Tuesday, January 8, 2019

In June, the Barker Adoption Foundation’s Colombia Homeland Tour group returned home from our fabulous trip to Bogota, Colombia. The Tour was composed of 29 individuals made up of 7 families from Connecticut, New York, Maryland and New Jersey with children ranging from school-aged to young adults. While we have settled back into our daily lives, I am certain that each of us continues to embrace a special fondness and appreciation of our experiences while visiting our children’s homeland.

My son Michael was born in Bogota 25 years ago. I always wanted to return and show him his country of origin, and this became the right year for our trip. Bogota was now very safe, my summer teaching schedule was lighter than usual, and Michael was ready and eager to explore Colombia.

Travel arrangements for the Colombian Homeland Tour could not have gone smoother. And on June 20th, we arrived at the modern Bogota International airport, and immediately I saw a transformed city from what I remembered from 1991. Delightfully, the first faces we saw after immigration were the Barker Team, Sue Hollar, Carolina Kenrick, and Barbara Donesky. What I was unaware of at that time was not only were they excellent travel guides, each with distinctly delightful personalities but that I would glean so much knowledge from each of them about adoption.

After meeting everyone from the group the next morning at breakfast, we set out for FANA (Fundacion para la Asistencia de la Ninez Abandonada) led by Maria Teresa de Perez, the 4th member of Barker’s team. Throughout the trip, she graciously shared her knowledge about all aspects of Colombia. Upon our arrival, we toured the expansive building and grounds, where the children appeared playful, happy and so very well cared for. FANA was immaculate, and innovative programs for both orphans and daycare preschoolers were evident. Visiting FANA was emotional, and I truly felt that I was experiencing déjà vu. I’m a nurse; accustomed to being strong, stoic, and in control of my emotions, but I was moved, especially when I saw the original gold tree of life where Michael was presented to us by FANA’s Founder, Mercedes Rosario de Martinez.

As I passed a beautiful portrait of Mercedes, I reflected on how truly amazing she was, changing life courses for thousands of children and families. During our visits 25 years ago, I was consumed with the process of adopting Michael and bringing him home. Now this visit, I marveled in complete admiration that one woman could initiate this tremendous humanitarian action, advancing and expanding FANA year after year; such that at present, approximately 13,000 children have been adopted into families across the globe.

While at FANA we were greeted and well cared for by Elena Martinez, Director, and Maria Lucia Martinez, Director of the Hogar Margarita (FANA’s home for birth mothers), who are daughters of Mercedes and who are continuing their mother’s legacy and life work. Additionally, Maria Teresa Maldonado, FANA Administrative Director, sensitively shared available information, contingent on the child’s age, with each of the families on the tour.

From day one of the trip, there was a highly visible connection among all those our group. A bond was formed and the adopted youth shared a commonality that perhaps they had not experienced previously. I marveled at how Michael blossomed on this trip; normally quiet and introverted, he was outgoing, social, and fully engaged in all aspects of FANA and Colombian life. I quite frankly had never seen him so happy!

On day two, our group prepared beautiful baskets with cosmetics, toiletries, scarves, journals, and other items for women living at the Hogar Margarita. This experience, as well as the opportunity to meet with Maria Lucia, provided us with a realistic understanding of the challenging life circumstances faced by pregnant women considering adoption. Finally, our afternoon at FANA was spent playing outside with the children and included parachute play, face painting, bubble blowing, and lively soccer games. Both the children at FANA and our children had a marvelous time together, displaying an overt connection with each other.

The trip was a blend of experiences. While visiting FANA was intense and highly emotional, many aspects of the trip were educational, insightful, fun, exciting, and still very relaxing. For instance, we ate empanadas while watching an intense Chilean vs. Colombian soccer game. We also visited historical and cultural landmarks, toured the Presidential Palace, Casa Narino, and enjoyed a walking tour of La Candalaria. Visits to the Nemocon Salt Mine, the Gold Museum, the Botero Museum, and the Colon Theater kept us busy and facilitated a comprehensive tour of the best of Bogota. Some of my personal favorites were the times spent at Monserrat, where tremendous heights provided a panoramic view of the entire city; shopping at a flea market in Usaquen with every imaginable artifact, and the unforgettable visit to the coffee distributor, where we learned about quality coffee in a fun-filled environment.

Our days at FANA were very emotional, and throughout the trip, there was much to process. Fortunately, at night, we had group sessions (parents and children separately) to explore our feelings and responses to what I term our adoption immersion. As our trip was ending, I saw that many of our children did not want to leave. They bonded with each other and experienced a life event that was unique to them, and perhaps facilitated an understanding about themselves that could not be grasped outside of Colombia. Although I believed myself to be educated about adoption, I realized on this trip that I had much to learn, much to ponder, and that I would continue to process the information I gained on this trip over time. I also know that this trip brought my son and I much closer together. I am more empathic and open to the issues of adoption, considerate of all views, more cognizant of the importance of culture and genetics, and hopefully more supportive of his life desires, whatever they may be. Perhaps it is really true that you can’t determine your future until you know your past. Returning to Colombia was an enchanting experience and I believe essential for further growth and development, not just for the children of FANA, but for the parents as well.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Barker Adoption Foundation for their compassion, expertise and guided support on this most memorable journey. It was a trip of a lifetime!

If you or someone you know would benefit from attending a Colombia Homeland Tour, please visit our post-adoption page for more information and to register! 

Kathleen Neville, Ph.D., R.N.