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THERE’S A BABY WAITING FOR YOU! WESTCHESTER PARENTS ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION

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by Barbara Cole Feiden

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“My daughter is Chinese. She will grow up as an American but her heritage is Chinese and I want her to remember that.” These are the words of Marjorie Berman of Ardsley, the adoptive mother of four-year-old Sophia Kosman, who left her native country at the age of 13 months. Like most Americans who have adopted children from other countries in recent years, Berman is determined that her daughter will be proud of the place where she was born.

Last year, there were over 19,000 inter-country adoptions — about 4,681 from China, 4,279 from Russia, 1,870 from South Korea and 1,609 from Guatemala. “Having our children learn about Chinese culture is important to most of the adoptive parents,” says Marjorie Berman. “We feel that we’ve taken them from their homeland; they haven’t chosen to leave. We want to give them information about what they’ve left behind and, in time, they’ll decide how much of it they want.” Berman’s daughter, Sophia, has a busy schedule of activities, many of them organized through Families with Children from China (FCC). FCC is a not-for-profit organization with chapters across the country and about 1,000 members in the greater New York area. Its philosophy, according to Berman, “is to imbue the kids with a sense of pride, interest and knowledge about their culture and to develop a community of people who are in similar situations. “We celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival and, of course, Chinese New Year,” Berman continues. Sophia also takes dancing lessons at the New York Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown. Many of the Westchester area Chinese adoptees of pre-school and kindergarten age participate in Rising Star, a Play-and-Learn program held on Saturdays at Hastings High School. Classes are sponsored by Inter-Village Continuing Education and include play, music, language and food. Mary O’Neill and Dennis Deegan of Hartsdale have gone to China twice on Mother’s Day. The first time they came back with Molly, then six months and now six years old; the second time they returned with seven-month-old Claire, who is now four. O’Neill and Deegan have introduced their children to Chinese culture and anticipate enrolling them in music and dance classes when they’re a little older. “China doesn’t give up her children lightly,” says Deegan. “They check your social worker, your taxes, your local government. They fingerprint you, too.” “You travel 18,000 miles,” adds wife O’Neill. “It’s a leap of faith.” Clearly both parents believe their faith paid off. “The hand of God gave us these children,” says Deegan.

“It’s a surreal moment when they put your baby in your arms,” says Barbara Salvesen of Nanuet, co-chair of Families with Children from China in Rockland County. She runs monthly meetings on adoption and serves as the unofficial contact person for Westchester and vicinity. Salvesen and her husband, Ed, are the parents of Sabrina Li Li, now eight, but was six months old when she was adopted, and Katari Ming, adopted at 15 months and now six years of age. “Heritage is important,” Salvesen says. “We celebrate a lot of Chinese holidays.” A believer in what she calls “destiny, Karma, what-have-you,” Salvesen says to new parents: “This is the child you were intended to have.” And little Sabrina Salvesen tells her parents, “I’m Chinese in my face, and my mommy is Chinese in her heart.”

Jackie Lawson of Kingston, who works part-time as a mortgage officer, is the mother of two adopted children from the former Soviet Union, and an active volunteer for Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA). “My husband, David, and I want our children, Alex and Peter, to know about their heritage,” she says. “We have Russian story books, Russian counting books, and Russian cook books, and we tell them Russian fairy tales. We take them to Russian holiday parties and picnics at Kingsland Point Park.” The Lawsons also attend lectures at the YMHA in Riverdale on choosing an adoption agency, traveling to Russia to adopt, and learning to be parents. “Many of the children who are now here came from the same orphanage, and we want them to stay in touch,” Lawson says. “We’ll take them back for a visit when they’re older.” FRUA brings Russian children who are available for adoption to the United States for a three-week stay with prospective parents. They must return to Russia, but their hosts frequently follow them to complete the adoption procedures and bring their new children home. Jackie Lawson believes that the vast majority of the Russian children are healthy and resilient. “In spite of occasional negative press,” she says, “very few are ill.”

The mechanics of adopting a baby from Guatemala are simpler than from almost any other country. Guatemala City is just two hours from Miami; only one parent must travel there to pick up the child, and the stay is only two to three days. Most of the paperwork can be completed in the United States. “There are few restrictions on who is eligible to adopt in Guatemala,” says Catherine Godbille-Koechlin of South Salem, a volunteer with European Adoption Consultants (EAC). Married couples and single women 25 or older and families who already have children are acceptable. Most of the babies are infants. UNICEF has expressed concern that some Guatemalan mothers have been pressured to abandon or sell their children. Godbille-Koechlin says that EAC checks thoroughly to ensure that children have been properly and legally relinquished. EAC holds an annual get-together at its national headquarters in Ohio for all of its adoptive families. More than 2,000 people from across the country attended this past summer, and many of the children played with youngsters they had last seen in foreign orphanages. Catherine Godbille-Koechlin and her husband, Nicolas, are the parents of two boys adopted from Russia last year. “At that time, only one visit for each of our children was required,” recalls Godbille-Koechlin. “Their laws have changed and now it’s necessary to travel twice.” Godbille-Koechlin started as an EAC volunteer after her second adoption and now holds regular seminars for prospective parents in Katonah and in New York City.

November is Adoption Awareness month. Here’s a quick summary of some of the things you should know: • Be sure the agency you select has children available from the country in which you’re interested. • Be prepared for a home study and a lot of paperwork. Eligibility requirements vary from country to country and are subject to change. In almost every case, you’ll need to travel to your child’s country. • Older children and children with disabilities are frequently available more quickly. • Costs of adoption vary, but you should count on spending about $20,000, plus travel. You may be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit. • And most important: children are waiting and, if you persist, one of them will be yours.

