Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hope Is A Fragile Thing

In case anyone's interested, here's an article I wrote for our local adoption agency's newsletter/publication, summarizing our experiences of the last few months since the news broke about Imagine Adoption's bankruptcy.  I don't know how to condense things using Blogspot, so I'm including the whole article below:

Hope is a Fragile Thing
By Ruth Branson

My husband, Geoff, and I, along with our five-year-old son, have been in the process of adopting from Ethiopia since early in 2008; our file arrived in-country on April 23, 2008 with a child request for siblings born after March, 2005. Our local agency is Adoption Options and our Ethiopian facilitator is Imagine Adoption (based in Cambridge, Ontario).

Most of the adoption community is aware that on July 13th, Imagine Adoption declared bankruptcy, amidst speculation of fraud and misappropriation of funds by the executive director and other senior staff. I have been asked many times over the past couple of months what it was like to experience the announcement of the bankruptcy…so I thought I would write a bit about that day, and the days since.

In the later afternoon of July 13th, as per my usual habit, I logged on to an online yahoo site dedicated to Canadians adopting from Ethiopia. I have been part of this group for the past twenty months or so, and it has been a wonderful and supportive community of people sharing bits of their adoption journey, announcing referrals, celebrating milestones and sharing heartaches. Many have become friends. On that particular day, I noticed with surprise that, in contrast to the usual thirty or forty posts published daily, there were hundreds of posts to read through. I went back to the start of the day and began to read. It didn’t take long to realize that something was wrong. At 8:40 that morning, a post was aired by a woman who was in Ethiopia collecting her newly-adopted child; she wrote: “Hi. I am in Ethiopia right now. I would highly recommend that anyone who has gotten through court should come right now. Do not wait for your visa…there was bad news.” Minutes later, my heart stopped as I read this subsequent post from a parent who was waiting in Canada for her Ethiopian-born children’s visas: “I heard via the grapevine that Imagine is going under- !!!! Is this true?” Then, minutes later: “Imagine isn’t answering their phone!!!!”

Within an hour of that first post, the news had been confirmed: Imagine was bankrupt; there were over forty children in their Ethiopian Transition Home with only three days’ food to sustain them; and allegations were circulating about the actions of the executive director and her husband that might have resulted in the bankruptcy.

To say that I was devastated would be a gross understatement of how I felt as I continued to read through post after devastating post – it felt like a bad dream was unfolding right in front of me. I can almost not bear to think of that day because of the pain it brings back. It is the first time in my life that my legs could not support my body – I couldn’t stand. So I sat – and wept. In fact, I cried for two days. I arranged for child care for my son and I did nothing but weep and follow the story online. Parents with referrals in hand were racing over to Ethiopia to collect their children and wait there with them until their visas were issued; a wonderful corporate donor stepped forward with a huge financial donation to care for the children in Imagine’s Transition Home; families wrote heart-breaking posts about this being the end of their dreams for a family; the pain went on and on and I wondered how we would recover from the loss of our own dreams.

On the third day, I got up from my bed, dried my eyes, and decided that this surely couldn’t be over…not just because of something so inconsequential as money. It seems that many families woke up that day with a similar resolve. Our online community began to galvanize, and a few Ontario-based individuals took the lead in pulling together a country-wide Steering Committee (of which I became Manitoba representative). Within days, hundreds of families had organized themselves into a group called FIA (Families of Imagine Adoption) and this diverse and passionate group of people started to fight back. As a result, things began to happen:

• Families began to lobby, without ceasing, various levels of government as well as BDO Dunwoody (Imagine’s trustee in bankruptcy);
• The steering committee began to work with BDO, the Province of Ontario and the media, and formed a communications committee to ensure that updates were presented to families via the yahoo group as well as newly created website and facebook pages.
• Hundreds of newspaper and television interviews were completed from coast to coast. Interest in the story was huge.

Families extended themselves way beyond their usual comfort zones to generate support for a restructured Imagine. A momentum beyond anything I have ever experienced took over the group; we were a force to be reckoned with.

Then came the first creditors’ meeting on July 30, held in Kitchener. I attended that meeting and it was one that I will never forget. For the first two hours, the Trustee presented financial information and answered many questions. She then finally commented that, although she was happy to continue to answer questions, she was more excited about a proposal that she would like to present to creditors. Moments later, facing a silent but charged room full of families, she asked if we would be supportive of BDO preparing a restructuring plan that would pull Imagine out of bankruptcy and put it back into operation. Sitting there listening to her, watching her, I started to cry. Though somewhat embarrassed, I couldn’t have stopped those tears from spilling over; someone had just offered me a tiny sliver of hope on a silver platter. It was a moment of grace, compassion, resilience; my insides relaxed for the first time since I’d heard of the bankruptcy. The Trustee asked for a show of hands to see if families would support her proposal. Of course I immediately raised my voting card and then looked around to see how others were responding. There were approximately 250 people in the room behind me. Voting cards and hands filled the air and everywhere around me, people were crying audibly. Somewhere towards the back of the room, I saw three men standing – feet spread apart as if to provide them needed stability in face of the overwhelming emotion in the room, and both arms stretched out to reach as high as they could towards the ceiling while they wept and voted in favour of a proposal that would see their children come home. I cry even now as I write of that moment.

That was the beginning of a shift in momentum. In the weeks following that day, BDO worked with the steering committee, the appointed inspectors, the province of Ontario, and many other groups and individuals…culminating in their presentation to families of a restructuring plan on September 4th. We had three weeks to register our vote but we did it the next day…even though voting in favour of the new organization meant that we will have to invest even more money into the agency than we already have. Three weeks later, another creditors’ meeting was held in Kitchener and the Trustee announced the results of the vote: a resounding 248 in favour of the proposal (representing over three million dollars of creditors’ claims); 20 against. A week later the court affirmed the restructuring plan and on October 1st, the doors to Imagine Adoption were opened once more.

The coming weeks will bring with them a flurry of activities for the new Imagine Adoption: staff will be hired (or re-hired); offices will be set up in their new premises; utilities and insurance will be secured; and, most importantly from the perspective of waiting families, relationships will be re-established with the orphanages that Imagine worked with in Ethiopia prior to the bankruptcy – those relationships are the most critical piece in the process of determining how quickly referrals can once again start to happen.

Hope is a fragile thing, as every prospective adoptive parent knows. It can feel powerful and certain one moment, fleeting or gone the next. We are just one of many families who understand this roller coaster ride as we attempt to complete our family. But I do notice that we are once again, in our household, talking about when we bring our children home rather than the horrible alternative that we were faced with in the weeks following July 13th. I have saved every post, ever letter, ever written communication made since that date because someday, just maybe, I will be able to present our children with a life book that is replete with our story: how we fought to bring them home; how we loved them and held them in our hearts long before we’d ever seen their faces. We are willing to step out in faith – again – and risk hope in order that we may someday yet experience that long-awaited and magical phonecall from someone at Adoption Options telling us that we have a referral of siblings. Oh happy day indeed!

Ruth Branson…
…waiting for a referral of two.

1 comment:

  1. I just had o check out this post as well...amazing Ruth, you really captured the feelings I have been experiencing as well.