Sold via adoption on the Gypsy black market in Greece

by Roula Maria stolen from Greece and adopted to an Australian family.

Twin sisters, separated by black market adoption in Greece.

My name is Roula and I was born in Greece with my twin and sold separately on the black market in July 1981. I have only just found my twin in the recent years and hope to meet in person once COVID eases. This is my story.

About my parents

After migrating from Greece in the early 60’s they settled in a small country town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. There were other immigrants that also went to the same town after coming from Greece.

My parents were not able to have children after many attempts and eventually decided to make themselves known to a family who had adopted a little girl from Greece. It turns out that family did not actually adopt the little girl but purchased her from a doctor who was producing and selling gypsy children in an institute in the heart of Athens. They gave my mother the contact details for the midwife in Greece.

My parents made contact with the midwife in Greece and made an appointment to travel to Greece to speak to the doctor. Once they had arrived he told them that there were many babies available but they would need to wait. They agreed and travelled back to Australia.

About 6 months later, the phone rang with good news and they travelled to Greece within the week. My mother’s request was that she wanted a girl but at that time there were no girls available, so they remained in Greece until one was. She also wore a pillow under her belly to show she was pregnant – the lengths my parents went to was phenomenal.

Then I came along.

My adoption

My dad went to the town of Korinthos to sign the paper work. On my birth record my mother who bought me was written as my birth mother, so authorities would not pick up on the falsified documents, then my dad went back to the hospital in Greece and I was given to him. They payed $6000 euro in 1981, the equivalent of around $200,000 dollars Australian back then.

They stayed in Greece for around 40 days as the culture states a child needs to be blessed around their 40th day of birth. They took me to the Australian Embassy and registered me as a citizen of Australia under parental authority.

Then the fear of being caught played on their minds. They knew from the time at the airport ’till the time the plane took off that they were in grave danger of being caught. Once onboard and the plane got into the air, my mother breathed for the first time.

I was flown to Australia on the 24 August 1981.

I grew up with two sides. I was the happy little girl who loved life and everything in it but I was also the little girl who was traumatised by intense sexual abuse and a victim to domestic violence. My childhood was filled with sadness and also happy family moments, it was as though I lived in a time warp between two worlds, the real and the hidden.

Even the Greek kids that I grew up with would tease me about being adopted and when I confronted my mother, she denied all allegations. It was a part of my everyday life growing up with my mother being untruthful about it all. It was not until my teens that a cousin confirmed the truth to me in a state of anger, as the behaviours that I was displaying where the behaviours of a survivor of abuse.

No one knew the turmoil and the hurt I was facing as typical Greek families do not discuss issues and are taught to bottle them up and never spoken about it, especially with the older generation.

It was not until I had reached year 7 at primary school that I finally spoke out about my life but even then, it was dismissed and ignored.

My family sold their land and moved me to Adelaide thinking that it would help me move on with my life, but from what psychologists and counsellors say to me, running is not an option. My parents thought they were doing the right thing but it led me to destructive teenage years filled with drugs, homelessness, violence, jails, and institutions.

If only people could have been able to help me but by then, I had been hurt and lied to, too many times to even want anyone’s help.

At the age 15 in 1996, I started my search, homeless and in the library trying to find information about black-market adoption from Greece. I came across 100’s of articles about selling of babies within the gypsy community in Greece. I was shocked and intrigued at the information available. I put up posts in forums stating that I was searching for my birth mother. I had no idea what I was writing but I tried everything.

For some reason though I knew I was on the right track, something inside me knew what I was doing and where I was searching was real and leading me to where I belonged.

After years of trauma from living on the streets and being a complete drug addict, in 2003, I went into rehab. I got clean and my life started to get better. I still had some very damaging behaviours but in 2010, I moved back to that small country town and found a great psychologist who is today still a large part of my healing and journey.

I ended up marrying a man from that town and we moved away due to work reasons, then in 2015, I had a child through IVF. My son has a great childhood but he has also had some life challenges. Compared to what I had, I’m thankful I was able to change the mistakes that many Greek families have today and we communicate!

Why am I sharing my story?

I share my story because I participated in the early stages of ICAVs video resource project and I wanted to contribute.

Being a product of adoption and black market selling of babies is not an easy life. We children come from all different backgrounds with genetic disorders and family health systems. These need to be addressed and I disliked having to say to a doctor, “I don’t know, I am adopted,” whenever I was asked what my family health history is. I’m sure my feelings on this must be very common amongst adopted people . When a doctor knows you are not the biological product of the family you are in, more tests, more health records and more information should be assigned to the adoptee, to assist in finding out the health answers we deserve.

If it wasn’t for the technology of DNA testing, I would not have known my heritage or my health record. I am so glad I can now got to the doctors and say I genetically carry this, this, this, and this. It is extremely empowering.

With teachers and school counsellors, I believe adoptive parents need to take responsibility for ensuring information is provided to the school, disclosing that their child is adopted. There should be no judgment or repercussions in any way when parents disclose this.  Teachers also need to be aware that the child may be facing or feeling empty from not knowing their identity nor understanding why they may be feeling this way.

These days in schools, there are mindfulness clinics, self-esteem talks, anti-bullying days, and wellbeing classes and they have a different curriculum compared to what I had in the 80’s. Adding a box to identify at enrolment whether adopted or not, should start from early childhood care, all the way through to university. All enrolments should ask us to identify if we are adopted or not. If the student does not know, then parents should be asked discreetly with confidentiality maintained, as some parents chose to wait until their child is old enough, to be told.

