Sunday, May 31, 2009
On Friday, continuing the quest for a Bolivia driver's license (see here and here and here for the first three installments), I was asked by the lawyer to bring in my Bolivia ID card at 5pm. At 5:12, he wasn't there. I called his cell and he said he was close. When he got there, he asked to keep my card! A little odd, but it's to save me time and since many of my foreigner friends here have used him, he must be trustworthy....
So I've left it, and we'll see when I get it back!
Oh, and I also had to leave more money - 120 Bolivianos (about $17).
Saturday, May 30, 2009
So if I don't get to reply to each one, please accept this thank you! I'm so backed up on work (this week also had an adoption, remember) and yet am having trouble concentrating when I do have computer time.
Tonight I was remembering this night...
...just two weeks ago. Maybe baby Joel was just tired with the dinner (our last with volunteer Dan before he traveled), but when he got fussy I offered him his bottle. After a few sips he started to coo and smile at me so much he couldn't keep drinking. Then he started his cooing! I was in the middle of talking with others, but he got me all distracted and we had to ignore the rest of the world for a minute and carry on a conversation. He was a real talker!
The night before, May 27, Katrina was looking at our wall of pictures in the Baby Home of every child that has passed through our doors in all three homes. We started to speculate which child might be the next to leave the Baby Home (in adoption) and when we might have room for new ones. It was crazy to think of that the next day, when Joel so very unexpectedly was the next to go. How little we know! As I Corinthians says, we see through a glass dimly and know only in part...
Today I spent some time reading about loss and grief/losing a baby in some books I have (yeah, super cheery Saturday morning reading). One line stuck out to me about coping mechanisms, how "some mothers want to immediately have another baby to compensate for their loss". In spite of everything, I had to chuckle. Not many "mothers" could immediately have TWO new babies. Shortly after Katrina and I got back from the hospital on Thursday morning, the social worker from the main maternity hospital here in Cochabamba called us begging us to take two abandoned babies. They needed the incubators they were in and didn't have space to keep them any longer.
My social worker told her no and told me an hour or two later (smart woman!). I wanted to call back with all my heart, but my mind knew it probably wasn't the healthiest. ...Although to have another tiny one to wear in the sling while I work, or at night, sounded marvelous. But now after processing a little, I realize I wanted Joel Jhon to arrive again. That would've been unfair for a new baby, to be our Joel for us again.
So I made the hard decision to honor the social worker's decision. If she had consulted with me, I know I would have said that one of them could come, and we would have had a new baby in our arms by evening. As scary as it is to think of being entrusted with another little one, so fragile. All in God's timing....
Okay I really do need to do something else, like pick up my room or something else on my massively huge task list.
Thanks again to everyone for your support. It means a lot!
I don’t know how to share this. It’s just too awful. This can’t be ME writing about this again. Putting it in black and white means it was real, the nightmare really happened, and there’s no escaping.
Our hearts are broken again.
On Thursday, May 28, at 7:30am, our youngest baby Joel Jhon was taken from us. One of our very healthiest babies ever, the picture of robust health. On Wednesday night he was fussy, so I snuggled him in the sling. While someone made his bottle, I coaxed some coos and smiles out of him. He had the best smile EVER! His smiles and “talking” always made the room light up. He only drank about half the bottle before falling completely asleep. I kept him on me awhile longer even though I was worn out from a full day and still had a lot to do, including practicing piano for rehearsal the next night. I was enjoying his sweet, warm, heavily asleep body against mine. There’s nothing like it! Then at 10 something I took him back to the night caregivers, placing him gently in his basket still in the sling so as not to wake him, without an inkling of what the morning held. The tías said they would take him out of it a little later.
At 2am he drank his milk so quickly they gave him a bottle with some tea, and he just drank a bit before falling back asleep. He was in his bassinet in between the two night caregivers.
This was the beautiful perfect, 3 1/2 month old baby that I cuddled less than 10 hours ago. I won’t go into details, but he was in almost exactly the same condition as Gabriela was 4 months and 5 days before (minus the horrendous chicken pox sores). How these images burn into your mind! When I saw Gabi that way in January, I burst into tears (those who know me know that never happens) immediately recognizing she was in critical condition, but this time I was so stunned I couldn’t even think what to do. I was in total denial.
Katrina, our medical assistant, just “happened” to have slept at the Baby Home the night before (thank you, Lord!). She had heard the commotion, took one look at the baby, and said “I’ll take him in, I’m calling a taxi”. Within 10 minutes he was in the emergency room of one of the best clinics in Bolivia.
Meanwhile I was hastily getting ready to follow them. It was so, so surreal. It was like I was watching myself go through the motions from somewhere else. And even though I was trying to block the terrible image of trying to revive Joel out of my mind, and pretend like I was just getting ready for a normal day, scary thoughts kept creeping in. This was supposed to be the day of the Mother’s Day tea, not a funeral. I informed God (shaking my fist at Him in my mind) that it was IMPOSSIBLE that this was happening again. That he HAD to raise Joel back up. That I wouldn’t hold Gabi’s death against Him, as we pled for her life outside the ER for over 30 minutes before they gave up, that He could and WOULD raise Joel back up.
