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.


South Africa: Josh, Rene and Addison

21 12 2010

Today I literally saw the face of hope.  As I walked into TLC for the first time in four years I saw a little boy half crawling, half shuffling across the dining room floor.  Instantly I noticed that he had the signs of hydrocephalus – the enlarged, pointed head, the inward eyes.  Instantly I thought of Rene and Addison and my heart broke for them.

TLC, where I was a volunteer years ago, and will be helping out over the next ten days is the best child’s home I’ve been to.  Probably because it is a home, one in which a family (three generations, in fact)  lives along with 30 orphaned children and a host of volunteers from throughout the world to care for them.  If any child with hydrocephalus is going to thrive without the one-on-one attention parents can provide, it’s at TLC.  And that’s just what Josh is doing – thriving.  Skirting around the floor faster than volunteers can catch him.  Laughing at jokes.  And having a three-year-old attitude.

Later in the day I asked Thea about Josh.  She told me that for two years she begged a nearby hospital to let her take him.  For some reason the hospital never relented – they just let him lay there waiting for the shunt that had been placed in his head to stop working and for Josh to die.  But then he found his voice.  He learned a high-pitched, death curtailing scream.  And he didn’t stop.  Within 24-hours the hospital had called Thea to come pick him up – they couldn’t stand the sound of Josh’s scream.  And with that he was free.  For the rest of his life he’ll still need to deal with the effects of his hydrocephalus and he’s suffered from some brain damage due to a second surgery that didn’t go perfect, but, because he learned to scream, he has hope.

I think of Addison who never had hope.  The child care center she was in was ill-equipped to handle her needs.  They chose to ignore the signs of her condition.  And when help finally came, it was of poor quality and too late.  She suffered a slow death.  She had no hope.  Rene, who was lucky enough to receive surgery in time to limit the damage to his brain, is in a facility that doesn’t understand the special care and attention his condition needs.  They are unaware of how to properly care for the shunt that saved his life.  While he’s lived to 12, his hope is depleting and his time is running out.  All this to me just proves how much our lives are determined by the circumstances of the world around us – Addison could have been Rene, Rene could be Josh and Josh could have been Addison.  But somehow Josh is the lucky one – he gets to live and thrive in the closest thing to a family any of these three children have had.

Rest in peace, Addison.  Keep on fighting, Rene.  And keep on thriving, Josh.

Rebecca Harris

Ethiopia: The Last Day

20 12 2010

Very early this morning, as the sun was rising above the streets of Addis Ababa, I watched the city welcome a new day.  As I watched the city awaken – the women walking to start their day’s work, the soon-to-be world class runners going for their morning jog and the donkeys slowly march the grains to the market – I reflected on the lesson this and every advocacy trip reinforces: the best way to serve children is to collaborate-to work together everyday.

Earlier this year while in Port-au-Prince, Joint Council hosted a meeting of our colleagues working to serve the children and families of Haiti.  As Tom and I conducted the meeting it became evident that some of the organizations working in the same city, in the same district, in the same camps were not communicating and in fact  didn’t even know the other organizations existed.  One organization talked about their struggles to create a new foster family program in Port-au-Prince while in the meeting room was another organization who had already developed a foster care program years ago. They had trained foster families, and placed children in foster homes.  All of this in the same city, the same district, the same camp. Yet this was the first time they met.  A few months later, the two organizations are now working together and instead of ‘recreating the wheel’, they are sharing resources and getting more kids off the streets and into families.  This is why the work of Joint Council is so important – we bring people together, we find common ground, common needs and shared resources.  And through what is often a simple introduction, more children get the help they need.

More than once this past week in Addis Ababa a similar scene was repeated.  Over the last year three different, well-respect organizations, governmental bodies and inter-governmental bodies created standards for orphanage care and for de-institutionalization in Ethiopia.  Imagine if their energies had been focused on a collaborative effort to produce one set of standards.  Imagine how less confusing it would be for the very caregivers who are supposed to follow the standards.  And imagine how many more children could receive better care in the orphanages if they had worked together.

The same is true for rooting out corruption in the child welfare system , or to put it as Ambassador Jacobs said, “to do it right.”  There is so much going right in Ethiopia.  From a ground breaking foster care program put in place by Buckner International to the  Family Empowerment Program established by Wide Horizons For Children.  From the HIV/AIDS programs of World Wide Orphans to the long-term care facility run by Adoption Advocates International.  Yes, much is being done right.

