Why Be “Paperwork Ready”?

Recently, one of our office staff members drove to the airport to pick up her parents whom she hadn’t seen in months. Though the flight was scheduled to arrive on time, she was excited and left early — 30 minutes early — just in case. “Sometimes planes arrive early,” she said. “I’ll just wait in the cell phone lot. I want to be ready for them when they arrive.”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Waiting for the UPS man to arrive or waiting for vacation to start. Waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for a child of our own. In matters big and small, waiting is hard to do.

For children living in orphanages overseas, their entire childhoods have been filled with waiting. Many wait for medical care. All wait for love and a family who will warmly embrace them. They literally have been waiting their whole lives. Most tragically, these children wait for something they have never known. It is so hard to wait.

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During trips like the one we’re on now, we meet with many children who wait to be adopted. Each one has the same wish. She hopes that her waiting will end.

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You can’t make a flight shorter or will the UPS man to arrive a day earlier at your door. But you can shorten the time a child waits to be adopted. How? It’s very simple: be paperwork ready.

Long before you first see the photograph of your new child, you can begin working to shorten his waiting time. By taking the step to commit yourself to a particular agency, by completing your home study and dossier, you are literally erasing days and months that your child will have to wait. When your paperwork is ready, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the process can move.

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If you’ve been considering adoption, but you haven’t begun your paperwork yet, start today. In honor of National Adoption Month, we are offering a reduced application fee of $100 for new applications now through November 30. Call us at 253-987-5804 to get started. Don’t wait another day. Your child is waiting for you.

(All children pictured in this post are currently waiting for families of their own.)

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Agape Adoptions Partners with Orphanage in Inner Mongolia

Greetings from chilly Inner Mongolia! It’s a brisk 27 degrees Fahrenheit here, and I’m glad I brought a warm coat.

On this visit to China, we’re excited to visit the two orphanages with whom we have new One to One partnerships. I have to admit, I never know what to expect when I visit a new orphanage. Families who have traveled overseas know that the standards can vary widely from one orphanage to another. Some facilities have much; others have very little.

I was thrilled to see that our new partnership orphanage in Inner Mongolia is a beautiful, newer facility. The rooms are clean, warm and engaging; and the staff is friendly and caring. It is clear to me that children are loved and cared for here.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOne of the most exciting aspects of this particular orphanage is the community connection they maintain through a therapy unit on site. We toured rooms where children from the orphanage, as well as children from the surrounding communities, can receive a variety of therapies. The facility offers physical therapy, massage therapy, speech and reading therapy, play therapy, acupuncture and more! I was especially moved to see how children with significant medical needs were engaged and stimulated. In one room, a group of children lay relaxing in acupuncture; in another room a group of mothers and their children attended reading therapy, seated on the floor in a semi-circle.

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We have met so many precious children on this trip, and we’re excited to begin advocating for them when we return stateside in a few days. We are currently looking for families who are open to adopting Special Focus children from these two new One to One partnerships in China. By preparing a home study and dossier in advance, your family can drastically reduce the time a child waits in an orphanage. When you are paperwork-ready, you can be matched very quickly with a child! During National Adoption Month, from now through November 30, we are reducing our application fee to $100. Call us today at 253-987-5804 to get started and take advantage of this special celebration offer.

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It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

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With less than 48 hours left in country, I’m already in “reflection” mode as I consider the great amount of work we’ve accomplished here in a small stretch of time. In the last week, I’ve met many new children who are waiting for families of their own. Orphaned siblings eking out a living in a grass hut in a rural village. A boy given up for adoption by grandparents who are too elderly and impoverished to care for him and raise him to manhood. A brother and sister, abandoned by their mother, left with only each other and the clothes on their backs. As I listen to their stories, so many of them deeply tragic, I can be overwhelmed, and I wonder what I can do. I am just one person.

The realities of poverty in developing nations can certainly leave me feeling very small. There are so many needs. But more than ever, on this trip, I have seen the great power that exists in the collective care of people, reaching out with unconditional love, compassion and acceptance to those who need it most.

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This week, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister requested a meeting with me to discuss improvements to the adoption system in Uganda. What a special honor! There is currently no central adoption authority, and many of the complexities we encounter are a result of this lack of infrastructure. I was thrilled, prepared a proposal of improvements and changes, and enjoyed an enthusiastic conversation with him a few days later. I believe our time together was significant. I look forward to how our relationship deepens in the coming months as together we work to better protect children and families and streamline the international adoption process.