I had such a clear vision of being on a road on a clear beautiful day (the kind of days we’ve been having in Cochabamba, until actually this day which was oddly cloudy and almost cold), but approaching the edge of a storm, a terrible terrible dark cloud with hail, rain, lightening, thunder, wind, and cold. The storm of death, which I’ve already encountered this year with Gabriela. I told God I wasn’t strong enough to go through that same storm again already, to please let this cup pass from me. To pick someone else, that maybe He doesn’t know me that well and doesn’t know I CAN’T TAKE THIS AGAIN. Much less leading all my staff through the valley of death - a second time.
I was ready to leave, and Katrina was already calling my cell. I didn’t want to answer, to hear what she was going to tell me. Her few, quiet words seared into my head: “Bring his papers, he’s gone”. As a taxi drove me to the hospital (I didn’t want to drive) I felt it was taking me to the eye of the storm, where I did NOT WANT TO BE. This fallen world… It is so hard to be here sometimes.
On the same day, my sister Heather was told it’s confirmed, she has lupus. When I was able to talk to her late that night, I didn’t know whether to be concerned or touched by how she took the news. On her lunch break our Mom told her about baby Joel, so with that fresh on her mind she just told the doctor “I’m still alive, it can’t be that bad. Today my sister lost one of her babies”.
Even though my family was not here this time to walk through this with us, God sent
This seems to be a senseless storm. We are here to save babies, not helplessly watch them die. I’m not very appreciative right now that God seems to want me to major on loss and grief. But I am choosing to trust His purposes in this. There are many moments when I don’t, but that’s my goal.
Nikki, the volunteer who was the closest to a loving mother Joel ever had, who in fact planned on returning to Bolivia adopt him, said that God has had this verse in her head for a time now and now she understands why.
Lord, help us all to still love you, even when we hurt so badly and our arms ache for our baby!
The last picture made of him before Heaven, as far as I know (did anyone else take one later?)
I hate the part of the coffin, even saying it. That is NOT where a baby is supposed to be! It was brutal, having him in the dining room all afternoon. It looked like he was peacefully sleeping, just like the picture I had made of him less than 48 hours before (above).
Nikki insisted on a "chocolate casket for her chocolate baby". He was also dressed in favorite clothes rather than something he never wore when alive and well. Nikki included a lock of hair, a place where he always grabbed onto when she held him. A little toy, a favorite blanket, and one of the "rags" he arrived in was also placed inside. (And yes, the few of us present cried our eyes out as Nikki included these precious items and explained each one!)
Missionary pastor Joe Holman spoke in English and Spanish, since we had people present who just speak one or the other. Many were shaking their heads in agreement as he shared and I know it was a blessing to everyone. (The laptop was showing a slideshow of Joel pictures and playing music before we began.)
He thanked me afterwards for asking him to handle the service. Really generous, since the last baby funeral he did was of his own in early February (his wife miscarried a week after we lost Gabriela).
So, so hard... Saying bye for the last time. The sobs of the staff and volunteers broke me in two.
God is with us. We've seen His hand in the small details and the big details, when we stop long enough from pleading "Why???" Why was he taken? But this will be a long road of grief, and for most of us compounded with still grieving Gabriela.
Pray for comfort for Nikki & daughter Alie, all our staff, the 4 other volunteers who were also shaken (without even having been around baby Joel much), Katrina who dealt with the brunt of the hard stuff on this day, how the government sees this, and certainly for me - I won't be shy!
Thank you for your prayers.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Then M.'s new father, 45 years old, looked me right in the eyes and said (in Italian of course), "We have waited FIVE YEARS for THIS DAY." As that simple statement sank in, it gave me chills. Their first full day enjoying their new daughter!
And on Bolivia Mother's Day, too.
Tonight I finally had a chance to finish the last chapter in The Open Door. This paragraph jumped out as me and I basked in the comfort of realizing that the author has taken this road before us--and understands! As she spoke of her husband's failing health, this surrogate mother to over 200 children wrote:
"Few people realize how much it costs in patience, love, and money to take children from destitute places, build them up physically, straighten them out emotionally to give them a feeling of inward security, train and educate them, lead them to the Lord, and then send them out to take their places in the world."
Can I get an Amen?! It might seem so simple to others...love on needy children and provide for their needs...but how complex and intense it is in reality!
Today other than a quick trip back to the Baby Home/office, I was at Casa de Amor III from 10am to 6pm. That might be the longest I've ever been there and at some points I was the oldest in the house apart from M.'s parents (who were of course busy with her).
It's non stop--when all is going smoothly! And today there are two slightly sick, cranky toddlers. And trying to keep the other 7 kids out of M.'s hair (and that of her new parents) so that they can continue the bonding process. For some reason today it sunk it to me more than ever how many little ones and babies they have. I know we have almost 3 times as many at the Baby Home, but the model is different and there are more hands.
Each child is so unique, so different, and a world unto him/herself, and it takes so much wisdom to properly respond to and train and love on each one.
I came away with new admiration for the Alseth family who day in, day out (and night!) pour themselves into the eight young children they have taken into their home.
For a glimpse of a day at CDA III, read this post
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The emotion in the car was palpable on our way to Casa de Amor III for the first meeting. My social worker stayed past her normal hours to allow them the chance to meet M. today. The other Italian couple adopting wasn’t so fortunate; because their hearing was also late in the day, the home where their new son and daughter live (I saw them just a few days ago, clinging to their pictures of the couple!) said they don’t work late and that they can come tomorrow.
