Being able to start out as an intern in January 2018 for the Eastern European programs helped me transition into my full-time role as the Bulgaria program director beginning in August 2018. This year has been filled with several learning experiences and furthering my knowledge about international adoption, specifically in Bulgaria. The biggest impact thus far, has been my trip to Bulgaria in February 2019.
I was fortunate enough to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria with MLJ’s Executive Director, Karlene Edgemon, for five days. While we were there, we had several meetings with various people that facilitate the adoption process in Bulgaria. We met with government officials, our foreign staff, and the Vice Consul and staff of the consular department at the U.S. Embassy, which issues the visas allowing the adopted children to travel home to the U.S. My absolute favorite part of the trip, however, was visiting the orphanage where children reside who have been matched with MLJ prospective adoptive families.
Government officials reviewed with us the many legal processes that children and adoptive families must go through to complete an international adoption. We discussed the specific steps of matching families with children in need and who is involved in making those decisions within the Ministry of Justice. Other government officials we met with were two representatives of the Social Ministry. The Social Ministry is similar to agencies in the U.S. referred to as the Department of Human Services or Department of Child Services. This agency works with the biological families and children to address immediate needs. Just like our system here, the social workers work alongside the family to help preserve the family dynamic and make reunification possible. If family preservation is not possible, options lead to foster care, orphanages, domestic adoption, or international adoption, taking into consideration what is in the best interest of the child. Our last meeting with government officials was with U.S. government officials at the U.S. Embassy. We met with the Vice consul and staff in the consular section to discuss the process that they complete on the behalf of U.S. families in order to issue visas allowing the adoptive families to bring their children home and legally enter the U.S. We asked about ways that we could help make their jobs easier and how to better prepare families. They were extremely helpful and were appreciative of the work that we do to prepare families for their visa appointments. They do a wonderful job and have the process as streamlined as possible to help get families home.
And last, but certainly not least, was our trip to the orphanage. The care facility we visited is more severe medical needs. We met with the director of the facility, who is also a pediatrician. She has so much passion for what she does and is very involved in the everyday lives of the children and staff. She works hard to make sure she and her staff can provide the necessary care to the children that live there. It was evident that the children are being taken care of and are loved by the staff. Being in that environment for only a short period of time broke my heart and opened my eyes to the plight of these children and the services being provided to them at this incredible facility. It was a profound experience I will remember forever and never take for granted.
My time spent in country also gave us the opportunity to meet with our foreign providers, to review current families in the adoption process and how to improve the process for adoptive parents. Our caring staff in Bulgaria does a wonderful job and the opportunity to meet with them one on one allows us to collaborate on improvements to the program.
Traveling to Bulgaria was beneficial for me in several ways. It furthered my knowledge of the foreign process of international adoption from Bulgaria. It allowed me to connect in person with the staff in our Bulgarian agency that I communicate with every week. It reminded me why I and others in this field do what they do. These experiences helped me connect my work to the bigger picture, finding forever families for these children in need.