In a land located in the heart of Central America lie two countries rich with history, tradition and pride- yet within these countries approximately 50% of the people live beneath the poverty level. These countries reflect cultures that have come and gone. From occupation to freedom, Panama and Guatemala are cultures that capture a mosaic of passions, heritage and culture. Adoption programs in Panama and Guatemala hold the key to a new life for children in abandoned and orphaned children in Central America.
There are many intact, successful families in this region. Like most countries, there are all levels of economic and social situations. Unfortunately, in some situations, mothers are left without husbands to support them. One young mother recently asked an adoption lawyer to help her nine-year old daughter because she has three other small children and she could not care for any of them. Her nine year old has no father, no guidance and has never stepped foot into a school. What does this child’s future hold? Without a social services program to help this struggling family, the mother was feeling the pressure to release her daughter to either the street, or a private orphanage that may or may not hold hope for her. It is a heart-breaking sadness that this situation is not unique.
Some of the homeless and poverty stricken children stumble through the streets learning at a young age that the only thing that might curb their hunger is a quick "fix" by huffing industrial strength glue. These children learn that they need to escape from the hunger and the world in which they live by breathing in gasoline, sniffing glue or anything that will give them a fast "high." The preteen girls are forced to survive by walking the streets to earn money that will give them the basic sustenance of life. What can be done to help these children? Certainly Humanitarian Aid to these countries is a start, but what about a new life and opportunity for the orphaned and abandoned children? Though re-unification with their birth-families is always the first choice in ALL of the above situations, the reality must also be faced that may of these children cannot wait for social programs to be enacted. Their time is now…or never.
Although Guatemala is a land rich with historical landmarks and fresh, exciting marketplaces, the statistics of people living in poverty are devastating! 3 out of every 4 people live in poverty. This equates to 9.7 million people. The country's uniqueness stems from a diverse culture tracing its origins to the indigenous Mayan groups, invading Spaniards, the West Indian Slaves and other cultures that have landed in Guatemala. This diversity weaves a community that includes 22 Mayan ethnic groups with their own languages, traditions, clothing and lifestyles. These differences in culture, along with the struggle within these groups to remain individual and unique, has left many of the communities separate and untouched by outside influence. Guatemala, comprised of the indigenous Mayan (Indians), "Ladinos," the group that includes whites and Mestizos, and a smattering of other European cultures, is a rare and amazing country-despite its poverty and struggles.
The children waiting for adoption in Guatemala are 2-3 months old at the time of referral and 8-9 months at the time of placement. There are also more boys than girls waiting for adoption and ironically, more babies waiting than older children. Guatemala is one of the few countries that still allows private adoption and direct birth mother relinquishment. The children in our program live in Foster Care Homes, which are residential facilities staffed with qualified individuals who provide excellent care for the children.
Children from Guatemala are generally healthier and more developmentally on target for their age level compared to children from neighboring countries. The children are placed in age related peer groups of one caregiver per every three children. The children receive regular immunizations and checkups. They are also tested for HIV and Hep B as well DNA tested to prove the mother is truly the child's birth mother therefore making the adoption process legal. The loving care given in the early days of the child's life in our Foster Care Homes helps to facilitate the bonds of attachment and the children have fewer attachment and developmental issues.
To adopt from Guatemala parents must be between the ages of 25 and 55 years old. Process time is approximately 10 months from start to finish and travel in country is 3 days! Due to the changes at the PGN, this process time could be longer.
What about the children? Who will fight for them? Who will stay committed to the children, in spite of the longer wait due to the new implementation of standards issued by the PGN? The PGN certainly has the best interest of the children at heart, however now they are faced with a significant backlog of cases--which can make the wait to adopt from Guatemala longer than it previously had been. Never forget the orphaned and abandoned children are still waiting, still hungry, still alone and still without a family.
Panama has just become a popular option for adoptive parents. Panama, called the "crossroads of the world" due to its unique location between North and South America hosts almost 3 million people. The streets of Panama reflect a society that contains a charm like no other. Yet these same streets hold the approximate 37% or 1.1 million people that live beneath the poverty level in Panama. Like a vast majority of countries, the Panamanians would prefer that their children remain in Panama; however they also understand that the children need homes and the love of a family. For the orphans in Panama who do not have any permanent family to love them or visit them, the government has given adoption agencies the precious opportunity to find homes for these children. The Panama adoption program has only just begun, but thus far the program is running smoothly. The children of Panama have an opportunity at a new life within loving families. This beautiful country with lush gardens surrounded by a sparkling ocean house orphans who need our help-just like Guatemala.
The children waiting for adoption in Panama are 6 months and older at the time families bring them home. They live in State run orphanages of two different types. There are traditional orphanages with multiple buildings and on-site schools, which are run and taught by Nuns, as well as single-family homes that have been converted into orphanages. These smaller homes are primarily used to hold children until they can moved into the traditional orphanages, however due to lack of space, many children live in the smaller homes for many months or years. Like Guatemala, children are placed for adoption due to poor economic conditions, unwed birth mothers, and many other reasons. The orphanages are clean and provide excellent care for the children.
The process from start to finish is approximately 10-12 months depending on the age of the child you wish to adopt. Parents who have been married 2 years and are between the ages of 25 and 45 can adopt an infant from Panama and under 55 to adopt an older child. Singles are also welcome to adopt from Panama. The Dirección Nacional de Adopciones (DNA) is the authority that officially matches you with the child you are requesting. Referrals are usually made between 1-4 months after your dossier is submitted. Both parents must travel and the stay in country varies with each adoption. The judge hearing the case can make whatever decision is in the best interest of the child. The trip could a one-trip 2 week process, or a two trip process (of 1-2 weeks each).
Our hope is that the children in Central and Latin America can rest assured that we will not forget them. Our dream for them is that families will continue to fight for them and wait for them, no matter how smooth or rough the adoption process might be. Our desire for the orphans of Latin America is that they, too, will have a chance to know the love of a family, the security of a future and the warmth of a place that they can call home. Please do not give up hope for the children of Guatemala and open your hearts to the children in Panama. Although the journey might feel uncertain, the blessings are immeasurable.
By Traci DeBra, Adoption Coordinator of World Partners Adoption http://www.worldpartnersadoption.org/