300 Lives

14 07 2011

Seven of us walked into an orphanage in rural China, a brightly lit, clean and active place which serves as home for 300 kids. It was, like so many buildings in China, only a few years old. We walked into a building with new cribs (17 to a room), a well-equipped tactile stimulation room and a clean cafeteria with seating for over 200. But what we really walked into was not simply a building. We walked into 300 lives. 300 little lives filled with activities and therapies but void of a mother’s love. Void of their father’s kiss good night. And void of the hope that someday someone would give them a new life, a new reality…a new family.

The orphanage director was rightly proud of the facility, but also clear about the needs that remain – and grow every day. With the birth defect rate jumping over 40% in the past three years, it’s a challenge just to keep up, let alone expand.

And that is why we are here. To help. To partner. To preserve families and create new ones. To connect and to learn. To give a child with a cleft pallet a specially designed bottle that provides life giving nourishment. To share our collective passion. And privately shed our tears To share what we know, give what we can and marshal the resources to fill in the gaps. To give a moment’s love to a child who won’t make it to age 5. To build a sustainable garden and advocate for more. To walk into 300 little lives…and never leave.

By the ninth day of our journey in China, Christina and I will have assessed dozens of children, evaluated eight orphanages housing over 1,200 children and strategized with 22 government officials at central, provincial and city levels. But much like entering the orphanage, what we really did was enter many lives and allowed them to enter ours.

Notes from Dept of State Ethiopia Call

11 03 2011

Following are our notes from the Department of State Office of Children’s Issues conference call regarding Ethiopian adoptions.  These notes do not represent nor are they  in any way attributable to the Department of State or US Citizenship and Immigration Services.  We are providing the notes with respect to those adoption service providers who could not participate in the conference.

We extend our thanks to the Department of State for conducting the conference call and to US Citizenship and Immigration Services for their participation and contributions.

The Department of State is Actively Involved
•    The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs announced a reduction in the processing of intercountry adoption cases from 50 per day to 5 per day, effective March 10, 2011.
•    The Department of State is actively involved in discussions with the Government of Ethiopia, other governments and stakeholders.
•    A coalition of countries is preparing a proposal to assist the Ministry increase its capacity.
•    Embassy suggested that children with special need’s cases should not be delayed.
•    The US Embassy officials have a scheduled meeting with the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs for Monday, March 14, 2011.
•    There are areas of concern related to intercountry adoption, however the reduction is disproportionate.

Adoption Cases
•    Currently there are no implementation guidelines for in-process cases.
•    For adoption cases registered with the Ethiopian court, the best estimate is a one-year delay.
•    The staff change at the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs has been confirmed as taking effect the week of March 13, 2011.  The impact this will have on adoption cases is not known.
•    It is estimated that between 800-1,000 adoption cases are currently on the docket of Ethiopian courts.

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 wwwbetheanswerforchildren.wordpress.com.

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!

Give Yourself A Pat On The Back!

30 11 2010

When was the last time you really made a difference in the lives of others?  If you participated in our 30-Day Challenge, then you made a real difference every day in November! Whether you checked out our blog daily, caught up over the weekends, or looked back towards the end of the month, your involvement has changed the lives of thousands of children.  Our estimates indicate that you, as part of our community, helped over 6000 children this month!   Below are the highlights of what our community accomplished during our 30-Day Challenge. After you read today’s final stories about Gabrielle and TLC Ministries and complete your 30 day challenge- Celebrate and feel free to pat yourself on the back!

1) Remember Song?  Well, because of his story on our blog, he found a family!  After reading about Song, a family has come forward and has begun the process of adopting him.  In only a few short months he will be living with a loving family.

2) Together our efforts helped ensure that the International Adoption Simplification Act passed Congress.   Your emails and phone call to Congress helped eliminate two big barriers which were preventing children from becoming part of an adoptive family.  Passage of the International Adoption Simplification Act helps over 2,200 children next year alone!

3) Although we haven’t yet been able to ensure the Help Haiti Act passed Congress (please keep calling your Representatives!), together, we raised enough awareness.  CNN’s Anderson Cooper joined in by doing a story about the Help Haiti Act!

