June 25, 2004 – a big day in our family’s life. A huge day in the lives of our two youngest. That’s the day that they left GLA and flew to America to start their new lives as Vanderwells.
A couple of things that “stick out” in my memory of that day……..
Watching the kids looking out the window as we drove down the mountain to the airport. The look of awe on their faces showed that while they had been out of the orphanage, they hadn’t been out much.
Waiting in line at the airport – white parents with black kids. Our first experience in standing out. Not good, not bad, just standing out.
The looks of the fellow passengers – the older Haitian lady on our plane who looked at us and said, very quietly and sincerely, “Thank you.”
The stares that we got when our daughter screamed the whole flight (double ear infections will do that to you).
The moment when the wheels touched down in Miami and our kids became US Citizens…….
Watching planes take off in Miami and watching my son look at every one of them, point and say, “Gwo” with a sense of awe and wonder. (Gwo is big in Creole).
Coming around the corner of the walkway at the airport to a crowd of people all waiting for us to come home. Sharing that moment with friends and family was truly special.
Walking out of the airport, hand in hand with my 3 1/2 year old son while he insisted on pulling the carryon suitcase.
Carrying Abby and Isaac in the house (sound asleep) watching their homecoming on the local news and then bringing them upstairs and putting them to bed.
In their own bed.
In their new house.
With their new family.
As the internet continued to connect people from all over the country, many of us kept asking the question, “What can we do?” We felt so helpless and felt like we needed to do something!
Gradually the picture seemed to come a bit clearer. There’s a term called “Humanitarian Parole” in immigration rules. Basically it means, “Get the kids out of the country and to their new home and finish the paperwork later.
It’s only been used a few times. The Vietnam baby lift is the most common example of when it happened. Little did we know in 2004 that it would end up getting used in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti.
Those of us with children stuck in Haiti gathered together and came up with the idea of doing a “bear a van” and collect Teddy Bears from all over the country to represent the children who were stuck in Haiti. We would then bring all of them to Washington DC and use that as an effort to urge our government to show compassion on the children and the families and grant them humanitarian parole.
It succeeded and it failed.
It succeeded in that we had a large number of people show up and come to Washington to show our government what an impact this coup was having on families from all over the United States. I’ll never forget talking to the chairperson of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and she said to me, “I’ve been in a lot of Senate briefings and I’m very familiar with this room, but when I walked in and saw teddy bears lined up all around the room, on the tables, on the front podium and every single one of them had a picture on it and matched up with a kid in Haiti waiting for their family, I lost it.”
It failed because even though we had the opportunity to talk to a large number of people in Washington, we were not able to get them to change their minds and institute humanitarian parole. But that ended up being ‘okay’ because within 6 weeks, things were pretty back to normal and we only lost about 6 weeks in the process.
The other way that we succeeded is that it gave all of us, as parents, the ability to talk to our children later, tell them the story and explain to them what we did and how we did everything possible to keep them safe and get them home as soon as possible.
Monday morning – the sun comes up. And now what?
The government that was in place on Friday in Haiti is gone. Nothing is the same.
Where is our paperwork?
Who’s in charge of IBESR? (Haitian social services?)
When will the airport open again?
When will the US Embassy open for normal business again?
A lot more questions than answers.
But even with that, an overwhelming believe and understanding that God was in charge and that He had a plan inspite of everything that was happening.
The internet was buzzing and there were people from all over the United States who were in the same spot that we were – with kids stuck in Haiti and a lot more questions than answers.
And that led to discussions. Discussions about Teddy Bears……
I’ll never forget that Sunday morning. We were getting ready for church and the phone rang.
The phone never rings on Sunday mornings with good news.
It was my mom, “Did you watch the news this morning?”
“No, Mom, we don’t usually watch TV before church.” “Turn it to CNN, it sounds like the President of Haiti got kicked out and is fleeing the country!”
So we turned on the TV and watched as they replayed the video of Aristide’s plane taking off. And we wondered what it would all mean. And then we went to church and prayed, prayed for Dixie, prayed for her staff, prayed for our kids.
And then we went home and spent the rest of the day glued to the internet trying to figure out more. We got a number of e-mails from Dixie over the course of the day assuring us that all was well up past Petionville where they were and that everyone was safe.
We also got a couple of e-mails from Dixie that didn’t make us feel very good……
“We can hear gunshots from down the mountain.”
“Our staff that made it to work had to step over dead bodies on their way here.”
And the one that really freaked us out – “They are saying that the mob is heading up the mountain!” (Up towards where my children were!)
To say that it was a very difficult day for all involved would be an understatement.
Thankfully, none of the staff or children at our orphanage were injured or worse.
There are a couple of benefits, I believe, to getting your referral early in the process rather than the way some countries do it where you wait until very close to time to travel. Let me spell them out for you.
Focused prayer – everyone I know who has adopted has prayed fervently for their child(ren) while the process was inching forward. However, I believe that when you can pray for an individual child and their specific needs, it helps. It encourages prayer, it makes the prayer more specific and it has the opportunity to more directly address the needs of the child while they wait.
Making it real – for not only the adoptive family but also for their friends and family, it helps to make the adoption seem more real. When you have a face and a name to go with an “idea” it helps make it more real and therefore helps people accept it, understand it and want to learn more about what it really means.
The other thing that the referral means is that you are entering “The Waiting Time.” When you are preparing your dossier, there’s a lot of stuff you can “do.” You can feel productive.
But now it’s all in other people’s hands. There’s nothing you can do except pray.
And that’s hard.