Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the Mothers who hold their children in their hands and all who hold them in their hearts!
Here is a message from JCICS on their latest news and efforts for children and mothers:

This Month at Joint Council - Happy Mother's Day!

May is perhaps my favorite month of the year. The flowers are really beginning to bloom, the sun feels wonderful against your skin and in the month of May we celebrate one of my favorite holidays - Mother's Day. We celebrate and honor all of the women in our lives who have dedicated their lives to the children they love. We honor their undying love, commitment and peace. Every year on this joyous day I think of the wonderful mothers I know - from the birthmothers I worked with in Mexico who gave their children the most selfless gift. To the adoptive mother of three boys in Montrose, CO who is in many ways is a mother to everyone she meets. To the mothers waiting for their children from Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Romania and Cambodia. To my mother. To the biological mother and grandmother of my siblings. You are all such amazing women and I honor each of you for the gifts you have given to your children, to me and to the many generations that will follow. Thank you for your permanency, safety and love! Happy Mother's Day!

Rebecca Harris
Government Relations and Communications Manager

The Faces of Forever - A Playground Worth Remebering

"Years will pass. Children, that by the will of fate were orphaned in Russia and ended up adopted and the citizens of the United States, will grow up. Of course the United States will be their new motherland, but maybe their parents and relatives, their firends and they themselves will feel something that connects them with Russia. Maybe the children's arms, stretched from one country to the other, through the borders, above the heads of the politicians, in spite of the tales and bad will of some people, will be able to tie our people with mutual fate, love and care better and stronger than any official international agreement."
- Cara Sadouskaza, Citizen of the Russian Federation
Dwight and Jenny Griffith first saw Alex's picture on a flyer of waiting children with special needs. The Griffiths had suffered through the emotional roller coaster of infertility, followed by ten years of the highs and lows of adoption and fostering. Finally, the adoption of their now 17 year-old daughter stuck. Then in 1994, just two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Griffiths traveled to the city of Krasnoyarsk in the remote Siberian region of the Russian Federation to adopt their son Alex at 11 months of age; Alex was still in the hospital he had been born - premature and weighing less than 2 pounds. Alex's adoption was followed by three more domestic adoptions - Douglas now 12 and twins William and Katrina who are 10.

When Dwight and Jenny arrived at the hospital, Alex was malnourished, had rickets and was diagnosed with mild cerebra palsy. Alex, who has since been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD and sensory integration has faced many, many challenges in his 15 years but he has not let them stop or deter him. One of the many successes of his short life is the work he has done through his required service project to become a Eagle Scout, the Boy Scout of America's highest honor. Alex decided that he wanted to perform service for his first community, his community in Russia where he was born. After seeing pictures of the playground at Children's Hospital #20 where Alex spent the 1st year of his life he decided to build a new playground so that the children of Krasnoyarsk could have a safe, fun place to play.

Over the last two and a half years Alex has worked over 700 hours, received over 1000 hours of other volunteer help and exchanged over 1000 emails in the planning, design, fundraising, preassembly and quality check of the playground. With the help of the Rotary Organization, fellow Scouts and friends, Alex raised over $60,000 to purchase and ship the playground to Russia and buy the materials needed to complete the installation. Alex will travel to Russia with five other friends and family members this August to install the playground. He will celebrate his 16th birthday in his country of birth with the grand opening of the playground he planned, designed, raised money for and built with his own hands.

Alex's playground is designed for children from five to twelve years of age and will be red, white and blue - the colors of both the Russian and American flags. To complete the playground Alex created two wooden totem poles for the entrance of the playground. One will be of a bear, the unofficial symbol of Russia, and one an eagle, the official symbol of America. Alex hopes that the totem poles will show the unity between the two countries.

The project has truly become a worldwide effort with Alex communicating and working with over 500 people in 23 states and
73 cities in four countries. Additionally, one of the best parts of the project is that Alex is now receiving emails from other adopted children around the world who want to do something for their birth homes. Alex hopes that his project will expand into a larger project of children helping other children around the world.

