There Are Better More Sustainable Ways

by Yung Fierens, adopted from South Korea to Belgium.

Years ago, I was one of those lucky guys who could pull through Asia with the backpack on her own for almost half a year. It was a magical time when I got to meet many exciting, cool people, saw the sun take off in a temple in Angkor Wat and between the Akha Tribes in Laos. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Bhutan, Singapore and Cambodia.

In the last country (Cambodia) I visited, one of the many orphanages where there were dozens of children waiting for adoptive parents, I was considering staying in the area for a while and volunteering there. I gave language lessons in english, art lessons, helped prepare meals. I would have to throw a pack of euros on the table to provide living and living because of course you can’t live on the wages of such an NGO. They need their money for those kids.

That was what I thought was going to happen, that was how I thought the situation was. Until friends who lived and worked on the scene in development aid and the experiences of others backpackers opened my eyes.

“These are not orphanages but straight tourist traps. The parents of those children are getting money to bring their offspring during the day to the so called orphanage where they are exhibited as monkeys, so that the owners can knock money out of the pockets of naive tourists.

The children are not being taught in the meantime and therefore learn nothing that can ever come in handy in a human life. When they get too big and the cuteness is over, then they get banned from those homes and end up back on the street as a beggar.

And yes, whoever wants can adopt a child if enough money is put on the table. Since Angelina Jolie’s oldest son came to be adopted / purchased here during Tomb Raider’s filming, the orphanage tourism has been booming.”

I therefore abandoned the plan and with two other backpackers, I chose to support a boy from a poor family so that he could go to school and get a diploma. He was the first in his village to learn english. The result is that not only did we help 1 young person with it, but he took the whole village out of misery. Thanks to him, other children are able to go to school, the local economy has started and … most importantly, no mother has to let her child leave for a faraway country to give it a better life.

I don’t feel like a benefactor, I have told few this story and won’t come out with it to reap admiration for it. I’m telling it to show that there are other and better, more sustainable and previously used ways to give children a better life without having to remove them from their surroundings.

Original in Dutch

Jaren geleden was ik één van die gelukzakken die bijna een half jaar in haar eentje met de rugzak door Azië kon trekken.

Een magische tijd waarin ik veel boeiende, toffe mensen heb mogen ontmoeten, de zon heb mogen zien opstijgen in een tempel in Angkor Wat en tussen de Akha Tribes in Laos hebben kunnen vertoeven. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesië, Buthan, Signapore en Cambodia.

In dat laatste land heb ik één van de vele weeshuizen bezocht waar tientallen kinderen zaten te wachten op adoptieouders.

Ik overwoog om een tijdje in de streek te blijven en er vrijwilligerswerk te doen. Taallessen Engels, tekenles, helpen met het bereiden van maaltijden…ik zou er wel een pak euro’s voor op tafel moeten smijten om in kost en inwoon te voorzien. Want natuurlijk kan je niet op kap van zo’n NGO gaan leven. Die hebben hun centen nodig voor die kindjes.

Dat was wat ik dacht dat er zou gebeuren, dat was hoe ik dacht dat de situatie was.

Tot vrienden die ter plaatse woonden en werkten in de ontwikkelingshulp én de ervaringen van anderen backpackers me de ogen openden.

“Dit zijn geen weeshuizen maar regelrechte tourist traps. De ouders van die kinderen krijgen geld om hun kroost overdag naar dat zogenaamde weeshuis te brengen waar ze als aapjes in de zoo tentoongesteld worden zodat de eigenaars geld uit de zakken van naïeve toeristen kunnen kloppen. Ze krijgen intussen geen les en leren bijgevolg niets wat ooit van pas kan komen in een mensenleven. Als ze te groot worden en de schattigheid eraf is dan worden ze verbannen uit die tehuizen en belanden ze terug op straat als bedelaar. En ja, wie dat wil kan zo’n kind adopteren als er maar genoeg geld voor op tafel gelegd wordt. Sinds Angelina Jolie haar oudste zoon hier is komen adopteren/ kopen tijdens de filmopnames van Tomb Raider is het weeshuis toerisme geboomd.”

Ik heb het plan dan ook laten varen en heb ervoor gekozen om samen met nog twee andere backpackers waarmee ik in Laos terecht gekomen ben, een jongen uit een arm gezin financieel te ondersteunen zodat die naar school kon gaan en een diploma kon behalen. Hij was de eerste van zijn dorp die Engels zou leren. Het resultaat is dat we er niet alleen 1 jongen mee hebben geholpen maar dat die op zijn beurt het hele dorp uit de misérie heeft gehaald. Dankzij hem zijn er later andere kinderen naar school kunnen gaan, is er locale economie ontstaan en…hoeft er geen enkele moeder meer haar kind te laten vertrekken naar een ver land om het een beter leven te geven.