4) Well over 100 individuals wrote on the Facebook page of Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva, asking for her to advocate for the 65 Kyrgyz children who are still waiting to be with their forever families. We showed so much support that she responded! Check it out here.

5) Together we helped raise over $600 for Haitian Roots, $2 at a time.  How?  Simply by commenting on the SixSeeds blog!  Haven’t done this yet?  There’s still time.  Click here to raise $2 for Haitian Roots by reading the blog and commenting.

6) By suggesting to your friends that they should ‘Like’ Joint Council on Facebook, we expanded our community by 87 people!

7) Thanks to your social networking, our photo contest is off to a great start!  There’s been a record amount of submissions so far!  To learn how to submit photos, click here.

8.) With your help we’ve raised over $5,285 which will be used to  to continue our efforts to ensure more children live in permanency, safety and love!  Haven’t donated yet?  Click here to do so.


9) Be The Answer shirts are being worn by fathers, mothers, children, and child advocates in states all across the USA.  Purchasers of these shirts are showing their Be The Answer pride from the California coast all the way to New York City!  Want a t-shirt?  Check them out here.

10) Joint Council received over 95 stories for the 30-Day Challenge!  Sixty of these stories were viewed over 17,000 times on our blog.  Together, we raised awareness.  Together, we have shown the face of children who found a family through adoption.  Together, we gave voice to children who wait alone. Together, We Are The Answer!

Although the 30-Day Challenge will end, the needs of children will not.  So what’s next?  Here’s a quick highlight of what we already have planned for December…

1)      A $20,000 matching grant for every donation made in December.  Your end of year tax-deductable donation will go twice as far in December!  More details coming soon…

2)      A blog post from Joint Council’s President & CEO regarding his recent child advocacy trip to Russia.

3)      Joint Council advocacy trip to Ethiopia, with daily blog posts and updates from our travels!

4)      Rebecca will be working with orphans at TLC in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Stay tuned for her posts and video blogs!

And this is just the start…check out our blog throughout December to see what we as a community are doing and how you can join in!  Because as you know, Being the Answer for Children doesn’t end in November – it’s a year round commitment! Don’t forget to read the final 2 stories of November.

As always, thank you for your continued participation and support of Joint Council and the children we all serve!

The Answer for Kenny and Be The Answer for Emir

17 11 2010

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

Brotherly Love

When a family is formed by adoption, there is a greater understanding of what “family” really means.   Adoptive families recognize that our children do not come to us as blank slates, and we understand that the specter of an unknown birth family will be adopted right along with the child coming home.  What we often fail to acknowledge, is the third family …the orphanage family.

Our son Kenny joined our family 3 ½ years ago from an orphanage in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  He was 8 years old and although had the stature of a 5 year old,he had the confidence of a 30 year old. While there, we were able to visit with 2 of his best friends  and as we were leaving the building I will never forget him shouting up to his friends who were leaning out a window to wave good bye, “Tell Emir good bye!”.  I inquired through our interpreter who Emir was, and discovered that Emir was part of a foursome that consisted of the two boys we had just left and Kenny.  All had cleft lip or facial deformities, and they had formed a union of sorts, which created a bond of brotherhood. It was this bond that provided a sense of family in an institutional setting that certainly did nothing to provide that sort of connection. We quickly came to realize, this was Kenny’s first true family.

We later learned that Emir had recently been moved to another orphanage, thus preventing Kenny from saying good bye in person.  On our adoption trip we had the incredible good fortune to cross paths with an Australian couple living in Bishkek whom we met at a church service. They were looking to adopt a child themselves.  We got the wonderful news (months down the road) that after our conversation they met Kenny’s two buddies and indeed proceeded to adopt them.  We continue to remain connected with this family. The joy in Kenny’s voice as he spoke with them (just this past week) on the phone was obvious.  The boys shared about their life experiences in their new families, they spoke about school and activities, and they talked about their missing “brother”, Emir, who unfortunately, was still left behind.

