak about our truths and what the truth might do to those surrounding us.
This is a new era, a space to bring light to our journeys, to the eyes of our governments, our adopters, adoption organisations and our peers. Let’s start creating legal changes through advocacy and the support of our fellow adoptees! Together, let’s share our truths!