Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bogotá: The Gladney Adoptee Service Trips, 2012-2015

If I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t even try to smile for this photograph. I was tired, dirty, probably hungry, probably in pain, and definitely heartbroken that this was my last day with these kiddos.

While it’s important to insert boundaries into the relationships you make with kids you see once a year for a week in July, and to actively assess your (and their) attachment levels to one another, there’s no limit to the amount of love you can give.

I’m actually having a very difficult time trying to condense Colombia into a blog post. How do you put four years of San Mauricio into about 900 words? (Spoiler Alert: you don’t). So instead of trying to talk about La Fundación San Mauricio as a whole, I’m just going to tell you a couple stories.

My first story is about the very first five minutes I ever spent at San Mauricio. I was 16 years old, and still exhausted from an extremely long trip to Bogotá (think: pilots locking themselves out of the cockpit, mechanical issues with multiple airplanes, missing an international flight, unexpectedly spending a night in Miami with four other teenagers, one of them being a 24 year old Beth Whitacre, and chaos, but not the organized kind that us social workers pride ourselves on). I had prepared myself for a long day. We pull up to the orphanage after a bumpy, terrifying bus ride where traffic laws are just mere suggestions, with the grand finale of the ride being convincing the huge charter bus to successfully complete a 30º turn into the neighborhood onto a steep, unpaved road. Eventually, the bus stops and the gates to San Mauricio open. Standing on both sides of the drive are every kid, every adult, and every staff member, cheering us into the orphanage while waving handmade Colombian and American flags as high as their arms will stretch. I don’t think words or photographs could ever do that moment justice. Everybody was just so excited, so thrilled to be there. We got off the bus and were instantly swarmed and hugged by kids and staff members alike. It was going to be a good week.

My next story is about a sweet, sweet little girl named Monica*. She was the first child I met at San Mauricio, back in 2012. She was quiet, and when she talked, she didn’t say much. She just came up to me when I got off the bus and melted into my arms. In that moment I loved her, and not because she needed it, or out of pity or sadness or charity. I just loved her. Monica and I spent most of that week together, making friendship bracelets, sharing stories, playing soccer, and I can’t even count the amount of times I ran across the playground with this eight year old goofball on my back. She was a ball of energy, sass, and kindness. I gave her all the love I could in the few days we spent together. When it was time to go, she clung to me. It’s hard to know what to say in those moments; you know better than to make promises or give the kids false hope. So I told her I loved her and that I’d remember her forever. After one last squeeze, and a kiss from her on the cheek, I got on the bus. Each subsequent year, I looked for her standing on the drive as we entered, but she was never around. I didn’t see Monica again for three more years, until 2015. She looked great, happy, even. And she definitely still expected those piggyback rides across the playground.

My final story of this post is about a boy named Nicolas*. Just thinking about him brings tears to my eyes (which is awkward, because I’m in public). If I could give this boy the world, I would, and just about everyone I know can justify that. Nicolas was in my kindergarten class in 2012. He was a small kid, but he had a lot in him. He seemed to pick a lot of fights, and hated obeying the rules. But he was so smart, enjoyed learning (especially English), and absolutely adored being loved on. I could honestly talk about Nicolas for hours, but I don’t want to make you read a novel. You just need to know that in 2013 he started calling me both hermana and mamá, and in 2014, he tried to pretend to be a kindergartener again (he was quite a bit taller than the other kindergarteners at that point) so he could be in my classroom. That same year, when I went around the orphanage with a video camera asking different kids to tell me their name, their age, and something about them, Nicolas said, “Hola, me llamo Nicolas, tengo ocho años, y quiero una familia en los Estados Unidos.” In English, that translates to, “Hi, my name’s Nicolas, I’m eight years old, and I want a family in the United States.” I watch that video multiple times a week, and I still love this kiddo like a brother. I have photographs of the two of us everywhere. We were joined at the hip for years. When he wasn’t at San Mauricio in 2015, I was a little heartbroken, but I soon learned that he’d been transferred to an orphanage that was much better equipped to help him with his behavioral issues.

I have hundreds of stories I could tell, like the time I was forced to do a Colombian dance on stage in front of all of San Mauricio, or the time I tried to learn how to do the dance the Colombian national fútbol team does when they score, or the time I taught about a hundred kids how to do the Cha Cha Slide, or the time I got my butt stuck in one of the kindergartener’s chairs and had to have two six year olds help pry it off me, or all the times I surrendered my hair and nails to a bunch of pre-teen girls, or the times I handed out new shoes to the kiddos, or painted the elementary school classroom walls, or the lasting friendships I’ve made with the other adoptees on the trip, or watching Beth, with absolutely no grace, conquer the zipline. I could go on, and on, and on.

Colombia has a very special place in my heart. It’s a huge part of what has led me to where and who I am now, which is a passionate Gladney intern, halfway through my Bachelor of Social Work Degree at the University of Texas. Thank you, Gladney, for giving me this part of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

 By: Margot Twomey
International Adoption Intern

[Hearts have been placed over the kids’ faces to protect their identities. Asterisks (*) have been placed next to names that have been changed the first time they appear.]

Friday, May 27, 2016

My First Week as a Gladney Intern

In the past four days I’ve probably been asked about a hundred times, “Is it what you expected?” The thing is, when you work in adoption, you don’t go into anything with expectations. When I reported for work on my first day, I knew I was going to be doing, and I quote, “adoption-related work.” So the only expectation I had on the first day of work was to be doing something related, in some way, to adoption.

[Insert 549 page Colombian adoption manual. Entirely, 100% written en Español.]

About 15 minutes into the day, before I even learn where the bathroom is, my supervisor, Beth Whitacre (the Intercountry Adoption Caseworker) sits me down with this HUGE manual of annexes, divided into two parts, and explains that the Colombians just recently changed the law and I need to update the templates. In my head I’m thinking, “Ay dios mío, tengo que traducir toda la ley de adopción de Colombia?” Thankfully my work was kept to about 30 pages, give or take.

I was a little spooked by my very first assignment at Gladney. However, considering that on a recent Gladney Adoptee Service Trip Beth made me jump out of a tree in the middle of a jungle in Colombia more than 100 feet off the ground with no liability forms signed or paperwork filled out, and a danger sign picturing a stick figure falling head first out of a tree, I figured sitting at a desk with both feet on the floor translating Spanish into English was doable enough, so I got to work.

I. Learned. So. Much. Wow. I’ve only ever really studied Russian adoption law in regard to the United States (which, by the way, is currently just “not possible”), so learning the tricks of the trade behind the adoption process of a country so dear to my heart was mind-boggling. There’s so much to know and fill out and photograph and process and sign and notarize and mail. It’s like even the air you breathe gets analyzed! (For example, they want to know how much money you spend on fruit, dairy, and meat per month per child).

That project, though, is just one part of the picture. I’ve gotten to know some very friendly staff, the scanner/printer/copier is simple enough to work, the mail system is streamlined and easy, the Snicker’s bars in the commons are cheaper than they are in vending machines, and I’ve learned that miniature ping pong, made up of two lunch room tables shoved together, is a very, very serious sport.

On a more serious note, I’ve been incredibly intrigued and a little surprised by the “drop everything, Colombia needs this five minutes ago” part of my/Beth’s job. There’s an urgency that comes with adoption that I’ve never been exposed to before. I knew the process wasn’t a calm one, but seeing how swiftly and professionally Beth gets those papers to Colombia, and how she trusts me to get it done as well, shows me that the process (and work) is only as complicated and stressful as you make it.

I’m excited to (finally) officially work for Gladney and to be here for the next two and a half months!

By: Margot Twomey
International Adoption Intern