Adoptive parents visit Guatemala to give back
Last month, a group of American adoptive parents traveled to Guatemala to donate $30,000 worth of food, toys, clothes, and shoes to 1,000 poor indigenous families.
Tricia Downie started to cry.Skip to next paragraph
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The way the children’s eyes lighted up as they hugged their new toys was “miraculous,” she said, making the volunteers – most of whom had adopted children from Guatemala – feel as if what they were doing really mattered.
But then that joy came crashing down as the group left the orphanage, only to be confronted by a seemingly endless line of hungry families stretching the entire length of the street.
Grandmothers, mothers, and children were waiting for hours for a food basket and the chance to take home secondhand clothes.
“We felt good at first, because we felt like we had made a difference," says Ms. Downie, mother to a 2-year-old adopted Guatemalan, Sofia. "But then we get back to all these people who still need help, and you realize that what we're doing just isn't enough, and can never be enough. I'll never be able to give enough because there's no way to put a value on children and what they mean to a family."
Downie, of Roanoke, Va., is one of some 25 volunteers from across the United States who spent one week last month in Panajachel, Guatemala, "honoring" their adopted children by working with Mayan Families, a small nonprofit organization serving indigenous populations in the Lake Atitlan region in the highlands of Guatemala.
What started as a simple service trip for a handful of women who had bonded as they all went through the Guatemalan adoption process at the same time has snowballed into Helping Mayan Families, an effort that raised more than $30,000 worth of supplies to help provide free medical and veterinary clinics, Christmas baskets of food, and toys, clothes, and shoes to 1,000 poor indigenous families.
As soon as Sarah Hryniewicz of Santa Fe, N.M., heard about Downie's plans for a trip, she jumped on board. She had spent 14 months living in Guatemala waiting to adopt her two children, Sophia Linda and Alexander.
"All of us moms are here for the same reason," said Hryniewicz, searching through piles of donated shoes to find a pair for a boy whose old shoes were so tight his mother couldn't pry them off his squished toes. "There's no way to say thank you for the sacrifice they made in giving up their children, so if you can't say thank you to the birth parent, you say it to their cousins and friends and community."
Sharon Smart-Poage, one of the founders of Mayan Families, says more and more adoptive parents have started volunteering in Guatemala. This group is the largest she's worked with yet, she said.
"Once they've been here, they can't forget about the need they've seen," says Ms. Smart-Poage, herself the mother of two adopted Guatemalan girls. "They look at all the children on the streets, and they see their own child's face."
Last year, more than 5,000 Guatemalan children were adopted by US families, with this small Central American nation second only to China in international adoptions. But this year all new adoptions have been halted while the government tries to regulate a corrupt adoption system awash in accusations that children were being stolen or mothers bribed to give up their children.