I suggest support resources such as social media, jumping in online forums where other adoptees share the same voice. I run 2 groups. One is called Greek Born Adoptees with 450 members and the other is called Greek Sold Gypsy children with 179 members. This group is for sold children and for the gypsy parents to assist them in finding each other. We use DNA testing to match the parents and the sold adoptees.

Thank you for your time and I hope that more people will come forward about their adoptions. I speak for the Greek born sold children of Greece and I know there are 1000’s of us. Here in Australia, there are around 70 who I would like to make contact with when they are ready because we have gypsy parents who are wanting to meet their children for the first time and have given their permission to be found.

I Lost My Mother Twice

by Linzi Ibrahim adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia, founder of Sri Lankan Adoptees.

I miss you every day but most of all today.
The pain never fades.
You were taken from me twice, I have grieved you twice.
You lived the hardest life and still managed to be the most incredible human.
You were kind, loving, fun, confident, and an incredible cook!
From the moment I came back, you were instantly a loving mother towards me, picking up where we left off.
I felt like I was home, I felt fully relaxed for the first time.
Amma, I could see the pain and trauma in your eyes.
I know it was hard to see me and remember all of the trauma you felt many years ago.
I had always felt it too.
I miss you!

Linzi and her Amma, born deaf/mute. Linzi was stolen from her and put up for adoption.

#amma #adopteevoices #adopteestories #adopteemovement #srilanka #intercountryadoption #interracialadoption

Evacuation out of Vietnam on 20 April

by My Huong Lé, Vietnamese adoptee raised in Australia, living in Vietnam. Co-Founder of Vietnam Family Search, an adoptee led organisation dedicated to helping reunite families in Vietnam.

April 20th marks the 46th anniversary since I was evacuated on an RAAF flight out of Vietnam. That day changed the course of my life and the memories of it will forever be etched in my mind.

April in general is a significant month for many Vietnamese Adoptees as it is the month in which over 3000 babies/children were also evacuated. Like myself these children boarded military transport planes bound for adoption by American, Canadian, European and Australian families.

The fors and againsts of having done this have been debated. I would like to say there was no telling what would have become of my life had I stayed, nor was there any telling of what was to become of my life by being removed. The fact remains that I was removed at the age of 5 from a family I knew and placed in a foreign country. This experience was very traumatic and I lost my identity, language, culture and everything familiar to me. In Australia I experienced a different form of hardship and difficulty to what I would have experienced had I remained.

Fortunately, many who left Vietnam were adopted into loving foreign families. I wasn’t granted that right and was adopted into an abusive and dysfunctional family. Regardless that family clothed me, fed me and provided me with a good education and I will always be thankful to them for that. Australia is indeed a privileged country offering endless opportunities and being removed from war torn Vietnam like all adoptees I had a chance to make a better life for myself.

What happened I cannot change, but what I have the power to change is my attitude and the way I react and deal in all circumstances. I know I am the person I am today because of all that I have experienced. It has made me stronger, more forgiving, more understanding and more loving. For this I am grateful.

What I have been through is also in part what propelled me 17 years ago to return to Vietnam to find my birth mother and to work with orphaned and disadvantaged children. Without a doubt God’s hand has been upon my life. He has guided me, protected me, opened doors and put some amazing people in my life. Gratitude fills my heart for all those who have impacted my life over the years.

During this anniversary month for adoptees, my thoughts too are very much for birth mothers. Many birth mothers returned to orphanages to collect their children and they had gone. This time signifies permanent loss for them. I have hugged some of these mothers and seen their tears. As my mother’s tears have been wiped dry, I too hope these mothers can reconnect with their children.

Read My Huong’s previous article My Mother.

Letter to President Moon

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

President Moon,

To you, I may be merely a statistic.

A Number.

Name: 86c-1335.

Born: “bastard”

Abandoned by: Bio Mother

These are the words inked into the brittle pages “cataloguing” my birth, 4 ½ months before I was separated from my mother, exiled from my motherland, sold, and sent overseas via the process of “adoption”.

For 34 years, I have carried the burden of shame and humiliation for decisions of which I had no control over, or voice.

For 34yrs, it has been expected of me by society and the world at large to be “grateful” for being adopted; for not being “aborted” or left to languish in poverty raised by a single mother and ostracised by a society that is unaccepting of such a dishonourable and disgraceful existence.

Expected to be “grateful” to have been “chosen” to go to a “better life”.

Tell me President Moon, how many Korean adoptees actually went to a “better life”, do you know?

How many of us were checked upon or followed up on in the years after our adoption?

Any..?

Have you ANY knowledge or understanding of the suffering and trauma so many of your nation’s children were exposed to after going to “better” lives?

Are you cognisant of the fact we are 4 times more at risk of suicide than the average person, due solely to the trauma of relinquishment? Are you aware of how many adoptees have since lost their lives to suicide?

If our own people, the people who govern our nation continue to portray us as disposable, products for export, how do you hypothesise the rest of the world to perceive us? To value us?

To know who we are and where we came from, to be treated with the SAME decency and respect as any other being, for OUR lives to count, to matter, to be valued for more than just the going price of the highest bidder; can you honestly argue this to be such an immense or unreasonable request?

Why do we as adoptee’s continue pay to the price for the mistakes and failures of the elites who governed generations before us?

Why do our nations children continue to pay the price for a deeply flawed and failed system? A system put in place to “protect” and “care”, to safeguard society’s most vulnerable and helpless, to protect those unable to defend themselves or make their suffering known.