There are no words to describe it…
Tante emozioni, indeed!
Tomorrow I will live it with them from 10am-6pm (minus running a little girl to the doctor) and I can’t wait! I also can’t wait to learn more Italian. I LOVE learning new languages when I can immediately put what I learn into practice! If I can at least understand them, I can help them communicate better with M. The new mother speaks some English, but it’s easier to stay in the more similar Spanish and Italian….although we’ve already had jumbled conversations using words from all three languages. Love it!
My birthday weekend-and-Monday was great! After three days straight of cake (try FOUR types on Saturday) I’m, ah-hem, considering my diet options.
And look at this:
My first present: Ghirardelli chocolate from the US, from a missionary mother (bless you!).
My second present: a box of chocolate from my two right arms in administration.
My third gift: you guessed it! Assorted chocolate bars, plus other snacks, lotion, and a BOOK (love you, Alseths!!).
Do people think I’m stressed or something?!
Saturday morning we went to the park to celebrate birthdays of a volunteer and B. turning two (I didn’t take my camera, so will have to get pics from those who went). We were something like 14 adults (from New Zealand, US, Bolivia, Norway, England) and 13 children. Pretty good ratio, I’d say!! If our degree of dirtiness after three hours of much playing and much snacking is any indication, then we had a VERY good time indeed. I had to completely change!
On Sunday I was on the praise team playing keyboard (same as for my 21st birthday), which I loved! Didn’t want the music to end this week—we did one of my favorite Hillsongs, another fast one from Hillsongs, and several other favorites and the congregation really entered in.
That afternoon a nap sounded about the coolest thing as well as finishing a book (“The Open Door” about a children’s home in the US in the 40s and 50s) but it wasn’t to be as I talked to several members of my family by phone. This is the first year I’ve not been with them on my birthday….
Before leaving for the evening, I peeked in on the babies. Two were up on all fours considering crawling and Twins E & E were standing up thinking about walking and the tias were encouraging all of them—really cute! Then I went to the room with the toddlers and someone, I think boy A?, looked at me and called out “mommy!” and 3 or 4 others followed suit. They rarely call me that, or not multiple at once, and on my birthday, too! Melted my heart. And they’ve continued it since that day. (And it's Mother's Day week here in Bolivia!)
The Holmans then blessed my socks off Sunday night! First we met up (they were with their 7 youngest) at a new restaurant in town that has some semblance of “Tex-Mex” food. Yum!! Then I joined them in my parent’s former Bolivia SUV to go to their house for the cookie cake Denise Holman had prepared. It was so close to what I remember of cookie cakes in the US that I had to ask my Mom the next day if she had divulged the recipe for the cake and icing!!
Their new three story house with pool and back house is really lovely…..and it was really funny to be in it, sitting on my parents old couch, telling time by their former clock, and noticing their lamps all over the place. And to see that Faith has my first bed, the one I slept on till my feet hung off over the footboard!
After a while their oldest 3 arrived back with my new volunteers, and we continued chatting. It was a relaxing evening and so refreshing to be out of the Baby Home and forget about it all for a bit AND be in the middle of family life again.
Muchas gracias, familia Holman!!
Now if I'd had my way today, I'd have fixed them all up and tried hard for some great pictures (although they are extremely active and don't appreciate being still at all), but there was no time. I barely had a minute to take two before M's parents arrived.
Today I also had an excellent time at CDA II, chatting and lunching (more chatting than anything) with the kiddos. Maybe I'll write about it tomorrow, but for now more tasks call my name....
Neither of us was going to have time later or even tomorrow, so we planned to meet up immediately at the "main" police station for the background check.
While I waited for him, I ran into two other lawyers I work with and a friend from church.
I also remembered the time I went with some "friends" from the street (including a lady pregnant with a baby I put to bed tonight) to check on others being held in a cell there. That was on my birthday two years ago ~grin~
So with my lawyer, I got finger printed and signed. Seem odd to anyone but me that you need a lawyer for a background check?? I don't know if it's true or not, but this lawyer says that's the new deal.
Coming up Friday if we both have time: Interpol background check, yippee...
Monday, May 25, 2009
heart breaking, tragic, with conflicting details, many unknowns and doubts...or all of the above. Here's the story of my "birthday present" two years ago.
The boy stayed with his grandparents, while Josue and his devastated father moved back to Cochabamba to begin putting their lives back together. But Josue’s dad was now rejected by his family, and suffering a lot under the weight of all the life changes in such a short time. It was also not working out for Josue to follow his dad around to construction and repair jobs.
So on my birthday in 2007, volunteer Amber and I were running all over the city helping some people who live on the street. In the course of doing that, we spoke with the psychologist of the Catholic’s HIV/AIDS program. She told me about the dilemma of Josue and his dad, and asked if we could possibly help temporarily. I said I’d consult with my staff and get back with her. A couple hours later I was trying to rehearse with the church praise team (I say try because I got there late and my cell kept ringing) and she called back saying “He’s here and wants Josue to move in with you right now!! Can you come talk to him?” Yikes! I ended up leaving rehearsal early and going back to her office downtown.
