Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MPAK - Orange County Gathering

MPAK-OC group met in Irvine, CA on Saturday, August 27, 2011.

MPAK - Orange County Group gathered at Mrs. Nanjoo Choi's house on Saturday, August 27th.  The gathering drew a large crowd at the beautiful house of Mrs. Choi, who adopted a son from Korea 11 years ago.  The group was headed by Brian and Kathy Shin, who adopted three children from Korea.  While Brian cooked Korean Kalbi, the children played in the backyard in a mini golf putt green, and the grown ups sat in different pockets to chat and merry making through their adoption stories.

Helen and Rich Lee Family shared their adoption story

The sumptuous meal was excellent as people brought many types of food.  There was an adoption story presented by Rich and Helen Lee on their adoption journey of adopting their two daugthers from Korea.  Their story was warm and beautiful, and brought laughter and applause (I will try to post their story in a separate blog).  It was wonderful to see all the newly arrived children that came this year.  But there were several families that were caught up on the Korean quota issue and lamented the fact that they won't be able to see their children until 2012.  We hope their children will come home soon.

Mr. Yoon (right) , an orphange director from Korea meets one his orphanage graduate Kim (center) and her husband Darren (left).  This unplanned meeting was a great surprise for both, and a blessing to all of us.

One of the highlights of the gathering was the meeting between the two very special people.  One was an orphanage director Mr. Yoon who came from Korea on family matter, and the other was an adoptee named Kim, who grew up in the same orphanage under the care of Mr. Yoon.  Kim was adopted 32 years ago, and she and her husband Darren Clark were waiting for their child to come home from Korea.  At first Mr. Yoon didn't recognize Kim, but when she stated her Korean name, Mr. Yoon recognized her immediately.  Both Mr. Yoon and Kim wept as they hugged.  Mr. Yoon shared a brief remarks to all those gathered and could not control his emotion, thus causing many eyes in the room to tear up.

The evening was a tremendously blessing time for all those attending, and I want to thank our host Mrs. Nanjoo Choi again for the great hosting she provided to all of us.  Another special thanks to Brian and Kathy Shin for the great job in organizing this gathering, and thanks to all those that came to the MPAK-OC gathering.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NEWS FLASH - Priority EP Processes for Korean-Americans Announced

The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has just sent out an official notice to the three intercountry adoption (ICA) agencies in Korea (Holt, Eastern, and SWS) that MOHW will now provide priority Exit Permit (or Emmigration Permit) service to Korean-American couples.  MOHW has determined that the definition for Korean-American couple to include couples where one is a Korean descent.  This also includes adoptee as well.  It is MOHW's belief that children being adopted to Korean-American couples will experience less identify and cultural adjustment issues, thus priority service should be given to expedite Korean-American adoption. 

The agencies are to notify the cooperating agencies in the US on this new policy and provide a feedback to MOHW by September 30, 2011. This new priority service will go into effect immediately.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Suha Kim's Story - A Child's Perspective in Transparent/Open Adoption

Suha Kim lives in Incheon, Korea

Should you be transparent about your adoption to others?  This question is not much of a problem for most non-Korean heritage families adopting children from Korea.  But for many Korean-Americans, this is a big struggle - whether to tell their children they were adopted or not, or even to tell others that they are adoptive families. But Suha's story goes even further.  She describes the open adoption experience as well.  Open adoption is when children are allowed to meet birthparents, and transparent adoption is where adoption is not kept secret.  I hope Suha Kim's story will help to put your adoption experience in a proper perspective.

To give a background on her story, when MPAK had a historic first ever national conference to promote domestic adoption in Korea on Saturday, October 14, 2000, there were around 450 in attendance from all corners of Korea.  We hung the banners around the city of Kwachon to aanounce the event titled, "The 1st Annual Adoptive Families Gathering - To Promote Domestic Adoption". 

A woman named Haeran Lee saw the banners, and got curious as to what the event was all about.  She attended and watched musical performances and the presentations on the adoption stories by a few parents.  She had no idea that this event would change her life forever.  She was so moved by the event, that when Monday came, she and her husband, a pastor of a church, immediately went to an adoption agency to adopt a baby girl.  A few weeks later, Suha Kim came home.  The family had a biological son, and Suha was their second child.

Suha is now in 5th grade, and she has blossomed so beautifully.  The family adopted another girl a few years later named Yuna.  The children are being homeschooled, and Suha is a voracious reader, and she is well beyond her years in terms of academic maturity.  This blog will feature a writing by Suha Kim on her adoption experiences and her experience of meeting her birthmother.  She presented her story at the Annual MPAK Summer Adoption Seminar (Aug 12-14), which was attended by over 250 families from all over Korea.