During the week, I also met missionaries who are serving in a rural area about five hours outside of Kampala. Coincidentally, we have a sibling group we are working to place who come from this same area. Preparing paperwork for children who live in rural areas is a strenuous task. You must understand and respect the local culture, and you must be very flexible and patient. My time limitations did not allow me to travel to the village during this trip, but the missionaries there will provide us with a connection to temporary resources for these precious children as we wait to complete their paperwork and match them with a forever family.

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The Permanent Secretary, the missionaries, my colleagues here in Kampala, our staff back in Washington, and you — we are all part of the village that it will take to raise these children. Alone, the task may seem too big. Together, I believe, we can accomplish great things.

To donate to our work in Uganda, click here.

Waiting for a Passport, or Love Accommodates for Unpredictability

Hello from Kampala, Uganda!

In the office we often say that, when it comes to Ugandan adoptions, the only predictable thing is unpredictability. Coming from a North American culture that is highly ordered and regulated, many families find it difficult to imagine what this might actually mean, especially as they travel to bring home their child. Do they just need to “be flexible” like all good international travelers, or does pursuing a Ugandan adoption require something more?

Today, as we waited off and on for six hours – count ’em, six! — at the passport office for a single passport, the answer was clear. Completing an adoption in Uganda requires an extra measure of patience and fortitude. Not simply the politeness of a traveler in a foreign land, but the unconditional love of a family whose heart will now forever live in two countries.

After breakfast, I headed to the passport office with our attorney to pick up a passport we had been told would be ready before lunchtime. The passport office is a series of offices, but the waiting area is a group of tents with metal benches. And it was hot. Super hot! For over an hour we were shuffled from one tent to the next as we waited for our number to be called. We waited as employees filed through boxes of passports, calling out every number, it seemed, but ours. Some people were told to come back again in two weeks. Others arrived only to discover there was a problem with the passport they were waiting for, and could they please wait in another line to see if it could be fixed? Hours later, our number was finally called. Our passport was correct and ready. Time to head out to dinner!

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As I opened that passport and saw the beautiful face of the little boy inside, my heart filled with happiness. The frustrating wait, the equatorial heat, the shuffling from tent to tent – it was all worth it. That passport means a child can travel home with his new parents. But more than that, the passport is a symbol of the beautiful country that gave him birth.

It’s been almost five years since I first stepped foot in Africa. Every time I arrive at my inn in Kampala, I feel like I’m coming home. For many years now, my heart has been in two places – at home in the U.S., and here in Africa. Despite the headaches of developing systems and infrastructure, I love this place. I love the natural beauty and the warm culture of hospitality here, but, especially, I love the people. And I have learned that love can cover a multitude of mishaps; it can accommodate for unpredictability. Not simply with the polite graciousness of a traveler, but with the deep affection that only family can give.

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We’re in Uganda this week, visiting our children’s home and preparing documents for families. Our children’s home recently moved to a newer, larger location, and we’re excited to see how much the children are enjoying running around in their new big yard. Take a look at these pictures of daily life at our children’s home.

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You can partner with Agape Adoptions to support these children as they wait for families of their own! Click Here to make a donation on behalf of Ugandan children. 100% of your gift goes directly to providing these children with daily necessities like clothing, food, and school supplies.

Jenny, the Chinese Nightingale

As we closed out our trip in Yunnan Province, we enjoyed an elaborate celebration of International Children’s Day at the orphanage where we have our One to One program. Townspeople and visitors came to the orphanage campus as the community honored all of its children on this special day. Local children performed beautiful dances and songs. We enjoyed festive foods and gifts, and I even gave a speech! The event was filmed by a local television station. It was a happy way to end our visit before heading back to Beijing, but the celebration was also bittersweet.

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After we’d sat for over an hour watching local children perform, precious Jenny, from our One to One program, surprised us and took the stage. As she stood boldly before the crowd and her beautiful little voice filled the air, my heart swelled with love and an aching sadness. Jenny has been waiting a long time for a family — six years, to be exact.

I remember reading Jenny’s files when they arrived in the office. Age five. Loves music and dance. An extroverted, active playmate. Expressive, friendly, bright. Blind. I met Jenny last year when I visited China and took videos of her. Unlike some children, Jenny loved the camera. It’s as though she knew our meeting could be her ticket to a family and she was going to make the most of it.