A system which has catastrophically failed to fulfill its duty of care time and time again, a system that cataclysmically FAILED in its duty to protect 16 month old Jeong-In.

My status in Korea as a child born out of wedlock to a single mother without consent or approval from the elders of our family, without the approval of society, meant from the day I was born, my life was of no more value to our nation but for the monetary profit that could be gained from the sales transaction of my adoption.

To you, I am a faceless statistic.

Just another number on a piece of paper; a data entry in the government system, an easy money maker used by Korea in its resolve to rise to the advanced economic powerhouse it is today.

To you, I my be a nothing, a nobody, an abhorrent by-product of the highest betrayal to a nation who’s social, political, and legal structures continue to be governed by the principles of Confucianism.

To you, I may be but one number, but I am one that represents over 200,000 of your displaced children throughout the world.

You seal our records, deny us the very basics of human rights.

You have attempted to keep us faceless, to keep our voices from being heard.

You have watched in reticence as we have been sold, trafficked, abused, and murdered.

You have buried our truths and silenced our voices.

Attempted to censor the knowledge and proof of our existence as effortlessly as you have managed to erase our pasts.

You try to placate us with empty words and blanket apologies, yet time and time again Korea has CLEARLY established how little value it truly places upon the wellbeing and lives of its children.

Not only via the tens of thousands of adoptees scattered worldwide, but through the 250 students it left to die onboard the sinking Sewol Ferry.

250 children who could have been saved, weren’t.

Through the way in which obedience and perfection are EXPECTED and DEMANDED of every child; academically, socially, even physically, pushing Korean suicide rates into some of the highest in the world and the leading cause of death nationwide for ages 9 -24 yrs.

These are YOUR children!!!

Our nation’s future!

If it is to have a future.

You seem to show little to no regard for lives of the young, yet death rates now surpass birth rates, leaving the question how much longer will our people endure?

How much time until our race is no more?

The image of Korea that is so carefully projected onto the world stage, is nothing but a farce.

A nation consumed with pride, greed, and ambition revelling in its technological and economic advancements, whilst continuing its long and profound history of human rights abuse. Revelling in the global phenomenon of K-pop, K-dramas, and flawless plastic surgery turning citizens into life-like anime dolls all of which amounts to nothing but superficial, pretty, shiny, plastic distractions; band aids made for minor cuts, but with which Korea uses in attempt to conceal the extensive, critical, and ineffable wounds scarcely “hidden” beneath the surface.

Deliberately refashioning Korea’s image for the fulfilment and pacification for the global arena while remaining steadfast and loyal to a fundamentally flawed, corrupt, and broken system which continues to extort and profit from the separation, suffering and abuse of its people makes those ruling over the South no better than the tyrannical dictatorship oppressing our people in the North.

To you, we may merely be statistics.

But we are no longer voiceless, and we will no longer be silenced!

We are over 200,000 strong, each with a face, a name, and a story.

We had Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, and Cousins.

No matter how hard you may try to dehumanise us, I can promise you, in this you shall not succeed.

I will no longer be silenced. I will remain faceless no more, for I am NOT a thing.

I was born in Haeundae, Busan.

Daughter of- Kim, Yeo Kyeong (Mother) and Jang, Hyeon Soo (Father).

I have endured racism, child sexual abuse and rape on two separate occasions in my “better” life so far.

I have fought with an Eating Disorder for 21 years, made countless attempts to end my life, all of which I have been brought back from.

My arms will forever bear the permanent, grotesque, disfiguring scars from which my life’s blood has so often freely flown, only to be replaced, time and time again in the desperate attempts to save a life that in your eyes, seems of little to no value, and not worth saving at all.

Tell me President Moon, what will you do when there is no longer a population to sustain our race?

When will you and the people who continue to govern our nation admit culpability, take responsibility for their duty to safeguard our people, to protect the vulnerable and the voiceless?

To guard, secure and preserve our nation’s future and the future of its children.

We are NOT objects!

We are NOT inconsequential!

WE are YOUR children!!!

We are NOT COMMODITIES!!!

We are NOT a product to be labelled and packaged for sale!

We are NOT replaceable, exchangeable, refundable goods for export no matter how hard you have tried to dehumanise us.

President Moon, We are NOT THINGS!!!

어머니 (Mother)

Eomeoni

by Michelle Y. K. Piper adopted from Sth Korea to Australia.

Artwork by Michelle Piper, 2021

Two years today, they told me you were dead.

15 years from the day I turned 18 until the day I officially began that dreaded, infuriating, dehumanising, grievous process of trying to trace you; 15 years of constant internal conflict, a fierce war raging within.

Remain loyal to the family, society, culture, and country I had been relinquished to; remain obedient to the process of forced assimilation, never questioning or asking why? (at least never out loud) and ALWAYS “grateful” for the privilege to be alive and living in one of the greatest countries in the world (Australia); continue to ignore the ever-deepening awareness of agonising turmoil and grief consuming my soul borne from the empty, rootlessness of my erased past.

Or…
Face what I have always so desperately avoided.

Questions…
All those questions.
So many, many questions.
Impossible to voice out loud even to myself in secrecy and solitude, yet impossible silence within the confined walls of my Psyche.

15 years to amass enough courage to search for you; I searched, and a year later I received “the call”. A call I’d been on constant edge waiting for, a year of repeatedly checking my emails and phone. It came from a stranger in a government office, who had only just been transferred to my case. A transfer I was neither asked nor informed about.