Open adoption is something that is not comfortable for many adoptive parents, and the concept of open adoption has been in Korea for about six or seven years only.  Even I have some mixed feelings towards open adoption, but here is a story of Suha Kim where open adoption seems to be working well for her.
Hello my name is Suha Kim. I am in fifth grade. I have an older brother who is in 10th grade and a younger sister in 2nd grade. In my family, only my younger sister and I were adopted.

Earier picture of Suha's family when she was a toddler, Suha is on the left

When I was seven years old, I met my birthmother for the first time. Since then, I see her every year on my birthday. I call her “Auntie”.  Whenever Auntie comes to visit me, she brings a birthday present. She also brings gifts for my brother, younger sister, my Mom and Dad. I love receiving presents from my birthmother.

Time to time my Mom tells me, “I am so glad that Auntie comes to see you once a year. There is yet another person who loves and cares for you, Suha.”  Honestly, I thought my Mom would not want me to see my birthmother. But after hearing that from my Mom, I was relieved to know that I could see her once a year. I was thankful that my Mom understood how I felt.

I think my Mom is a courageous woman. It is very unusual in Korea for an adopted child to meet her birthmother once a year. I think you would have to be a bold person to allow such a thing. I also think my Mom understands people well.

Sometime ago, while I was talking with my Mom about adoption she said, “I can only imagine how scared Auntie must have been for having a baby at such a young age. I wanted her to be able see you grow up. That is the reason why I have made arrangements for the two of you to meet once a year on your birthday.”

I also tried to imagine how scared Auntie would have felt. I do understand. Although I see my birthmother once a year, there is one very important fact I will never forget. My Mom is my REAL Mom. If you were adopted and have had a chance to meet your birthmother, you would probably say the same thing -- that your Mom is your REAL Mom.  That is why I recommend that adopted children to meet with their birthmother even if it’s just once.

My Mom has always talked with me on adoption.  Now I am old enough to understand about adoption. But I still think, “So what if I was adopted?” I think my Mom made a right choice by telling me that I was adopted when I was still little. Because she was so open with me I am able to think positively about adoption.

I think about my birthmother when my Mom scolds me. My Mom says that adopted children often think about their birthmothers when being reprimanded. I think it’s very natural.

I have never asked, “Why couldn’t my birthmother keep me?” I just accept it as reality. When I grow up I really hope to adopt three children. I want to be able to understand how adoptive parents feel and how adopted children feel. I want to share with my adopted children how I felt as an adoptee.

I think adoptive parents usually feel afraid or offended when their kids want to meet their birthmothers. But, I think you should just accept it. Adopted children naturally have desire to meet their birthmothers once in their life time. Some Moms don’t want their kids to have other mothers. They might think that their kids would consider the birthmothers as their real Moms. Kids are only curious to know about them.  I remember asking my Mom what my birthmother looked like and if she was pretty.

It was when I met the Auntie for the third time that my Mom finally told me that the lady was actually my birthmother.  She tells me that I responded by saying “I had a feeling that was the case”.  Even today when I think about that episode, it makes me smile. I was so immature. Meeting Auntie answered all my questions. I know what she looks like, what kind of hair she has—my curiosity has been satisfied.

Once, my Mom was scolding me and I told her that I missed my birthmother. I could tell that she was shocked. She stopped scolding immediately. Since then, I could not share everything with my Mom. I didn’t expect to see her get upset. I thought she would never get surprised by such a thing. When I saw her expression, I was very surprised too.

So, I have one advice for you. When your child says that she wants to see her birthmother, don’t be shocked. If you become upset, your child would not be able to share her honest feelings. Also, when your child wants to talk about adoption, please listen carefully and attentively. When your child sees that you are interested, she would want to talk more and more about adoption. Then, you will be able to have so much more conversations.

I suppose adoptive parents can get help from books on adoption. I read a lot about adoption. When I read I can really learn and understand about adoption and other adopted children.

There is a book titled “No More Secrets.” There are many stories in the book but my favorite is the story about Lavender Princess Eunbi. Princess Eunbi grew jealous of her little adopted sister who drew all the attention from her parents.

She took 2/3 of my parents’ love and didn’t want to listen to me, so I wanted her to be sent back. Now I think she is pretty cute when she listens to me. But when she gets all the attention, I feel like saying “Send her back”.  I am glad that I have a younger sister.

Sometimes, I feel very proud to be adopted. I think I started feeling this way ever since I joined The Korean Adopted Children’s Choir. Maybe it’s because people recognize us as the adopted children. I think it’s a good thing. It’s the kind of self confidence that comes by declaring “I was adopted!”

Suha in the Korean Adopted Children's Choir performing during the National Adoption Day event on May 11, 2001, Seoul, Korea.  The Choir is organized by MPAK.

 I think children need to have self confidence. Children need their parents’ help to become confident. My self confidence started with my parents’ teachings but later I improved on it myself.