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Jenny’s years of institutionalization have been particularly difficult because of her blindness. She has a vibrancy that cannot be quenched, yet as I visited with her this time I could see her turning inward, looking for a safe space in a world that, because of her disability, is uniquely complex and, at times, frightening. More than ever, on this visit I saw that this courageous little girl needs a family who will advocate for her and provide her with the reassurance of their unconditional love.

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In a centuries-old fairy tale, the Emperor of China becomes enchanted with the song of a nightingale. When he falls deathly ill, a small nightingale comes to sing to him. The sweet voice of the little bird so intimidates death that it flees, and the emperor’s health is restored. Though Jenny has obstacles that she must face, I am convinced that, like the nightingale, her song and her tenacious little spirit will prevail. In the loving arms of a family, Jenny will flourish. She simply needs a family — one who will transpose her bittersweet song into joyful melody.

To see Jenny’s performance, click here.

Jenny is eligible for a $1000 grant through Agape Adoptions, and the CCCWA can be flexible on eligibility requirements for prospective parents. To learn more about Jenny, contact our office at 253-987-5804 or myriam@agapeadoptions.org. We have lots of pictures and videos to share with you, and we’d love to help you as you begin your adoption journey! To see the eligibility requirements for China, click here

The Changing Face of China Adoptions

If you’ve followed international news from China in the last six months, you’ve probably heard of the baby hatch. These small buildings, translated “baby safety islands” in Chinese, were created by the Chinese government in 2011 to help curb infant abandonment in the country. In safety and anonymity, parents can leave their new baby at a local baby hatch, a small warm shelter with a cradle and incubator. A bell sounds after the parent exits, and a welfare worker comes to care for the child. In a country where approximately 10,000 children are abandoned each year, the baby hatch is a complex, heart-rending solution.

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Today, while visiting one of our orphanages in southern China, I got to see a baby hatch, one that has made the news because its high intake volumes forced its closure a few months ago. 262 babies were deposited here in the first three months the hatch was open, so overwhelming the local orphanages that they could not continue to service it. Orphanage officials here tell me that 99 percent of the babies who arrived in the baby hatch were very, very sick – serious diagnoses like cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and congenital heart disease, and unusual birth defects and incurable diseases. Orphanage officials had hoped to offer parents a way to safely abandon their babies, since it is illegal to abandon children in China, but, they tell me, they weren’t expecting so many sick children.

In the last two decades, families adopting from China expected to be quickly matched with a healthy baby girl under the age of three. Today, families might wait five to six years for a match like this. China’s current birth rate is exceedingly low, and the country has seen a rise in domestic adoption placements, making fewer and fewer healthy children available for international adoption. These two factors, combined with the reality of the growing need for baby hatches across the country, are clear signals. It is time for us to acknowledge plainly: China adoptions are changing. If the face of China adoptions in the 1990s was a healthy baby girl, today, it is the face of a child with special needs. More boldly we must assert – these children need families too.

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On Tuesday we saw children from three orphanages in southern China. It was a whirlwind day of picture taking and videotaping, snuggling and playing. We met more than 100 children, loved them and heard their stories. Almost all of these children have complicated diagnoses. They are learning to live life without a limb, with a heart condition, with a life-altering disability. Most heart-breaking, they are doing this alone — in an institution, not a family. They are growing up without the fierce love of a parent who will advocate for them, without the supportive nurture that will provide them with a foundation of hope and strength to step boldly into the future.

As I look into the beautiful faces of these little children, my heart aches to think that they are waiting. They are waiting for our assumptions about China adoptions to change. They are waiting for families who will welcome them, regardless of their special need. It is my most ardent hope and prayer that someday all of China’s children will find the security of unconditional love in the warm embrace of a family.

Traveling in China, Part 1

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My travel partner, Sarah S., and I arrived in Beijing after an uneventful flight on Saturday. It is always so good to be back in this country I have come to love so much. This trip is a very special one as it launches Agape Adoptions’ new Journey of Hope program, an opportunity to advocate for beautiful children who have more significant special needs and who long for families of their own.
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On our first day of acclimating, we took a tour of Beijing. I was thrilled to find a Starbucks in Tienanmen Square! A little piece of home. A stones throw away from the Square, we stopped in to visit a hutong village. It was as though we were stepping back in time to walk the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood. In years past, hutongs grew organically. One alleyway along a group of homes would connect with another alleyway, forming a small cluster of homes called a hutong. They are a special piece of history in the city, especially as many have been leveled for new construction. We stopped in at what appeared to be one of the best places to have Peking duck. They smelled so good roasting in that open brick oven. Too bad it was only ten in the morning. Peking duck is one of my favorites!
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Before traveling deep into southern China, we headed to a local healing home. Healing homes provide support to orphanages across China by providing specialized care for children whose needs are beyond what their local orphanage can provide. (Love Without Boundaries is an amazing organization that runs healing homes in China.) One little boy in particular grabbed at my heart, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about him with you when I return.

