Of Teddy Bears and Travel

(In “What do you do, after a coup?” I told you about some of the wrestling that adoptive parents were doing with what was going on and the desire to do something because we felt so helpless.  The story continues….)

So, last time, I told you about how we, as a collective group of concerned parents, had an overwhelming desire to do “something.” And I told you how we had three goals – mainly focused around creating awareness of our children and the fact that they were “stuck” in Haiti because of the coup. But how do we do that?

I don’t remember whose idea it was (wasn’t mine) and I don’t remember how we came to it but, as a group, we decided that what we’d do is three things:
1. Collect teddy bears to represent as many of the kids in Haiti who have adoptions in process and are stuck because of the coup.
2. Get their stories not only out in the local press but in front of people in the government.
3. Talk to people in the government to express our concerns about the status of our children and their adoptions.

So we initiated Project Bear-a-van. (I know, corny name) –  Starting in Washington State, we began a relay/collection of teddy bears – each one representing a child. It was a joint effort and it wasn’t a matter of someone going all the way to Washington DC. We worked in shifts and kept picking up more and more teddy bears.

My family and I joined up with the Bear-a-van in Indiana and we went with others and took them all to Washington DC. Do I remember how many bears we had? No, I don’t. At that point, we were too busy coordinating everything and trying to make a difference, that we didn’t pay attention to counting how many. All I know is there were a LOT of them.

And every single one of them had a picture of a Haitian child tied around its neck or arm or somewhere. The name of that Haitian child was written on the back of the picture.

The bears represented a child. Every single one of them.

The bears also represented a family. A family that was missing a child. A family that was worried about a child.

What did we do when we got to Washington? We had three things we wanted to accomplish while we were there:
1. We held a peaceful gathering of all of the teddy bears at the foot of one of the smaller statues around the Capital. Which one, to be honest with you, I don’t remember. But I do know that members of both the House and Senate who had families in their district who were impacted by the coup were invited to come to meet us and talk to us.
2. We set up meetings with a number of elected officials staff where we could meet with them and talk personally about the situation, our concerns and what we wanted them to support. I know there were other meetings going on as well, but I was involved in meetings with Sen. Arlen Specter’s staff, Sen. Rick Santorum’s staff, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin from Michigan, Representative Pete Hoekstra’s staff as well. We weren’t able to actually meet with the Senators due to scheduling issues and the short time schedule we were on.
3. We had the opportunity to make a formal presentation of our “case” for humanitarian parole in one of the Senate Briefing rooms. We brought all of the teddy bears into the Senate Briefing room – so it was quite literally a standing room only crowd. There were some media people there, there were quite a few staffers there. I think we even had a couple of Senators there.

The Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption was a very big help in setting all of this up. She helped reserve the room, used her network to communicate the details to the Congress members. She even helped proofread and adjust the presentation that we gave to the attendees.

I will never forget what she said to me after the event was over, “Tom, I attend a lot of briefings and meetings in these type of rooms. Some of them are even about some very emotional subjects. But nothing, nothing I’ve been at prepared me for the emotional impact of coming into this Senate briefing room and seeing it overflowing with teddy bears. On the spare chairs, lining the walls, on the tables, they were everywhere! And each one of them not only represented a child but had the picture of a child, a face, a name to go with it. I lost it and just started bawling.”

And I still get choked up 14 years later when I think of what Kerri told me.

So our moment in Washington, was it successful?

This post has gone on long enough – I’ll tell you next time.

Tom

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