On the 2nd January 2019, a strange, unfamiliar voice explained who she was and why she was calling.
You were dead.
You died exactly 2 months after my 23rd Birthday.
You died on the 6th July 2009.
2009, I was 10 years too late.
My father could not or did not want to be found.
That was it.

For over 30 years, being adopted meant nothing, or at least I told myself it meant nothing. Just a word to explain away the inevitable whispers of confusion when people crossed us.
“Did they just call her mum?”, “Maybe the dad is Asian…? They don’t look like half/half’s though.”
I was used to these comments, my entire life’s been layered with racism, some out of ignorance, some without doubt intentional.
But being adopted was not something to be dwelled upon, simply a fact; accepted and acknowledged only when unavoidable.
But unavoidable became impossible.

That call, that damn call; no matter how fiercely I fought back would demolish the foundations of every wall I had established; a myriad of walls forming the incomprehensible and impenetrable maze of protection I had completely encompassed and lost myself within.

15 Years to find the courage to look for you, but a lifetime of wondering….

Was I ever in your thoughts?
Did you ever think of me?
On the day of my birth? When that inevitable date once again came full circle, a date that would forever mark each year we have spent apart.
Another year gone; another year of life missed. Another year of what has been a lifetime of separation.
Did you think of me at Christmas?
At times of family, cultural and traditional celebrations, when milestones should have been reached. When recipes, secrets, and the stories of our ancestors should have passed from Mother to Daughter.
Did you ever wonder as I do now if or how much we look and are alike?

Did the same irrevocable, emptiness, loneliness, grief, and self-loathing consume you as it has me?
…..Did I mean anything to you?

Did you, on the day you gave birth simply walk away and never look back? Erasing every memory, every moment, every emotion. Erasing me.
Did you reject me from the moment we ceased to be one, refusing to acknowledge the life you had so painfully bore into this world?
Did you even once, hold me in your arms?
Was my existence always a disgrace?
A corruption in the flow and purity of bloodlines. The product of the worst kind of offence one can commit against a culture and people whose social, ethical, political and legal systems are fundamentally embedded in the principles of Confucianism.
Was I always perceived as an abomination?
An ignominy, an abhorrent consequence of defying what is so vehemently indoctrinated in our people from birth, so fiercely prized and expected from each child from every generation.
Obedience. Respect.
Respect of your elder’s and absolute obedience in following directives. Know your place, in family, home, and society, in culture and country. Fail to comply; step outside the social norms and be condemned to a life forever tainted by shame, rejection, and dishonour.

Or, on the day you gave birth did your gaze fall upon me, desperate to memorise every detail that time would allow?
Did your arms find me, enfolding me close, tightening your embrace? Did you memorise my scent, that beautiful, sweet baby scent while your mind commenced an onslaught; vivid recollections of the 9 months passed?
The pain, terror, love, bewilderment, and confusion. The internal struggle of a decision impossible to make yet impossible to disregard.
Did your mind force upon you the memories of my first movements you felt within? Undeniable proof of the life growing inside?
Did you remember all the times you found yourself cursing me for the morning sickness, or when it became impossible to move around freely?

Did you recall all the times you had spoken to me, and soothed me? Patting your stomach and smiling with happiness and contentment when my restlessness ceased at the sound of your voice?
Did you recall all the one-sided conversations you had with me, admonishing me for your weight gain, bloated ankles, constant need to pee, and general discomfort?
Did you remember thinking none of those things mattered when you finally beheld the face of your newly born daughter in front of you?
Did you remember and retain these precious moments with as much desperation as I did the day my daughter was born?
Did I remain an only child? Or were there future children that were deemed “worthy” to keep?

You left endless questions with no definitive answers, not even in death.
The agency who sold me insist you are dead, while the government itself cannot seem to confirm this.

What am I meant to do with that? Please 어머니, tell me.

Do I hold onto hope that somehow you are still alive..?
Cling desperately to the childish, naïve dream that MAYBE, just maybe, you are?
That maybe you’re not dead, but looking for me, maybe I was one of those children never willingly relinquished.
Or take the word of the agency who trafficked me, sent me overseas and accept you are gone?

Will it ever be possible to heal if I tell myself you’re dead?
How am I supposed to mourn you?
How does one weep for a face it cannot remember?
How do I release myself of someone who, no matter how much time and distance was placed between us, is still everything I am, yet everything I don’t know?
How can I be free when your faceless form haunts my dreams? When each day I am struck by a renewed wave of painful understanding of all that has been stolen.  All that’s been lost. For all that has been erased.
For my parents who will forever remain faceless strangers, parents I will never have the opportunity to know or meet. For the brothers and sisters I will never know. For the Aunty and Uncles, the cousin’s, and grandparents.
For the history of my people, I remained so ignorant towards until now; for the heart-breaking and brutal history of our country; still at war after 70 years, divided, literally torn in two, poisoned by political corruption, military coups, and slavery. Of trafficked children, The Forgotten Generation; a generation who fought, died and rebuilt our country, now languishing in poverty pushed to the fringes of society living in isolation and squalor, afraid to ask for help for fear of “burdening” the country they fought and died to protect. For the enslaved comfort women abused, raped, tortured, and murdered by the Japanese. For the Sewol Ferry Tragedy, which began to sink on the morning of the 16th April 2014, where 304 of the 476 passengers on board, 250 of them students perished; trapped on a sinking ferry, while the captain and crew escaped, telling the passengers on board to stay where they were. Obeying their elders (that prized attribute ingrained from birth), the students placed their trust in the orders given, they remained where they were, waiting to be rescued. A rescue that was never attempted, a rescue that never came.
Parents, family, teachers, classmates and survivors alike hysterical, stranded on the shoreline, still receiving messages from the remaining students trapped inside that they were still alive in what was an almost completely submerged vessel. Parents helpless to do anything but watch as the last visible section of the ship sank in front of them.
And then nothing.
Silence, as the shock and magnitude of tragedy that had just unfolded before them set in.
A moment of disbelieving silence before the blood curdling, guttural cries only a parent who has just lost their child can make.
Footage later released, revealed to the world the last 20 minutes of some of the students trapped inside. The memories of which will haunt me forever, faces I won’t ever forget. Messages of love and apologies to loved ones, that still produce physical pain to hear.

