Archive for December, 2010

Adoption Today: “Inside Guatemalan Orphanages” by Leceta Chisholm Guibault

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

When I was asked to get a back-cover endorsement for Mamalita from someone prominent in the adoption field, I didn’t think twice before approaching Leceta Chisholm Guibault. Leceta is a person admired and respected by me and many others in the Guatemalan adoption community and beyond: the adoptive mother to two teens born in Central America, a former board member of the Adoption Council of Canada, an Adoption Activist award- winner, and a staff member of the TIES program (Adoptive Families Homeland Journeys).  During the years I’ve been involved in adoption myself, I have read and benefited from Leceta’s magazine articles and postings in which she shares her experiences and insights.

Leceta is currently a Canadian regional partner for Orphan Resources International, an American nonprofit organization that supports some 55 orphanages in Guatemala. During the past two years, she has led more than 150 Canadian volunteers on six separate service trips. In  an article titled “A View from the Trenches: Inside Guatemalan Orphanages,” in the December issue of Adoption Today, Leceta shares her impressions of what she has seen and felt. Or as she says in the article’s introduction, “what keeps me awake at night and why I continue to provide aid to children in Guatemala.” As usual, she tells her story with compassion, honesty, and bravery.  

Adoption Today is published online only. The $12 subscription fee is money well-spent for anyone interested in the current state of international and transracial adoption. Leceta writes:

Most homes share the same issues– overcrowding. Many are filled with abandoned infants, as well as children in care due to severe abuse and neglect. Infants were arriving if not daily, weekly. At Fundaninos orphanage, the infants we met in 2009 are now toddlers. Another home we volunteer for is a baby home with 50-60 children, the majority being infants and young toddlers. Every time I visit, bassinets are full with newborn to 5-month-olds…

In May, I walked into one of the three overcrowded nurseries and fell to my knees… I sobbed. There were babies everywhere being fed by propped bottles. Don’t get me wrong — it was a beautiful, clean and loving home. The home receives a lot of clothing donations… The problem is, it’s overcrowded. There are not enough caregivers — during one visit there were 37 infants with two nannies. It was an assembly line of diaper changes and bottle propping… The children were craving attention and happy just to be held. I brought 23 volunteers and even holding two children each there were little ones waiting for their turn. These children need parents… (more…)


Johnnie Walker does the right thing

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

My friend, Mark McCauslin, who lives in New York City, alerted me to an advertisement he saw in the subway for Johnnie Walker Black. He posted about it on the Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir page on Facebook. Mark wrote:

I was in the NY subway earlier today when I remembered your blog entry about “adoption as a punchline,” referring to an offensive Sony ad. This time I came across an ad for Johnnie Walker Black; the copy reads: “We only shake hands. We call each other once a month max. I still think you’re adopted. And although I’d rather streak across a crowded stadium than tell you this – you’re a great little brother.” The ad implies that an adopted brother is somehow “less than” one who is genetically related. You’ve opened my eyes to this sort of thoughtlessness, and I hope you continue to fight the fight!

Like Mark, I was offended by the ad.  I went to the Johnnie Walker website to track down the person to whom I should complain, but the only address I could find was one for  ”consumer care,” in the corporate parent company, Diageo. Discouraged, I sent an email anyway, with the subject line “Offensive Advertising”:

A friend directed me to an ad for Johnnie Walker Black in a NYC subway… As an adoptive mother to two children, I find this ad offensive. Why? Because it implies that an adopted brother is somehow “less than” one who is genetically related. Why do your ad writers think this is funny? Some 60% of Americans report a connection to adoption. Imagine how they–or, worse, adopted children–feel when reading your ad.

Please send me the name and email address of your company president so I can direct my complaint. Thank you very much.

Today, I received this marvelous response from Johnny Walker Consumer Representative Natasha K:

Thank you for writing to us with your concerns. Diageo is a leader in responsible marketing, and as such, we take this issue very seriously. 

The holiday advertisement for Johnnie Walker was not intended to be insulting and we apologize for any offense it may have caused. This advertisement has very limited, regional distribution in a small number of commuter locations. It will not appear in print, on television or online and will end as of December 31. If a similar ad concept becomes possible for use in the future, the Johnnie Walker brand team has committed that this reference will be removed.

We hope this addresses your concerns. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.