But there are concerns about unethical practices and abuse.  If we are going to eliminate overt corruption then it will take all of us working together.  We are all responsible for helping children and we all play a vital role in making sure it happens ethically.  And if we are not fighting to end the corruption, are we not complacent in it?  No one government, no one NGO and no one individual can do it alone.  It must be done together.

This week, I met with government officials from Ethiopia, the US, Italy and Spain.  I worked with UNICEF, Ethiopian NGOs and US Adoption Service Providers.  I even met with local child welfare leaders.  From these meetings I could see that collaborative efforts were in fact underway.  This being said, I also saw many barriers that keep people from working together.  Some in the child protection community refuse to share information with Adoption Service Providers.  Too many leaders of NGOs will not meet with the leaders of other NGOs.  And perhaps most sadly, while some shared with me their concerns about specific incidents of abuse, it was not reported to any government authority.  Failures to share information, declining invitations to work with one another and refusing to report abuse all contribute in some way to the violation of the rights of children and families.  If we are in fact going to make it right, I hope we can expand on the collaboration that does exist and truly work for the best interest of the children.


P.S. I’m heading to Johannesburg, South Africa today but my blog posts won’t stop.  You’ll be able to follow my very different journey in Johannesburg while I help care for children without families.

Ethiopia: Lessons Learned

13 12 2010

As I continue my time here in Ethiopia, I’d like to share with you the continuation of a story we shared with you last Holiday Season, as part of our Hope for the Holiday’s Program.

Last year on our trip to Ethiopia we had the joy of meeting one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met – Zemzem.  A few years ago she was the enrolled in a family empowerment program with one of our member organizations.  The program gave her the skills she needed to start a small retail store in her area.  Although I will not have the opportunity to visit Zemzem on this trip, I did have the opportunity to meet with a friend who just visited Zemzem in her village a few days ago.  And I’m pleased to let you know that Zemzem and her family are doing fantastic!

Zemzem went from extreme poverty to a prospering business owner in less than 2 years.

A few years ago before the family empowerment program was available, Zemzem relinquished one of her children due to her extreme poverty.  But now her three children have been enrolled in school and she has expanded her business extensively.  She built an addition to the front of her store to give her more space to sell her goods.  She has started to wholesale corn and other grains from the back of the store.  She has even started to import/export goods from her village, which brings in 20 birr/day alone.  My friend informed me that she is now the richest person in the village!  We joked that she now owns and runs the local 7-11!  All of this with a small investment of funds and resources a few years ago by one of our member organizations!  Zemzem and her three children represents just one the 1.2 million families served by Joint Council and our member organizations in Ethiopia.

It is great to know that Zemzem and her children have been transformed from poverty and relinquishment to relative prosperity and a secure family.  She has taught us all a lesson on the importance of empowering women.  Another lesson on how to transform lives may sound a little odd, but it is one that this trip has reconfirmed – go with the flow and accept that things are going to change.

Despite my excitement to travel to Hosanna on Saturday to see the work of our member organizations and orphanages in Hosanna I was Read the rest of this entry »

Ethiopia: Day 1 from Rebecca

10 12 2010

I arrived late last night to the darkness of Addis Ababa.  The first thing that struck me on my return to this wonderful country was the relative calm of the city.   “I don’t remember ever thinking that Addis was calm” I thought to myself.  And as I looked around I saw the same sights I’d seen before – the taxis crowded around the Elephant Café, the legless child begging on the street corner, and the men and woman walking home late at night.  Everything was the same as before, so why did it seem so different?

Then I remembered.  I’d spent much of my time aboard this year in post-earthquake Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  I had a new definition of chaos.  As my good friend was picking me up at the airport I commented to him on how calm the city felt.  “Why?” he asked, “Addis isn’t calm.”  I explained my trips to Haiti.  “Why?” he asked again, “why did Haiti feel so much more chaotic?”  As we drove down a silent street in Addis I painted him a picture of Haiti.  Imagine…the road is bumper to bumper cars, even like now, when it is late at night, and every fifteen feet or so there is a big pile of dirt, dust and broken concrete that all the cars have to gently maneuver around.  All along the road destroyed homes, hundreds of tents and thousands of people all seeming to move at one time.  Everywhere you turn.

