Pauline Njonge remembers the embarrassment her mother felt the first time Pauline visited with her own daughter, Samantha. It’s a painful memory that today has turned into a lesson in acceptance.
“My mom didn’t want me to take Samantha out,” Pauline recalled. “She was afraid of what the neighbors would say. But I kept telling her that we had to be confident and know that I had done the right thing.
“Now, she even takes the child from me when I visit and they want to keep Samantha overnight. They tell me, ‘We’ll bring her to you tomorrow.’”
The lesson for Pauline and her mom is that adoption is OK. In fact, Pauline tells people “adoption is divine. There’s a reason why God gives you a certain child.”
Crossing that cultural divide has been one of the major challenges facing Buckner staff as the organization has emerged as the leading adoption agency in Kenya. In 2017, Buckner Kenya placed 78 children with adoptive families.
That trend, known as “global permanency,” is becoming one of the most important ministries for Buckner. As inter-country adoptions to the United States have fallen dramatically in recent years, children in other countries who might have been adopted by American families are left in limbo.
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That’s why Buckner is ramping up global permanency in countries where it serves. The results are taking hold and Buckner is quickly becoming the leader among U.S.-based agencies. Officials at Buckner say in-country adoption provides permanency for children who might otherwise be left in institutions or to fend for themselves. Growing the global permanency model fits Buckner’s biblical premise that children belong in families – and preferably permanent families.
“We insist that family is the cornerstone of what we do,” said Dickson Masindano, country director for Buckner Kenya. “So, adoption creates an opportunity for a child to belong to a family.”
Margaret Sanganyi, a Buckner Kenya adoption case worker, sees her role as protecting children by placing them in adoptive families ensuring those children grow up outside of institutions.
“In all the studies done, it’s obvious that a child who grows up in an institution does not grow holistically,” she said. “So, it’s best when a child is brought up in a family setting. Getting them out of institutions and into families where they are going to feel loved, cared for, and wanted like any other child is critical. In the children’s home, you don’t have anyone you can call mommy or daddy. They need to be in families,” she stressed. “That’s the gospel that even Jesus was preaching.”
Dickson said Buckner’s commitment to placing children in families is rooted in the belief that children thrive in families, not orphanages.
“The family is so dynamic,” he said. “In the family you learn by observation. You learn the values of the family. The family creates an opportunity for a child to grow without being succumbed to the rules that train him to be a robot.”
That sentiment is echoed by Eric Oyondi and his wife Linet Gwengi who adopted their daughter Amore through Buckner.
“I do not believe that children belong in a children’s home,” Linet said. “They belong in families. We all belong in families. I believe every child needs a family.”
While family is the center of Kenyan (and African) society and culture, adoption faces hurdles for many people, from the adoptive parents to their extended family. Many people interpret a family’s adoption as an inability to have biological children, a stigma still prevalent in many corners of the continent.
That stigma has led to adoption having very low awareness in Kenya, according to Dickson.
“Awareness is low,” he said. “Not many families or couples know what adoption is all about, so it creates a challenge to explain it to people.”
The most zealous advocates for adoption in Kenya are families who have adopted, like Robert Mwangi and Esther Thuo, who adopted their daughter Collette through Buckner.
“I feel called to create awareness about adoption because I feel the best place to bring up a child is in a family environment,” Esther said. “I would like to make people aware that adoption is not hard; adoption is something good. Adoption is divine. I always say adoption is doing something for God. And when you do something for God, you always get a blessing.”
Adoptive parent Eric said adopting his daughter Amore “demystified the issue of adoption for us, because for many people it’s a mystery; it’s an unknown. Then you find that it’s something normal and it’s something you can do. We just love having Amore in our family. She’s a joy to us.”
And he is quick to point out that adoption is biblical.
“We are all children of God who have been adopted by him,” Eric said. “God has adopted us, so actually adoption starts in the Bible. After all, Moses was adopted, too.”
Buckner adoption caseworker Mary Kamiri said the clouds surrounding adoption in Kenya are beginning to clear as more families speak out about adoption.
Those stories include Buckner families adopting children and helping change the perception among fellow Kenyans, she said.
“I love seeing children in happy families, in forever families,” Mary said. “I just love witnessing a child who has been abandoned or who is homeless, without someone to call mommy or daddy, finding a forever family. I feel so proud to be associated with making a lifetime change in the life of a child.”
For the Buckner adoption team, their work is an extension of their Christian faith. Margaret described her work as an act of service.
“We are doing service,” she said. “Our work is all about service to our community, just the way Jesus would have done. If Jesus were here, he would do exactly what we are doing, offering service to the less fortunate, the orphans and vulnerable within our community.”
Today, Samantha is so much a part of Pauline's life “sometimes I don’t remember she’s adopted. She’s everything to me. She’s everything I prayed for.”
Eric and Linet agree adopting Amore has changed their lives in every way.
“If I were to start describing Amore, I would not even have the adjectives and the words to use,” Linet said. “She means the whole world to us. She’s a gem. She’s the most beautiful thing that is upending our lives and she is a blessing to our family. She is a joy. She is God-sent.”