After talking with the father, a priest, and our psychologist friend, we left for CDA II arriving right after dark. It was sweet to see Josue so excited about going to live with other children. We showed Josue and his father around the home, then joined in the birthday celebration they had planned for me. As if reading my mind that I get really tired of cake, cake, and more cake with our constant birthday parties, the staff and kids had prepared api morado and pasteles de queso with powdered sugar (mas o menos like the desert empanadas here)….yum! So that was Josue’s first “meal” in our home.
Josue is a fun loving, very energetic little boy with a serious side. He is extremely smart, artistic, and shows real talent when working on craft or coloring projects. He also likes playing soccer and learning new words in English and recently started kindergarten. He’s a great student!
A few months ago, I was blessed to be part of Josue's dedication to the Lord at church.
Pictures from top of post to bottom:
1) A thoughtful pose (picture by photographer Brad Collins)
2) Josue's new bed at CDA II
3) Riding a horse
4) Playing on a huge slide in a city park
Help provide loving care for Josue for $25/month through Casa de Amor's new child sponsorship program. Download THIS form to start!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Ever since the founding of Casa de Amor in 2002, I've had the dream of partnering with Christian families to provide a better model of care for the many children-in-need in this area. But every time we brought up this grand idea with our authorities here, they laughed at us. We even opened CDA III after one of those occasions, just making it an official home although the model is more like a foster family.
But we persisted. In March, we were going through a hard time with our oldest boy, 10 years old. Maybe the move of CDA II at the end of January shook him up, maybe the remembrance of seeing and experiencing many things he shouldn’t have when younger. Wanting to protect the other children and yet not give up on him, finding a Christian family to take him in at least a year or even long term seemed the best solution.
Amazingly, in talking this over with child welfare services, they gave us the green light to proceed in finding a foster family for C! Long story short, with LOTS of prayer, fasting, and encouragement from the staff, C. is doing much better and we feel he can continue at the home with his sisters for now.
But we took off and ran with the first positive word we’ve heard in 5 years that YES we could delegate our children to families!
With adoptions taking longer than ever and more babies (many with special needs) entering the system daily, it just makes sense. Besides that, it’s drastically less expensive and less administratively time consuming for the foster family model. I realize that to expand it much, we’ll need special staff to just supervise the foster families, but we’re talking maybe one or two people…whereas we have 20 staff amongst the three homes currently.
It’s been a very invigorating couple of months as we have met multiple times with Infante, the one group in Bolivia authorized to work in foster care, child protection services, and of course together as an administrative team to study the whole issue from inside and out. We’ve even helped put on a course for government officials and other homes interested in the model, to educate and inform them of what the law says in regards to foster families and how the model works...and benefits the kids. I've loved all of it, learning all the nitty gritty details! It's been incredibly interesting.
In April, we also interviewed and evaluated the first family that wants to join our program, to be with a baby of ours they’ve fallen in love with. Honestly, I knew it would be a long, rocky road, and tried to prepare them for that, I didn't expect it to unfold this way. Whereas this is my life, and day in and day out for 5 years I have dealt with the unending bureaucracy and inefficiency as we push through dozens of cases of kids at a time, the first foster family is not used to this and is finding it very hard to understand. I can see from their point of view, in just wanting the best for the baby, and yet I’m all too familiar with the many roadblocks at every turn these days (in a country increasingly heading away from adoptions) and it’s very draining to constantly try to reconcile the two.
Currently, we’ve basically been told that as a children's home, there is no precedent for this in Bolivia and thus we need to have a special agreement with child welfare services to allow one of our children to live out from under our roof—just to make sure everyone’s back is covered. This was disappointing news since the law clearly states that foster families are allowed AND we are being trained by the one group here authorized to work this way.
It could take the rest of the year to get this agreement pushed through various government offices. We are looking into other options so that at least one baby can be in a better environment. I’ve been waiting for this “one” to go through so that we could begin sharing the vision in local churches, but all the set backs have made it difficult.
Still, we are excited about the potential of this program and just need patience and wisdom as we work through the details. We are committed to laying a strong foundation for the future!
Pray, pray, pray! This will be an awesome victory for providing the best care possible to children in need in Bolivia.
The lawyer must have told me no less than 4 times yesterday "I'll call you tomorrow!"
He was so enthusiastic about it, even I believed him.
But no call, so no trip to the police station today for (yet another) background check.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
After all, if I have to go to two places rather than one, makes for a more pity evoking blog post, right? Right.
Keep in mind that I'm following suit of some fellow missionary friends and doing this the "easy" (but legal) way. A lawyer will guide me through the maze (yes a LAWYER...they use them for every. thing. here.).
printed out the list my friends sent me, a whole page long, and studied which documents I need...ironically, while driving, ha! I do have my TX license and an (expired) international license.
Called lawyer's office, no one answered
Called his cell and he says he'll be in the office soon. Perfect!
Passed by our accountant's office to pick up and copy:
the rent contract of my house (also the Baby Home)
last light bill paid
last water bill paid
Left my car parked by the accountant, walked several city blocks to lawyer's office
He wants a copy of my carnet (Bolivia ID card) to get started right away. I normally have a copy with me but just left the last one with the lawyer who will help renew my visa soon.
