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.

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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.

Here in Uganda

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.

The Honor of Advocating for Children

In a few hours we’ll be on an airplane to begin the long trip back to the States. It has been yet another amazing visit here filled with hard work, good friends, and fun activities. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed, to eat American food, and to hug my family again. But I always leave Kampala with a twinge of sadness. It’s always hard for me to leave children who are waiting for families of their own.

The news has been filled lately with arguments about the pros and cons of international adoption. Very tragic stories have been center stage, and these stories have left some people wondering if international adoption should happen anymore. Certainly, there have been problems with the system — both in the States and abroad. That’s part of why I visit Uganda twice each year — to ensure that our team follows proper legal and ethical requirements as we advocate for children. But each time I meet with orphaned children, I know that we must continue in this important work. Where systems are broken, we must fix them. But we mustn’t be discouraged from the pursuit altogether. There are children who desperately need families.

It is always our desire that children can find forever families within their own countries. When that is not possible, it is our joy and privilege to advocate for them here in the United States. We do this because we believe that children do better growing up in families than in institutions. We do this because we believe that the possibilities and promise that are ours as a birthright are meant to be shared with those in need. We do this because we believe that no child should be left alone, without the unconditional love and acceptance that a family can give.

It is hard to leave Uganda, knowing that I am leaving children who are waiting for families. I hope and pray that they each will find homes where they are safe, loved and accepted. Insofar as Agape Adoptions is part of that story for them, it has been our honor.

Top 10 Things I’m Thankful For (The Uganda Version)

  1. Breakfast and Coffee on the Veranda: Before I leave for the day’s work, I take time to sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee on the veranda at our inn. It’s as lovely as it sounds.
  2. Rhinos: Wow! They are huge! We visited the rhino sanctuary, about a 3 hour drive from Kampala, and spent the afternoon hanging out with these magnificent creatures.
  3. Community Gardens: Our children’s home director is intentional about making the homes sustainable, and community gardening is a big part of that. C. has developed community gardens at the homes to encourage fresh, sustainable eating. The children grow tomatoes, herbs, onions, and other vegetables – from seeds!
  4. Gratefulness: Each time I travel to Uganda, I come bearing suitcases bursting with donations. When we arrive at the homes, we spend time handing out the donations, and the children act as though it’s Christmas morning. The kids put on their new clothing, tags and all, over their clothes and treasure it. Kids in children’s homes rarely have anything that is just theirs alone, so these times are very special for them. Their gratefulness warms my heart.

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  5. Chinese Egg Rolls: What? Chinese food in Uganda? Yes! It’s so tasty. I visit the same local Chinese restaurant every time I’m in Kampala. The owner remembers me every time and even recalls that I have a daughter adopted from China. Eating overseas can be risky – my tummy can attest to that! So finding a good place to eat is definitely something to be thankful for.
  6. The U.S. Embassy: I met with them during this trip, and they are awesome. There are lots of paperwork and legal technicalities to wade through, and they do it. And do it well!
  7. Bore Hole Wells: I love to see the bore hole well at one of our children’s homes. 75 meters deep. Filled with fresh, delicious, safe water! Bore hole wells are popping up (or rather, going down!) all over the African continent, and with each well, good water quality and sanitation are coming to a new community.
  8. My Ugandan Colleagues: When you’re in the midst of the adoption process, you can feel as though your paperwork is headed off to never-never land. You mail things away and then wait. And wait. And wonder. Is anything happening on the other end? As I talk to my colleagues here in Uganda, I am impressed over and over with the tenacity and professionalism they bring to their work. Be assured, they are working hard on your behalf. They know how to navigate the legal system and the culture, and most importantly, they love children. It’s an honor to be working beside such great people. Even if most of the time we work thousands of miles apart.
  9. Hugs and Handshakes: Whenever I arrive at our children’s homes, I’m greeted with a smothering of hugs and lots of firm handshakes (from boys especially). These children live with so little and have come through significant difficulties, but their hearts are warm and ready to love. I love their hugs and handshakes.

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  10. Well, of course, the boda boda! (I’m sorry. Did I already mention that?!)

Everything’s Better on a Boda

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In the developing world, traffic doesn’t operate the same as it does in the United States. The roads don’t have marked lanes. Lots of the time they’re not even paved. And your companions on the street? Cows. Pedestrians. Buses. Cars. Bikes. People pushing carts. And the most amazing little form of transportation available here in Uganda – the boda boda. Imagine yourself on the back of a dirt bike, with (or without) a helmet, winding through foot and car traffic on the street. Riding by boda boda is an adrenaline rush. Sure, it’s also pretty treacherous. But it’s fast. Really fast.

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I’m not an incredibly patient driver and a decidedly impatient passenger. And Ugandan traffic tests my mettle every time. It’s always jammed here. On Monday, I reluctantly agreed to take a taxi back to our inn a few blocks away, accompanying the C. family with their two small children. It’s a 10 minute ride by boda boda. It took us 30 minutes to circle a single block! Finally, at a traffic light, I apologized to the family, hopped out and hailed a boda boda. I arrived back at our lodgings in 7 minutes. The family arrived a half hour later.

