The Children of Alenah’s Home

Story and photographs by Juliet Ercolano

This summer, I traveled to China for the second time in as many years. My purpose was to volunteer as a temporary “ayi” (caretaker) at Alenah’s Home for a two full weeks alongside my mother. For those of you who don’t know, Alenah’s is a Beijing-based non-profit foster home run by Children’s Hope International to provide between 20 and 30 babies from orphanages all over China with medical care (including surgery) that they need. The children’s medical issues range from cleft lip and palate to heart conditions to small birth anomalies.

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Working at Alenah’s was an incredible experience! My mom and I lived in the foster home and ate most of our meals with the regular workers in the home’s bustling kitchen. (It seems there is always steam coming from the big rice cooker, and vegetables being chopped on the big, round, wooden cutting board.) The meals are prepared by the foster home’s excellent chef, a young man with a beautiful smile and a wonderful way with the children. In fact, “Gege” – “elder brother,” in Mandarin — was an orphan himself, so he has a special bond with Alenah’s children.

The fact that my mom and I knew hardly any Mandarin – she can say a few words, such as “hello,” “I like Chinese food,” and “I love you,” and I have just a year of college Chinese under my belt – did not prevent us from bonding with the children and the staff of 15 devoted ayis who care for them night and day. It’s kind of amazing how much you can communicate with a smile, a touch, and even some energetic pointing!

Juliet

Juliet

As a Chinese adult adoptee working at Alenah’s, I found myself becoming emotional from time to time, no doubt because I could relate in a very special way to each of those babies and children. Twenty years ago, I, too, was an orphan being cared for in an institution, and needing to rely on the kindness of strangers to get my basic needs met. Although it’s certain that the conditions at Alenah’s are far, far better than the conditions of the orphanage I lived in for five months back in 1994, the realization that these babies and children still need “forever families” sometimes brought me to tears.

In the month since I have come home, I can honestly say that I think about the babies and children there multiple times a day, and long to see them again. Fortunately, Alenah’s staff has created a Facebook page, where I can get frequent updates on each of them and see their photographs.

What struck me the most in my time there (other than how hard the staff work every day) is that each baby and child at Alenah’s that I fed, held, read to, played with, helped walk, sat with, or talked to radiated the simple human desire to be loved. It was a true delight getting to know each ones unique personality.

Although I did not spend as much time with the older children – they go out of the foster home to school every day — they remain my biggest concern and worry. Most families who want to adopt prefer the cute babies and toddlers. But what about the children ages 3 to 8, who need families, too?

One boy, in particular, is stuck in my mind and heart. “Tony” (he told us that was his American name!) is 8-years-old and is paralyzed from the waist down after surgery for spina bifida. He can get around just fine in a wheelchair, and enjoys being the fastest and first at things. He loves to play, to read, to listen to and sing music, and is already a gifted visual artist. Though he and I didn’t have much shared language (he knows some very simple English and I know very simple Chinese), we spent hours drawing together and even writing back and forth in my elementary level Chinese. What came through to me, loud and clear, in every interaction with Tony was his intense desire to be loved and to be adopted by a family in the U.S. (Several of Tony’s best friends at Alenah’s have been adopted by Americans, leaving him behind. It is very painful each time.) I worry about this boy aging out of his eligibility to be adopted. He needs a permanent family in order to thrive and explore all his abilities, especially his ability to love and be loved.

"Tony"

“Tony”

Prospective adoptive parents, won’t you please consider bringing one of these “older” children into your home?

Can you find it in your heart to help the children with a donation?

Please consider a one-time donation to Alenah’s, or better yet, a monthly donation (tax-deductible) of $30 or more. Many Americans spend this much a month at Starbucks or buying lunches at work. That dollar a day could make a huge difference to helping offset the expense of running Alenah’s, including paying the staff of warm, wonderful ayis, feeding the children, their medical care costs, and the rent and maintenance of the home itself. Donating is as easy as going to this link, and you will get a receipt to use on your taxes to prove you donated.