After leaving the Beijing area, we traveled to southern China to meet the children who will be a part of our Journey of Hope program. In one orphanage, we met and interviewed over 100 children in just a few days. Whew! What an honor to work on their behalf to find them forever families! We will know in the next few days how many of these children will be ours to advocate for.

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Each Journey of Hope child is so precious; my heart is full as I think about the possibilities that will await them when they meet the families they long for. Many of these children have significant special needs, and many of them have been waiting for a long time to find a family. My camera is full of pictures and videos. I am so thankful for this little piece of technology that allows families to “meet” their child as they journey through the adoption process.

I love coming to China. I love the culture, the food, the history. But most of all, I love these children. It is my hope that Agape Adoptions can be part of their love story, as we match them with families who will cherish them forever.

Understanding the Costs of Adoption

As families begin their adoption journey, Agape Adoptions encourages them to learn all they can about the process. Families spend many months talking to other adoptive parents, reading adoption blogs, researching different countries, and preparing for the arrival of their new child. For many families, the financial aspect of preparation is the most daunting. Adoption often comes at a significant cost. Prospective parents field questions from family and friends who wonder “Why is adoption so expensive?” And, perhaps, in the midst of balancing the checkbook, they too begin to wonder, “Where does the money go?”

All families who work with Agape Adoptions receive a breakdown of all fees associated with their adoptions. But sometimes those can just look like numbers on paper. In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the costs of adoption – how the money is used, how to fund an adoption, and how Agape Adoptions works as a non-profit charity agency.

 

Part One: Understanding the Costs of Adoption

In 2010, Adoptive Families magazine estimated that the average adoption from China cost families $28,623. Many families engage in active fundraising for their adoptions, and the U.S. government offers tax credits to adoptive parents to offset the cost. Nevertheless, the choice to adopt is a significant investment. For many families embarking on an adoption, numbers like these can be staggering and beg the question, “Where does all of the money go?”

The costs for adoption can be broken down into four basic categories: agency fees, immigration fees, country fees, and travel expenses. While the specific costs vary according to country, these fees are consistent across all international adoptions and all agencies. Simply put, they constitute the financial investment all families must make on their adoption journey.

First, all families, whether interested in domestic or international adoptions, pay fees to the agency with whom they work. These fees cover the required home study for the family and post-placement costs paid in trust. For families pursuing international adoption, this fee also includes the administrative and legal costs associated with preparing a dossier to be processed by the country from which the family wishes to adopt. These tasks require skilled professionals who have a deep understanding of the adoption process, from social workers and attorneys to health professionals and translators. All of these participants are coordinated by the agency and paid by them.

In the case of international adoptions, families pay not only for local costs (preparing documents in the U.S.) but for immigration and country expenses as well. Immigration fees are a significant portion of the adoption cost as they are paid to the U.S. government both here and abroad for the parents and the child. Country fees include administrative and legal work to prepare adoption documents. Some countries also require families to give a lump sum to the orphanage from which they are adopting as a goodwill donation, helping to subsidize the cost of raising their child while in transition.

When all of the paperwork is complete, families see the final cost – travel expenses to meet their new child. Many countries require parents to remain in-country for a lengthy period (between 2 and 4 weeks, and in some cases longer). Travel expenses such as plane tickets, hotel stays and meals are included in this fee for families. A four week trip to Uganda isn’t a budget vacation!

To be sure, parents who embark on the adoption process make a huge investment. They offer their time, their emotions, and their finances to build the family for which they long. It is a significant act, one borne of selfless love and hope for the child who will become theirs. Adoption is a costly decision; but for children waiting for a forever family, it is a priceless one.

Next installment in our series: Where will the money come from?: Creating a fundraising plan

 

Images: J Aaron Farrar and MoneyBlogNewz, Creative Commons License (Flickr)