Sadly, Emir has a family waiting for him, a wonderful, lively, perfectly suited family who has waited for years to bring him home.  Political upheaval and constantly changing officials have left Emir in limbo.  This child is growing older by the day, his cleft needs are not being met, and more importantly, his soul remains filled with sorrow.  Not only is Emir being kept from the family who longs to bring him home, but he has had his first “family” seperated from him through adoption…his “brothers” are happily settled in families of their own and are able to remain connected while Emir has no one to tuck him in at night, no one to teach him how to ride a bike, no one to provide the kind of total commitment and love that every child deserves.

Our son Kenny came to us with an open heart, ready to receive love.  He has flourished despite developmental and academic delays.  He is treasured as a member of his family which consists of 4 other brothers and sisters adopted from Kazakhstan.  His cleft needs are being met, but more importantly, his soul needs are being met.  As we think back to the Kenny we first met…the one who at 8 years old had never turned on a light switch before and had never touched a man’s face before and felt a rough, whiskered cheek…we wish these same kind of firsts for Emir.

Family…it is a complex series of ties and connections.  We have come to realize through adoption that our family resides not just under our roof, but in our hearts as well.  One piece of our extended family is still not yet safe.  We will only know true peace when the last of the brothers is united with his forever family.  Until that day comes, we continue to pray that one day another phone call will come, and Emir’s cheery voice greets us on the other end.  We remain ever hopeful that eventually all 4 brothers can know that no one is left behind.


Kenny has An Answer and while he flourishes in a family-Emir is still waiting. Be The Answer in style by purchasing one of the many great t-shirts on our “Be The Answer” apparel site.  100% of the profit from these shirts goes to help more children, like Emir to  have a home and family to call their own.  To check out all of Joint Council’s shirts, click here.

The Answer for Josie

13 11 2010

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

Forever and ever changed . . . yes, that is the position we find ourselves in. The Nelson six pack became the Nelson variety pack and we find ourselves forever changed.
In January of 2006 my husband and I took our four kids over to Kenya to volunteer in an orphanage with the hopes of showing our children that there is a big world out there that exists beyond the riches of America. We spent three months volunteering in a local Nairobi orphanage with no intentions of adopting and big plans to open our arms wide and love on these kids who innocently find themselves trapped within the quagmires of a children’s institution. Success. Total victory. We all fell in love with the idea and knew that God had called us to adopt.

We returned later that year, on Christmas Day, to adopt two orphaned Kenyan girls. After a disappointment with one little angel (whom you can read about here) the Lord surprised us with Josie. Meeting Josie is a special story in itself. . . a story worth sharing. I actually joined my friend on a visit to an orphanage because she wanted to expose her only child to babies. Well, an orphanage is a great place for that. That’s for sure. Walking into the building was an emotional experience, for me, as I was grieving the loss of the little girl who we thought was going to be part of our family. Inward turmoil was swallowing me up. The sight of all the babies was both depressing and overwhelming. While fighting the tears I kept hearing a little girl crying. Determined to ignore her because I wasn’t open, at that moment, to the idea of exposing my heart to an infant and risk being hurt again, I cranked my neck in the opposite direction of her plight for help. My heels were dug in. However, little did I know, my strong willed daughter was going to keep calling for me. Josie was lying on a mat crying continuously . . . she needed to be burped and she wasn’t going to give up. We wordlessly battled against each others will. Needless to say, but I am so grateful – she won. I picked up that nine pound angel and she proceeded to empty the entire contents of her stomach on me and then greeted me with a huge grin. Her beautiful, toothless smile captured my heart and our lives have never been the same. Forever changed.
When I returned to the townhouse we had rented (Kenya requires a year in country stay to adopt) I asked my husband to step outside. He looked into my eyes and knew something very incredible had happened. I asked him if he would be willing to jump in a cab and take a trip to meet the child I believed God was giving us to adopt. He was a bit confused as two hours earlier we were not sure what direction our family was to go in after facing a closed door with Mercy. After explaining the story to my husband he said, “Sure, I’m open. Can we go see her?” Together we went back to the orphanage to see “Baby C.” When the director or the orphanage brought her out the myth that a four month old can’t smile was forever squashed. Former Baby C, now Josie, looked into my husband’s eyes and threw that same irresistible smile at him and we held each other crying and thanking God at the same time. What a wonderful feeling to feel that perfect peace that passes all understanding. We both knew that Josie was ours.
That February day in 2007 has been deeply imprinted into our lives. It is now 2010 and we are getting ready to celebrate Josie’s fourth birthday in October. Our variety pack family strongly supports and encourages adoption. One family cannot change the whole world but one family can certainly change the whole world for one child. Josie is a happy, well adjusted four year old who loves life. She adores her four teenage siblings and is quick to say she hates the word college. Having to say good-bye
to two siblings was heart-wrenching for her. It is incredible to watch and listen to her tote a cell phone around talking to them like she’s a little adult. Yes, I’ll say it again, we are forever changed.

