The Slater’s Adoption Story
It was while visiting Mozambique in 2002 with my husband, Greg, that we came across three children who would capture our hearts and help us understand through personal experience the plight of orphans throughout the world. For seven years we attempted to adopt three orphan siblings who were ages 6, 11 and 13 when we first met them. Their parents died both of AIDS.
The children’s older brother, Rogerio, approached us on that first trip and asked if we would adopt his siblings because he was unable to take care of them. It was one of those surreal, unexpected experiences that catches you by surprise. We decided as a family that it was the right thing to do.
After going through the extensive adoption certification process, we returned to Mozambique with our four biological children for our adoption court hearing.
The hearing was a disaster. The judge, who happened to be the chief judge, had no intention of letting these orphans leave her country with Americans. After six hours of pleading with her, she told us she would think about it.
The three orphan children, who had been very excited to leave with us and become part of our family, had to go back to the orphanage, and we had to return to the U.S. to await the judge’s formal decision. After several weeks, the decision was rendered. Not only was the adoption denied, but we were also accused of trafficking in children. We were devastated, and the children, who had already bonded with our family, were also very distraught.
A few months later, the Mozambique newspapers announced that we were part of an international child trafficking ring. In fact, when I went to New York and met with the UN mission from Mozambique, I was informed that this was not a good time to adopt because of the news reports of a trafficking case there. It took me awhile to convince the UN mission that the stories about my husband and myself were completely false.
On a third trip to Mozambique, we appealed to government leaders, including the President of Mozambique and the governor of the region. The U.S. Embassy issued a letter to the Mozambique government explaining that we had followed all the legal procedures to be certified as adoptive parents. We were finally cleared of the false trafficking allegations.
We found a skilled attorney in Mozambique who filed to reopen the case using the U.S. Embassy letter as new evidence. We waited over two years to have our case reopened. Nobody wanted to touch this political hot potato, which was passed from judge to judge.
My relationship with the children deepened as they lived with me in Mozambique for six weeks while I worked on the adoption. The four of us helped care for their older brother, Rogerio, who had become very sick with AIDS.
The following is an excerpt from my journal:
“In Mozambique, even the ants are starving. When you drop a crumb on the ground, there is an army of ants covering that crumb within seconds. Yesterday, I visited the home of a well-respected teacher at the University. He apologized for his humble circumstances. He apologized that he had no light and explained that they only have electricity on Saturdays – a choice he has made to budget his meager income. It is amazing to me that such a well-respected man with a great job cannot even afford electricity for more than a few days a month.
Today seemed to be the day that everyone I had met worked up the courage to ask me for money. It is so difficult to know when and how much to give and when not to give.
One teacher asked me for money to buy new pedals for his bike. Another teacher asked me for money to buy food for his cupboards. He said what he makes is not enough. If they’re lucky they make a few dollars a day. An errand boy told us he was caring for his two orphaned brothers and asked for us to pay his back rent of $150 so they would not get thrown out of their house. We went to investigate the story and found he lived with his grandfather. His two younger stepbrothers were living with their father somewhere else.
People here are so desperate that sometimes they will tell you anything to get money. A nurse at the hospital who offered to show us where we needed to go had asked me to pay for her brother’s education within two minutes. Everyone we talk to or look at follows us around somehow hoping to get money.
If my pocket could respond to all the requests that my heart responds to I would be rich indeed. It is so hard to judge what to sacrifice, what to keep and what to give away. How comfortable should my family be and what is my responsibility to my fellow man?
Never have I seen so many lame, blind, deformed, sick, poor and desolate people. The other day I was on a bus and saw a man with an obscene growth about the size of an orange growing from behind his ear. I asked what it was from and was told by Aurora, the social worker assigned to our adoption case, that he had probably pierced his ear and developed an infection. [Aurora died of AIDS several months later.] People here, out of want and sometimes out of fear of doctors, let things go untreated until their little problems become serious problems and sometimes even fatal. This is especially true in the orphanages.
Rogerio has developed full-blown AIDS and has been in a lot of pain. Lumps have developed all over his body that stem from a cancer which is common among AIDS patients. He is so thin, and when he speaks, it is barely a whisper. I have to ask him to repeat things several times before I can understand. He asked for someone to drain the lumps all over his body with a needle. I shudder to think of it. I am going to need to talk to him. I have explained to him how dangerous the fluids from his body are to other people. I don’t know if he understands.
