A Tribute and Legacy to My Sri Lankan Mother

by Nimal van Oort, adopted from Sri Lanka to the Netherlands. Founder of NONA Foundation.

About eighteen years ago, my twin brother Djoeri and I received a message from Sri Lanka that would change our lives forever. For a long time we had been looking for our mother in Sri Lanka, but the message told us that our mother had sadly passed away many years before.

The cause of her death made us sad and actually furious. She had been raped several times and was abandoned by family and the environment because she allegedly – by being raped – would have become a disgrace to the community. Because of this and the lack of protection and medical care, she died at the age of 21 .

To be fair, at that moment I really didn’t see life. Our biggest dream of ever meeting her would never come true and knowing that our mother had suffered so much injustice, I really didn’t know what to do .

I went to Sri Lanka then to be able to be at her grave. On the way – during my first days in Sri Lanka – I saw a lot of young girls who made me think of my mom. Because they were victims of sexual abuse too, they were abandoned by everyone despite their young age. These girls had no one.

When I was at my mother’s grave and my grandmother told me about her daughter’s short, but difficult life – I realised that I may not be able to help my own mother anymore, but I would out of love for her, and as tribute to her, I would start trying to help the girls of today.

Once back in the Netherlands I started preparing for this and I created the NONA Foundation. Honestly, nobody trusted my plans. Everybody told me that doing something from the Netherlands for girls and women in Sri Lanka who have no value for the society there, would be impossible. Above all, I was too young, inexperienced, and not highly educated enough to fulfil my vision .

Yes, I definitely had a vision, or actually a dream. I wish these girls and women of today never have to experience what my mother and a lot of other women went through. I wanted them to have a chance for a humane existence.

A royal award from the deputy mayor of Amsterdam. Nimal was appointed the ‘Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau’ award for his work in NONA Foundation (2020).

Today, 18 years later, we have actually been able to help over 1900 girls with shelter, care, education and empowerment facilities. Making them self-confident and independent remains our main starting point. I am also still very honoured that I have received a Royal Award in 2020 for this work and that we are also taken seriously at a high level in Sri Lanka.

What I’m most proud of is that we’ve really been able to help a lot of girls and women regain their passion for life and they’re now back in the middle of society. Most of them now have a nice family and a nice job. We are one big family in which everyone is equal: from the girls and women we help, to the board of directors, from the cleaner to the chairperson. We are one team with the same mission — to make the lives of these girls and women less risky and more meaningful; a life with freedom, justice and being treated like a human being .

Last month, a girl who needed our help badly in 2011 was appointed as a teacher with us . Isn’t this beautiful?

On Sunday 10 April, we will celebrate the NONA-Day in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. On this day we will share more about our work in Sri Lanka, what we have done, but also about our ongoing projects and future plans. There are also inspiring guest speakers and various singing and dance performances. There will also be another delicious Sri Lankan – Indian buffet. I personally invite you to attend this, really everyone is welcome and you can register at www.nonadag.com.

And if you cannot make it to the NONA Day celebration, but you might want to contribute to our organisation in any way, please contact us because we could really use your help.

Many special thanks to my loyal board members Djoeri, Ad, Dhilani, Shivanie, Hartini and Varishna who have been fully volunteering for our organisation for many years.

Pain of Loss and the Joy at Seeing her Reunified with her Family

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mother of Ugandan daughter, successfully returned to her Ugandan family; co-founder of Kugatta which brings families together who are impacted by Ugandan intercountry adoption.

Namata with her siblings

Every year I think I will not cry and it will not hurt as deeply as it once did. But each time I see all that was almost permanently taken from Namata, the pain returns just as deep (if not deeper) than the first time when I realized what I had participated in — and what needed to be done. I still have extended family members who refuse to admit that reuniting her with her Ugandan family was the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.

There are many people that believe it is okay to take children from LOVING families if these families are poor, living in the “wrong” country, practicing the “wrong” religion, or for a number of other irrational reasons. It is incredible how much money, time and resources contributes to the separation of families who should never be separated in the first place.