Increase of kids in the babybox, same number as always in the garbage | Tales of Wonderlost

by Luanne

Recently, both Kasey and I have posted here about the Korean babybox. A Korean-American adoptee living in Seoul writes the blog Tales of Wonderlost. Thanks to Kasey sharing this post, here’s what this blogger has to say about the subject:

Despite claims that the babybox saves lives, infanticides in Korea are continuing…

Abandonments had been going steadily down for three years before the babybox was created. After the babybox was created, abandonments have gone steadily up. In other words, the babybox encourages abandonment as a legitimate form of child welfare. Women may be pressured into abandoning their child this way by boyfriends or parents…

Despite the fact that there was a small, yet diminishing, child abandonment problem for years and the babybox was made in 2009, we heard nothing from the adoption agencies about this until 2012, when their business became more regulated by the Special Adoption Law.

We did hear about abandonment from the adoption agencies, however, less than two months after the law was implemented. It means that they and their supporters did not wait to see the effect of the law enforcement. Usually in public policy, you have to wait a year in order to evaluate an intervention. Instead, the adoption agencies and their supporters artificially announced that there was a crisis and then proceeded to create one. They have actually created the problem that they say they are trying to prevent. [by creating a media circus which has brought more and more attention to the babybox, making mothers think this is a viable option]

Abandonments have risen. This is true. However, abandonments did not rise in a statistically significant way directly following the implementation of the Special Adoption Law. They shot up after legislation was introduced to re-revise the Special Adoption Law and there was high media attention on the box. This began in January 2013.

READ MORE HERE:

Increase of kids in the babybox, same number as always in the garbage | Tales of Wonderlost.

COME TO FIND OUT, THE BABYBOX HAS MADE ITS WAY TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC, TOO.

Česky: Venkovní strana babyboxu

Česky: Venkovní strana babyboxu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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But What Do YOU Think About the Baby Box?

by Luanne
Last Monday, Kasey wrote about the Baby Box in Korea. She talked from the perspective of an international Korean adoptee who has been thinking more in-depth about adoption recently.

The Baby Box is one of those painful controversies where it seems both sides have very valid concerns and the best of intentions. Pastor Lee and the people who support the Baby Box are concerned for the lives of babies who might be at risk because their mothers feel they cannot keep them. Opponents of the Baby Box view it as dehumanizing and a permanent severing for these children from their rights to their own familial and genetic histories.

Many adoptees feel a powerful need to search for their birth families and to learn more about the people they come from and the genes they carry. This will never happen for babies left in the Baby Box.

Here are two videos to help you decide. Then look at the photo of the baby girl left in the Baby Box. Maybe you will cry, too.

Baby girl left in baby box

Baby girl left in baby box

A Korean Adoptee On The Baby Box

by Kasey Buecheler

Living in the InKAS (International Korean Adoptee Service) guesthouse, I have met and made many adoptee friends who come from all around the world (Australia, Denmark, France, Belgium, and Sweden, just to name a few!).  As a result, I have developed a stronger interest in the adoptee community that exists in Korea.

Meeting all kinds of adoptees during my stay so far in Korea has opened my eyes to new issues that I never recognized before.  Growing up, I had many adoptee friends, but we were all from similar families, with similar financial upbringings.  I didn’t have a broad perspective on the subject of adoption, but I did learn to embrace it.  However, coming to Korea and hearing different opinions has really changed the whole way that I see adoption.  In some aspects, I can say it has made me a bit more cynical, but I am glad to have been made aware of certain topics.

One specific topic that has gone viral within the past few weeks is the issue of the baby box in Korea.  Although it has been in use for a while now, recently it has gained media attention due to a documentary called “The Drop Box.”  In this documentary, Pastor Lee is commended for his humanitarian effort with his baby box, which is a box he created as a means of “collecting abandoned babies” that are unwanted by their mothers.   Many believe that this box is saving the lives of children who would have otherwise been abandoned on the street to die.  When I first heard of this story, I was also moved by Pastor Lee’s actions and began to read more on the subject.

The more I read, the more I began to realize the problems that arise with the usage of this baby box.  While some may perceive it as a way of saving babies, it also encourages an unethical method of giving up babies.   Instead of going through the proper steps in putting a child up for legal adoption through an adoption agency, it enables single mothers to abandon their children, leaving them with no birth registration. I can understand the importance of having this information, as many of my adoptee friends have sought this information in order to do birth family searches and know more about their past.  I have met adoptees whose information was incorrect/missing and seen how devastated they are when they come to this dead-end.  On top of this, there is also no way to know for sure who put the child in the box to begin with (which, in itself, has some scary implications).

