exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Cambodian Orphans Find New Homes


By Putsata Reang

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

How to adopt Cambodian orphans

For information on adopting Cambodian orphans, call Lynn Devin on Mercer Island at 206-236-5455.

Glen Tamura remembers being in a small room furnished only with baby cribs and swelling with cries for food and attention. Dozens of tiny faces peered through metal bars - starved eyes that followed him as he made his way through the Cambodian orphanage.

Stripped of their only family bonds, several dozen babies waited each day - some for several months, others for several years - for someone to hold them, feed them, take the home.

"They were so cute," said Tamura, a Seattle pediatrician at Children's Hospital & Medical Center. "You want to take them all home."

But he only took one.

His name is Johnny. And in 1995, Tamura made the trek to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, to bring the 10-month-old baby to America.

Tamura joined at least 300 parents in America who, in recent years, have adopted orphaned Cambodian children with the help of adoption agent

Lauryn Galindo

of Honolulu. Galindo, who had traveled as a tourist to Thailand and Cambodia with a friend, has made it her mission to find as many homes as possible for the children.

For the past seven years, Galindo has tapped into the country's rural provinces and capital to find abandoned babies and children, sad legacies of the country's political instability and violence.

At the Phnom Penh

Nutrition Center

, one of at least a dozen orphanages in Cambodia, more children stream in every day, Galindo said. When she visits the country, she makes a circuit through the center, and three orphanages in rural villages.

There are so many children who need parents, Galindo has returned to America to find help. She, and her sister, Lynn Devin of Mercer Island, are recruiting parents for the Cambodian orphans.

Galindo will return to Cambodia this fall, and Devin will stay behind to work the adoption process with prospective families here in the Northwest. Galindo has matched at least six Northwest families with Cambodian children and hopes to find more.

It's hard to say just where some of the infants have come from.

"Every child has (his or her) own story," Galindo said. One of the most common stories is that mom or dad was plowing in the rice paddies when a land mine blows up, killing them, Galindo said.

The children Galindo finds originally belonged to parents who died in the recent violence that rocked the nation following a coup by First Prime Minister Hun Sen in which he ousted Prince Norodom Ranariddh. But more than that, they are the victims of a war that never really ended, in a country that seems to forever teeter on the edge of collapse.

In 1975 as South Vietnam was falling to Communist forces, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge army swept through Cambodia, overthrowing the government and corralling the Cambodian people into concentration camps.

An estimated 3 million people died of starvation, disease, and execution as Communist leader Pol Pot attempted to convert the country into a peasant, working-class nation. A once picturesque nation of rice paddies and jungles thick with banana and coconut trees turned into a wasteland of mass graves known as "The killing fields." Cambodia now has about 11 million people.

The war ended in 1979 when Vietnamese forces pushed through the country, ending Pol Pot's reign of terror. But the devastation continues.

In July, at the height of two weeks of upheaval in Phnom Penh, Galindo and others carried 19 orphans out of the country to be reunited with their U.S. families, who waited anxiously at a Bangkok hotel.

Cambodia has become a popular place for international adoptions in part because of the less-restrictive regulations on adoptive families, said

Cindy Klein

, assistant director of Adopt International, a private nonprofit agency based in Redwood, Calif., through which Galindo works.

"Before Cambodia, the big push was for China," Klein said. "But China has a number of strict rules."

While in most countries, single-parent families are not allowed to adopt, that's not the case for Cambodia.

That's why Tamura decided to go with Cambodia. He realized he wanted to start a family on his own several years ago, but there were few countries that would allow him to adopt.

Now 2, Johnny soon will have some company as he's growing up; Tamura is completing documents to adopt a second Cambodian orphan.

If his papers are approved, he'll pay Galindo about $10,000 to return to Cambodia and choose a child for him in November. At least $5,000 of that goes to the orphanage and the remainder covers the cost of getting the child here.

He hopes to give Johnny, and possibly his second child, a better life than the one the orphanage held for the babies.

"You wonder what his future in Cambodia might be," Tamura said. He wonders, too, about the future of the dozens of children he left behind.

"I'll stop at two," Tamura added. "I wish I could have 15."

Putsata Reang's phone message number is 206-515-5629. Her e-mail address is: prea-new@seatimes.com

1997 Sep 1