If you travel by conventional means in Uganda, you not only risk sitting in traffic jams, you may also run out of gas! Yesterday, one of our children’s homes transported us by van back to our inn at the end of the day. Except, we didn’t get very far. No sooner had we left the driveway, entered the main road and headed up the hill, when we ran out of gas! In the middle of traffic! Three of our Ugandan colleagues hopped out of the van and began to push it up the hill. We all took shifts – including two kids who had been riding with us! I’ve never had to push a boda boda, but I imagine it would be easier than pushing a van up a hill.

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International travel — and international adoption — requires that you become more flexible. You learn that your time schedule is not always someone else’s. You discover that things in other countries don’t always work the same way as they do at home. And hopefully, during your journey, you learn to appreciate these differences, not simply be frustrated by them. I’ve happily accepted Uganda’s alternate form of transportation, the fabulous little boda boda. Now accepting the crazy traffic jams … well, I’m still working on that!

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Just How Far We’ve Come

Have you ever taken a hike into the mountains and stopped, mid-forest, wondering if you’re ever going to make it to the summit? You’ve been walking for hours, the scenery hasn’t changed much, and you’re wishing GPS could give you a sneak peek of how much further you have to go.  Just as your legs are starting to ache, you turn a corner and there it is. Not the summit, but a clearing. A beautiful clearing that allows you to rest and see how far you’ve come.  Today was one of those “clearing” days for me.

When I began adoption work in Uganda in 2010, everything was very unsettled. It took a long time to understand the culture, to connect with the proper authorities, to train the people who are integral to the success of daily life at our children’s homes. It’s been a rewarding journey, but often a tough climb. Today, I met with Caleb, a director of several of the homes we work with here in Kampala. I’ve been working with Caleb for three years, and on this visit we are completing the first adoption we have done together. We’ve been walking together a long time. We’ve had many heart to heart conversations.  And today was our big moment, a moment to take a breath and celebrate just how far we’ve come.

For the last three years, Caleb and I have been working to narrow the gap between what I need to learn about Ugandan culture and what he needs to learn about the international adoption process. It has been a big education experience for both of us! But our hard work together is paying off. Today, one of the homes Caleb manages has seen a 25% reduction in the number of children who live there. What an exciting moment to hear that many of these children have been integrated into families in their own home country! Caleb’s keen understanding of adoption and hard work has opened up more space for more children who need the care – orphaned children waiting for forever families.

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As we sat together in his office, I loved to hear Caleb’s enthusiasm for adoption. He has become a dear friend and colleague to me, and I enjoyed celebrating the good work we have accomplished together to place children in homes where they are safe and loved. There is still lots of work to do, but we have come a long way together.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” As I’ve walked with Caleb, our journey hasn’t been a fast one. But at this clearing on the path, I can say with confidence, I’m looking forward to the next stretch of the climb, walking together.

P.S.  A huge thanks to Kristi’s running club in Baton Rouge who loaded the C. family with donations for our children’s homes. They have been so excited to receive your gifts!

From Uganda: Mosquitoes and Toys from Trash

Seattle to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Kigali, Rwanda. Rwanda to Kampala, Uganda. Whew! We’ve arrived!

As we drove from the airport into Kampala late last night, there were people and animals milling about. Small corner markets and stalls were still open for business. It is hot here. Definitely warmer than I thought it would be. The rainy season has just begun here, and, though we know a bit about rain in Seattle, Ugandan rain is different. In fact, so much is different here. In the last two days, I have been struck again by the many differences between Uganda and Washington.

Immediately upon touching down at the Entebbe airport, I was greeted with the smell of insecticide and was reminded of malaria. Living in the United States, I never think much about mosquitoes – except to note their annoyance on summer evenings. It’s a health risk that’s unheard of where I live — even in wet, rainy Seattle. But all over the African continent, children and families are dying from malaria. It is said that the most dangerous animal in Africa is the mosquito. It seems wrong to me that there are still people dying of malaria in 2013. I slept under my mosquito net last night, thankful for its protection.

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Today, at the boys’ home, I noticed a few boys with these cool makeshift toys, and I was reminded too of the differences between resources here and the material luxuries that are so commonplace back where I live. These boys don’t have much to play with, but what amazing creativity! What I’d toss into the trash can, they’ve made into toys. The boys showed me their airplanes made from scraps – bamboo sticks and other pieces of trash. They used plastic caps for wheels and old shoe laces to hold the scrap wires together. I was amazed at how they could improvise and make push toys and airplanes out of trash. Imagine what they could do with Legos! We brought a few soccer balls, and the boys loved playing with them.

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On a trip like this, the differences between Uganda and home can sometimes feel very heavy. But there are some things that are the same everywhere you go. Today, I am thankful for both the similarities and the differences that prompt me to gratefulness. I am thankful for a good strong cup of coffee after 26 hours on the go. For kind inn hosts for weary travelers. For a solid handshake and smile from a young boy. For the delighted laughs of happy children. If you look at outside appearances, Uganda and Washington are very different. Thankfully, people (and the jolt of coffee!) are very much the same, wherever you roam.