Ik voel me geen weldoener, ik heb weinigen dit verhaal verteld en kom er nu niet mee naar buiten om er bewondering mee te oogsten. Ik vertel het om te tonen dat er andere en betere, duurzamere en eerbaardere manieren zijn om kinderen een beter leven te geven zonder ze te moeten weghalen uit hun omgeving.

The Stolen Children of Cambodia

by Elizabeth Jacobs, born in Cambodia and adopted to the USA.

Elizabeth as an infant

I would like to share with you about my project in which I will be creating a documentary that will follow my first trip back to Cambodia since my adoption which occurred in year 2000. I am now twenty one years old and I am finding out who I really am as a person and what I want to make of myself. Before I continue to grow further into the adult I wish to be, I feel the need to come to terms with my past. After revisiting some documents and photos from my adoption, I discovered some inconsistencies that raise questions about my past. I’m hoping that by returning to Cambodia I might search for my original identity to better understand my life before it was Americanised.

At first, my plan for the documentary was to show the process of finding my Cambodian family roughly twenty one years later. My intent was to focus on a possible reunion with any biological family members I may have and to retrace the steps of my adoption, such as revisiting the orphanage from which I was relinquished and possibly visiting my foster mother and nanny. However, while investigating my adoption, I uncovered much more than what was previously known.

I feel emotionally ready and curious to learn about my adoption but in doing so, I’ve sifted through all of the documents and found some new information that leaves me questioning whether I have been stolen or not from my biological parents, perhaps not legally relinquished as I previously thought.

Not having any information about my biological family, I wonder whether or not I am a victim of Lauren Galindo, the infamous baby trafficker in Cambodia, and her network of recruiters. The Galindo scheme went as follows: a recruiter would befriend and garner the trust of impoverished parents by giving them small amounts of money and promising them that they would take their children to an orphanage where they would be well cared for while the family got back on their feet. Further they would assure the parents that their children, when grown up, would support them from America. That is how the process was played out in regard to many babies and small children whose parents were too impoverished to care for them. Instead of giving these children back to their parents, the liaison offered these children up for adoption mostly to American parents in return for “bogus adoption fees” in the amount of thousands of dollars. The fees were entirely made up by Galindo as the government did not require adoption fees.

My adoption was conducted just months after the adoption ban was put in place due to the Lauren Galindo child trafficking scandal. Galindo was charged with money laundering for which she was later incarcerated for 8 months and accused of setting up a baby/child trafficking ring where children were stolen from their loving families and sold for a profit.

Twenty one years later, I am now an adult ready to make my own choices and I want to visit my past and confront any unresolved issues that have remained hidden for so many years.

I feel this topic is important because it is about my past and how my life could have been drastically different if I had never been adopted. Now that I wonder if my adoption was part of a baby trafficking scandal in Cambodia, this documentary grew to being more than just a reunion with my home country. It has become a visual diary and real time investigation on the truth about my adoption. I am displaying my journey to the public so I can share this very important story of lost identity. There are hundreds of adoptees like me and I think it is important to spread awareness about this scandal because there might be others out there who believe they are legally adopted, when in actuality, they may have family in Cambodia who have wondered all these years where their child ended up.

My arrival

I feel this topic is important and highly relevant because Cambodia still has a ban on international adoptions due to the sheer amount of corruption within the adoption industry. Today, the Cambodian government is working little by little to lift the ban, however, because the country is so poor, it could be so easy for things to go back to how they were where unscrupulous people try again to take advantage of parents who need help with their children.

I have always grown up wanting to adopt from Cambodia, but I cannot do that with this ban in place. It saddens me to know there are genuine orphans in Cambodia waiting to be adopted but cannot because there are too many who would take advantage of their abandonment in exchange for a profit.

As this documentary is very personal to me, I know I will find it challenging and it will be a very emotional but impactful journey to capture. It is also a possibility that I do not find any information on my biological parents and I end up with even more questions than I started. The goal is therefore, to get as much clarity about my past as I can. The outcome is uncertain but this only adds to the suspense that this documentary will capture.

If you would like to support me in my quest to create this documentary, please visit my fundraiser website.