Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summary of the week by guest blogger- Beth Nichols

Preconceived notions.  We've all got them.  We carry them with us, use them to judge situations, and make decisions.
When we adopted from Colombia I had a preconceived notion that my children were Americans, because I am an American.   I didn't realize that their Colombian heritage would come home with us.   When we lived in Colombia for 7 weeks during our adoption process I traveled with preconceived notions.  I thought that becoming a parent would be my only difficulty of the trip.  I didn't know that Bogota would go from a city I feared to a city that I think about daily. 
I thought after the adoption process I'd check in once a year until our post placement visits were over.  I didn't know that 2yrs later I'd be sitting in a hotel room with our caseworker, Beth Whitacre, cutting lanyard string, preparing to head to an orphanage with a group of Gladney volunteers. After adopting I thought that my focus would only be my children.  I didn't realize that the orphans in Colombia would remain on my heart.
Preconceived notions can stop you in your tracks.  They can rob you of opportunities & huge blessings.   Please,  please let go of your preconceived notions.  Adoption is hard, but not impossible.  Traveling to a foreign country to serve people rather than go on vacation is a sacrifice, but rewarding.  Learning about another culture and embracing the language is uncomfortable, but it also opens your eyes to this world and it's beauty.

Gladney has many opportunities available to become involved: adopt, volunteer, donate, work.  What preconceived notions are stopping you from being a part of this organization?