To watch my people suffer, to die in the most horrifying ways, to feel the overwhelming outrage, and unbearable grief that has consumed our nation time and time again but to be unable to be there with them, to grieve with them; did you never consider how painful these moments would be?
Did you ever imagine how much agony it would cause just to observe my native language? When everything appears, sounds and feels so natural, until you remember, none of it makes sense to you. You can’t decipher it. You don’t understand it. You can’t speak it.
Did you ever consider just how high a price your baby girl would pay, for that “better” life you were so sure she was going to?
If you, my own Mother could not find it in yourself to raise me, whether from the shame, dishonour, or just for being a “bastard” (YES, my adoption papers actually use this word!), if you feared for me, for the prejudice, discrimination, and stigma I would have endured had we remained together in Korea, how could you think that throwing me into a world of white where I was one of maybe 5 Asians for over 18yrs of my life would be to my benefit? Did you honestly think that those of the western world wouldn’t reject me? Debase me, use my status as a Korean adoptee against me in the most humiliating and degrading ways conceivable? If you; my own mother, my own family, my people and country viewed me as nothing more than a product for export, why would anyone else?

If you did in fact die in 2009, you died at the age of 46.

I’m aware you never looked for me, never once tried to find out where I was.
And now you’re gone, (maybe), I don’t know.
The fact that I don’t know enrages me, consumes me with a desperate hopelessness and despair.
But, if you are gone…
How could you leave and never say goodbye?
How could you leave without ever reaching out, never once trying to find me?
Didn’t you care how I was or where I ended up?
How could you leave me with so many unanswered questions?
No photo for me to remember you, to study your face, to memorise.
No last parting words of wisdom or advice.
No letter of explanation.
Nothing.
Just an endless, hollow silence.

And so, inside the now grown adult, still remains, the frightened, confused, rejected, abandoned little girl, who will never grow up. Who will never know why you didn’t want her, why you didn’t keep her? What it was it you saw in her that repulsed you so much you cast her aside and across the seas; keeping the existence of the baby girl you once bore so many years ago a shameful secret, you literally took with you to your grave.

Michelle has published other articles about her experience as a Korean intercountry adoptee at Korean Quarterly.

Good intentions gone wrong

The dark side of Voluntourism and Adoption

by Kristopher Hinz adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia.

In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, struggling Peruvian and Bolivian farmers were plunged even deeper into poverty. Western demand for the world’s latest “superfood” meant that the median price of their staple food, quinoa, skyrocketed dramatically, and suddenly it was even harder for these subsistence farmers to put food on the table (1,2).

Wealthy, middle class and vegan, it was well intentioned white hipsters (who often think of themselves as the most ethical consumers in the market) that were the main drivers of this catastrophe with their insatiable taste for the healthy grain.

This, it seems, was a case of supply and demand gone wrong- a wealthy segment of the market having a disproportionate share of control over capitalism’s puppet strings, which they then unwittingly used to widen the disparity between the developed and developing world.

This is not a new phenomenon, however. The “Quinoa crisis” was merely the latest Western craze to shake the foundations of the third world. Another industry full to the brim of young people’s good intentions has also recently been the cause of much disruption in the poorer corners of the world.

Voluntourism provides the opportunity for university students or high school leavers on their gap year to travel abroad and volunteer at orphanages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They fly home with smiles on their faces and happy hearts, but there is a dark side to their activism.

Those children they think are so gorgeous on their numerous selfies, who are already vulnerable and emotionally volatile, are left with even greater attachment issues as they watch yet another role model walk in and out of their life after a few weeks of cuddles and a couple of extra toys.

It has been demonstrably shown that many of these children are not indeed orphans at all, and are merely products of “baby farms” that exist solely for voluntourists and prospective white adoptive parents (3,4, 5, 6).

Young mothers mired deep into poverty and desperate for a way out, send their children away to orphanages for a chance at an institutionalised education. This heartbreaking decision is made all the more tantilising by the offer of a much-needed financial incentive. 

What of the lucky ones then? Whose bright smiles and eager hugs are enough to sway their altruistic and lonely white guests to become their adoptive parents?

There are many who are indeed fortunate when they finally make their way to their shiny new developed nation, with it’s big skyscrapers (or neat suburban lawns) and fridges full of foods they’d never dreamed of.

But like the quinoa trade, there simply isn’t enough protection for those where the original point of sale was made. As a result of being able to simply “buy” a child without being checked for their ability to be fit parents (as is the case in the West with a stringent foster care system) many of these adoptive parents make mistakes that cause long term identity issues for their beloved children.