While I am certainly no expert on the subject, I have read enough to know where I stand on this issue and encourage others to learn more about it and form their own opinions as well.

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What’s a Korean Adoptee Doing in Korea?

Here is what Korean adoptee Kasey Buecheler has been doing in Korea!

by Kasey Buecheler

I am back in America from Korea and visiting family while I figure out the rest of my year.  As some of you may have read before, I have been keeping myself busy studying Korea, teaching English, and participating as part of a mentor program for domestic adoptees in Korea!

I began teaching English through the Language Bound program, started by InKAS (International Korean Adoptee Service).  This is a special program where adoptee teachers are sent to teach children from low-income households who may not be able to afford English classes for themselves.  I had never taught English in this way before, and being employed by InKAS gave me experience in a classroom and memories I will never forget.  My kids were absolutely wonderful. I soon found myself looking forward to each class.  It was so rewarding to see my kids develop an interest in learning–and for me to provide them the opportunity to do so.

It was also through InKAS that I became involved in the Korean domestic adoptee mentoring program, which I can say is one of the most rewarding accomplishments for me from last year.  In Korea, adoption is still very much stigmatized in society and adoptive families usually choose to keep this aspect of their lives secret.  This mentoring program was designed to pair us up with a younger domestically adopted child and help them accept their adoption and learn it is nothing to be ashamed of.  We went to an over-night retreat where we were first introduced to our mentees (mine a 14-year-old girl) and spent time getting to know each other.

It was not easy at first. I had one of the oldest mentees, and she was very shy and seemed really uncertain about her participation in the program.  However, I could tell right away how supportive and encouraging her family was (her mother ran up to me and gave me a big hug the first time we met) and we have been able to get closer by meeting up after the retreat finished.

At one point, her parents invited me and a couple other mentors (who were assigned to two of their other children) to go with them to a church service/adoption get-together at their adoption agency (which I’m assuming specializes in domestic adoptions only). It was amazing to see these families celebrate their adoptions together and feel absolutely no shame in doing so.  It reminded me very much of adoption get-togethers that my own family would go to when I was younger. Food, fun, and friends.  This mentoring program helped me to realize how different the problems of the domestic adoptees are from international adoptee. However, seeing the families connect with each other at this agency made me realize how much we have in common as well.

InKAS Mentoring group

InKAS Mentoring group

Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness

by Luanne

I finished a book the other day, and I’ve had an irresistible urge to talk about it to every person I’ve seen since then.  Have you had that experience from reading?

If you want to feel that way, read Catana Tully’s Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity.

It’s a book about adoption, but then it’s not quite about adoption.

Tully was born to a Guatemalan woman of African origin, but she grew up in the household of a German family living in Guatemala. She became a proper German young lady and eventually moved to Germany, where she became a fashion model and movie star.

Although many questions arise for the reader about Tully’s background, the girl herself doesn’t question the narrative she has been given by her German mother.

Only belatedly does Tully realize there is much to be learned about her origins.

Tully moves to the United States where she suffers an identity crisis. She isn’t African-American, although she is a Black woman. Eventually, she realizes the hard truth that she is racist toward African-Americans because she has so absorbed the subtle teachings of her childhood.

She studies and ultimately teaches Ethnic Studies and learns that she has been colonized by the German family who raised her. She begins the long struggle to learn who she is and from where she comes.  To do so, she must search for her birth mother (who has since passed away) and her birth father. Along the way, she meets her birth siblings and another father who tells her that he is her birth father. Additionally, after years of a difficult relationship, she reunites with the German sister who was old enough to be her mother and helped raised her. All this is necessary for Tully’s identity education.

I found Tully’s search to be suspenseful and fascinating. The book reads like a mystery or detective novel in the latter half.  The reader learns the truth along with Tully.

What makes Tully’s story similar to the stories of other transracial adoptees, such as my children who were born in Korea, and what makes it different?

The way Tully absorbed the culture of her German mother and didn’t really “see” herself as the birth child of a Black woman seems true to the experience of many transracial adoptees.

