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Return Trip to India Booked!

It’s been a thrilling week – I’ve finally booked my next trip to India! Tickets are confirmed for November – I will be arriving on November 1, and staying until December 6. And not only me, but the best of the group is reuniting. My mother, Sandy, and two of my best friends, Jody and Nancy, are joining me from our last trip in 2012. Also, my daughter is finally returning to India with me, after 8 long years!

My boyfriend Keith is going with me, Nancy is also taking her daughter, and one of my best friends – with whom I shared my first trip to India back in 2005 – Kathleen, is going!

With all these wonderful friends and family, who love these kids and India as I do and continue to support them, the trip can’t be anything but wonderful.

November still seems a long way off, and now that the tickets are booked I can hardly wait to get back to see Santosh (with whom I Skype regularly), Papa and Mama, Daina and all the children at Choudwar.

We will, as always, be collecting donations between now and then. I have set up an automatic monthly deposit into the donation fund, and several others are doing this as well. All donations, like the times before, will be used on the ground in India to buy needed supplies for the kids such as books, clothing, living supplies, mosquito netting, etc.

Every little bit helps! From $5 even, it’s amazing how it all adds up and what a long way it can go.

As always, I appreciate your support. Donate here if you feel so compelled!

Dreaming of India,


Making the Holidays Happy for Children

Papa with his children

Papa with his children

As we become immersed in the winter holiday season, my thoughts always jump across the ocean to my kids in India. It was just a year ago, November 2012, when I was there with them. It seems a lifetime ago, and so far away. I wish I could visit them many times a year; I miss them so much, and think of them constantly. It was these children who inspired me to write this book about them – their plight and their lives and their promise.

These kids first came into my life in 2005. From that first night I was there, they stole my heart with their laughter, their joy, their mischief, their love – they asked nothing from me, except to be there with them. The Sahoos, who run the orphanage and have dedicated their entire lives to these children, have become my Indian Papa and Mama. They are simply amazing. And in all these years, all my visits, they have never once asked for money from me. Not a dime. I have raised money and donated and bought things of course, but they have never asked anything of me except my love. Not once.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Over the past nearly nine years I have watched these kids grow, from toddlers into adolescents; from adolescents into young men and women. Some, like Santa and Rashikanta, have left the orphanage and gone on to college and work. My Santosh, who was taken out of the orphanage several years ago by his father, lives two hours away in Konark where he has a good life with a wonderful guardian, Pravat, and works in the market at the Sun Temple. He’s a young man now, and we keep up constantly on the internet and via skype calls. He is my son – only one who is too far away.


With my mother and Santosh at the Konark Sun Temple, November 2012

I will never turn my back on any of them. Too many people have already.

First, for many of them, were their own parents. Although there are true orphans here, whose parents have died – far too many of them are orphaned by poverty, given up by their parents, runaways, taken from abusive homes or even worse. Some were simply abandoned at birth, or victims of child labor.

They have also been abandoned by others who have come through and helped for a while, or promised help, only to leave along the way for various reasons. A lack of agreement over where the money is to be spent, a lack of understanding between American board members and Indian orphanage directors. Some people simply fade away and lose interest, or give up because everything doesn’t go exactly how and when they want it to. These kids get abandoned over and over, in different ways.

As long as I am alive, I will never be one of them.

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Papa Sahoo takes nothing. You should see where he lives – at the orphanage with the children, in two simple rooms. He has very little. He wants and needs very little. Everything is for the kids; they are healthy, well fed, well dressed, and happy as one big family. Papa is someone I admire. He’s not perfect – I wish the kids could go to a better school, could learn English better. But they do what they can with what they have. And I will do everything in my power to add to that, to make their lives better and increase the possibility of a good future for these kids.

I love them all from the bottom of my heart. I won’t be one of those who abandon them yet again.

btn_donateCC_LGYou can help – I’m raising money for my next visit, in 2014, to collect and take to spend on needed items such as books, clothing, school tuition, etc. We are also trying to start a longterm foundation fund that will provide a resource to help pay for better schools and college for the kids who are good students and pursue their education. Your donation will be taken and applied 100% to the Servants of India Society home where these children live, in Choudwar Odisha.

A little bit goes a long way in India. These kids deserve a future. Thank you, and happy holidays.

Lost and Found: Adoption in India

One of questions I am most often asked about the topic of the “invisible children” of India – the orphaned, the abandoned, the runaways and throwaways – is something along the lines of, “Why aren’t more children adopted?” or “Are any of these kids ever adopted?

In India (as in many other places), the issue of adoption is a complex one. Corruption, particularly in international adoptions, is rampant – and not just within India, but outside its borders in foreign “adoption agencies” as well. Government regulations and oversight, issues about parental relinquishment and what children are really available for adoption, and the legal process are all involved and complicated. There are far fewer domestic adoptions within the country than one would think – fewer than five thousand a year – while millions of children languish in orphanages and more than four thousand potential adoptive parents wait on lists in both Delhi and Calcutta alone.

I recently published an article on Blog Critics, about the myriad issues surrounding adoption in India. If you are interested in this subject and some of the background issues surrounding it, you might like to take a look. An excerpt is below:

In March 2007 I was in Northeastern India, on my third trip to the country and in the midst of writing my book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. I had first come to India two years prior to volunteer in an orphanage; the beautiful, parentless children had touched my life so profoundly that I had been inspired to write a book about their lives. Some of them had been orphaned by death, but far more had been orphaned simply by poverty: their parents were too poor to feed them. In a way this seemed a greater tragedy, and I set about trying to discover why more of these children weren’t adopted.