Make multiple copies of carnet, because I'm gonna need them in this whole process
Walk over a couple blocks to exchange money
Back to lawyer's office, leave him 500 Bs (about $71) and 150 Bs ($21), some for his work, some for background check and other papers
I wait about 15 minutes for him to type up and print a memorial (is that the word in English?) requesting the police check. He tends to some people in between, but not too bad of a wait for here! And he quizzed me with names of various foreigners he's helped in between. I knew them all. =)
He signs and I sign the memorial, then he asks for a copy of my passport. Sigh. I knew I should've brought it but I don't take it out for just anything and I didn't have time before to make copies (it's brand new).
Back in the office, I make copies of the passport picture page.
Several hours later I have a chance to run the copy to him. He says he'll call tomorrow about going to the police station.
Hm...was that as boring to read as it was to write?! I'm falling asleep while writing it. Could have something to do with getting up really early to pick up the new volunteers from the airport. Who consequently were not there because their flight connections didn't quite work out as they should've. And a super busy full day. But I wouldn't have it any other way!
Also met our next child today! Well I've met him before when he was still on the street, but today I "met" him knowing he's our next. He's the 4 1/2 year old brother of one of our little girls.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
So began an email friendship with Suzy.
I have been reading your blog for the past few days (since following a link from Seeking Faithfulness) and have been so completly moved by your work with the children at Casa de Amor. The children look so happy, loved and nurtured, I have found myself tearing up more than a few times just looking at their sweet faces. I have been so touched. Our family is offering prayers during lent for a number of orphanages and homes for children and have included Casa de Amor with them. So just to let you know, every evening we are lifting you all up in prayer.
Then she shared her very touching idea:
I was thinking this over last night... I would love to help in some small way. I came up with the idea of maybe publishing a book with an online publishing company.
The book's theme would be based around different aspects of how faith works in our lifes. Although that can incorporate many different things such as friendship, family, devotion, refelctions, adoption, poetry, story etc...
Now thanks to Suzy's hard work and the contribution of dozens of bloggers, her vision of a fundraising book is now reality!
To get your own copy of "Faith Quilt" for $35.10 (up to $52.10, depending on the cover material), follow this link.
Suzy recently reported that £50 has been raised so far.
It looks beautiful and I can't wait to personally see (and read) "our" book!!
A very big thanks from Casa de Amor to Suzy and all her bloggy friends who participated in this unique fundraiser!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Now we don't know how one will affect the other.
I "read" the ABR test results and the neurologist's report myself two weeks ago when I picked them up and felt it was so, but now it's confirmed.
Severe to profound loss in her left ear
(unfortunately we don't know which because as is his custom, the doctor did a sloppy job in working through the decibel levels)
Moderate loss in her right ear
I'm in touch with Starkey Foundation again, so hopefully we'll have her aids here by June with a returning volunteer.
How will this affect her future?
heart breaking, tragic, with conflicting details, many unknowns and doubts...or all of the above. Here's the story of two little girls who arrived with an uphill climb.
On November 9, 2007, I was standing in the kitchen meeting with the cook I think. The phone rang, and the social worker/administrator found me and said it was child welfare, asking for space for sisters ages 5 months and almost 2. We hadn’t taken in siblings all year so I felt drawn to take them in although we were starting to get overly full. We conversed just a minute and I gave the go ahead.
Within an hour the little girls arrived, and it was quickly obvious that we had our work cut out for us. But first we interviewed the two ladies bringing them, supposedly the (young) aunt and (elderly) grandmother. Both were obviously very poor, from a hard life far outside the city, and were more comfortable speaking Quechua. It was several months before the “aunt” confessed to the caregivers that she was indeed the mother, justifying her decision by saying that if she had told the truth no one would have helped her (possibly true, since she is young and healthy and can work hard to provide for her children).
We took the girls right to the doctor. Helen was almost two and yet didn't walk. She was in a precarious state of health, with bronchitis, multiple infections, oozing sores, diarrhea, and severe malnutrition. Although it was a Friday afternoon, they made an exception to admit her to the nutrition center. (I was relieved, wanting to protect the other babies in the home.)
But we soon learned that her emotional state was worse than anything. She seemed to have “shut down” inside and was very easily frightened, making us think she had been severely neglected and abused. After a month long stay in the hospital to begin recuperating nutritionally and to be healed of her many ills, Helen came home to us and began the very slow process of coming out of her shell.
Iris was also a sight to behold upon arrival, but in comparison to the struggles of her sister, she’s been a hardy and healthy baby. However once she began walking, we realized that her legs were much too outward curved, causing her to trip and stumble constantly. She is now in a long-term treatment plan with an orthopedic specialist. During waking hours she wears a custom brace and special orthopedic shoes to correct the curvature of her legs and flat feet. Helen is also in treatment with the orthopedist to correct very flat feet that cause her legs to curve from the knee.
As Helen took fully twice as long to pass normal developmental milestones, our neurologist diagnosed her with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) due to drug and alcohol use by her mother while pregnant. The brain damage from FAS is permanent and the only course of action is much stimulation, love, and nutrition. After one year of living in Casa de Amor, the neurologist gave us very positive feedback on the great progress Helen has made. She is a delight to be with, very sweet and quiet, and loves the games of little girls such as caring for her baby dolls.