Where I think it differs is here:

SPOILER ALERT

It’s not only where her experience differs, but something that upset me on behalf of the young woman Catana Tully. She was never legally adopted by her German family. Therefore, when the mother dies (the father had been gone for years), the older (bio) daughter inherits the estate, but Tully does not. Tully writes about this injustice, but presents it fairly objectively. Rather than Tully telling the reader how to feel, the reader must pick up the responsibility and get angry (and I sure did).

So Tully had no legal rights as a daughter of the only family she knew at the point that her German mother died.  That she was loved very much is evident, but she was betrayed by this loving parent who didn’t do right by her in death.

The way the book ends answers most of my questions, although I still felt that the German family was an enigma. But what was important was that Tully’s birth parents came to life for me and surpassed the German mother’s heavy influence. Tully’s life seems to blossom into wholeness by the last words of the book.

The only weak point I could find is that the book could have used another editor’s eyes for typos, but I’m picky about those, and many readers might not even notice them.

Split at the Root is a well-written and thoroughly engaging memoir even for those not interested in adoption, and for anybody connected to adoption it is a must read.

What About Children Who Were Adopted by Koreans?

Guest blogger Kasey Buecheler is still living and studying in Korea. She is involved in an organization which seems quite unique to me. InKAS Mentoring: Normalizing Domestic Adoption in Korea offers a mentoring program to domestic adoptees in Korea. The service is provided by international adoptees like Kasey who want to help change the situation for Koreans who were adopted within Korea.

We spend a lot of time talking in the adoption world about the first choice for children is to stay with their biological families. The second choice is usually to keep a child in her own culture, in her country of birth, rather than sending her to a family in another country. But in Korea there is still a stigma associated with adoption.  Kasey and her peers want that to change and in the meantime they are helping other adoptees.  Here is information from their website.

For international adoptees, the concept of a “closed” adoption is difficult to grasp. While Korean children who are adopted internationally are met with unconditional love, domestically adopted children face a much different environment — one filled with secrecy, shame, and varying degrees of societal scorn. The government is trying to promote domestic adoption and eliminate the secrecy that perpetuates the stigma behind it; but unfortunately, Korean society and its emphasis on bloodlines needs another push. InKAS, with its ground-breaking mentoring program, aims to provide just that.
Through InKAS‘ “Mentoring Program: Promoting Awareness of Korean Domestic Adoption” we provide a safe atmosphere for domestically adopted children. While all of our mentees have had “open” adoptions, they still confront circumstances largely unacknowledged and unsupported by Korean society. We want domestic adoptees to feel comfortable in their own skin, never feel the need to conceal a part of their identity, and push for a more tolerant society that is open to all types of families.
Our program pairs an adult international adoptee with a teenage domestic adoptee, as well as the mentee’s adoptive parents and, in some cases, a bi-lingual Korean translator. Through an overnight retreat and individually-scheduled meetups, mentors and mentees form a strong and long-lasting bond. This bond, though new, lays the foundation for conversations about greater triumphs and deeper struggles (either about adoption or anything) in the future.
Sadly, due to budgetary constraints, our end of the year dinner (Friday, December 13th) will be the last mentoring program event InKAS can fund.
We want to continue the events, so we can continue to build strong relationships with our mentees, make them feel comfortable with their 언니s and 형s, and be proud of who they are. In order to do this, we need your generosity.
Once in January, and once in February, we will have large-group gatherings in Seoul. The itineraries haven’t been decided yet, but they will be one-day events filled with food, fun, and maybe a theatrical performance. A lot of the programming depends on how much we receive in donations.
Your donations will enable us to continue doing the work we love and give greater hope to those we serve. By investing in our mentors, you’ll not only be contributing to the continuation of this program, you’ll also be sending a message to our mentees. The continuation of this program will show the mentees, as well as their parents, that the international community does not disapprove of their situation, will not shy away from it, and will not buckle under societal pressures. Donation or not, your consideration and conscientiousness has already planted the seed for a shift in perceptions on domestic adoption.On behalf of InKAS, and everyone participating in this program now and in the future, thank you so much.
Click here to make a donation!

Yae-song and Katelyn were a great team during our balloon race!

If you would like to help these young people mentor other young people and make the world a little better for some adoptees, you can donate here.