People here do not have hot or running water. They don’t have rubber gloves. They can’t afford disinfectants. They don’t have Kleenex they can throw away when they blow their noses. Rogerio is now spitting up blood. His Aunt unwraps her skirt (she has another underneath) and hands it to him and that becomes his spit rag. I am sure it is washed in cold water the next day with little or no soap. No wonder disease is so rampant. Sometimes I wonder how anyone here survives.
I heard today from a missionary couple that their daughter had tried to adopt some twins from an orphanage in Maputo. They were denied the adoption and shortly thereafter the twins died. Adoption for these kids can be a matter of life and death as conditions in the orphanages are so difficult and unsanitary. Abuse is rampant.
I realized that if our family was successful in adopting these three children, we could literally add twenty, forty, or even sixty years to their lifespan.
The sad thing is that while millions of children are languishing in orphanages across the world, we are not the only adoptive couple that has been falsely accused of trafficking in children. Adoptions have been shut down in Ecuador, India and elsewhere because of rumors about trafficking.
Can you imagine the situation of orphans in countries where even the few, lucky, able-bodied adults with jobs cannot even live comfortably? I can. I have seen what happens to the orphans. No one cares about them. And there are millions of them.
One of the reasons there are so many rumors about adoptive couples trafficking in children is that it is hard for someone from a developing country who is struggling each day just to stay alive to imagine that someone would ever want to help an orphan. What would be in it for them? Why would they pay money to come all the way to their country to adopt children unless they had some ulterior motive? Since many of them have never had resources that they could share with others, they cannot imagine that people who do have such resources would want to share them with the dregs of their society – the orphans.
On several occasions, I have had grown men who, upon learning that we were trying to adopt orphans, ask in all seriousness if we would adopt them and bring them to the U.S. instead. I have also had government officials hint that they will help us if we bring their children back to the U.S. and educate them. It is a whole different culture, with a completely different way of thinking about life.
Our case was again heard by a new judge. The adoption was denied because Mozambique had no way to monitor the children once they arrived in the U.S. In March 2006, Family Watch International cosponsored a seminar for government officials from Mozambique to learn about the U.S. adoption process and to visit the homes of children who had been adopted from foreign countries into American families. The seminar was very successful, and the officials returned to Mozambique enthusiastic about adoption. They drafted an international adoption law, but the judge who denied the original adoption testified against it and stopped the law.
We filed again in the Mozambique court to have the adoption decision appealed, and again, we lost. Our experience with the adoption process inspired me to found the “Families for Orphans” program that promotes family-based care for orphans worldwide and raises awareness of and support for vulnerable children and their need for family placement. Despite our frustrations with the adoption process, I was determined to do all I could to give as many children as possible the advantage of growing up with a mother and father, and the “Families for Orphans” program was a means to do so.
In 2007, I was selected as the Arizona Mother of the Year and chose “Families for Orphans” as my platform. We invited Luis, Amelia, and Afonso to the U.S. for two-weeks to do an orphan awareness tour, and they were invited to speak at an orphan awareness seminar put on by the social work department at Brigham Young University. By this time, in 2008, we had given up hope of being able to adopt the children. However, a flood that occurred in the Mozambique province where the children lived prevented them from being able to travel back to their country as planned, and an Arizona court ruled that it was unsafe for the children to return and ordered them to be placed in our home as foster-care children. (The Mozambique government was invited to participate in the case, but did not.) About a year later, Arizona child protection services recommended that Luis, Amelia, and Afonso be permanently adopted, and in December 2009, an Arizona court issued the adoption decree. (The Mozambique government was invited to participate in that case also, but like the prior Arizona hearing, did not show up).
Words cannot express the love and gratitude I have for these three children. Luis, Amelia, and Afonso have added so much to our family, and we would not be complete without them. I have been blessed to have them in my home for many years now. I have seen them grow and flourish in adulthood, and two have started families of their own. It is a treasure beyond compare to see them happy and loved.
I believe we are our brother’s keeper. Those of us who live in developed countries live so well, and we have an obligation to help those who do not. We hope you will support the “Families for Orphans” program by making a donation to our cause of helping children.