Even tonight, after a long day, as I rest at my hotel I think of Haiti and how much my life, my views has changed since the earthquake in Haiti.  Just over a month ago, I was speaking with another friend, who runs one of the most well respected orphan care organizations I know.  We were discussing Joint Council’s, I am the Answer Campaign and the children we have cared for who have passed away.  She made a simple remark, “It is experiences like those that say with us, you never forget a child who died in your arms.”  It’s been almost a year since the earthquake and still the emotions, visions and heart-ache sit with me, raw, waiting to surface.  Just like Mbali, the little girl who died in my arms stays with me, Haiti will never leave – it will always surface.  But I’m not here to talk about Haiti, I’m in Ethiopia.

After a less than restful night’s sleep I headed to the U.S. Embassy to discuss their perspectives on the current intercountry adoption Read the rest of this entry »

Off to Ethiopia and annoucing our $20,000 matching grant! – by Rebecca Harris

8 12 2010

We have two pieces of exciting news for you!

Tonight I leave for a Joint Council advocacy trip to Ethiopia.  While in Ethiopia our team will  work with the Ethiopian government, U.S. Dept of State, UNICEF, other governments, NGO’s, our member organizations and other child welfare professionals.  The basis of our meetings will be simple – ethical intercountry adoption needs to remain an option for Ethiopian children in need! Joint Council and our member organizations served 1.2 million children and families in Ethiopia in 2010.  In a country with 5 million orphans and where nearly 400,000 children under the age of five die every year this work needs to continue.  As a friend of intercountry adoption you know how true that statement is.  Through our I Am The Answer Campaign, you have witnessed what happens when a child’s right to a family is refused – you know what their fate is. It is our hope that you will support us in this mission by donating to our cause today.

The second piece of exciting news is that some of Joint Council’s largest supporters have pulled together to match every donation in December up to $20,000! This means that every dollar you donate – whether it’s $1 or $1000 – will go twice as far in December.  Today, please take a moment to donate to Joint Council.  We need you to join us in ensuring intercountry adoption remains an option for Ethiopian children and children throughout the world!

As always, thank you for your support of Joint Council during this Holiday Season!

Donate Today!

Rebecca Harris

Director of Programs & Services

P.S. Make sure you don’t miss a thing!  Enter your email address in the box to the right and click “sign me up” to receive emails when we update the blog during our travels.

We End Where We Began…

30 11 2010

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

Today, we are ending our 30-Day Challenge in the same place we began, in a childcare center in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Our story began with Mbali-Today it ends with Gabrielle, who passed away on June 26, 2004, the day after Mbali.  The story below was written by Thea Jarvis, who founded TLC, the day that Gabrielle passed away.  To read Thea’s story and the founding of TLC, click here.

Gabrielle passed away today.  Gabrielle’s story has been such a sad one from the beginning.   Her Mommy is a young girl who was found wandering around Baragwanath Hospital with the newborn baby in a duffel bag.   When a nurse from the psychiatry department noticed that the bag was moving she confronted the girl and called a security guard to check the bag, to confirm her suspicions.

They sent the baby and the Mom to TLC with the idea that Gabrielle should stay until the mother had received some counseling … Gabrielle was only a few hours old and the most beautiful baby.

Gabrielle’s Mommy’s story was one that is becoming more and more frequent.   The mother found out she was HIV+ and simply lost it!   She went crazy.   Gabrielle’s mother  tried to abort her baby, but when that didn’t work, she went  into labor, went to the hospital and delivered the baby.   She is still psychotic though, and has not shown any interest in the baby apart from the rare phone call.

Gabrielle has been a sickly baby from the beginning, even though she tested HIV-.  Gabrielle spent quite a few stints in hospital and always came home with the doctors scratching their heads and having no answers.   Her hospital file was full of question marks.

So, here we are today, our little girl has, like Mbali, taken her wings and gone home.  It was a shock for us .  It was so sudden, with Mbali we had due warning.   Even though Gabrielle was sickly we hoped that because she was HIV- we could put up a fight and win…because we usually do.   We did not expect this.   She drank her bottle.   Started screaming in agony and immediately died leaving us all in shock.  Good bye my little sweet girl!

Note: Rebecca, Joint Council’s Director of Programs and Services, will return to TLC  from December 15th – December 26th.  While there, Rebecca will be blogging and video-blogging at

Today the task is simple- give yourself a big pat on the back and check out everything that Joint Council and you have accomplished this month through our I Am The Answer Campaign. You have successfully made it through the 30 day challenge! Congrats!

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