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facts & arguments

In July, an international adoption agency in Cambridge, Ont., filed for bankruptcy. Behind each of the hundreds of families involved with Imagine Adoption lies a story often missing from the news reports. A story of a family looking to welcome a new addition, a family looking to bring love and stability to a needy child.

Kwadwo is a little Ghanaian boy living at a children's welfare home outside of the capital Accra. He is about 22 months old, but no one is really sure. One of the only things known about him is that he was born on a Monday. (Kwadwo literally means "Monday-born" but is not his real name, out of respect for both his privacy and the Ghanaian government's adoption process.)

Kwadwo was brought to the home in April, 2008, from the local police department after he had been left on a neighbour's doorstep in town. He was probably about four months old, but it was hard for the police or the orphanage staff to know since he was suffering quite badly from malnutrition.

My wife and I first met Kwadwo when we arrived at the children's home for two months of volunteer work. On our first day there, my wife noticed him in the infirmary. He was quiet, withdrawn and sick from malaria. His development and growth had been slowed by chronic malnutrition, and the malaria drugs were tough on his little body. But underneath his half-closed eyes, my wife could detect a spark of life and vitality.

Every day for weeks we spent time with Kwadwo. Feeding him slowly over an hour or two so he wouldn't spit up. Taking the egg from our lunch and mashing it up for him. Bringing him back to the volunteer home so he could get some one-on-one attention.

After a while, Kwadwo began to emerge - a laughing, happy baby boy who learned to smile, grunt, turn over and finally sit up months behind other babies his age, but catching up slowly and showing a beautiful personality within.

We had always hoped to adopt, at some point in our lives, and here was fate introducing us to a little boy who needed a family. We began to talk to our friends on the staff at the children's home. They were overjoyed that we wanted to adopt Kwadwo. We spoke with officials at the Ghanaian Department of Social Welfare, who were also supportive.

Through health tests we learned that Kwadwo was a sickle-cell carrier; he didn't have full-blown sickle-cell anemia, but was a carrier of the gene. This only strengthened our resolve to have him become part of our family and to ensure that he could receive good medical care throughout his life.

When we returned to Ontario in September, 2008, we began the lengthy international adoption process. Our first requirement was to find an adoption agency willing to work on a pre-identified adoption, which is not the normal route. Imagine Adoption was interested in working with us. Along with their services, the staff provided a lot of support to us in a difficult time, trying to help us navigate numerous hurdles, including the Ghanaian election and change of governments.

The bankruptcy of Imagine Adoption has affected us deeply, along with hundreds of Canadian families. We voted with others in September to restructure the company rather than let it fail, which would have meant starting again and convincing another agency to take on our case or putting aside our hopes of bringing Kwadwo to Canada for years.

The restructuring was recently approved in court, but many questions still remain. Will the bankruptcy affect the views of Ghanaian officials on whether they would like to continue with adoptions to Canada? Will the agency decide to continue with the Ghanaian program? Who will help us act in the best interests of Kwadwo?

Each prospective parent and couple involved in adoption is trying, in their own way, to bring a little more love and happiness into the world, both for themselves and for a needy child. In Ethiopia. In Ghana. In Ecuador. In Canada. How can wanting to bring more happiness to the world be wrong, with children who legitimately have no family to turn to?

Adopting internationally isn't for everyone and holds a lot of risks. All of us know that going in. No one enters into this long and arduous process without a lot of soul-searching and discussion. And adopting internationally doesn't preclude adopting within Canada. It's just a different direction to take in the voyage of building a family.

I visited Kwadwo a few months ago. He's growing much stronger now, with great care from the orphanage staff and other volunteers. But even with better nutrition, he's still missing something critical: a family.

While I was there I was privileged to see his first steps, which is something most parents consider a huge milestone in their child's development and one they would be disappointed to miss. But adoptive parents know they are missing important milestones each day as their children remain oversees.

We have spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how we will proceed, but we know this: We are committed to being Kwadwo's mommy and daddy, even if it means from abroad until he can come to Canada. And how could anyone want to deny a little boy a family?

Nick McCandie Glustien lives in Ottawa.

Illustration by Larry Humber.

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