Our hearts stopped when we read their plea: “A family. Any kind. Kids. Anything.”
Two Colombian sisters waiting for a family to step up for them before it was too late.
It was August 2021; the oldest sister would turn 18 years old in 5 MONTHS. We were sure it was impossible. Adoptions usually take at least a year, sometimes more. We hadn’t even signed up with an agency yet. There was no way it could be done.
I remember calling Project 143 and brainstorming ideas: What if we just adopted the younger sister but kept the older one in our lives? What if we financially supported the older sister from a distance? We had to think of something because we couldn’t just turn our backs and let them age out.
A short time later, P143 connected us with our adoption agency who said that, if we hurry and request every possible expedite, it might…just might….be possible.
Oh, and I forgot to mention: All of this time, we were preparing for an international move! My husband’s and mine’s U.S. government jobs were reassigning us to Italy in just two months.
Everything was against us: An aging out timeline. An international move. Everything. But we decided that we had to try. No one else was going to. We were literally their LAST CHANCE at a family.
We met the girls with their P143 host family on August 11th. By August 17th, our application to adopt was approved. Our home study was done on September 28th. On October 21st, we moved to Italy. We drove directly from the Rome airport to meet the social worker, who completed the home study update of our new residence 3 hours after we landed in-country. By November 3rd, we’d received our official Referral. And on December 10th, we had our “Encuentro” and our daughters walked out of an orphanage in Colombia and into our family.
Our adoption was finalized on December 23rd….25 DAYS BEFORE OUR OLDEST DAUGHTER AGED OUT!
25 Days…I still can’t get over that number. Any little hiccup could have meant the end of this adoption. But somehow, we’d pulled it off. It was nothing short of a miracle.
5 Things I Have Learned from This Experience:
- Even the “impossible” is possible if you want it bad enough.
- We completed an international adoption from start to finish in 4 months and 10 days. That meant staying up all night completing paperwork that most families complete over the course of months. That meant finding creative solutions when there didn’t seem to be any. It was stressful, it was uncomfortable, and it was hard work. But knowing what was at stake meant we were willing to do anything, even if it seemed “impossible.”
- You MUST have a team that believes in your family!
- Adoption is a team effort. Without the support of every member of that team – hosting agency, adoption agency, home study agency, friends, family – “impossible” adoptions like ours can’t happen.
- If Project 143 would have said “no” to allowing two girls so close to aging out to participate in hosting, this adoption wouldn’t have happened. If our adoption agency hadn’t been so knowledgeable about USCIS processes, we would have failed. If our home study agency hadn’t been willing to pull every string to complete our home study in a record 42 days, we would have failed. If our friends and family hadn’t been willing to scan our mail and email it to us overseas to save time, we would have failed. THIS TEAM, their collaboration with us, and their collaboration with each other made our adoption possible!
- All children are worth it. Take the risk. A family is irreplaceable.
- I remember many nights of crying and speculating about us not making the deadline before our daughters aged out. The financial and emotional impact of losing everything we’d invested into the process was scary. There were days, like the day we received a Request for Evidence (RFE), that I was sure we were “done”; it was over. But then I stepped back and realized that this risk was bigger than us… our daughters were WORTH IT.
- So, I taped a picture of the girls up in the kitchen and at my desk at work. I looked at that picture a hundred times a day, put my head down, and kept going. Vulnerable children need dedicated adults in their lives who are willing to take risks for them.
- Siblings deserve to stay together.
- Adopted children come from trauma and loss. There are no words to describe how much children give up when they say “yes” to adoption: their family of origin, their country, their culture, their language, their foods, their school, and their friends. When there is an opportunity to keep siblings together and maintain an irreplaceable connection in their lives, do it.
- Older children need families just as much as younger ones.
- Who taught you how to write your first check? Or open a bank account? Who taught you how to interview for your first job? Or talked you through a breakup when you really thought he/she was “the one”? Who sent you money to cover rent in your first apartment when you didn’t budget quite right? Who did you call to ask how to get a stain out of a white t-shirt?
- Parenting older children is different than parenting younger ones – there’s no doubt about it. But it is equally as important! The teen and young adult years are meant for taking risks; for figuring out who you are and what you want in life. But that is incredibly hard to do without a safety net to fall back on. Children need someone who will be there when they fail; someone to help them get back up and try again. A family is so vitally important for all children – no matter what age.
It’s been a year since we finalized our adoption, and our daughters are living in Rome, Italy, and thriving! They are excelling academically in 10th and 11th grade at their international school. Their English is phenomenal. They are on the varsity basketball and soccer teams and regularly travel all over Europe for competitions. They have visited 22 countries since joining our family – from safaris in Botswana and learning to ski in the Swiss Alps to visiting Petra, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. This summer, our oldest daughter will work as a camp counselor in Pennsylvania. She plans to join the military after she graduates high school next year. Our younger daughter loves animals and hopes to be a veterinarian one day.
We sometimes imagine what their lives would have looked like if the process was delayed just 25 more days. Where would they be in Colombia? Who would they live with? Would they have been separated? Would they still be in school? Would they be safe?
Our experience taught us that life has a plan for each and every one of us. Things happen for a reason, and even the seemingly “impossible” just might be the path you are meant to walk. Never settle for ‘no’ when it comes to vulnerable children. So much is gained when you are willing, even despite “impossible” odds, to take the risk of saying “YES!”
Written by: Caroline Galinis | Former P143 Host Family & Adoptive Mom