Monday, September 9, 2013

Part III of Shasta's Story

This past spring of 2013 I still couldn't figure out what was really going on and I felt like I was in a fog of mounting confusion and despair.  

The Heather I knew as my friend had become short and distant and continuously told me different things about my adoption file and became angry accusing me of being selfish when I tried to ask for clarification on where I was in the process. I started to fear her and fear for my adoption. I asked if there was anything I could do to help my adoption continue to move and was asked by Heather to send $2,000 to Wesmin (her creche director.)  $1,000 to fix a birth certificate and another $1,000 to "motivate him" to take care of it.

Kim contacted me in May/June of 2013 (read her story here) and I had access to compare what she was experiencing with how the staff were discussing her internally due to what Heather was telling us about her. She was portrayed as "crazy" for having asked for basic social history on her daughter and for a clear update on her adoption progress. I had a lot of empathy for Kim but I towed the line as VOTO staff and kept making excuses for why she wasn’t getting the answers she was seeking. I began to see the pattern - Heather painting clients as "crazy" for what I considered normal behavior and normal questioning.

I really didn't understand or like what was going on. I knew Kim personally and she had always been a very wise and loving person. I also saw the confusion being created as Heather would tell her one thing on the phone or in email but then say something completely different to the staff about the situation.

In June things came to a head and I couldn't deny what I was seeing any longer.

It began with Heather, Tim Rowe and Michelle See attending Christian mediation with one of their formerly contracted adoptive families. (This was a family that had left the program and Heather/Tim refused to return their adoption documents to them so that they could bring their son home.) 

Throughout mediation Heather was texting us, as staff, making running commentary about what was being said. When I called Amanda (the adoptive mother involved in mediation) to ask her a question she told me that everyone had signed a confidentiality agreement at the beginning of mediation and that nobody could speak about it - including to staff, friends or family. She would not give me any information at all.

I realized then that Heather had broken a contract just minutes after signing it and it was just one of many ways she was capable of deceiving people. 

Shortly after Heather went to mediation with this family (after months of saying the family was refusing mediation) a very dramatic "crisis" occurred and Heather requested the VOTO staff allow her to use adoption money families had recently sent down to hire a private police force to "rescue kidnapped kids".  The money she requested was extra money ($3k per child beyond the contracted amount) that she had asked adoptive families to send to get into IBESR (the Haitian adoption authority). She did not get the families into IBESR and she did not ask for approval from families to appropriate the money for this mission nor did she alert the families that their children were "missing" or had been "stolen."

In brief - Heather claimed the family she had just gone to mediation with had convinced the biological mother of their child to convince other biological parents to "steal" back their kids (about 20 children) from the Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche. The story we were told goes on to accuse a local missionary/ministry of going to pick up those 20 kids in white vans to hide them in a secret location.

After receiving permission to use the money to "rescue" these kids, a very covert operation that only Heather was present for, took place in Haiti. Supposedly she hired vans and police and "rescued" back the missing children. We as staff were receiving text messages that shots were fired, there was blood, not all children were accounted for, etc etc. It was late at night and very dramatic because it included children of 2 of the staff members.

It did not sit well with me. The misappropriation of funds, not telling families, and the high level of drama. I took time to try to verify the story.

I discovered that none of the accused adoptive families knew anything about this. And the missionary supposedly involved was not even in the country at the time, nor did she have a physical location for all of these children to have been located. (She runs a very small ministry which was not even located where Heather claimed the events were taking place.) Additionally there is digitally time stamped photographic evidence that some of the children supposedly "stolen" were actually living at Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche during this incident.

Closely on the heels of this I watched as Heather began to slander another adoptive parent (her story coming soon) describing her as crazy to the staff and withholding the location of her adopted children while allowing her to continue paying monthly sponsorship. (The children had returned home with birthparent but the adoptive family, who had been in process for 18 months, was not notified.)

I have watched as children have died of mysterious causes. I have heard Heather's stories to the staff and the stories she has told adoptive parents and others about other "deaths" that we aren't sure even happened. I have searched for truth in Haiti. Nothing adds up or can be verified. (see Deaths tab)

After endless months of drama created by Heather, after listening to her slander one family after another, after watching adoptions fall apart and knowing my own complicity in changing my homestudy, being lied to and misled myself and watching other families suffer with little to no care or concern from her, I just couldn't continue to be a part of anything related to Giving Hope Rescue Mission or Voice of the Orphan.  

I had stayed on staff in an effort to get my kids' adoption documents because I had seen what happens when a parent makes Heather mad - she does not release adoption documents. (In my opinion she would rather have revenge/control than see a child go home with a loving family and told me herself she, Heather, "will pay whatever she has to to win.")  I don’t have the resources to fight or recreate everything or start my adoption over so I had to wait.  

I have been heartbroken at the extra time my kids have had to endure waiting for me to return for them while Heather and Wesmin do nothing with my file simply because I had questioned them for not helping families that were promised help and for trying to verify things that we had been told as staff.  I was told "I needed to trust her in everything and be loyal".

In July I was finally able to get scanned copies of my adoption paperwork and was able to resign from Voice of the Orphan.  What should have taken less than an hour took 3 months.  That’s 3 extra months my kids have to spend without their family.

