Meet GIFT recipient Anna Bowers
Will you consider helping international adoptees that, like Anna, will otherwise never be able to visit their birth country? A “YES” will change the life of a child in so many important ways.
As adoptees and their families travel, they explore the sights, soak in the culture, and visit local homes and schools. Many adoptees travel to their place of birth or founding, meet foster families or caregivers, visit orphanages, and sometimes birth family—all pieces that provide an important foundation for kids. “It was the best thing a kid like me could ask for,” said 13 year old Alexis Casey. “It’s like starting from the beginning.”
IT’S ABOUT IDENTITY BUILDING
Identity is a continuum. Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow. For tomorrow I will be a culmination of who I have been in all my “yesterdays” and who I hope to be in my “tomorrows.”
At pretty much every level, in every country, identity building is front and center in a homeland journey. Kids talk about their language ability (or lack thereof); they talk about trying to blend in, and about how they stand out. They talk about the dual nature of their existence, and struggle to find a spot where they are comfortable. They talk about their physical features, the communities where they live, about birth families, and about dating. They explore “why?” and simultaneously explore loss and grief. They interact with people in their birth country, and ask “Could that be me?”
A constant set of questions running through their minds leading to a better sense of “Who Am I?”
IT’S ABOUT OWNING THEIR STORY
International adoptees grow up hearing their life story as told by their parents who share the wonderful details of their preparation to adopt, the trip they took to bring their child home, and the experiences they had in the child’s birth country. And that’s great to a point.
“Whenever anyone asked questions about the circumstances of my birth and adoption or my birth country, I recited it like I was telling a story about someone else. When I got to my birth country, all of that changed.”
The narratives of our life are important, and for international adoptees “owning their information” is truly significant. “Perhaps the most powerful experience adoptive children and young adults can have is to travel to their birth country and learn first hand about their roots,” reports Heather Ames, MSW. For ten years, Heather was the director of Post Adoption Services at Wide Horizons for Children, one of largest adoption agencies in the U.S.
IT’S ABOUT FAMILY & BONDING
International adoptees do not come into this world with their adoptive families. As a result, the bonding process is unique. Spending time together on a homeland journey creates bonds that strengthen family relationship in a way no other life experience can.
“Grace and I are so much closer now. She has really opened up and found her wings.
Words just can’t express how perfect this trip was!” –Robbie Rose-Poel
IT’S ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS AND FITTING IN
The experiences the kids are having with the other adoptive adoptees cannot be overstated. Their comfort level with each other is evident from the start. No explanations needed.
With a foot in two worlds, they gain a realization that they also have a community they can be part of if they choose. We often hear, “Wow! I am not alone. I have made friends that will last a lifetime.”
“We all bonded on the first night. We came here as strangers and left as a family,” Nicholas Brunson, 15
We often think it is the greatest gift of the journey—the gift of community built around two worlds and shared experiences. To find a place to belong is among life’s greatest gifts.
IT’S ABOUT GRIEVING AND HEALING
The journey’s significance is deeper yet because it allows kids to grieve the losses of adoption, heal and move forward.
Parents never want to see their child hurting, but if they are hurt, we would all like to see them heal. A homeland journey allows for healing by giving kids a chance to grieve in the ways kids grieve, which is almost always a different experience than what parents expect.
Most kids do not go through the trip overflowing with tears. In fact, on a typical Ties trip, kids (and parents) are singing on the bus, laughing hysterically, and enjoying the sense of “being” in their birth country with other kids who share a similar history. When grief comes in the outward and traditional sense, it comes in waves and bursts.
But for most kids, it comes in ways that go pretty much unnoticed by all around them. It comes in linking—the finding and holding on to points of connection, in the same way a grandmother’s wedding ring, passed from mother to daughter can bring comfort.
Linking is often a very tangible piece of adoptees as they travel—a small baggie of soil, collected from their homeland and cherished forever.
But linking can be much more invisible and abstract, as it was for Amy. Amy and her family were visiting the clinic where Amy had been born, nearly 10,000 miles from where she had been raised in a wonderful adoptive family. They were scheduled to meet the doctor who delivered her. After their visit, Amy’s mom came to our staff hotel room, crying. She said the visit had been awful. “Amy couldn’t have cared less. While we were in the waiting room, she was all over the place, first sitting in one chair, then another.” We hugged and talked about visits not always being what we dreamed about. Mom left and we were sad.
About 30 minutes later, there was a knock on our door again. It was Mom.
Through her tears, she said, “Amy just told us she sat in every chair in the waiting room so that she would be sure to sit in the chair where her birth mom must have sat.” Linking. At nine years old.
IT’S ABOUT POSITIVE ROLE MODELS AND IMPRINTING MESSAGES
“We LOVE Analisa.” “Thom is SO cool.” Like camp counselors, the people your children interact with on a homeland journey are oh-so-important. In a study by Hollee McGinnis, MSW, of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, traveling to the birth country and interacting with role models of the same race were rated very high among the things internationally adopted people use in forming identity.
Kids on a homeland journey are “imprinted with positive messages” by interacting with people in their birth country. One young Vietnamese adoptee relayed this story to me. “I never felt pretty before I went to Vietnam. But then, I was in a shop, and a Vietnamese woman came up to me and said, ‘Oh what a beautiful girl you are.’ It felt so amazing to have someone who was really Vietnamese think I was pretty.”
The imprint is deep, lasting and useful in the work of identity building.
IT’S ABOUT CULTURAL AND GLOBAL AWARENESS
It is impossible to travel and not be touched by the amazing people and cultures that make up our global experience.
“It changes the way you see the world,” Caroline Conway, 14.
As we all become more culturally aware and global in our thoughts and actions. The kids soak this in, and in many cases express a distinct desire to help a world cause. As a result, every Ties Program has an optional humanitarian aid component that families can be part of if they choose.
Gift of Identity Fund, Ltd. is a non-profit 501(c)(3)
sister organization of The Ties Program—Adoptive Family Homeland Journeys.
Your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.