I will never stop speaking out against the wrongs being perpetuated within the intercountry adoption system. I won’t stop fighting for those that have been exploited by this system and I will certainly never forget the amazing little girl that came into my life and taught me to do better. As much as I miss her, my heartache pales in comparison to the joy I feel seeing her home with her family and thriving.

We did everything “right”. We used a highly rated adoption agency, followed all of the proper protocols and procedures and reported everything that was wrong as we discovered it. In fact, even though it has been proven our adoption agency was corrupt, Namata’s paperwork was fabricated, the Ugandan judge was bribed, the embassy interview showed Namata’s mother did not understand what adoption was and we were not told this at the time, our adoption of Namata from Uganda was and still is considered LEGAL. What does this tell you about intercountry adoption?

Namata didn’t get to go home because it was the right and just thing to do. Serena’s rights being violated and Namata’s best interests ignored were irrelevant by those that should have cared. The reason Namata got to go home and be reunited with her family was because Adam and I refused to accept that this was all okay or “for the better”.

Countless families have been needlessly ripped apart via intercountry adoption just like Namata’s.

Rarely do I hear anyone express concern for these injustices or what has been lost, rather people use good intentions gone awry to ignore these realities and press on as if nothing wrong has occurred. If people won’t listen or can’t understand the problem at hand, maybe they will SEE it when they look at this family and realize all that was almost lost and there was literally NO reason for it at all.

Namata and her family

Read Jessica’s last post: Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?

Is Adoption Truly a Mother’s Choice?

by Yung Fierens adopted from South Korea to Belgium.

This is Lee Keun Soon, my mother.

Lee Keun Soon

In 1976 and at the age of 26, Lee Keun Soon was trapped in an unhappy marriage with a violent husband and she was a mother of two little girls. She was bullied on a daily basis by a dominating and spiteful mother-in-law and according to local tradition, had to live with her to serve and obey as the dutiful daughter-in-law.

Right after the birth of her youngest child, she couldn’t cope any longer with the abuse, beatings and cheating of her husband, so she ran away.

It wasn’t only an act of desperation, influenced by probably postpartum depression and exhaustion right after giving birth, but foremost it was seen as an act of open rebellion. Such disobedience wasn’t only slightly frowned upon in a paternalistic and hierarchical society, it needed to be punished in the most severe way possible.

After a family council, led by the child’s grandmother, it was decided that the baby girl should be taken to an orphanage and be put up for adoption. When Lee Keun Soon returned home, they told her little Yoo Hee had died due to her mother leaving her behind. Broken by guilt and shame she resigned into being the dutiful and submissive wife and mother society expected her to be and had two more children.

Thirty years later, her dying mother-in-law admitted the sick baby she left behind was living somewhere in a country far away, probably given a different identity.

Lee Keun Soon left her husband, this time for good and started searching for her lost daughter.

At the same time, a girl somewhere in Belgium, was testing out this new thing called “the internet” and sent an email to the orphanage she came from. The email was just to say, “Hi.” She hadn’t any other expectation as she was led to believe she was an orphan.

Fast forward a year later, mother and daughter finally met at Seoul airport.

This isn’t just a rare story that happened decades ago in some poor backward country with little means or infrastructure. It’s not a slight blip in the history of a country that prides itself on respectful, spotless and impeccable behaviour towards others.

Jung Yoo Hee, who by then went through life known as Tamara Fierens (that’s me!), visited the same orphanage her grandmother relinquished her at. In this orphanage she counted 25 little babies, amongst them one tiny premature girl still in an incubator. These babies were all waiting to be shipped abroad to live a new life with adoptive parents.

Their nurse told me that 20 of them were delivered to the orphanage by family members of the birthmother; mainly fathers, brothers, uncles or grandfathers.

When I asked her if the birthmothers had given their consent for the child’s adoption, she remained silent and changed the subject. The date was 20 December 2007.

Read here for Yung Fieren’s other article at ICAV.

#mothersday

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