Once, as I was getting ready to perform on the stage my inner voice said, “I was adopted, adoption is nothing to be ashamed of!” I wish that a lot of people would realize that adoption is not shameful.

I wish that many people would come to know adoption isn’t something to be embarrassed, but that it has to do with being happy and in love.  I wish to continue to declare this through my involvement with the Korean Adopted Children’s Choir. Adoption is not something to be ashamed of, but that it is love!!  Adoption is happiness!!  When all the adopted children come together and declare together such message, then all the people will believe that adoption is truly happiness and love.

Thank you.

Suha Kim

Monday, August 15, 2011

Will the ICA Program in Korea Come to an End?

Will the Intercountry Adoption (ICA) program in Korea come to an end?  This question has been around for as long as I can remember.  And this question will certainly generate uncertainties and discomforts for many wishing to adopt children from Korea.  In this blog my aim is to look at this uncertainty in a bigger perspective and show that while the ICA in Korea is unstable and going through a lot of transition, it isn’t all doom and glooms either.  

The ICA program in Korea will certainly come to an end unless Korea adopts and ratifies The Hague Adoption Convention (hereafter called ‘Hague Convention’ or ‘Convention’).  The Hague Convention proposes the three priorities in the welfare of children.  The first is to make every attempt to return the children to their biological families.  If that doesn’t work the second option is to place the children domestically within the country of origin.  When that option doesn’t work the third option is to place the children overseas.  So far, every indication seems to show that this is the direction that Korea is going.

Korea is trying to gear up to adopt the Hague Convention, but they are at odds with a few requirements dealing with how to implement the Hague Convention.  One of the requirements by the Convention is for a country to have a centralized adoption authority to control and manage the welfare of homeless children from the time they become homeless to the time they get placed in homes.  In Korea, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is the central authority, and they have established the Korean Central Adoption Resources (KCARE) to develop and implement the database system to track all the homeless children in Korea (whether they are in orphanages or in custody of adoption agencies) and if possible to have database on birth families.  In most cases the adoption agencies will be the keepers of the information related to privacy matters on the children they serve, i.e. information regarding birthmothers, etc. 

But one issue thing that supersedes all the Hague matter is whether Korea would want to continue to allow their children to be adopted abroad at all (the third option for Hague), and there is a plenty of opposition to this.  Thus the struggle is there for Korea whether to ratify the Convention or not.  If they ratify, they are essentially allowing ICA to continue.  If they don’t, then ICA will certainly come to an end.  But I strongly believe Korea will eventually ratify the Convention. 

Even if Korea ratifies the Hague Convention, my concern is that even with all the effort is made by Korea to place children based on the first two priorities of Hague (first to place them into their biological families, and second to place them through domestic adoption), Korea may not follow through with the third option of placing the remaining children through ICA due to such a strong opposition to ICA by many.  It is much easier for them to put the helpless children in institutions and know it will be quite rather than choose to place the children overseas and hear complaints.

The Convention has been adopted by 79 countries including the US and China.  Korea has not adopted the Convention yet, but there is an ever increasing pressure in the international community for Korea to ratify the Convention.  By theory, if Korea adopts the Hague Convention, the ICA should go on indefinitely, though in much smaller scale. This aspect of Hague seems to bother all the anti-adoption organizations in Korea, but I have yet to hear any clear and sound objections coming from them. 

If by chance Korea does not adopt the Hague Convention, then the ICA will most certainly be closed in Korea.  This is evidenced by the general attitude of the Korean nationals, especially the politicians.  Over the years there have been several attempts by a few Korean politicians to propose the closure of ICA.   I can remember in 1999 when a politician in Korea proposed the closure of ICA by 2006, and in 2007 a government minister promised the closure of ICA by 2011, and recently another congressional representative tried to pass a mandate to close the ICA by 2016, but she was not successful even though she was able to bring about many revisions to the Korean adoption law that now heavily favors birthmother’s rights. (I will write later a separate blog on the adoption law changes).  So far, none of these politicians have succeeded, but this does not mean that it won’t happen.  It may just be a matter of time when the ICA will come to an end if Korea doesn’t adopt the Hague Convention. 

It is without question that this issue on ICA became much more noticeable and debated right after the 1988 Seoul Olympic.  The matter of ICA gained much attention during the Olympic as one of the major US networks featured a segment on the ICA that brought great humiliation to Korea as the country only wanted to project positive images to the world.  The Olympic had a slogan that said, “The World to Seoul, and Seoul to the World.”  So each day every effort was made by Korea to project beautiful sceneries, cultural images and the miracle of economic recovery in Korea.  It was during one of those stories that the network featured a story on how Korea continues to send children abroad to be adopted.