It turned out to be an extremely complicated subject in India. Many of the children are never eligible for adoption, because they have not been truly orphaned or the requisite relinquishment forms have not been signed. Although there is a four-year waiting list for domestic adoption in both Delhi and Calcutta, the laws and regulations are exceedingly burdensome and not easily navigable, even for government and social workers. And the biggest hurdle of all seems to be corruption; it is rampant in this country, particularly when it comes to international adoption. In my research and interviewing process for the book, I heard story after story about children who weren’t really available for adoption, being taken from their parents and sold to wealthy, unsuspecting foreigners; children whose adoption papers were forged; orphanages where the children available for adoption were fed and healthy, while those unavailable were malnourished and abused.”

Continue reading the article here.

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Disastrous Adoptions

Mario Tama/Getty Images, courtesy NY Times

In recent days there has been a lot of controversy and concern over children in Haiti, in the aftermath of the country’s devastating earthquake. Questions about orphans, what children are really orphans, parents relinquishing their children, international volunteer or aid groups and child trafficking abound.

This recalls very similar, and similarly disturbing, activities and concerns after the horrific tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean in 2004. In India, many children were lost from remaining parents or other family members, and subsequently ripped from the villages and homes they had known all their lives by “well-meaning” aid groups who rushed too quickly to place them into orphanages or foster/adoptive care. Far worse were the groups who knowingly took children, capitalizing on both the disaster as well as the poverty and illiteracy of many parents in places struck the hardest. In subsequent months, many reports of child trafficking and children being “sold” into illegal adoptions with false paperwork abounded.

Detained Americans/Photo AP

Today with Haiti, this begs the question of people can learn from mistakes of the past. Can we use the lessons of the 2004 tsunami to protect Haiti’s children better? The Baptist missionaries charged with trying to take 33 children out of the country without permission or proper paperwork were not only acting illegally, but clearly rushing into trying to “save” these children without any real thought, investigation or planning as to what the familial status of the children really was, and how ripping them from their home would traumatize them. Some are calling the church group traffickers, others believe they acted with good intentions but improperly.

“We are watching this with a great deal of discomfort,” said Christopher de Bono of UNICEF. “There are at least tens of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands, of children in Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, who currently need urgent help. And they need that help in Haiti. They don’t need to be plucked out of the country and taken away,” he said.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0102/LeMoyne

A spokesman for Save the Children agrees. “The possibility of a child being mistakenly labelled as an orphan during this time is incredibly high,” he warned. “Only once the family tracing effort has been exhausted and it is determined that children cannot be reunited, and after proper screening, should international adoption be considered.”

It’s clear from the lessons of India that removing children, particularly with plans to adopt them internationally, should be the last recourse and done only after extensive due diligence. In the confusion of such a disaster, especially, conditions are ripe for child trafficking and corruption. Even without a disaster in place, reports worldwide exist about children being kidnapped, stolen, lured, parents being tricked into relinquishing, illegal adoption schemes…far, far too many such reports.

While researching and writing this book, I came across story after story of illegal adoptions; children who were never relinquished or placed for adoption by their poor parents, who were instead taken advantage of by people who forged papers and sold them to adoptive parents, who were mostly blissfully ignorant of what was happening.

The Smolin Family

Stories like that of David and Desiree Smolin. In 1998, the Smolins were ecstatic to be adopting two sisters from India. But the couple was struck immediately by how traumatized and upset the girls were when they arrived at their new home in Atlanta. “We expected that there would be some shyness at the beginning, but we expected that they would be happy to see us at least after they got over the initial shock of being here,” Desiree Smolin says.

The adoption agency described Manjula and Bhagya as sisters who had been waiting a long time for a home. But the girls insisted they had been stolen — kidnapped from their mother. The Indian mother was poor. She placed the children temporarily in an orphanage, and the orphanage essentially sold them. You can read more about their story as it was featured on NPR.

Manjula Smolin with her birth mother, December 2005 in Andhra Pradesh, India.

This set off a journey that continued for years, where the Smolins attempted to find the girls’ mother – as well as learn what had gone wrong and how such a thing could happen. In 2005, David Smolin returned to India with Manjula and Bhagya, where they were reunited with their birth mother. The couple also became somewhat of experts on international adoption, speaking freely and trying to advocate for safer international adoption practices. David is a professor at Cumberland Law School and has written extensively about adoption law. Desiree started a blog called Fleas Biting, to tell their story and try to prevent such traumas from happening to other children. The couple also started a website for ethical adoption.

David also weighs in on the debate over Haiti’s children. The New York Times put the issue front and center in its February 1 “Room for Debate.” In the debate, David says:

Views of intercountry adoption vacillate between the positive, in which it is portrayed as a humanitarian act of goodwill benefiting both child and adoptive family, and the negative, in which it is portrayed either as child trafficking or as a neo-colonialist child grab.

The American mind has been shaped by the positive vision of families saving bereft orphans from a grim life in a Dickens-esque institution or from death on the streets. Increasingly, however, adoption trafficking reports from Cambodia, China, Vietnam, India, Guatemala, Nepal and Samoa are substantiating the negative view.

Adoption trafficking has continued because the adoption community has chosen to minimize the problems, rather than fix the system. Since you can’t fix what you will not admit is broken, there is a perverse tendency to repeat, over and over again, the same mistakes in intercountry adoption.

Trying to move children quickly out of a country in the aftermath of a disaster, particularly for adoption, is one of the old mistakes. International organizations have warned against it in past disasters such as the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004, just as they are doing so currently for Haiti.”

Read the entire debate here, where others weigh in on both sides of the issue.

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