Swept up in the joy of having the family they wanted at last, they neglect to allow their children to fully express all of their feelings about their adoption, requiring only to hear positive thoughts such as gratitude. Many adoptions end in tears for the child, their new family or both. Many abusive adoptive parents are grossly unfit to adopt and do so for intentions related to social status, or simply are not the type of people who should have been parents to begin with.

But even in the best cases, no adoption, no matter how idyllic, is ever perfect for a child’s mental state. The best of parents will still chastise their adoptive children or feel hurt when they express feelings of loneliness or disconnection with their new culture and longing for understanding of their birth culture. Adoptive parents (including in my own experience) will also take it as a personal affront when their child expresses frustration with racist elements of their adopted culture.

Of course, like the vegans, these good parents made a “purchase” in good faith and most of them were full of nothing but positive intentions. But also much like the vegans, the fact the market was skewed so heavily in their favour meant that they were able to do what they wanted without needing to consider how their actions may impact those who are less fortunate.

Across both East and West, prospective white parents’ demands for an adoptive child is seen as an unquestioned right, while parents of colour who have adopted white children are regularly and rudely accosted when in public with them (7).

The skewed market must be balanced back in favour of the developing world. This will allow for greater scrutiny to be placed on prospective adoptive parents seeking children from the third world and will ensure that such parents are adequately informed about the challenges that their child will face as an interracial, intercountry adoptee.

References:

  1. Blythman, Joanna“Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?”, The Guardian, 2013: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa
  1. Long, Yu. “Superfoods Dark Side: Increasing Vulnerability of Quinoa Farmers in Bolivia” 2018:http://web.colby.edu/st297-global18/2019/01/22/superfoods-dark-side-increasing-vulnerability-of-quinoa-farmers-in-bolivia/#:~:text=The%20rise%20in%20quinoa’s%20market,2011%3B%20Hall%2C%202016)
  1. Journeyman Pictures: “Paper Orphans”, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhIMw0ZT8mc
  1.  Al Jazeera: “Cambodia’s Orphan Business: People and Power”, 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hf_snNO9X8
  1. Winkler, Tara. Why We Need To End The Era of Orphanages”,  TedXTalks,2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3nPMWkhbMI&t=2s
  1. Zembla, “Adoption Fraud at Baby Farms” 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSsbRcobbUA
  1. BBC World Service, “I was accused of kidnapping my adopted son” 2020:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOL9MAsx8lM

Life Lessons from an Adoptee – Part 1

This is a series written by Tamieka Small, adopted from Ethiopia to Australia.

‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life, don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking, don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your inner voice, and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’

Steve Jobs

There are studies that show it is common for adoptees to create a false sense of self – usually between two identities – the perfect golden child who does everything for the approval of their adoptive families so they will never face rejection, or the rebel who may reject their families before they can reject them (again). The golden child can look a lot like the astute student who pours hours and hours into their classes, gets straight A’s, is terrified to get anything less than this, someone who never disagrees with their parents opinions or ideologies, and may claim there is nothing to complain about in terms of being adopted. They may end up being the type in fact (and of course you don’t have to be adopted to do this) but to live out the life their adoptive families want for them. They may want them to study to be a doctor, a surgeon, a scientist, an engineer instead of doing what their heart truly desires.

For me personally, I was definitely one of those types of false selves that adoptees may tend to fall into, the over achiever, the perfectionist, the one terrified of their parents’ disapproval, or letting my teachers and mentors down. For me ever since I was a child, I always wanted to be an artist. I knew deep down that’s what I wanted to be my whole life; and my parents were very aware of this. However, they tried to bring me back down to reality; saying that I had to be the best of the best in the industry like Picasso or Van Gogh to get anywhere in that field. They especially emphasised this when I got to late high school and had to think about seriously what I wanted to do in my life as a career.

I ended up choosing psychology as that was a science, something tangible and structured that I could follow according to society’s expectations. Don’t get me wrong-psychology; human and social psychology and behaviour does interest me but it didn’t ignite a fire or a spark inside me the way that art does. In the end I chose to study Animal Behaviour when I graduated and got accepted into university. When I was exposed to the outside world, the real world I realised how much of my life I was allowing to be dictated by my parents. I realised that I had to live my own life and my own dreams. And yes, it was scary to face my parents and tell them I was transferring to the Bachelor of Arts and I wanted to be an artist. But I paved a path in my life of so much self-discovery and knowledge; where I met so many wonderful people, I aligned with in so many ways. I don’t regret it to this day.

Let me just say this from personal experience to fellow adoptees; live the life you want to live, not what society dictates you should do; not what your family or friends think you should do – do what you want, what brings you joy, excitement, what makes your heart sing and your spirit soar.

Because when your family and those friends or whoever aren’t in your life anymore you are going to be stuck with the life and dreams that you made. No one else has to live it but you, and you will experience your happiness or lack of happiness, not them nor anyone else. You will be the one who will go to bed every night feeling either fulfilled or unsatisfied with the decisions you make every-day, so make sure you forge your own path, your own dream so you can find true happiness. It isn’t easy sometimes, but nothing in life that is worthwhile is.

My Mother

by My Huong Lé, Vietnamese adoptee raised in Australia, living in Vietnam. Co-Founder of Vietnam Family Search, an adoptee led organisation dedicated to helping reunite families in Vietnam.

A mother should not just be remembered for being special on Mother’s Day, but each and every day. Just over two years ago I was miraculously reunited with my mother. Every day with her since then has been amazing, but on this Mother’s Day I want to honour her in a special way.