Iris has always been one of our most easy-going babies, and now as a toddler hardly makes a peep (although she hates change, such as leaving the house for any reason or even suspecting she might have to leave the house). She plays contentedly alone or with the other toddlers.
Although we’ve presented papers that could lead to the girls’ adoption, at the same time we are starting to formulate a plan of action to get the girls back with their mother. It’s still a long road ahead, but we’ve come a long way!
Pictures from top of post to bottom:
1) The girls upon arrival, pre-baths
2) Holding Helen in the doorway as the kids and caregivers greet the newcomers
3) Iris recovering from chicken pox, January 2009
4) The sisters together last year after being at Casa de Amor one year
Help provide loving care for Helen & Iris for $50/month through Casa de Amor's new child sponsorship program. Download THIS form to start!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
And mine is....
He was about six weeks here, probably weighed about 8 pounds...took him a long time to start catching up.
He grabbed my finger so tightly while eating this day, as I "wore him" and worked, I just had to take this picture
Friday, May 15, 2009
The creativity and generosity of some people never ceases to amaze me!!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
A. was chubby even on the street =)
To see their smiling faces in such conditions…children truly are resilient, aren’t they?!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Even though Casa de Amor has cared for children for 4 ½ years with over 80 passing through our doors, we've never had a vehicle for supporting a specific child...until now!
Thanks to the encouragement and support of First Baptist Church McKinney in December 2008, our first child sponsorship program is officially launched!
I am grateful for the hard work of my family, volunteer Denise Knee (pictured here with “her” baby), staff of First Baptist Church McKinney, and the resources I found online to draft the details of our sponsorship program. And the quiet hours I found here and there to sit and write out all the bios for the packets...
It’s been fun as we begin, to help people decide on a baby or child to sponsor—many of them former CDA volunteers who know the kids.
Doesn’t the impact just feel greater when we have a name and a face to go along with our donation? Knowing that you are helping "Sara" or “Juan” and getting pictures and updates on their progress seems so much more personal. That’s why we’re excited about the potential of this program!
And imagine the prayer covering......sponsors committed to praying for their child every time God brings him/her to mind.
I prayed for this child and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. I Samuel 1:27
It’s just $25 a month, 82 cents a day.
"You are the helper of the fatherless... Psalm 10:14"
Monday, May 11, 2009
So here goes....
8 things I look forward to
~JULY and a visit from my Mom and two sisters, yeah!
~a family of my own
~having foster families prepared and “in waiting” so that we can direct new babies directly to a family
~the next adoptions!!
~the next new baby =)
~eating Tex-Mex and my Mom’s cooking again (I've been having withdrawals...)
~Christmas in the US this year, first time since 2004
~Heaven! (the missionary life really helps you with that one, LOL)
8 things I did yesterday
~it was our team’s week at church, so I rehearsed and played piano
~started (again) the book “Jesus on Leadership”, by Gene Wilkes
~organized my room and two closets, yeah!!! I lost momentum after my family left but I still had their stuff everywhere. Finally it’s squared away and I feel like I have my room back.
~watched the intro video for our next Bible study at church (Psalms of Ascent, by Beth Moore)
~coughed a lot
~practiced a new song for church on my piano and guitar, in Spanish and English
~called and talked to my Mom and sister Emma
~played with the toddlers a while before they went to bed (yeah, they didn’t really want to go to bed after that!!)
8 things I wish I could do
just my thoughts today, in no particular order…
~travel more (without ever leaving here, of course...we're wishing, right?!)
~take better pictures
~visit all my former kids who have been adopted (that would mean visiting France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and Holland—WOW)
~end child abuse
~play amazing guitar
~speak Italian…and French and Dutch and Danish and whatever else our adopting families arrive speaking!
8 shows I watch
No TV here...
8 people I tag
heart breaking, tragic, with conflicting details, many unknowns and doubts...or all of the above. Here's the story of the upward climb in "rehabilitating" one from the street.
Gladis started off life on the streets of Cochabamba with her a teen mother. Around the time she was 2 1/2 years old, a concerned street kid worker was worried enough for her safety and development to report the mother’s irresponsible behavior to the government. In a police raid in August 2007, Gladis (along with other children) was removed from the dirty canal where she lived with other street kid “families” and dogs. She was first sent to a temporary shelter for street girls. Then a few months later, at the request of several people and organizations, was transferred her to Casa de Amor to be able to better coordinate how we should proceed with Gladis and her mother in the future.
Our challenge was to provide Gladis with the right environment and training where she could learn to be a child again, without worrying about survival or acting like a teenager. She arrived with many irrational fears, such as screaming and getting very upset to look outside the window at night, very strong fear of fires, and awaking with night terrors. Her “games” were escaping from robbers who wanted to kill her, and others that scared the other children. There were also signs of an attachment disorder, with difficult behavior such as seeming to get pleasure from the sight of blood (hurting either herself or unsuspecting, even sleeping, babies). And most concerning of all to us was her behavior with the other little boys of the house, doing all she could to get them off alone with her or in her bed, along with other actions I won’t put here.