Day 1

Saturday, Gladney babies from all across the United States, siblings, and parents were flocking to Colombia.  There was a concern when we heard the New York group wouldn’t make their connecting flight to Miami due to delays, but everyone was pleasantly surprised as their plane arrived just in time in at the gate next to their scheduled flight to Bogota.  After a day of worry and rescheduling cars, calling the hotel and almost canceling rooms, the whole group arrived late Saturday night in Bogota with all of their luggage (with the exception of a couple folks scheduled to arrive the next day and one girl who realized her passport was expired while checking in at the airport)!  The hotel was ready and prepared for the weary travelers.   Check-in went smoothly, luggage was brought up, snacks were passed out, and all the Gladney babies were tucked in.
Day 2
After a long night everyone slowly came down to the hotel breakfast.  As coffee, fresh fruit, eggs to order, and pastries were passed around everyone got their money together to exchange for Colombian currency.
Today the Gladney group headed to see the sights of Bogota.  The first stop was at the Usaquen Market for souvenir shopping.  The group got to see bartering at it’s finest as trinkets, Colombian figurines, and bracelets were picked out and bought.  Our tour guide and myself were busily moving from cart to cart with the students helping with the exchange of money and explaining that a bracelet does not cost $1,000 but 1,000 pesos (roughly 50 cents in US currency).  After souvenir shopping we headed up to Mt. Monserrate for lunch and a little more shopping.  The braver of the group tried the chocolate covered ants, or “large salty peanuts” as they were described in taste. 
After lunch we split into two groups one went on a bike tour of Bogota while the other chose to walk through the city.  Pigeons were fed, sights were seen, bikes were rode, streets were walked, and Colombia was embraced. 
After a long day of sight-seeing the group headed back to  the hotel for a quick refresh, and then we were off again for dinner at Crepes & Waffles.   When you are in Colombia this restaurant is a must, and their menu is in English!  The choices ranged from ham and cheese, to Italian, to a Mexican crepe.  Desserts were quickly to follow: caramel, fresh fruit, ice cream, and whipped cream topped the crepes and waffles.  After a great meal we took a short rainy walk back to the hotel.
In the meeting room Frank walked the group through expectations and the schedule for the week.  Introductions were made, and the theme of flexibility and patience was relayed again.  The Gladney students were split up into groups with adult leaders and went through their curriculum for the week.  Plans were made, supplies were prepared, and everyone went to bed anticipating tomorrow’s visit to San Mauricio!
Day 3
Monday morning everyone is up, ready to go.  Breakfast at the hotel, supplies in hand, everyone on time, and loaded on the bus.  In Bogota the weather can be tricky so clothing ranged from shorts to jeans, to t-shirts, and raincoats. The group was ready for anything and no matter the weather they were ready to play with the children.  As the bus pulled past the big white gate and down the driveway we were greeted by all of the children welcoming the Gladney group with smiles, big waves, and Colombian and USA flags.  As everyone unloaded from the bus we headed under the large pavilion for instructions.  Hugs were passed around, faces were remembered, and the group was welcomed back-in!  As the children were sent back to their class rooms, the Gladney group was given a tour of San Mauricio.  During the tour we were treated to coffee, saw the sleeping quarters, the baby room, the bakery, the hair salon, and the auditorium.  San Mauricio also has a computer lab and a large garden.  It is a beautiful facility that is working very hard to provide a good life for the children in their care.
After the tour the Gladney team split into our small groups and  headed into the classrooms to start “teaching”. We are split up by ages from 2yrs up to 5th grade.  The preschool classes spent their time coloring, dancing, and playing outside.  The older children classes ranged from learning about Texas history to logarithms.  The first day is always a little scattered simply due to the new people in the classrooms and the excitement. 
After a great lunch of lasagna, prepared by the San Mauricio staff, we headed outside for playtime.  All of the students were there, and that is where you see our group shine.  Children are playing tag, being pushed on the swings, fixing our hair, and playing soccer. 
Immediately following recess the children headed back to their classrooms and the Gladney group went to each classroom and the great gift of shoes began!  One by one the children were called to the front of the classroom and given a box of brand new tennis shoes by one of our Gladney travelers.  A hug for a box of shoes was the trade-off.  The older children were shyer and did not show their excitement immediately but quietly went back to their seats to awe over their shoes and carefully unwrap the precious gifts, and slowly and perfectly pull the laces through the holes.  They removed their old shoes some full of holes, others so small that their toes were crammed in, others wore ones that were big and falling off.  New shoes were slowly put on their feet, shoes that were new, fit them, and were bought specifically for them.
Next we went to the preschool classroom where all shyness is checked at the door.  As names were called squeals of delight raced through the classrooms.  The Gladney representative would take the new box of shoes and walk to the student’s desk to help get their new shoes onto their busy feet.  Every new shoe was smelled, hugged, and danced in that day.
As we headed home from day one thought of thankfulness run through our heads.  How many pairs of shoes do we have sitting in the closet at home, that fit us perfectly, that we have only worn once, that we bought without even thinking how it would affect our monthly budget.  The plight of these children and how precious our time with them is made evident our very first day.
Day 4
After our bus ride to the Institution we unload and immediately head to the classrooms.  Today the teachers and students are ready for us and ready to learn.  Subjects range from US history, to radicals, to learning how to tie shoes.  The Gladney group is remembering names and forming relationships with the children.  We are asked to hold hands, walk with them, give them a ride on our back, and given precious gifts of coloring pages.
At lunch Gladney orders pizza for the entire orphanage.  This is a big day, because pizza is a two day process at their bakery: preparing the dough, and then adding time to rise, and preparing the pizzas to eat; needless to say pizza is never made at San Mauricio.       
After lunch recess the groups split up into their classes and go to specialty classes.  One heads to the bakery to make arepas, another is off to compute class to practice typing, and one more heads to the field for physical education.  The Gladney students are going to teach kickball, but it ends up more of a mob running after the ball.  Kickball is soon forgotten and soccer, Frisbee, and jump-rope quickly take it’s place. 
Tonight we head to the Andino mall, everyone eats chicken & potatoes.  Then we head into the movie theatre to see Maleficent in 3D.  After a quick realization that we would all enjoy the movie more with 3D glasses, they are bought and passed out just in time for the movie to start.  Some things to remember when seeing a movie in Colombia: there are English movies but they will come with Spanish subtitles, seats are assigned and an usher will be there to seat you, please don’t talk during the previews going to the theater is an event not an activity every part of it is to be enjoyed.
Day 5
Today after the mornings activities at the Institution a small group of the Gladney visitors headed out for an important diplomatic meeting at the Colombian ICBF.  ICBF is the federal child welfare institute of Colombia, they advocate for the children, work with families, and are the main road for adoption.
We have a group of four adoptees, myself- Colombian adoptive mother, Gladney’s president Frank Garrott, our Colombian case worker Beth Whitacre, and our in-country lawyer and representative Lucy Martinez.  As we greeted Gloria, the sub-director of adoptions, we were ushered into an office.  In the office were professionals who work for the children there were social workers, psychologists, lawyers, and family defenders all gathered to hear our group speak.
Frank led us off with a welcome and a thank you for taking the time to speak with us. He also spoke on Colombia’s professionalism and consistency in the adoption process.  I was second and talked about bringing home a group of five Colombian children nearly two years ago.  I told them how much I appreciated each person in the room, how we keep the Colombian culture alive, and how well the children are adjusting at home.  Next up was our adult adoptee who shared her story of being able to come back and work in the orphanage, and appreciating the investment that Gladney and her parents have made in her life.
Next were our young adult adoptees.  One shared about visiting San Mauricio and realizing that that could have been her life- a life without parents, without a family, without a plan for college and a future.  The next two were a brother and sister pair.  They relayed their story of being about to stay together because of their parents willingness to adopt both of them at separate times.  They all spoke on Gladney’s behalf about their post-placement programs and service trips to engage older adoptees in getting involved with the plight of orphans around the world.
It was a beautiful moment that allowed the government workers to see the fruit of their labor, to see children and families that are flourishing after their adoption.  They said they only see the paperwork so seeing young adult and adult adoptees thriving and healthy gives them motivation to continue working tirelessly.  To see children that are now successful adults who are proud of their adoption story and proud to be Gladney babies was a highlight for all.
Day 6
The final day at the orphanage: today we headed to San Mauricio for the last time this year.  Everyone put on a brave face to make it through the morning classes, lunch, and recess.  After recess the children at San Mauricio were a buzz about a big surprise waiting for us in the auditorium.  As we filed into our seats, the music began and a group of children dressed in dark pants and white shirts began their performance.
We were treated to a full performance of singing and dancing.  Everyone’s favorite part is when one of the babies followed the group on stage and joined in the dance.  The children had worked so hard to make this special presentation for us.  They were so proud at the end when we all stood up and applauded for them.
After the performance we all headed under the pavilion for the final goodbyes.  Tears are shed by everyone.  The children know that we are headed to that far off land of the United States and the Gladney group knows that the children will remain still longing for a family.  I hope that this will be the last year that we will see a specific child. We hope that during the year they find a family and that their situation is changed for the better.  We head home as advocates for these children, ready to tell others about the beautiful children in Colombia ready and waiting for families who are open to adoption. 
Tonight at our closing meeting in the hotel silly awards are passed out, memories are shared, and a feeling of thankfulness fills the air: thankful that we have homes to go back to, family waiting for us, and happy to be a part of the Gladney family forever.

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