As a program director working in international adoption, most of my daily routine keeps me anchored to my computer, assisting adoptive parents with their adoption process and working with foreign attorneys. So it is a real pleasure when I have the opportunity to travel to the countries we serve. Recently my travels took me to Samoa and Auckland, New Zealand. The purpose of visiting the countries where we work is to provide oversight, visit orphanages and meet with government officials involved in the adoption process.
The most enjoyable part of my trip is always touring the facilities where children reside. Countries call these residences by different names. In Samoa there are no orphanages, and as a result the children reside at the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) shelters. SVSG houses and cares for abandoned and abused children. SVSG provides a much-needed service to victimized children and does a wonderful job providing for the Samoan children living in their care.
The SVSG campus is comprised of 4 buildings, as well as a school for the children on-site. The buildings are called the House of Hope, the House of Dreams, Ray of Hope and the House of Blessings. All four buildings provide protection, shelter and care for infants through teens. In addition to providing shelter for children, SVSG also provides medical and dental care for survivors and victims of abuse and abandonment living within their compound.
While SVSG provides these children with shelter, protection, food, clothing, medical care and an education, what it cannot provide is the love of a forever family. MLJ Adoptions partnered with SVSG in 2010, and to date MLJ and SVSG have worked together to place 29 children with loving families in both the U.S. and Canada!
Our trip also focused on meetings with the Attorney General (AG) and his staff, as well as representatives from the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development. Both offices play an important role in the adoption process in Samoa. The Ministry conducts investigative reports on children in the adoption process to ensure the adoption is in the best interest of the child and that there are no other biological family members willing and capable of caring for the child in Samoa. The report generated by this office is submitted to the AG, who then determines that the adoption should or should not move forward. In the event the AG agrees the adoption is in the best interest of the child, an approval certificate is issued, and the matter is finalized with a court order issued by the Samoan court. This process is one of ethical considerations and ensures transparency and that the best interests of children in Samoa are served. The takeaway from these meetings is that all involved in the adoption process want to ensure children are protected and provided with forever loving families.
Finally, our trip also includes a meeting with the U.S. embassy, who is involved in the approval process for the child’s orphan visa. Our trip included meeting with Angelina Wilkinson, Chargé d’Affaires for the Apia office. Ms. Wilkinson shared her support of the work SVSG does in Samoa, to the extent that she has visited the SVSG shelter and even hosts holiday parties for the children.
Traveling to Samoa is a long journey, considering its location in the South Pacific, but it’s well worth the trip! The island is beautiful with crystal-clear aquamarine waters. The beauty, however, does not mask the need of the Samoan children, and our focus remains on finding loving, permanent families to Samoan children in need.