No to corruption. Yes to families.

14 03 2011

by Rebecca Harris, Director of Programs & Services

The following as an excerpt from our newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  Sign up to receive it by clicking here.

Already in 2011 we’ve seen Ethiopia move to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90% and Kazakhstan officially suspend adoptions in anticipation of their ratification of the Hague Convention.  Haiti and Ukraine are on what we’ve termed our “high alert” list – countries that show indications of closing in the next 12-months. This is a scene we’ve seen play out over and over again, in country after country.  And every time a country has chosen to suspend or close intercountry adoptions, children suffer.  It’s a scene that is quite frankly, confusing, unneccessary, and very disturbing.
In allowing this to occur, we’ve failed the biological families who need preservation services, we’ve failed the children who legitimately need intercountry adoption and we’ve failed our global community.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of failure.  I’m tired of seeing children, like Addison, become “collateral damage” in the battle against abuse.  Allowing children to die needlessly and alone is simply unacceptable.

Over the last ten years we’ve fought the good fight.  But we’ve lost too many times.  And every time we lose, children lose.  This month we’ll release a report about the systematic elimination of intercountry adoption and the decrease in services to children.  And we’ll ask you to join us in changing the tide.  We’ll ask you to rally your friends and family to stand up and say “No” to corruption and “Yes” to families.  It’s not enough to just stop bad things from happening – we have to make good things happen too!

So, be on the look out over the next month – in your inbox and our website – I hope you’ll join me in standing up and demanding the fulfillment of every child’s right to a safe, permanent and loving family.  Join me in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Be The Answer for Mbali

1 11 2010

To learn more about Joint Council’s National Adoption Month Advocacy Campaign Click Here

Mbali means flower in Zulu.  It describes the little girl I held in my arms as she past perfectly.  Gentle, delicate and only able to bloom for a short period of time.  I first met Mbali two weeks before she passed away.  It was my first day in South Africa and at TLC, the child’s home I would be calling home for the next few months of my life.  Young, bright-eyed and bushy tailed and not really knowing what I was getting myself into, it was my first time in an orphanage (although I hate that term and hate it being applied to TLC).  I was over-whelmed by the sites

and sounds – all the children playing and crying at the same time.

I was partnered with, Ester, a young volunteer from Germany who had lived at TLC for six months.  She alone was caring for eight young babies between the ages of two and five months.  She taught me about their feeding schedule, their needs and personalities.  All of the eight babies had been transferred there from the same hospital in the same week.  The hospital was in a very poor section of Johannesburg and had a number of highly contagious viruses passing through the pediatric wards at the time so the children where set up in a little room removed from the rest of the nursery – so as to not spread anything they had gotten from the hospital to the other children at TLC.  As Ester taught me about the children I was in awe of how she seemed to know everything about each of the kids.  She explained that Nathanael had trouble sleeping and had a blood curtailing scream.  Payton was the smallest, born extremely prematurely, and slept all the time.  And Mbali, she was very, very sick – she wouldn’t eat and was becoming very dehydrated.  She told me all about Joanna, who worked at TLC and did not have a lot of formal training with the health issues of babies and children but had years of working with the babies at TLC.  It was Joanna’s responsibility to determine if Mbali needed to go to the hospital.  A few minutes later Joanna flew into the room.  Mbali was quickly whisked off to the hospital – Joanna was afraid that without medical intervention she would pass in the next few hours.  I was scared, to say the least.  It was a jolt of reality like I had never had before.

Two weeks later I had gotten my bearings a little bit – I’d gotten into the groove of 12 hour shifts of feeding, changing and playing with little ones for six days a week.   It was now my turn to do the nigh shift – a 13 hour shift (day and night shift volunteers over-lap for a one hour period everyday) during which volunteers do much of the same work they do during the day – feed, change and play with babies.

That same day Mbali returned from the hospital.  The hospital did not return her because she had improved.  They returned her to TLC because they knew they couldn’t do anything for her.  The hospital needed the beds for children they felt they could actually help.  At four months of age, having been abandoned by her mother at birth, Mbali was being left for dead by the best hospital staff in Sub-Saharan Africa.  There was no room to try to care for her any longer.

Arriving for my night shift I was told Mbali was being cared for by Thea, the amazing woman who started TLC, but that soon they would be bringing Mbali to me to care for her during the night.  I would receive training on how to feed her through the tube the hospital had inserted and if I needed anything during the night I could find Thea or her daughter Pippa.  About an hour later Pippa brought Mbali in to me.  She explained how to feed her through the tube and explained that I needed to pay extra special attention to her that night and continued to say that if I needed anything to have one of the other volunteers come find her.  A few hours later I was holding Mbali and trying to feed another child when I noticed her breath was short and weak.  Suddenly and calmly, there in my arms she let out one last breath.  And that was it.  She was gone.  I called to one of the other volunteers to go find Pippa.  A few of the other babies were crying but I was afraid to put her down – I wasn’t ready to leave her.  I hadn’t yet known her.  The other babies kept crying.  I tried to care for them while holding her but it wasn’t working.  Where was Pippa?  I needed to decide, hold her after her death or care for the others.  I put her down and picked up another child.  I’m sure it was just a matter of minutes, but it felt like forever until Pippa came in.  I looked at her scared, “She’s gone” I said.  Pippa hugged me, said she expected it to happen but just not that quickly.  She whisked her away and I went back to my tasks.  Just like that, Mbali had passed and I needed to move on.  I had seven other children to care for and nine more hours of my shift.  I continued…