Thank you, Mark, for being offended by the ad and calling it out. For anyone else out there bothered by how adoption is represented in the media or elsewhere, write a letter, post a blog, pick up the phone, take a stand. As the philosopher Ovid once said, “Dripping hollows out rock.” Change does come, if enough people make noise about what bothers them.

I know what I’ll be drinking on New Year’s Eve. Cheers to Johnnie Walker for doing the right thing.


Observations by Jane Aronson, MD, the “orphan doctor”

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Pediatrician and adoptive mother Jane Aronson’s New York City medical practice focuses on childen who are adopted. By her own estimate, she has examined more than 10,000 children as patients. This article, posted on, includes thoughtful insights by Aronson, based on years of her professional observations. Two that resonate for me are:

…Aronson says that for every three months a child spends in an orphanage, he loses one month of developmental skills, causing, for example, language delays or learning issues.

“If you don’t have one adult who loves you,” says Aronson, you “don’t end up healthy.”

And the second:

Most important quality for parents to have: “To be focused on who the child is and make every effort to accept the child for who they are. (Whether) you give birth to a child, you adopt a child, you have to accept the child with unconditional love and acceptance.”

Aronson is founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

Her Worldwide Orphans Foundation [WWO], with its headquarters in Maplewood [New Jersey], provides various programs and facilities to orphans in Ethiopia, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Serbia. In Ethiopia, for instance, some of WWO’s programs include a school whose curriculum includes global arts, such as theater, dance and music; a family health care clinic, which counts among its services the treatment of orphans with HIV and AIDS; and an orphan soccer league.

The idea for the foundation came to her in the late 1980s when she looked at the staggering number of orphans who are never adopted. Approximately 20,000 children are adopted annually; the total number of orphans worldwide is now estimated to be about 163 million, according to UNICEF.

“It became clear that the vast majority of orphans would not have permanency,” says Aronson.

Through WWO, one-to-one early intervention programs — known as granny programs — in Vietnam, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria match retired women from the community with orphans to provide the children with individual attention and education.

International adoption can never provide homes for the millions of children in need of permanency. Last year, families in the United States adopted 13,000 from around the world, and that number is dropping. My hope for the new year is the development of more one-to-one early intervention programs in the orphanages of my children’s birth country, Guatemala. Every child deserves a chance to grow up healthy.


Season’s Greetings!

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Three generations.

Tia Lolly and Mateo.

My Mom and Dad.

Happy New Year, too!~


Holiday mode

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The last day of school before winter break meant holiday parties in classrooms around the country, including those of Mateo and Olivia. I attended both.

Mateo was proud of his gingerbread house, made from graham crackers, candy canes, and chocolate, held together by cupcake frosting sprayed out of a can. Later, he constructed a reindeer ornament from popsicle sticks, and drew a  picture of a snowman wearing a colorful striped scarf.

After Mateo’s party was over, I made my way to Olivia’s school. In her classroom, each student had been asked to make a presentation on his or her ethnic heritage, followed by a potluck lunch comprising food from each child’s background. The meal demonstrated the great diversity of California’s population, with dishes from Ireland, Norway,  Mexico, Italy, Wales, Cuba, and Iran. Olivia spoke with confidence about being indigenous Maya and Guatemalan, and explained how tortillas are made. Her fellow students enjoyed seeing the Guatemalan flag and a picture of the country’s official bird, the beautiful and elusive quetzal, depicted in the flag’s central field as well as on the cover of Olivia’s Guatemala ABC’s book. Below, Olivia is holding her favorite hackysack ball, a common sight in Guatemala, shaped like a frog.

The next morning, we set off on a road trip to visit grandparents and family in San Diego. With pit stops and delays because of rain, the drive took nearly eleven hours. But with my sister Patrice along and Shakira’s music blasting from the CD player, nobody seemed to mind. We arrived in San Diego in holiday mode, ready to sleep late and slow down.


State Dept. Announcement

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Below is the press release issued by U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children’s Issues, regarding adoption cases pending in Guatemala. The release is dated December 20, 2010.

The Office of Children’s Issues is asking U.S. citizens with active grandfathered adoption cases in Guatemala to send a brief email to including the name(s) of the adopting parent(s), the name and date of birth of the child and the date that your I-600A and/or I-600 petition was filed with USCIS.  Please give your email the subject line: “Guatemala Master List” so that it may be properly directed.

