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A fighting chance


A fighting chance

Local family among first in Canada to adopt orphan from AIDS-stricken Swaziland

Years after trying to grow its small household, a Comox family is now complete thanks to international adoption.

One-year-old Quiniso Everett Ference is among the Comox Valley's newest residents.

Nicknamed Quinny, or the "Q-man" by his adoptive family and their friends and nieghbours, Quiniso means "truth" in the baby's native Swazi language.

Quiniso's adoptive mother Jan Ference and her husband Dean are among the first group of Canadians to adopt from Swaziland, a Southern African country that has been devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

About 43 per cent of Swazi people are HIV positive, and the country's population of more than a million is expected to be wiped out over the next three decades.

"Quiniso's a real fighter," said Ference. "He had a real hard start to life. He was basically within hours of dying when he got to the orphanage."

Like many Swazi orphans, Quiniso's biological father died from AIDS, leaving his HIV-infected birth mother to care for the baby.

Unable to nurse her child for fear of spreading the virus, Quiniso's mother looked to her relatives for help.

But with nothing to spare, the baby's grandmother took the three-month-old to an orphanage where caregivers worked tirelessly to restore the dying baby's health - feeding him through a syringe so that his tiny body could digest the foreign nourishment.

The Ferences traveled to Swaziland in November to bring their newest addition home.

While in Africa, they visited a government-run orphanage to do what little they could to put smiles on the abandoned children's faces.

They soon realized that Quiniso was lucky to receive the care that he did in a privately funded orphanage.

"It was heartbreaking," said Ference, who works as a youth counselor for the local school district. "The children smelled of urine and feces and had flies inside their wounds."

Feeling somewhat helpless, the Ferences used funds raised in the Valley to buy the orphans some much-needed items.

"We bought them toys, food, medical care and we paid for a big Christmas party for them," Ference said.

"It was a complete celebration. They finally acted like kids because before they had nothing - nothing to play with."

Ference had a series of miscarriages before giving birth to the couple's daughter, Paige, now 5, who was born nine weeks prematurely.

While Ference had always wanted to adopt, the complications compelled the couple to look into it more seriously as they tried for a second child.

Four years ago, the family sought help from a Vancouver adoption agency, and went through the painstaking process of a home study and courses that would determine if they were fit to adopt.

"Once you're done with that, then you can choose a country," Ference explained.

The couple first opted for Liberia in West Africa, but the country's turmoil made it too dangerous for the family to travel there.

They then put their names on the lengthy China list, and were left with no other option but to wait while other families ahead of them in the line were given first priority.

So when their agency told them Swaziland had opened its doors to international adoption, the couple was thrilled to be invited to meet with a social worker from the country in Vancouver.

"It's very unusual in international adoption. Never do people come from their country to meet you and make sure they feel comfortable with you," Ference said. "But that's (the Swazi) culture. They want to know everything about you."

The stone-faced social worker, Ference said, put the family in the hot seat, grilling them about every detail of their lives.

"I was trying to explain to her that we really wanted a sibling for Paige, and I was talking about her and getting really emotional about it," Ference said. "As soon as I showed emotion the social worker just melted and said, 'OK, I see in your eyes that you mean this.'"

After the initial meeting last May, the process picked up pace for the Ferences, who traveled to Swaziland six months later to bring Quiniso home just in time for his first family Christmas.

Ference said she and her husband, a Valley chiropractor, considered adopting locally, but looked overseas because they felt more comfortable with a closed rather than open adoption.

The difference, the couple said, was that families who wanted to adopt in Canada had to be open to a lifelong relationship with their child's biological parents, something the Ferences couldn't commit to.

Adopting locally, they considered, could also mean an increased chance that their child might have been exposed to alcohol or drugs before birth.

Adopting a child from an HIV-rampant Africa, of course, was not without its obvious risk.

But Ference said it was a chance worth taking, especially since Quiniso is a healthy and happy baby boy.

"We will always have a lifetime connection with Swaziland," she added.

Ference said she was now hoping to launch a mission locally to make international adoption more widely accessible.

"The process is very expensive," she said. "But I know in this community alone you could probably come up with a hundred families who would do this if they had the money.

"A lot of the process is to make sure that you are aware of what you're doing and that the child is going to a good home. That, I totally agree with. But I just wish it was more accessible to more people because the African people are so inspiring and those children have absolutely no future."

In the meantime, Ference said, she and her family would be getting more and more acquainted with Quiniso - who recently took his first steps - with each passing day.

"I'm just so thankful that after waiting so long we have a child," Ference said. "And I'm so thankful that he's who he is. He brings such a positive energy in our house that I feel like our family is now complete."


2009 Mar 13