Everyone falls in love with Gladis quickly though, the Alseth family being no exception. Knowing of all the challenges we’d had with her, they specifically requested that she be the first “candidate” to move into their family style home, Casa de Amor III. She has thrived under their watchful care and constant re-training! It was a very long road the first months as she woke up screaming every single night and as they worked through her other difficulties.
Now she is a completely different child! Still very spunky, strong-willed, and independent, but with a new level of self-control and love for herself and thus others. She enjoys an international fan club of volunteers from around the world who knew her from her street days and occasionally stop into to visit her.
Gladis has also lost many of her teeth, including going under anesthesia for several hours to remove the worst, but at least now she doesn't have constant infections! She does have a cute lisp though.
A little about Gladis, from her sponsorship packet: Gladis loves God and likes to worship Him with her own made up songs and dancing. Her favorite things to do are dance, sing, and stand in the corner. We are working on teaching her preschool and computer skills, that she isn't an adult "quite" yet, what God is like, and how to demonstrate love to other people. She thrives on any kind of attention and soaks it up like a dry sponge.
Since Gladis’ time with us at Casa de Amor, her mother has not tried to reclaim her daughter nor visit her. In August last year, her mother’s new baby—Gladis’ half sister—died in the same street canal. Our baby Gabriela is actually buried right
next to her in the cemetery. Gladis has been assigned an international adoptive family and we just await their arrival sometime this year.
(Update since writing this: her new parents will arrive at the end of May!! We are so excited for them and for "Gladis".)
*name has been changed
Pictures from top to bottom:
1) Gladis on the street
2) Her first days with us
3) Gladis LOVES babies (this was the first picture I took of baby Elias in the Baby Home)
4) At her 4th birthday party
Saturday, May 9, 2009
A very nice visit to the Christian deaf boarding school/home outside Cochabamba with some of my volunteers and Hospitals of Hope volunteers.
This year we were asked about the possibility of helping this home (financially and administratively). How I would LOVE to, but it didn't seem the wisest move since we have our plates so full already! If God would show me how, I would...
On a side note, but unfortunately related: last night I picked up ABR results for a 21 month old at CDA III, and was very saddened to see what looks like severe hearing loss. I just finished scanning in the results and sending them to Starkey Foundation to see what they will say.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I don’t have enough brain cells these days to come up with a thoughtful post, so this one will just be a smattering of the many different things going on right now. I’m also pretty low physically. I have the Cochabamba killer cough and it’s wearing me out, plus to hear all the staff/volunteers/kids cough constantly! Tonight I’m totally tired. But it’s been a joy (of the kind James talks of!) to see God teach and humble me through this weakness.
And as for cute pictures of the kids, well—their noses are running so fast there’s not even time to take a picture in between the dripping, coughing, sneezing, and just miserable-ness. The poor tias are barely sleeping at night, running from crib to crib. And last night my car battery died right outside the gate getting home at almost midnight (after a volunteer fellowship), so I had to get their help in pushing it inside. I told them they deserved a prize, I’m just not sure what it is yet…!
Three days into this week we already had 3 requests to take in children: ages 5, 3, 1, and 28 days. We said no. I even personally said no to the sisters, and didn't call back about the newborn (which I've done on multiple occasions even when my staff said no ;-).
Yes it was hard. No I don’t regret it. That’s either a sign I’m really sick, or really serious about getting the numbers DOWN first!! Plus, the Baby Home is a hotbed for viruses currently, so it wouldn’t be the smartest move. But I do hate imagining them in the way more overcrowded Baby Home in town…….
Finally today child welfare services moved along the reports for our first potential foster family. YES!!!!!! Maybe just maybe we’ll have one baby in a better environment soon.
This week our new administrative assistant also takes on the load of accountant and is now with us full time. I’m really happy with this move because it will increase our efficiency, save us money, and free up my administrator/social worker to focus back on her area. If only every decision was so benefit loaded!
Construction continues on the new room at the Baby Home. It's looking good!!
Today a new blogging friend from England emailed me to say that the book she’s been working on, dedicated to “Casa de Amor Children’s Homes”, is now printed! That one deserves a whole blog post of it’s own, maybe tomorrow…
All week there’s been lots of back and forth between our new child sponsorship coordinator, me, and staff/members of a church about the sponsorship packets and many many details that go along with this…. (You just never realize all that goes into such a “simple” idea until you’re in the thick of it!) Thanks to all who are sponsoring!!!!!
I've had several meetings at CDA III this week (I’ve gone 3 times within the last 24 hours, as well as two times to CDA II), for such varied topics as: clarifying how HIV is transmitted and how it’s not, discipline methods, house cleaning schedule, the menu and nutrition, and the great news that M. will meet her new parents in just a few weeks! There’s another topic that brings up so many different layers. The appropriate way to share this news with M. (4 ½), weaning her from being so dependent emotionally on the “mother” of that home, how this will affect the other children, how to handle their new doubts about adoption since they’ve witnessed a “failed” one just two weeks ago, how to answer the questions, what to say to the (slightly older) “first time parents” as they take on a wonderful but challenging “favorite", remembering everything we can about M.'s past and time with us to pass onto to them (health, anecdotes, stories, changes we’ve seen, challenges overcome)….you get the idea!
And anyway, we lay our plans, but just as each child is a world unto him/herself, each adoption has it's own twists and turns and we can never guess how each moment will unfold.