My heart also goes out to mothers all over the world who have been separated from their child/children for whatever reason. Mothers you are never forgotten!

This is my mother’s story:

My eyes gazed upon my baby with love the moment she was born. As I held her the day she took her first breath, a feeling of immense joy leapt into your heart. 

She had no father as he left me when I was pregnant and returned abroad having finished his military service. Regardless, I decided from conception that I would cherish this child as a gift. 

As I held her close for the first time, I examined her. She had all her fingers and toes and with that relief came the realisation of her larger extended nose. 

Within moments everything turned into a blur as I bled profusely. As I lay unconscious the nurse forewarned my mother that I would die. However, hours later as I drifted in and out of unconsciousness, in a faint voice I whispered, “Where is My Huong?”. In response, I was told, “Two friends visited and took your baby to care for her.” 

With a sense of relief in my heart, I was grateful that my newborn was safe and as I lay in bed for weeks in a state of weakness, my thoughts drifted — longing to hold my cherished baby in my arms. 

After nearly two months of gaining enough strength, I slowly set off on foot to visit my friends to bring my daughter home ….. but they were not to be seen. The questions began to swirl in my head and a feeling of dread began to set like a stone in my chest as the search began.

The days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months into years. I ploughed the fields in the scorched golden sun. With a broken heart, I wept silently each night not knowing what had become of My Huong. I prayed for her safety and yearned that someday she would return. My only wish was to be able to see her face one time before dying.

Then in mid Feb 2018, I received a message to say that My Huong was seen on TV. My mind drifted back over all the years of longing and I wept a valley of tears. That night those tears were tears of relief — that the possibility of finding My Huong could now be real. 

My prayers were answered and two weeks later, you stood face to face with me – your daughter who had been cruelly stolen from you. After almost 48 long years of being apart, the overwhelming reality of having your daughter beside you made you want to faint. As you stroked her face and kissed her cheeks, she knew in that moment that you were her mother.

Mum, I don’t know how to express all you mean to me. Since our reunion two years ago, you have shown me that your love is never ending and you have brought immense joy into my life and filled my heart. You are the greatest gift and daily I am thankful to God for the miracle of giving you back to me. 

On this special Mother’s Day, I want to honour you. I am honoured and blessed to have you as my mother!

I love you with all my heart!
My Huong Lé

For so many years, I have hidden my deepest childhood traumas under a mask of smiles and perceived positivity. Now, I am being forced to face these past traumas and weaknesses, as well as the more recent trauma caused by the web of deception, which was unveiled when I was contacted by my true mother two years ago. Wounds from the fake mother and family are still deep, but daily I am healing and I am so thankful to now have my dear mother living with me. She is such a precious gift and I thank God for the miracle of having her in my life.

For those interested in my story you can read the following article which was written by Zoe Osborne.

LION Review by ICAV

As a fellow Australian intercountry adoptee, I watched LION and found it to be better than what I’d expected after having read so many different reviews.

It captured so many emotional aspects of an intercountry adoptee’s journey. I felt the most powerful aspect was that of Saroo’s adopted brother (also from India) who clearly struggled with his adoptive life from day 1 of arrival into his new family. Being a mother myself of a special needs son who experienced meltdowns, the behaviour I saw reflected a boy who not only had endured the harsh beginnings like Saroo that led to trauma related behaviours, but most likely also suffered from other special needs – apparent by the multiple scars on his head when he first arrived and the meltdown on night 1. I must say, his adoptive parents are portrayed as handling that night quite lovingly and calmly even though I’m sure in reality it must have been a shock after having such a “perfect” adoptive son the first time round. It also serves as a healthy reminder of the need for adequate pre-adoptive education and the realistic expectation setting that adoptees do not come as blank slates, not even new born babies.

Saroo’s adoptive brother’s struggles spoke volumes to me for the adoptees I know who don’t fare well, despite being placed with the best of adoptive families. These adoptees suffer daily and have little respite from their deep emotional and mental suffering and I see this especially from those who arrive as older age adoptees into families who don’t understand there might be any pre adoption trauma. In one section of the film it was raw and painful to hear Saroo accuse his adoptive brother of causing his adoptive mother so much pain. The anguish this caused in Saroo’s adoptive brother’s face – his expression was as if to say, “If I could do better I would … and how dare you judge me!”  This raised in my mind the unrealistic assumption we adoptees hold that it is our role to give our adoptive parents only happiness and joy.

I also empathised with Saroo’s adoptive brother because Saroo’s harsh judgement comes from another unquestioned assumption that we adoptees should have nothing to suffer as our adoption already saved us from all the doom and gloom of our past and created in us a “new life”. As Saroo’s adoptive brother portrays, sometimes that new life eludes adoptees and it is the sad reality that many suffer for the rest of their life and never quite manage to capture that elusive dream of being “happy for ever after” in our adopted life, like Saroo wanted to be capable of.

For those adoptees like Saroo’s adoptive brother who can’t escape our fates, the movie did well to capture this reality. I often hear from adoptees within an adoptive family that one adopted child became the people pleaser and upon appearance, does well versus the other who struggles and pulls the rest of the adoptive family with them. Not from any fault of their own, but just because things are tougher with more to face and having a different personality and personal fortuitude to be able to cope any better. Like Saroo’s adoptive brother, this is their best but it often gets judged as not being good enough in return for showing gratitude in being adopted.