I Might Appear Korean, But . . . (Musings of a Korean-American Adoptee)

by Kasey Buecheler

Just like any culture, there are positive and negative traits that make it what it is.  Growing up as an American, I am used to life in America.  Even with a Korean exterior, I consider myself a true American and I don’t think I have ever considered myself truly Korean.   During my time in Korea, I became more and more aware of how different my friends and I were from those around us.

Outer appearance is something that everyone is fixated on.  Korea has a very different idea of beauty from the typical Western ideal, and I could probably spend multiple blog posts on my opinions of this. They treasure pale skin, larger eyes, and having a small v-shaped face.  Korea has gained some negative publicity as a country with a high rate of plastic surgery in order to achieve this ideal look.  The clothing style is a lot more posh, and there is not much variation among the general population.  Walking around Seoul, anyone could pick us out of a crowd as Americans, with our tanned skin and Abercrombie and Fitch.

The Korean ideal is seen in most Korean commercials. They frequently choose celebrities or models to endorse their products, whereas in the United States comedy is often the main focus of commercials. Thus, the prettiest women and most attractive men get cast most often in Korean commercials.  Yoona is considered a “CF Queen.” The following video is a sample of Yoona’s work:

Korean social etiquette is another area in which there is a big difference.  Even for something as small as accepting a drink from an elder, there are particular ways in which Koreans do these things that we as Westerners are not accustomed to.  I remember being lightly scolded by a parent of a previous boyfriend for not properly greeting them before I even knew that I had done anything wrong.  Elders in Korea have a high expectation for respect from the younger generation, which is reasonable.  In another instance, I was riding a bus and accidentally bumped into an older lady who was sitting beside me as the bus went over a bump in the road.  She began to yell at me, in Korean, so loudly that everyone in the bus was staring because I did not immediately apologize.  Luckily, I was with my previous boyfriend at the time, who was a native Korean, and he was able to stick up for me and we promptly exited the bus.

For Korean Americans, these kinds of differences can be difficult to adjust to.  However, I do feel being raised by Korean parents, even in America, exposes non-adoptees to these kinds of cultural differences.  They might not be raised in an environment where these customs are practiced, but I feel that they are at least made aware.   I have Korean American friends who do not speak a word of Korean, but are familiar with Korean food, manners, and traditions.  They see certain Korean behavior as a “pain in the butt” and may not agree with it, but they still know how to behave themselves when around Korean elders.

Korean adoptees, like myself, are not raised with this sort of exposure.  Going to Korea, we are more similar to the foreign visitors from places like Europe on tour groups.  We go into it not knowing what to expect, exactly.  Koreans are typically understanding in regards to foreigners not being completely familiar with Korean customs.  They may offer help to a foreigner on the street that they see is struggling with a map, or some may simply walk by.  Regardless, they recognize that individual as a foreigner and recognize that they are not familiar with their surroundings.  Where it gets complicated is the fact that Korean adoptees appear Korean.  We have a Korean exterior, and while we may look Americanized, there is still that expectation from native Koreans that we are at least familiar with Korean customs and language as non-adopted Korean Americans are.  Even on the plane ride over, the Korean stewardesses would ask me about my beverage/meal choices in Korean, and I would repeatedly have to tell them “I don’t speak Korean” and receive a puzzled look before they switched over to using English.

Each year, I felt I went to Korea a bit more prepared than the year before.  Because of the amount of time I have spent there, I feel that I have gotten a good idea of what living there is like and what to expect.  As an adoptee, I can say that traveling to Korea was emotionally fulfilling, but there were many hard times as well.

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This post was originally published 15 months ago when this blog was very new and had few readers. Here is a brand new article about jaw-cutting surgery (to achieve the look seen in the above video) in KoreAm.double-jaw-surgery_03

Rage Against the Minivan: An open letter to my professor about China’s one-child policy (GUEST POST)

jenni_lee_ftYou’ll want to read Jenni Fang Lee’s letter to her insensitive professor.

Rage Against the Minivan: An open letter to my professor about China’s one-child policy (GUEST POST).

The Power of Naming

Menomama3, who blogs about adoption issues as well as about her family, sent us a link to a video which comments well on the power of naming and how that affects this poet who was adopted as a young child.

Read it through to its finish because its effect on you will happen when you take the time to do so.

 

How do you feel about what you just witnessed?

Rachel Rostad’s blog can be found here.

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