When Nidia M. Sica, Director of Social Services and International Programs for Adoption by Shepherd Care (ASC) speaks about the agency’s Colombian exchange program, you can’t help but feel God’s love. Adoptions by Shepherd Care which began in 1980 has expanded its reach and God’s calling to care for the orphan by bringing children from Colombia right here to the United States for a one of a kind Summer Program which allows families to meet the children and the children to meet potential adoptive families. “The program is especially focused on Colombia because of the social crisis which is currently happening in Colombia, “ said Sica. “There is rampant poverty and many of the families that are out of work just can’t take care of their children. These families are like refugees within their own country.”
And the statistics speak for themselves. With over 56,000 children in protective custody, 9,000 legally free for adoption and only seven private orphanages in the country, finding permanent adoptive homes for these children inside of Colombia is nearly impossible. Most of these children who are orphaned by a variety of circumstances including violence, the death of a parent or poverty are then sent initially to live with family or neighbors, which is why so many children do not enter Colombia’s foster care system until later in their lives. And the foster homes known as “substitute homes” in Colombia take these children in for only twenty dollars a month. “They take these children because they care,” said Sica. “You can see the want and love they have in their homes for these children, which provides the initial physical and emotional bonding that the child needs. But it’s so much more than that. You can feel the country of Colombia’s love for these children through the care that they receive.”
In the beginning
In July 2009 when Adoption by Shepherd Care went on a Mission trip to visit an orphanage in Colombia and saw the needs of the older children, the staff returned determined to do something about it. Although they were able to help with the physical labor of repairing the orphanage, they simply could not forget the voices, faces and stories of the children.
“We would hear them say things like ‘Please help us find a Mom and Dad’ and ‘Take me, I promise to be good,’” said Claudia Martinez ASC’s International Program Coordinator. “Although the kids enjoyed the crayons, coloring books, pencils, new clothing and new bedding, they wanted a family not things; that was very clear.”
And so the Colombia Adoption Program was born. The Colombian government agreed to allow ASC to host five children that the government deemed “unadoptable.” These were the children that were ten and older or sibling groups where at least one of the children was ten years old or older. In 2010, those five children came to the US for two weeks, and all five children were adopted. “God found five families and the children’s prayers were answered,” said Martinez.
Hosting a child
ASC has since continued to bring these children to the U.S. for a three-week period where staff is available around the clock. During the host period, three social events are included which allow for multiple opportunities for the families and children to meet each other. Families can choose to host a child or simply to participate in the events. “It is so wonderful because the families have the unique opportunity to meet and interact with the children,” said Sica. “In this way they see them as individuals, not just a picture on a screen.”
Sica credits the Colombian government for its transparency and thoroughness. “Anything and everything that the Colombian government knows about that child is given to us. They want the adoption of these children to be successful. This allows for a more streamlined process for potential adoptive families, allowing them to know everything about their child or children.”
Finding their forever families
A major success story with the program is adoptive mother Kresta Stone who first became involved with ASC in 2012. “When ASC told my husband, Jay, and I about the 2015 summer Colombia program, we were already in the process of adopting a second child from Colombia, but we had not yet been referred a specific child, “ said Stone. “We met our son, Santiago, in 2012 through a similar program. Based on that experience, we knew how fantastic and life-changing these types of programs can be.”
So upon hearing about the 2015 Colombia program with ASC, Kresta and her family became immediately interested in participating. “We live in Maryland, so we packed our bags and flew to Florida with open minds and open hearts, fully embracing the opportunity. We knew we might even connect with our future son or daughter during the program, and we knew that even if we didn’t meet our child, we would be happy just to play a part in making the children’s vacation a success.”
As a result of the 2015 Colombia program, Kresta and her family are now in the process of adopting a beautiful fourteen year old girl. “We couldn’t be more thankful that this program brought our daughter into our lives. We are so proud of her, as well as the other children, for having the courage to take a trip out of their comfort zone and away from everything they know to participate in the program.”
Another great success story is Daniella, an eleven year old girl who was physically disabled. “The Colombian government was initially resistant to us including her in the program, but we were insistent, and she was able to come to the United States for two weeks to participate in our program,” Sica explained. “Daniella did not have a wheelchair and had not been in school because of her disability. But now, I am happy and proud to say that Daniella was adopted and is now in gifted classes. Seeing this child made all the difference. When we met her she couldn’t even write. Now she is a gifted artist.”
For more information about ASC’s Colombia program, you can contact Nidia Sica [email protected] or Claudia Martinez, [email protected]. You can also contact them directly at 954-981-2060. Please also visit the program on the web at adoptabsc.org/hosting-program. You can also get involved with Healing Hands of Hope Columbia which takes place on April 7, 2016, which raises funds for the Colombia program by contacting Lori Auspitz-Shuman, Director of Healing Hands of Hope at 954-817-0683 or on the web at healinghandscolombia.org.