For Saroo who appeared to be the “perfect” adoptee, the film did well to show that even the perfect adoptee is silently struggling inside. His relationship with his girlfriend suffered and she was the one closest to Saroo, his relationship suffered with his adoptive parents, his ability to hold down a job, etc. Everything it seemed was affected by his past! It is so true to portray that even for the “perfect” adoptee we still have raging within us just as intense battles as the “difficult” adoptees do. I believe the seemingly “perfect” adoptee hides it better and is as powerfully driven by the nature of our relentless questions and fragments of life and identity before being adopted as our “acting out” or struggling adoptee.

The dynamics between the two adoptive siblings was powerful and I could feel the sense of wishful thinking to move back to the time which Saroo had prior to his adoptive brother’s arrival. The unforgettable scene at the dinner table where Saroo as an adult finally says “he’s not my brother” is the one moment of truth in their family where the unspoken finally becomes spoken. I think for many adoptive families it is not considered enough how much a new arrival of adoptive sibling can impact the first adoptee / child and how they can come to resent the change in the dynamics and balance to the family.

The other powerful theme which I could relate to, was of how Saroo was so sensitive to his adoptive mother and feeling that he needed to protect her from his truths. This is a reality that becomes visible time and again when intercountry adoptees share with me about their desire to search or understand their roots. They don’t want to upset vulnerable mum who clearly loves and wanted them so much. Our adoptee desire to show our gratefulness and love in return costs us our own truths and creates the necessity to hide it. So too, Saroo ends up isolated and going through his journey very alone and unsupported. He’s so afraid that her knowing about his searching will deeply wound and if not literally “kill” his adoptive mother – which he regards his adoptive brother as doing already.

This is an issue many of us intercountry adoptees have, whether warranted or not, in feeling that we need to protect our adoptive parents. There was also a poignant line in the film after Saroo’s adoptive mother shared about her vision that led to adopting him, saying that it made her “feel good for the first time in her life”. That statement said what many of us adoptees feel but never verbalise – that we are there to make our adoptive parents feel good about themselves and we are afraid to give them any information and truth about ourselves or our life before them, that will jeapordise our relationship with them. We live in fear of them regretting us because we haven’t fulfilled their dream or vision.

How sad that Saroo spent so long having to protect his adoptive mother (and adoptive father) from his real feelings of sadness that his memories caused for him – the depth of his desire to reassure his own biological family that he was alive to therefore stop worrying and searching. What is even sadder is that there wasn’t the truth and openness between Saroo and his adoptive parents to allow both to connect and be supportive to one another because in fact, their realities were not in opposition but could have been symbiotic.

This dynamic is again something I hear from adoptees who share with me and what I also experience myself. We are afraid to really let our adoptive families know the true depths of our sadness and loss about our original families because we feel they will be disappointed or feel “less than” parents to us. Saroo’s adoptive family dynamic is not uncommon in adoptive families but rather, I would dare say it is uncommon to see any other dynamic within most adoptive families. Time and again adoptees share they won’t search until their adoptive parent dies, or they don’t want to share about their desire to search because it will “hurt” the adoptive parent, or they don’t need to search because their adoptive parents are “family” and they don’t need any other.

I noticed the many times Saroo tried to reassure his adoptive mother – especially when he was heading off to India and again when he had found his biological mother, that she would always be his family and that he loved her. This is such a burden for adoptees to carry – constantly feeling we have to reassure our adoptive parents of our love and gratefulness. You rarely hear of biological children suffering this same burden!  Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about our adoptive families with such an oversensitive barometer!

I was glad to see Saroo made the trip to India by himself. We adoptees sometimes need do this so as not to complicate our trip with worrying about the feelings and complex emotions of our adoptive family. Our search and reunion for some needs to be a moment in time where it’s just about us, the adoptee and our birth family – as it was prior to being adopted – so we can experience our grief, elation to be reunited, sadness and everything inbetween, without the additional burden of feeling responsible for our adoptive family’s emotions.

I loved the ending which explained why the film was named LION and reflected so well, what we adoptees experience – that of not knowing the correct pronunciation of our original name because our adoptive experience is so immersive and complete that we fully lose any ability to speak or understand our birth language, especially when adopted at an older age.

The film did well to portray the state of affairs in India where children who are vulnerable like Saroo was, have very little help offered. There seemed to be few safe shelters, social workers or services to feed the poor and hungry. I’m personally glad to see the film is being used as an avenue to create assistance to Indian street children in future and provide better options than what Saroo experienced.

I look forward to hearing more about Saroo’s journey for I suspect this might just be the beginning of him sharing his voice. He has shared his journey with the WHOLE world and that is no small feat to be so open after keeping his search and feelings so secretive for so long! I hope he will overcome his over-developed sense of responsibility for his adoptive mother and come to take a useful place in the worldwide intercountry adoption dialogue about what really happens for vulnerable children and their families and what needs to be done to protect them better.

In contrast to his adoptive mother who uses the film to promote further intercountry adoptions, I hope Saroo will help create a forum in which the world can delve into ethical questions involved in the rights of vulnerable children and their families and a rightful place for intercountry adoption after ALL attempts to reunify the family has occurred. In the film there was one line Saroo said about his struggle with being adopted into a “place of so much privilege” and trying to make sense of this in contrast to his internal drive to “find home” and family and no-one helping him when he was a lost child. It made me hopeful that Saroo will use his opportunity of worldwide fame as an intercountry adoptee to drive critical thinking about what we in western countries have and our sense of responsibility to use our resources for enabling a better world, instead of gaining from other country’s vulnerabilities.