 Sending us this information will ensure that your case information is included on a master list of pending grandfathered cases that the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is compiling.  We will use this list in regular meetings with a newly formed working group for grandfathered adoptions in Guatemala.  This working group is being formed pursuant to directive of the President of Guatemala following his December meeting with Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, and Adoption Division Chief Alison Dilworth.  The working group will consist of representatives of the various Guatemalan government agencies that play a role in Guatemala adoptions, as well as other important stakeholders in the adoption process in Guatemala.


U.S. State Dept. 12/20 conference call on status of adoptions in Guatemala

Monday, December 20th, 2010

On Monday, December 20, 2010, U.S. Ambassador Susan Jacobs hosted a conference call open to any parties interested in the status of adoptions in Guatemala. I phoned in to participate and took notes. Ambassador Jacobs recently returned from a trip to Guatemala during which she met with President Colom and U.S. Embassy personnel;  members of CNA, PGN, CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG), and Unicef; as well as with private attorneys, notarios, and Norma Cruz. Ambassador Jacobs may have mentioned other parties with whom she met, but I was unable to hear their names. She described the meetings as “positive” and “cooperative.” 

Ambassador Jacobs emphasized that the governments of Guatemala and the United States are both working toward resolution of adoption cases pending since the shutdown in December 2007. In order to expedite the cases, the top priority now  is to compile a “Master List” of waiting cases. To that end, Ambassador Jacobs asked every waiting family to send an email to with a subject line reading “Guatemala Master List.” The body of the email should contain the names of the prospective adoptive parents (PAPs), the name and date of birth of the waiting child, the date on which the I-600A and/or I-600 was filed, and any other relevant information.

Several PAPs on the call noted that this information has been compiled many times by the group of waiting families known as the Guatemala900 and sent to officials in Guatemala. Ambassador Jacobs stated that going forward, the State Department will work from its own Master List. Jacobs indicated that a final evaluation of cases is impossible until the State Department compiles its Master List. After the Master List is in hand, the evaluation process will likely take between six and nine months.

Perhaps revealing  her own frustration with the current lack of a Master List, Jacobs said she was “unaware it was such a mess down there. No one knew what the universe of cases was.”

Ambassador Jacobs showed equal candor when she said that the “shared goal is to resolve cases, but it might not be the resolution we all wish for.” A working group to expedite cases in Guatemala, a junta, will be formed. When PAPs on the call asked if their Guatemalan attorneys should contact the working group or junta, Ambassador Jacobs said “I hope not. Your attorneys have been more trouble than they’re worth.” She urged PAPs to communicate with the U.S. Embassy.

Ambassador Jacobs stressed that she understood the concerns of adoptive parents, but that nothing can be done quickly. The State Department’s goal is to whittle down the universe of cases into a triage, from easy to difficult. She assured the call participants that everyone was working to ensure the best interest of the child. She noted there was a difference between bureaucratic irregularity and criminality, but determinations must be made on a case by case basis.

As an adoptive parent who was so affected by my struggle against Guatemala’s private notarial system that I was compelled to write a book about it, I hung up the phone at the end of the conference call and broke into tears. This is not the news I hoped  for. After three years, families must continue to be patient and wait. Then I reminded myself to focus on the call’s positive message. Ambassador Jacobs is a strong advocate for American families. Everyone is considering the best interest of the child. Resolution will come slowly, but it will come.


US State Dept. hosts Monday conference call about status of Guatemalan adoption

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Like many adoptive parents to children born in Guatemala, I am eager for resolution of the hundreds of adoption cases pending since the shutdown of adoptions from Guatemala in December 2007. This group of waiting families is known as the Guatemala900. Some light may be shed on this issue during a conference call hosted by the U.S. Department of State on Monday, December 20, 2010 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am (EDT).

The State Department’s press release is reprinted below. Click here to read this and other press releases posted on the State Department’s website.

The U.S. Department of State Office of Children’s Issues Adoptions Division would like to invite prospective adoptive parents, adoption service providers, and adoption stakeholders with an interest in Guatemala adoptions to a teleconference with the Office of Children’s issues to discuss the status of intercountry adoption processing in Guatemala. 