This was The Answer for Josie, Be The Answer for another child today by buying an adoption book (Click the link for a list of recommendation) and donate it to your local library to raise awareness about adoption in your community!

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.

The 30 Day Challenge!

31 10 2010

I’d like to introduce you to someone…She’s very special to me.  In so many ways she is the catalyst for who I am today.  She single handedly changed the course of my life.  The first time I held her in my arms I was frozen with fear – afraid I might just break her. She was so fragile, so limp, so weak.  Today, however, she is at peace.  Her name is Mbali.  She is the inspiration, foundation, and motivation for every Joint Council monthly newsletter, entitled Mbali’s Messages ( click here to subscribe now ).  Every month, at the bottom of each newsletter you can find these simple words about Mbali and her Message “Mbali was a four-month-old abandoned HIV+ orphan in South Africa who passed away in the arms of a Joint Council staff member.” That staff member was me.  For many years, Mbali’s memory was held only in my heart.  Through Mbali’s Message, Joint Council honors Mbali’s short life and the millions of orphaned children who die everyday without a family or a loving embrace. Our goal at Joint Council is to provide a vision of hope that children will never again pass from this world parentless and alone.

Since we started Mbali’s Message two years ago, Mbali has given a quiet but constant voice to the children of the world that I, Joint Council, and the global community have failed –  those who pass alone without the love of a family.  But today, and every day in the month of November, Mbali ‘s voice AND the voices of the thousands of children like her will be heard loud and clear.  As part of National Adoption Month Joint Council will be leading an advocacy campaign,  entitled “I am the Answer…” .  Everyday this month we will honor the children who have passed alone, who suffer alone today, and who have not yet found an answer with the love of a family.  We ask you to Be The Answer for them.  It’s easy to Be The Answer for a child.  Give 5 to 15 minutes of your day – every day in the month of November.

Today, I ask you to make the 30 day commitment to honor 30 children who are alone, without families, and without an answer.   I ask you to spend every day this month spreading Mbali’s Message of hope – may children never again pass from this world parentless and alone.

So, where do we start?

Starting tomorrow, Monday, go to our blog at www.betheanswerforchildren.wordpress.com where you will hear more about Mbali through my eyes and from my heart.   We will also share with you a message of hope –the message of a child who has what Mbali never had – a family.   There you will find the first task of the “I am the Answer” 30 day challenge.  Complete the task.

Then, on Tuesday, do the same thing.  Check out our blog.  Hear the story of another child we all failed, the story of a lucky child who received a family, and what you can do to give more children an answer.

Then, for the rest of the days in November do the same thing. Read the stories, complete the tasks, and spread the message that You are and can be the answer.

Congress to Clinton, Nepalitano and Shah – Protect the Children

21 01 2010

Moments ago, 50 Members of Congress published a letter requesting aid and security to Haitian children being adopted by U.S. families and to all orphans.  The letter states that the approval of humanitarian aid is only a first step in helping the children.  The full letter can be found here.

Thanks again to those Members of Congress who care enough to use their considerable influence to provide critically needed assistance to the children of Haiti.

No More Private Planes

21 01 2010

Through our communications with the Department of Homeland Security, please be advised that private planes will not be permitted to transport those orphaned children being adopted by US. families to the U.S.

Those who can provide transport must coordinate with US Department of Homeland Security.

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