You can just imagine the uproar this has caused in Korea (and also in the Korean-American communities).  Immediately after the network story broke through, there were many Koreans that demanded to halt the ICA.  Their reasons were all the same.  That ICA was a national shame, that it is an embarrassment for Korea in light of such an important international event.  That Korea was no longer a poor country, and the fact that Korea was economically strong enough to host an Olympic meant that they should be able to take care of their own children.  The Korean media flamed these sentiment for many months after the Olympic. 

I remember watching that segment of the network story and as I recall, the story itself wasn’t positive or negative.  It was just stating a fact that due to Korean nationals not adopting the homeless children they had to be placed overseas. Regardless, Korea did not like it at all because it exposed the weakness in the Korean people.

It was in that moment I began to question, “Why don’t Koreans adopt?” “Why are they upset at foreigners wanting to adopt the children that they don’t want to adopt?”  “Is there something I can do about this?”   These were some of the questions that later helped me to form MPAK movement to promote domestic adoption in Korea, and to promote adoption by Korean-Americans.  Over the years, MPAK has brought tremendous changes in the hearts and minds of Koreans to be more positive towards the concept of adoption.

However, I am concerned for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games that will be held at Pyeonchang, Korea.  While I am very happy that Korea could host such a great event, it may not be so favorable for all the homeless children.  I am deeply concerned that Korea may choose to abandon or temporarily halt the ICA program by 2017 as the Winter Olympic Games will be held in February of 2018.  Of course, this will be done to avoid another embarrassing situation they faced during the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

My philosophy in adoption has always been the same as the priorities outlined by Hague.  A priority should be given for the children to be placed domestically (either to birth families or adoption).  If not then the ICA program should be the next best solution.  But placing children into foster care should be exercised with caution, and placing them in institution should be the last option.  In my years of promoting adoption in Korea through MPAK, I have never spoken against ICA as there have been so many wonderful families that have done wonders to so many homeless Korean children.  Without those families the children would most likely grow up in institutions in Korea.  And I am certainly a living proof of that. 

I believe the most important thing for children is for them to grow up in loving homes, whether they be in Korea or in overseas.  Unfortunately, not too many Koreans seem to put the best interests of children first.  If they could only see from the hearts of homeless children…

Monday, August 8, 2011

NEWS FLASH - The EP Process Has Started to Flow Again in Korea

Exit Permit (or Emmigration Permit) has started  to flow again in Korea.  This according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) of Korea today. 

Because this year's Quota Level has already reached near the limit before the freeze went into effect, there are fewer than100 EPs that will be granted for the remainder of this year between the four adoption agencies in Korea.

The EPs that were submitted in May will be granted first.  It appears that during the first six months of 2011, there have been rather high level of EPs granted that made the Quota get filled up quickly. I hope all the children will come home soon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

MPAK the the East and the West

MPAK-East Regional Picnic, Van Saun Park, Pararmus, NJ, July 23, 2011

With lots of travels and busy schedule, I am now able to sit down and report two MPAK gatherings that recently occurred within two weeks apart.  The MPAK-East Regional met on July 23rd at the Van Saun Park, Paramus, NJ with 40 people in attendance.  We endured the 104 degrees temperature and humidity, but the tree shades and gentle breeze provided some comforts.  MPAK-East Region has not been very active past two years, and this picnic was an attempt to revitalize the gathering, and it was a very important gathering.

A special thanks to Min Lee and Ben Huh, who took over the leadership role again despite living in South Carolina, and driving 11 hours to organize and attend the picnic.  There were some familiar faces at the picnic and it was great to see the Jungs and Hyuns again, and there were many new faces which was very special and I hope they will continue to support the East Regional gatherings. Due to many families spread out so widely in the East coast area, there will be three mini gatherings planned before another big gathering planned for the Christmas time.

MPAK-Valley Region (north of LA), Gathered at Andrew & Helen Kim's Place, July 31, 2011

Out in the Pacific West, the MPAK-Valley Regional group area met at Andrew & Helen Kim's place. The temperature must have hovered around 95, but once the sun set it was very pleasant.  The kids swimmed in the pool, jumped in the moonbounce, and played with a dog named Oreo (really looked like an Oreo cookie color).  One of the highlights of the gathering was the campfire, where kids roasted the marshmallows, using improvised sticks by taping chopsticks together. 

The MPAK-Valley Region director Andrew and Helen Kim have adopted three children from Korea.  Their third child has autism, but progressing very well although challenging at times.  That day I learned something new about Andrew Kim, or rather Coach Kim.  Andrew is the varsity head football coach at the Chatsworth High School, that has a student body population of 3300.  This distinction is very rare for a Korean-American to hold.  I know of no other Korean-American that is a head football coach of any team.  It is a very rare combination of being a football coach and and an adoptive parent that make him and Helen very special.