FIVE-YEAR ADOPTION BATTLE BRINGS SALVADORIAN CHILD TO NNY
Watertown Daily Times (NY)
Author: Norah E. Machia Times Staff Writer
It took schoolteacher Dean E. Wyand five years of filling out forms, making phone calls and visiting lawyers before he was finally able to adopt his son from an orphanage in El Salvador and bring him to his Henderson Harbor home.
It was worth the wait.
"When I got the call a this spring to make arrangements to pick him up, I couldn't believe it was finally going to happen," said the Henderson Elementary School math and computer teacher.
Mr. Wyand met his son, Lee, for the first time in April. They flew back together from El Salvador, and since that time, the two have learned to communicate with a mixture of Spanish and English words. Lee is actually the middle name of young Germin Leonel, who was left at an orphanage as a young boy. There is no record of his birth, so officials in El Salvador made an estimate that he is 11 years old.
His mother was unmarried and working as a maid at the time of his birth. She could not afford to raise a child and was forced to place him in an orphanage.
Lee grew up in the orphanage in a rural area, and was often exposed to violence because of his country's civil war. He saw fighting between rebels and governments troops. One of his friends lost an arm after a bomb explosion.
Despite his rough start in life, Lee appears very friendly and smiles often. He is very curious, and loves to play with gadgets of any type, Mr. Wyand said.
He also likes the things most 11-year-olds enjoy in this country: riding his bike, fishing and playing Atari.
Mr. Wyand recalled the first time he took Lee shopping at the Salmon Run Mall.
"He grew up with the idea that all people in America are rich," said Mr. Wyand. "The first time we went to the mall, he wanted me to buy everything. "
"I tried to tell him I'm only a schoolteacher and I don't make a fortune, but he kept telling me to use my credit card or write a check."
In El Salvador, people are either very wealthy or very poor; there is no middle class, he said. When he first met Lee, the boy was wearing a pair of pants and a shirt issued to him by the orphanage.
He had one other spare shirt.
"They had his number, 24, sewn into the labels," Mr. Wyand said. "That's how the kids knew which clothes belonged to them."
Staff and faculty at the Henderson school purchased a bicycle for the boy, and Lee could not believe he was going to be able to take it home, he said.
"It's been such a fun experience to watch him try something new," Mr. Wyand said. "His face just lights up. "
The first movie Lee saw was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "he loved it," his father said.
The battle to unite father and son started five years ago, when Mr. Wyand decided he wanted to adopt a child. But he found it was not easy for a single parent, especially a man.
Many of the adoption agencies he contacted would not even accept his application.
Mr. Wyand found an adoption agency in Oregon that was willing to consider him, and he filled out the paperwork and sent in an application fee. The teacher thought international adoption would be his best option because he believed there would be less waiting time.
After about a year, Mr. Wyand was told he would be able to adopt a child from the Philippines.
But a short time later, the Oregon agency told him the Philippine government would not allow any more single parent adoptions after the takeover of the new Corazon Aquino government.
After speaking with several adoption groups, Mr. Wyand later found out that was false, and other people had had trouble dealing with the same agency.
Determined not to give up, Mr. Wyand continued his research and was referred to the former Children's Services International agency in Atlanta, Ga. Again, he filled out all the necessary papers and had a study done of his home by the Watertown office of Catholic Charities.
"The people in Georgia said they had never done an adoption with a single male, but they would give me a chance," he said. "They didn't promise anything."
But a year later, he received a call from the social worker. There was a young boy, Lee, living in an orphanage in El Salvador, waiting to be adopted. Mr. Wyand was sent a picture and immediately wrote a letter to the boy, describing himself and his home in Henderson Harbor.
Things seemed to be going well until the lawyer in El Salvador who was supposed to be arranging the adoption in that country was jailed for illegally selling infants, and the Georgia agency ran into problems with its state license, eventually losing it.
"I couldn't believe it," Mr. Wyand said. "I had already seen pictures of Lee and was getting attached to him."
But a social worker from the Atlanta agency continued to help Mr. Wyand adopt Lee after she joined another adoption agency in Georgia. Mr. Wyand was refered to the American embassy in El Salvador, which provided a list of reputable lawyers.
After contacting another lawyer in El Salvador, he was able to get his paperwork straightened out in that country, but in the meantime, he ran into trouble obtaining a visa for Lee from U.S. officials.
"It took a lot of patience to get through the red tape," he said. "It wasn't easy, but it was not an impossible situation. I was amazed how many people were willing to help."
After he finally was able to obtain a visa for Lee, Mr. Wyand flew to El Salvador in April and brought his son home.
Lee has learned some English words, and is attending summer school at Henderson. Mr. Wyand has learned Spanish, and the two converse back and forth, sometimes mixing both languages and using hand signals to understand each other.
"It's been a learning experience for both of us," the father said.
Color photo #2177 by SHAWN DOWD WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES Dean E. Wyand sits with his newly adopted son Lee, 11, outside their Henderson home.