Resources for Adoption: • Children’s Hope International, 240 West 14th St., NYC. 10011. (664) 638-1967. [email protected] www.ChildrensHope.com.

• European Adoption Consultants, Catherine Godbille-Koechlin, 161 West 86th St., NYC. 10024. (212) 874-2577, 1-800-533-0098. [email protected] www.eaci.com.

• Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption, Jackie Lawson, (845) 338-0127. [email protected] www.FRUA.ORG

• Families with Children from China, 380 Lexington Ave., NYC. 10168. (212) 579-0115. [email protected] www.fccny.org. Rockland County chapter, Barbara Salvesen, co-chair, (845) 623-5377

• Family Service of Westchester, 1 Summit Ave., White Plains, NY. 10606. (914) 948-8004. www.FSW.ORG

• Holt International Children’s Services, P.O. Box 2880, Eugene, OR 97402. (541) 687-2202. [email protected] www. Holtintl.org.

• Spence-Chapin, 6 East 94th St., NYC. 10128. (212) 369-0300. [email protected] www.spence-chapin.org.

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Heritage Travel and Camps

Here are some organizations which specialize in arranging heritage trips for adoptive parents and their children, and summer heritage camps whose mission is to help children learn more about their culture of origin. Though most of the camps are day camps in other parts of the country, families from all over are welcome. It’s not too early to start thinking about your plans for next summer!

Heritage Travel —The Ties Program (800) 398-3676, www.adoptivefamilytravel.com. The Ties Program arranges trips for adoptive families traveling to their child’s country of origin to learn about the culture and reconnect with people related to their adoption. Trips are available to Korea, Peru, Paraguay, Chile, India and Guatemala. Trips to China and Romania are in the works. For information on travel to Eastern Europe or Central and South America, ask for Bea Evans. For Asia and other programs, contact Becca Piper.

—OCDF (Our Chinese Daughters Foundation) China Tours P.O. Box 1243, Bloomington, IL 61702-1232, www.ocdf.org The Our Chinese Daughters Foundation organized its China Tours program to arrange specialty and holiday tours, travel plans for adoption city visits, and reunion programs for adoption groups. It also runs Chinese Culture Camps for families. For more information, contact Dr. Jane Liedtke, CEO and founder, at [email protected]

—Lotus Travel Inc. (800) 956-8873 Lotus Travel arranges specialized tours for families traveling to complete adoptions in Cambodia, China, Korea, India, the Philippines, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. The staff boasts an intimate knowledge and understanding of China and Southeast Asia travel.

Heritage Camps —Families for International Children (FFIC) Heritage Camp Heritage Camp is a four-day day camp held in June and organized by FFIC in the west Michigan area. Children from pre-school to teens can meet other adopted children and learn more about the heritage of their birth countries through crafts, cooking, music, games and other culture-specific activities, as well as multicultural activities. Children can participate in the African American Camp, Chinese Camp, Eastern European Camp, Korean Camp, Latin American Camp, Multi-Heritage Preschool Camp, or Multi-Heritage Teen Camp. Visit the website at www.fficgr.org to contact directors Anne Dierker and Jo Taylor.

—Colorado Heritage Camps 2052 Elm St., Denver, CO 80207 Colorado Heritage Camp in Denver annually sponsors the following heritage camps: African American, Cambodian, East Indian, Korean, Russian, Chinese, Filipino, Latin American, and Vietnamese. Each camp encourages the entire family to discover the heritage of their adopted child by providing activities and workshops in music, dance, arts and crafts, cooking, costumes, customs, rituals, games and more. Contact Pam Sweester at [email protected] or visit the website at www.heritagecamps.org.

—Mis Amigos Culture Day Camp LAPA P.O. Box 4403, Silver Spring, MD 20914-4403 Mis Amigos Culture Day Camp is run by LAPA.NCR (Latin American Parents Association, National Capital Region chapter) in Silver Spring, MD. Children of Latino heritage in first through ninth grade and their siblings can celebrate their birth culture through art, dance, music and Spanish or Latin culture, and meet other Latino adopted children. Visit www.lapancr.org/misamigos.htm. Contact Sydney Jacobs at [email protected] for more information.

—Haiti Camp Haiti in Our Hearts is a Minnesota non-profit organization of families with children adopted from Haiti. The annual Haiti Camp gives families an opportunity to share their experiences as adoptive families, provide mutual support through discussions, learn about Haiti, and make new friends. Each year there are different activities as well as information on hair care, attachment disorder, dealing with racism, etc. Children learn about Haitian food, art, music and language. Contact Tim Herman at (651) 774-8564 or [email protected], or visit www.haitiinourhearts.com.

—Korean Culture Camp Korean Culture Camp in Avon, OH, is for children ages 7 to 17 adopted from Korea. Its purpose is to develop a positive self-image among Korean-American children. Through games, crafts and music, foods, language and the history of Korea, campers develop a greater appreciation of their cultural heritage. Culture Camp also has activities such as swimming, hiking, sports and a Saturday night campfire. The staff of adult Korean–American counselors provides many Korean adoptees an opportunity to learn from adult role models and to make friends with other adopted kids. Contact John Seavers at [email protected]

—Camp Mabuhay c/o D. Hartman, 716 North Emerson St., Arlington, VA 22203 Camp Mabuhay in Columbia, MD, is a family experience for families who have adopted Filipino children. The local Filipino community in the Baltimore-Washington area helps with all aspects of the camp, from planning, serving as counselors and storytellers, to teaching the kids how to cook Filipino treats. Contact Deborah Hartman at [email protected] or visit www.eqsystems.com/djh/mabuhay.

Other Resources: • Go to www.adoptioncamps.com for a state by state listing of heritage camps. • Visit www.fcc-in.org and go to Calendar of Events for a downloadable list of Chinese Culture camps and China travel tours. — Renee Cho

 


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