The focus of the call will be primarily to provide an updated outlook for resolution of the many remaining “grandfathered” cases involving U.S. citizens.   This update will include information from Ambassador Susan Jacob’s December trip to Guatemala in which she and Adoption Division Chief Alison Dilworth met with high level government officials and non-governmental adoption stakeholders to discuss the status of “grandfathered” cases still pending in Guatemala.

Please join us for this call to learn more about adoption processing in Guatemala.

To join the call

If you are calling from within the United States, please dial: 1-888-363-4749
If you are calling from outside the United States, please dial: 1-215-446-3662
The passcode for all callers is: 6276702


“Mamalita” readings past and future

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

People in Boston read a lot. And they don’t let a little thing like cold weather slow them down. I say this as a Californian who reads less than she’d like to, and who also believes that 50 degrees is frigid.

What a great time I had discussing Mamalita at Borders in Boston last Sunday. The evening began well when my sister Deanna found a parking spot at the curb in front of the store–her parking karma is amazing–and continued when Borders manager John Gunderson greeted me with a smile and said he was also from Northern California. He laughed when he saw the size of my parka–I wore two, actually–but told me he understood.

My friends came out to say hello. From my museum days in San Diego and Los Angeles, Diana Gaston and Ulrika Brand, now transplanted to New England.

From my days in New Jersey, Megan, a former student at my mother’s dance studio. (Megan’s mom, Mary, also studied tap with my mom; Mary’s group called themselves “BOTS” for Benevolent Order of Tap Stars.)

My friend, Sena, the sister of our former au pair, Nur, came too. Not to mention colleagues of my husband, Tim; my fellow writer and fan of Antigua, Guatemala, Christina Zarobe; and some wonderful adoptive moms whom I met for the first time. We shared our views on adoption, parenting, and Guatemala. I always learn by listening to others.

Thank you to John Gunderson, Borders Books, and everyone who braved the elements to share the experience.

I’ve added two more venues to my reading tour: the Belvedere-Tiburon Library and the Redwood City Public Library, both in California.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 7:30 p.m.
Belvedere-Tiburon Library
1501 Tiburon Blvd.
Tiburon, CA 94920

Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 2 p.m.
Redwood City Public Library
Downtown Library Fireplace Room
1044 Middlefield Road
Redwood City, CA 94063

For other Mamalita Book Tour readings and dates, click on the EVENTS tab. Hope to see you soon!


ABC News series on 6 world health crises begins in Guatemala

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere–an estimated 50 percent of the population is stunted, with that number as high as 80 percent in indigenous villages. Like many adoptive parents to children born in Guatemala who have visited the country, I’ve seen evidence of that firsthand: When my daughter and I visited Guatemala in August and met with indigenous Guatemalans from her community, none could believe Olivia was only eight years old. Ten or eleven is what they guessed, her height the result of good nutrition.

That’s why I am excited that ABC News is launching a new series, “Be the Change: Save a Life“ this Friday, December 17 at 10 p.m.

From pregnant mothers to newborns, children and adults, “Be the Change: Save a Life” — a special-edition of “20/20″ anchored by Diane Sawyer at 10 p.m. ET on Friday — will examine six of the world’s top health problems, and share simple and practical ways the audience can make an immediate difference.

The first challenge presented will be malnutrition in Guatemala, with ABC News anchor Christiane Amanpour reporting from the rural village of Cajagualten. In a related article on the ABC News website, Gwen Gowen and Joan Martelli write:

[S]tunting is not just about height. With malnourishment comes greater susceptibility to disease and infection, impaired cognitive function and even lower IQ. Stunted kids are more likely to drop out of school and grow up to be unskilled workers with little potential for economic success later in life.

“If you want to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala this is how you do it: Feed kids and feed them early before they get malnourished,” [Peter Rohloff, an American doctor who runs medical clinics] said.

For nutritional intervention to be most effective, [Rohloff] said, it has to be done before the age of two. “Unfortunately, most programs in Guatemala are geared to school-aged kids but by the time they get to school it’s too late,” he said.

Another challenge to adequate and equitable nutrition is the structure of Guatemalan society:

In fact, the Mayan poor get few services from a government that is widely considered to be corrupt and ineffective. And in a country where there is a tremendous divide between the rich and the poor, privately funded NGOs like Wuqu’ Kawoq and Casa Jackson step in to provide much needed social services.

Like many adoptive parents who feel connected to Guatemala, I hope this series will focus attention on finding solutions to the country’s devastating and ongoing problem of hunger.