I’d like to say I’d known her better.  That I had spent months caring for her, that I had gotten to know her.  I can tell you small things about her, the things I made myself learn so that someone knew them…the birthmark on her leg and the pleas to end the pain in her eyes.  The truth is, no one knew her.  Just like the thousands of orphans who pass away every day.  They are nameless, faceless children.  This month we are going to try to give the nameless, faceless children a voice.  Some of the children you will hear about this month have already passed.  Others are waiting for someone to step up and care for them, hoping for a family.  I hope you take the steps this month to help these children – maybe you can’t adopt them but maybe you can help spread the word about their needs – do it everyday in memory of my little “flower.”

Be The Answer for Mbali by reading and learning about HIV.  Click here for more information.

Be Their Voice – by Rebecca Harris

8 10 2010

When I speak to a group of adoptive families one of the first questions I ask is, “How many of you traveled to the country your child was adopted from?”  The next question I ask, “How many of you think of another child you met in the orphanage and wonder what they are doing now?  And how they are?”  And then I ask, “How many of you have followed up on that kid?”  “And how many of you learned that the child isn’t thriving?  That they are barely surviving?  Or worst, they have died alone in an orphanage?”  Next month, as part of our National Adoption Month advocacy, we’ll be sharing with you some of the stories of children who are lost and alone in this world…or who lost their lives, alone.  We’ll be sharing with you how we, as a global society, failed these children.  If you know the story of child who missed out on one of the most basic rights a child has, a right to be in a safe and permanent family, then send us their story.  Click here to learn how.

Request for stories: National Adoption Month Advocacy

13 09 2010

This November Joint Council will be participating in National Adoption Month in an unprecedented and unique way.  Everyday in November, we will be highlighting the stories of those children throughout the world who have yet to be served by adoption, celebrate those children who have thrived in their adoptive family, and ask individuals to take small actions everyday to help children in need.

From today September 13, 2010 through October 15, 2010 Joint Council will be accepting stories from professionals, families and other concerned individuals who have seen the plight of children who live outside of family care and those who have gained permanency, safety and love through adoption.  To submit a story, follow the directions below.  The advocacy campaign will be one part of of Joint Council’s larger National Adoption Month Campaign, which hopes to encourage individuals to Be The Answer to the world orphan crisis.  The idea from the campaign was generated by Joint Council staff following this post in last month’s Mbali’s Message and the Be The Answer blog.

Directions for submitting a story:

  • Email the story of a child who has yet to be served through adoption and/or a story of a child who has thrived in his/her adoptive family to Jason Cohn at by October 15, 2010
    • Stories may be:
      • Three minute video
      • 750 words, please include photos of yourself and the child
    • If applicable, please include a release of information for each story submitted.
    • If the child highlighted is living outside of family care, individuals are encouraged to use a pseudonym for the child and send photos with discretion and with the child’s safety in mind.
  • Questions regarding the campaign and submitting stories should be directed to

Joint Council looks forward to the community participating in this advocacy effort.

Why must we fight for a child’s right to a family? by Rebecca Harris

31 08 2010

The following is an excerpt from Joint Council’s monthly newsletter, Mbali’s Message.  To sign up to receive it and other updates from Joint Council via email, click here.

The children who spend the last moments of their lives parentless, unloved and alone have always haunted me.  I can’t shake them, no matter how much I want to walk away out frustration with the system that blocks children from living, and dying, in families.  These children are sometimes the only reason I keep fighting.  From their graves they call to me, “please, just help one more, please just keep fighting.”  Perhaps it’s because of a little girl named Mbali who who passed in my arms – a new volunteer at an orphanage who barely knew her.  Perhaps it’s because I see her in every child.

Since that day over five years ago other children have been added to the stream of voices – some still fighting to live but are alone, and others who have passed alone.  From Gaby, a little girl who died soon after Mbali.  To a little girl with hydrocephalus in Kyrgyzstan.  To Rene in Haiti who I worry about every day – hoping his shunt hasn’t failed, hoping he hasn’t gotten kicked out of his orphanage, hoping that someone will give him the care he needs, hoping that the next time I travel to Haiti he will still be there.  And fearing that one day I will travel to see him and he won’t be.

Recently another child has been added.   A little boy name Evan.  Evan was a special needs child from Georgia.  Evan was adopted by a loving American family on June 28th, 2010.  On July 19th, 2010 he left this world.  Evan was lucky enough to feel the joy of a family for 22 days.  Evan was cheated by the system, wasn’t given the right to a family soon enough to save his life.  He grew up in an orphanage and then foster-care.  Evan spent two years waiting for the family to which he was referred to work through the bureaucracy and complete his adoption. Without the protection that only a family can provide he didn’t get the medical care and nurturing that he needed.  His condition worsened and despite attempts to save him, Evan passed away.

Why must we all fight for every child’s right to a family?  Because everyone deserves the chance to live and die in the loving embrace of a family.  And because millions of children suffer and pass every year alone.

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