exposing the dark side of adoption
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Baby fees 'very low' [letter to the Editor]


Written by Merlyn W Ruddell

I have read the articles you have published recently regarding adoption in Cambodia. I am writing to shed a different light on the subject. I imagine that the public may read your articles as factual reporting and may believe your assertions are conclusive even though no proper process of research and investigation or proceeding in any court of law has occurred.

I am not an expert on Cambodian adoption. I was only a visitor in Cambodia for two months. However, I can tell you my own experience, and I think the experience of individuals should be weighed against the generalities and unproven allegations made in your articles.

I came to Cambodia on May 9 of this year to adopt my daughter. My facilitator was Lauryn Galindo. The orphanage where my child was residing was Cham Chao (Women and Orphan Vocational Center).

My experience with Seattle International Adoption, Lauryn Galindo and the orphanage at Cham Chao, where my daughter was living, was outstanding. I found the fees to be reasonable, very low by comparison to the fee we paid in connection with our adoptive child from the US. The personnel were friendly, supportive, understanding, patient and efficient.

When I arrived in Cambodia, I went directly from the airport to the orphanage at Cham Chao. I was impressed immediately by the ratio of personnel to children. There appeared to be a nanny for each of the babies. The children were being carried, fed and carefully tended. Despite the primitive facilities, loving nannies seemed to be doing the best they could, and the children were showered with attention.

I traveled to Sihanoukville to visit the orphanage there for the "graduates" of Cham Chao. These toddlers also appeared to be receiving good care. They were rocked and held, carefully fed and even potty-trained. The atmosphere was that of a small summer camp for young children.

At these orphanages, I saw at least as many boys as girls, if not more boys. I saw a baby who was hooked up to an intravenous feeding tube who was being treated for dehydration and tuberculosis, a child who was blind in one eye, and a number of children who were being treated for a variety of illnesses.

An orphanage with many boys and a number of children who are ill, undernourished and malformed is not likely to be "buying" its babies, as your articles asserted. As I understand it, Americans usually want to adopt "perfect" babies, and the demand is far greater for girls than for boys.

I understand that a new and better orphanage near Phnom Penh is under construction, a project of the Sharing Foundation, an organization established to help to care for Cambodia's children. [Roteang?]

I was told that plans are under consideration to use the Women and Orphan Vocational Center at Cham Chao as a place to counsel mothers who are considering abandoning their children for adoption. The idea is to encourage Cambodian mothers to keep their children and to provide them with vocational training to help them to learn marketable skills in order to support themselves and their children.

I learned that orphanage donation money from the adoptive families pays for food, salaries for care givers, clothing for the children and many of the costs of these orphanages. I know that a great deal of money is spent by Lauryn Galindo from the orphanage donation funds on the support of the orphanages at Cham Chao, Sihanoukville, Kampong Speu, and Siem Reap. Many of the children in these orphanages are not going to be placed for adoption, because their health is not sufficient or they are over the age of eight.

I personally witnessed the expenditure of money received by Lauryn Galindo. The money my husband wired to Cambodia as a voluntary donation was put into a cashier's check and donated for the construction of a public school. I got to go along on a shopping trip with Dr Nancy Hendrie, an associate of Lauryn's and the founder of the Sharing Foundation. Twenty-one big cloth bags of rice, strings of dried "hot dogs" and rack after rack of various kinds of dried fish were purchased for the orphanage at Siem Reap.

While in Cambodia, I met a number of people who had received financial aid from Lauryn Galindo. One such young man, Peaou, told me that he was very grateful to Lauryn Galindo, because he lost his parents during Pol Pot time and she helped him when no one else would. He told me that Ms Galindo paid for his education and gave him a job. He is now employed at the orphanage at Sihanoukville and is still attending college in the town. Others received an education in dentistry, and money for their children's operation and medical care.

The real treat for me was watching the adoptive parents the day they received their children. A tiny baby suffering from severe malnourishment was being rocked and fed special formula by her new daddy, the father of two older adopted Cambodian boys waiting back in the US for their new sister.

A number of the little girls and boys I had seen at the orphanage in Sihanoukville were dressed in new clothes, little sandals, holding a toy in one hand and their new mommy or daddy's hand in the other. The parents appeared to be filled with love and pride. The little ones I had come to know at Sihanoukville seemed truly happy to be welcomed into their new families.

I believe that the orphanage conditions were good by comparison with those in many countries and that this is largely because of the orphanage donation money provided by the adoptive parents and the efforts of many wonderful individuals. Nevertheless, it was graphically clear to me that a future with loving parents, good medical care, bedtime stories, a quality education and the promise of rewarding life is a far better option for these children.

In your crusade against bad practices, I believe you have made harmful errors and exercised media "spin" to the detriment of a truly beneficial practice of adoption.

From what I understand, this is the work of someone who is new to Cambodia and somewhat inexperienced and certainly not a qualified or certified investigator. It appears that the report is garnered from unsubstantiated anecdotes and the unproven word of a few individuals who may have their own questionable reasons for telling such stories.

The harm you may have done is immeasurable in terms of human life. Children may have died in orphanages due to delays precipitated by your reports; certainly, they have been detained in orphanages.

Some of these children have weaknesses due to illness or malnutrition, dangerous birth conditions, etc. Time lost in getting these children to their adoptive families who can give them the care, food and medical attention they need can cost them their lives.

As an example, while on vacation recently, I happened to meet the honorary consul to the Thai Embassy from the midwestern US. She inquired about my beautiful daughter, and I told her about my daughter's Cambodian origins.

This woman told me that a friend of hers was trying to adopt a baby from Thailand who has Downs Syndrome. She said the adoption had been aborted due to some negative articles regarding adoption published in Cambodia, because the article mentions an organization that was involved with this child's placement.

Her friend was very eager to adopt this baby, since she has special training in the area of special needs children. It is highly unusual for anyone to seek to adopt a child afflicted with Downs Syndrome, and there may not be another opportunity for this boy.

It makes me sad to think how your article may have adversely impacted this baby's future, such that he faces spending the rest of his life in an institution in Thailand without the love of a family and superior medical care he might have had.

I encourage you to do some more balanced reporting and cast a bright light on the positive work being accomplished in adoption both in the government and in the private sector.

2000 Oct 13