Adoption is very multi-faceted, especially with an older child. I usually find that even to the neglect of everything and everyone else, I end up throwing my whole self into those in particular, spending many hours with the family and working till late at night to keep up with my other work. Very exhausting, very rewarding. Although this time I know the Alseths at CDA III will take the brunt of the work onto themselves. Note to self: arrange more volunteer help for them during that time…
I had another meeting today with a network my staff has been crucial in forming “Mi Derecho a Tener Una Familia” (My Right to Have a Family). I LOVE being on the cutting edge, especially when it's to help kids in need!! The group not only plans big things but has already done big things. Today we presented a letter to someone who hopefully has a lot of say in assigning a new judge (right now Coch is limping along with just one judge for all the children cases, whereas we really need three to make proper headway in the many, many pending adoption cases). Now we members will begin visiting other homes and seeing how we can fortify their social/legal efforts on behalf of the kids in their care (i.e., either making plans for child to return to family of origin or else adoption).
A missionary working in Santa Cruz will visit us this month to talk about plans to start a home for special needs babies. I am honored to get to help by sharing our experiences. Besides caring for babies (something not many will tackle), we've had our share of special needs and disabilities, so I'm sure we'll have some interesting conversations. In the next week or so we find out if two of our toddlers have hearing loss or not....I'm anxious to know.
Several of the current volunteers will leave by the end of the month but a couple more arrive. Without my family here, all the local coordination of that (such as buying domestic tickets and arranging host family details or where they'll live with us) falls to me. Tomorrow I've coordinated a hike to the highest peak in Cochabamba for 15 of them (our volunteers plus friends). As for me, I'll be holding down the fort back at the office. Already been there done that twice, thankyouverymuch.
Well that was longer than I thought and probably only the faithful few are still with me. =) Finally had a quiet hour and just wanted to reflect I guess, but now I'm wasting no further time in hitting the sack. Good night!
In a conference call with reporters, CDC's Dr. Carolyn Bridges said epidemiologists would be scrutinizing the disease's spread in South America, where the cool season is set to begin.
Flu virus "prefers lower humidity and lower temperatures for transmission" [that’s us here in Coch, folks!]. "We'll be looking closely to the Southern Hemisphere during their winter to see what happens. That may give us some clues as to what to expect."
So, if I got this right…….we’re the guinea pigs on what this new virus plans to do just cuz we’re south of the border?? What a comforting thought. You can thank us later...!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
heart breaking, tragic, with conflicting details, many unknowns and doubts...or all of the above. Here's the heartwarming story of our "church baby".
This baby was a memorable arrival! First, to set the scene, in early February 2008 we received a gorgeous, approximately 1 month old baby girl, even though we didn't have room. The same day we were also asked about taking in twin 1 year old girls whose parents were in jail/the street. My social worker said no because we didn’t have room at all, but of course I couldn’t get it out of my head and when I found out a couple days later that they still didn’t have a place for the twins, I said yes and we started seeing how we could rearrange things (and kids) and fit in another…two!
But the girls didn’t come, and didn’t come, and no one knew when they might. Then on February 29, I woke up thinking “how cool it would be to get a baby today on Leap Year Day”! That afternoon I was running errands with my sister Emma (then 9) when our social worker assistant called me. “Jennifer, the director of child protection himself called begging for us to take in a newborn found at a church. No one else has room, but we are waiting on the twins so what do we do?” After talking for awhile (or more correctly yelling, since I was on a busy street), we decided that I would swing by Child Protection offices before going to my praise team's rehearsal (during these times held in the middle of the afternoon which was nuts for my schedule).
He decided he was hungry at rehearsal so I think they sped it up on our account (kinda hard to play the piano with one hand and concentrate while jostling a baby you don't know in your other arm)!
Elias’ arrived with an intriguing story. He was found on a church bench near the main market downtown. We went back to interview the priest and he greeted us by saying “Oh, you want to hear about baby number 3!” We were like uh...number 3? And he explained that this was the third baby abandoned there in recent weeks. He was left after the morning’s open mass. When they ran out to the (very busy) street to see if anyone seemed to be standing around watching, but no one seemed to care. I appreciate the kind way the elderly priest spoke about the mother, saying that she was most likely in a very difficult situation, and what love she showed by leaving her baby in a safe place. (The rest of 2008, we got several babies who were left to die in river beds with adverse life long affects, so I became even more grateful to Elias’ mother, or whoever left him there.) Even though we checked back with the priest, it appears that no one ever returned to inquire about the baby.
Our “church baby” was one of our healthiest EVER. Barely a sniffle his 10 ½ months with us! Also one of the quietest. Then unfortunately, while we waited and waited for his adoption to be finalized, he came down with chicken pox on its second round through our house in January. It even delayed him leaving one day (guess the court didn’t want to “catch” it), but then he went to a lovely Christian Bolivian couple and their teenage daughter. We are so happy with how his story turned out, and how loved and cherished he is in his new doting family. (To read about the day they took him home, click here.)
2) The priest of the church pointing out where Elias was found
3) Jennifer holding Elias his first minutes in the Baby Home
4) The four youngest babies in March 2008 (Elias is the first on the left)
5) The babies are always popular visitors at CDA II!
6) My family always said that he looked just like this doll of my sister Emma