For more information about Alex's project you can check out the project's website at of if you would like
to communicate with Alex on how other adopted children can provide service to their birth homes you may contact him by email at

Do you want to be next month's faces of forever story? Send your story and a family photo to
Joint Council to host webinars for adoptive families!

Following the success of our first adoptive parent webinar in January, Joint Council will begin to host monthly webinars for adoptive parents. Webinars will be held the first Tuesday and Thursday of every month starting in June and topics will include country specific information, a variety of medical topics, attachment issues, accessing your government and more.

The first two webinars, on Tuesday, June 2nd and Thursday, June 4th from 7 - 9 pm EST are free and will cover Joint Council's role in permanency services and intercountry adoption and how you can join Joint Council to ensure more children find safety, permanency and love. Unless otherwise stated webinars will be $10/family.
To join June's free webinars, click here:, then choose the option to "Sign up for Joint Council news and free webinars," fill in your information and hit submit. After you have signed up, you will receive a confirmation email and a follow-up email the week before the webinars with further details about logging in on the 2nd and 4th.

Information on upcoming webinars will be posted in upcoming editions on Mbali's Message as well as on Joint Council's website.

Country Update - Strong & Steady in Ethiopia

I'm constantly asked by prospective adoptive parents, adoptive parents, professionals and other interested individuals on the state of permanency services, child welfare programs and intercountry adoption in just about every country in the world. To spread the word on permanency services for children in countries throughout the world Mbali's Message will now include a section dedicated to keeping you up-to-date and informed on various countries. In each month we will highlight one country. The county will rotate from three categories. One, a country whose child welfare practices are sustaining themselves or growing. For example, this month, Ethiopia. Two, a country whose child welfare programs have faced difficultly in recent months - like Guatemala or Vietnam. And three, a country who is developing new standards and programs to ensure more children live, grow and flourish in a family - like Ecuador and South Africa.

Strong and Steady: Ethiopia

The permanency services that are being formed in Ethiopia are perhaps some of the most interesting and revolutionary in recent memory. In Ethiopia the government has acknowledged the high number of orphans residing in the country (UNICEF estimated that in 2005 there were over 4,800,000 orphans living in the country). The government partners with other governments, NGO's, and adoption service providers to ensure that as many children as possible are able to stay with their biological family, are cared for through permanent kinship care, are adopted domestically or are placed for intercountry adoption.
The services that many adoption service providers are providing in Ethiopia are unlike those in many other countries. For example, last year 287,000 children and families were served through the family preservation and community development services provided by adoption service providers in Ethiopia. This is compared to only 1.700 intercountry adoptions into the U.S. from Ethiopia last year. This is perhaps one of the most impressive family services to intercountry adoption ratios I am aware of.
Despite the amazing growth and work occurring in Ethiopia there is also a growing concern about unethical services - people, individuals and organizations who choose to take advantage of the situation. However, Joint Council, The Network (a team Ethiopian child welfare professionals who partner in working for ethical permanency services), adoption service providers, the Ethiopian government, the U.S Embassy in Ethiopia and the Department of State's Office of Children's Issues, are all committed to ensuring that unethical practices are stopped and more importantly, prevented. It is our collective goal to ensure that ethical permanency services, including intercountry adoption continue to serve the children and families of Ethiopia. This collaborative effort was the theme of last month's Joint Council advocacy trip to Ethiopia.
During the trip Joint Council's President & CEO, Tom DiFilipo, met with The President of Ethiopia, The State Minister of Ethiopia, The Ministry of Justice and Foreign Affairs, U.S. Consular Office, and The Network. During the meetings the growing concerns of unethical practices were raised and ideas were exchanged to ensure the continuation of ethical permanency services. Additionally, in honor of the fifth anniversary of CHSFS-Ethiopia Tom spoke at United Nation Africa Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a follow-up to the advocacy trip Joint Council is revising its Standards of Practice for Ethiopia, developing an easily assessable network for in-country coordinators to share in the exchange of ideas, and dedicating a part-time summer intern to our advocacy efforts for the children and families in Ethiopia.

In the coming weeks Joint Council will be posting photos of this trip on our Facebook page. To find us on Facebook, click here:

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