Any time I expressed sadness or disappointment for my children, who have already spent 9 years and 4 years in an orphanage, I was not met with sympathy or empathy but was met with hostility and reminded of how “hellish my adoption has been for her” (Heather) and “all she had done for me”.  There was no recognition of the hundreds of hours I put into service as a volunteer for Voice of the Orphan or all of the ways I tried to protect the organization by supporting it online.

Shortly after I sent in my resignation letter and asked for the originals of my adoption paperwork I received an email from Tim Rowe, President of Voice of the Orphan.

In my resignation I mentioned my concerns specifically about some of the cases that I knew we as a staff had been lied to about and how we had treated parents inappropriately. Yet in his response to me he said that he did not feel that VOTO had done anything to purposely hurt anyone. Tim did not take accountability or suggest that changes would be made.  

I do believe the handful of U.S. staff involved have been deceived and are not necessarily involved in the deception themselves. They have followed Heather's directions and have not had the connections in Haiti to verify or disprove her accounts.  I have also seen and heard firsthand accounts how Heather told adoptive parents one thing while also stating she is not connected to VOTO in any way and that she doesn't know why the staff are doing or saying what they are, however, I know for a fact she is the one on the conference calls, group texts or email telling the staff exactly what to do.

Tim Rowe, on the other hand, has received many complaints from families and has my account of what took place. And instead of validating any of my concerns he instead accused me of joining "a group" that was making false accusations against Giving Hope Rescue Mission...calling them traffickers and moneygrabbers. 

I have suggested to him that VOTO, Giving Hope Rescue Mission and their financial arm Room for Grace open themselves up to an external audit of the organizations and interviews with all adoptive families regarding the payments they have made. There is specific proof that Heather has received funds directly to her home via adoptive families. And as a staff we have always been concerned about the lack of financial transparency.

There have also been many times that parents have been asked to pay thousands of dollars above contracted adoption fees to fix documents that either should have been included in the adoption or should cost under $100.  

Tim Rowe has ceased to respond to me.

On Sept. 1st I flew to Haiti.

I made one last request to Heather to release my originals and surprisingly my folders were dropped off at my kids' orphanage.  I was excited for a moment but as I sat down to go through them I noticed that one of the adoption decrees was a copy and 2 of the most important documents needed for immigration approval (by the US Embassy) were not there.

I knew to check for those documents because as Voice of the Orphan staff we were told by Heather to remove those documents from Amanda and Jeremy's file (the family that went to mediation but never received their adoption documents) so in the event that they got their dossier back they would not be able to get approval from the US embassy to take their son home to the US.  (Amanda and Jeremy still do not have their child home.)

When I informed Heather of the missing documents she responded telling me I was being a bully and insisted that everything was there. I even sent a photo of the original and the copy side by side but she continued to tell me how hateful I was being. Heather's messages/attempts to explain the situation were contradictory and completely confusing and meant to cast doubt in the US staff.
Anyone can see the difference between a copy (NOT acceptable for US immigration of an adopted child and the original which MUST be turned in in order to adopt a child from Haiti.)

I am thankful at this time for the documents I did retrieve from Heather because it really is more than most of the other parents who have chosen to speak out have received. But the continued lies and manipulation by Heather to make me appear stupid and “out of control” to the staff simply for requesting my documents is frustrating.

I can’t pretend that I’m not hurt or that I didn’t fight against the truth when it was first being exposed to me.  I was devastated because I truly believed Heather was my friend and believed she was the amazing person she made herself out to be online and in face-to-face interactions.  Even when I saw evidence I disputed it for a long time including watching what Heather wanted to do to Amanda and Jeremy to prevent their son from coming home.  For months I watched what she has done to Kimberly and her family by "canceling" her adoption and then saying her child went home with the biological family simply for asking questions. And I watched other situations with families and I tried to blame it on poor business management skills or miscommunication.

 Unfortunately, at some point I came to the conclusion that everything I had witnessed was purposeful intent to harm.

I don’t come forward lightly.  I understand the retaliation that comes with speaking the truth. I recognize that there are people in Haiti who could still try to do damage to my adoption. And I understand the fear that others will feel.  

My suggestion is that if Heather and Wesmin have any concern for children in their care who risk living a lifetime in an orphanage if they do not release them, they will allow parents to move their children and allow someone else to investigate their relinquishment and adoptability.

If it is about the money, which, in my opinion it is, then they will continue to charge $300 a month per child for care while children and families are “stuck”, they will continue to match adoptive families with children that are later deemed unadoptable after they have already paid for their adoptions and many months of sponsorship and they will continue to find excuses and reasons to charge more money for emergencies and “situations”.  

And Tim Rowe will continue to defend Heather Elyse. 

Go seek the truth yourself.  Pray and ask God for discernment.  Don't allow yourself to be scared for following Heather's directions (to falsify documents for example.) 

Recognize that these children deserve someone to fight for them and for the truth. I don't know if my children, who have waited for a family for so long, will be able to get visas to come home with us. But I am at peace knowing that I can finally speak the truth and that we can now try to do this the right way.