Monday, October 14, 2013

Zach and Karena's Story: We put our trust in the wrong person

On May 25th, 2012, approximately 17 months after we initiated the adoption of three Haitian children (not via Giving Hope Rescue Mission), the lawyer representing our adoption sent us this email:

"The presidential waiver is requested only when the adoptive parents have biological children. This last months IBESR has been very strict with the requirements for the adoptive parents' age and number of year of marriage. Even if you have been married for more than 10 years you will have a problem with your age. The actual law is clear: One of the spouse has to be at least 35. However we are expecting new adoptions regulations and we are partially sure that some of those requirements will change. I am so sorry! Best regards”

After we got this email we were devastated. We knew that we didn’t meet the adoption qualifications for Haiti but had always believed, based on what we were told, that we could get a presidential dispensation. 

We called and talked with the director at the orphanage where our kids were living and she told us that the attorney was correct and that we would need to wait until we were 35 years old or the law changed. She said we should pray for the law to change and that was pretty much it. We were not given any other option. Waiting until we turned 35 meant waiting another 4 years to submit our file and then however long it would take to process. So we started praying about this and started contacting other Haitian adoption attorneys for advice.

What we found was that most Haitian attorneys would not take our case. They also told us the lawyer we had already spoken with was correct and there was nothing they could do. We continued on our search for someone that could help us.

On June 12, 2012 we had our first contact with Heather Elyse. I sent her an email with some detail about our situation and the kids we were adopting. Within a few hours I received an email back from her stating.

“Oh dear that doesn't sound good. Let me see if we can process your adoption. I know we have a waiting list... Maybe we can sneak you in. Please don't wait 4 years ... That's ridiculous. I'm 31 and adopted three Haitian children ... It's risky. Takes longer... Sometimes over 1-2 years.  It's 100% risk. No guarantees. Lots of ups and downs.  If you are willing to go through the fire for your kids... I would be happy to go through the fire with you. They are worth it and definitely need someone to fight for them. I am sorry I can't make this longer. On a plane headed back to Haiti. Let's talk on the phone soon. (number removed for privacy) 
Don't be discouraged. Also... Hopefully you haven't paid anyone anything??? 
The impossible can be done. ..... I am living proof of This.”**** see footnote

Her response at the time brought tears to our eyes….. We had been hoping for someone to give us some hope and here we had it! I emailed her back to set up a time to talk and waited for her response and then on June 15, 2012 I called Heather in Haiti and we talked for almost an hour. She assured me that she would be able to get us into the adoption process. She said we would be a high-risk case and she didn’t want any money from us until our kids were home… She said even if we didn’t have the money then we could make monthly payments to her. We talked about how much she would charge us to process our adoption. She would be getting completed U.S. side dossiers from our family and completed individual dossiers (Haitian paperwork needed for the process) for each of our children from their orphanage, so we basically just needed help getting into IBESR and through the rest of the process.

She told me she would need to talk to her lawyer but she thought they could get everything done for $4,500 per child. I asked her multiple times that night if she needed us to pay money up front and she said no many times. She told me the most important thing was to send her our dossier. She wanted me to email Michelle (cofounder) several of my documents so they could look at them and make sure they were how they wanted them. She told me that they (Giving Hope Rescue Mission) submit stuff “differently” to IBESR and everyone there at the IBESR office in Haiti loves them.

I contacted Michelle and she wanted a few things changed. We had our homestudy agency add approval for a 4th child and we got an infertility/pregnancy complications letter from our Ob/gyn saying that we should not have any more biological children. We had the changes made and scrambled to get everything back to Michelle.

On July 14th 2012 I drove our dossier to meet Michelle and I was told it would be going to Haiti the very next day! Once the dossier was in Haiti the next step would be Pre-IBESR where our dossier is reviewed and legalized (generally takes 2-4 weeks.) On July 17, 2012 we were told on the private Voice of the Orphan adoptive families facebook group that our file had entered Pre-IBESR. We were excited we felt like a big step was just completed and our file was moving! We were then told one month later that our file had exited Pre-IBESR on August 16, 2012 and we were now ready to enter IBESR.

The only thing needed was the kids dossiers….

As we were getting Heather all of our U.S. paperwork and our file was going through Pre-IBESR we had been in contact with the orphanage director where our three children were living (they had never lived at Giving Hope Rescue Mission.) We were trying to work things out so we could use Voice of The Orphan to process our adoption. Our orphanage director had some reservations about us contracting with Voice of the Orphan and Giving Hope Rescue Mission, but we continued to push on feeling this was what God was telling us to do.

During this time I had requested some information from Heather and she had her assistant call me and talk with me. Our orphanage needed some information from Heather regarding Voice of the Orphan (for which she was Vice President) and their Hague status. Our orphanage was also requesting attorney information so they could check out the attorney used by Heather/Giving Hope Rescue Mission in Haiti. I talked with Heather’s assistant on the phone and provided her with the questions that needed to be answered. 

They/Voice of the Orphan never could give us what we had asked for. Which should have been a red flag. But we continued on. On July 30th we sent Heather’s assistant an email with our kids’ info and whom she needed to contact in Haiti at their orphanage to be able to obtain their dossiers. Heather had made multiple promises to call our orphanage but it never happened. It was our understanding that Heather was going to set up a meeting with our orphanage director and meet with her and hopefully be able to work together in getting our file into IBESR.

On August 10th 2012 (just days after Heather’s child was supposedly murdered in Haiti see story I here) I received an urgent call from Heather who said she was in Colorado at the time. We were in MN for work and I remember stepping outside of the Mall of America in the cold to take the call. I remember the phone call lasting 30 minutes or longer. We always took notes during each call and so they are vivid in my memory. Heather told me that Wesmin Garcon, her adoption liaison, had called and talked to the staff at our childrens’ orphanage and that they were very mean to him.

Heather told me that our orphanage told Wesmin that they were not willing to let us adopt the children, that we never asked for an approval to adopt the kids, and that they only adopt to “elite” families. They supposedly told Wesmin that they only worked with 3 agencies, case closed.

This information was shocking. It didn’t sound like something our orphanage would say (we had been in relationship with them for a long time) and I thought surely there must be a misunderstanding. I was in a fog and we had no idea what we were going to do.

Heather proceeded to tell me she was “on the floor crying” for me and praying and how sorry she was. Heather told me she was so upset about this, she felt we had been mistreated and lied to by our orphanage, and she wanted to “expose” them. She went on and on about how bad our orphanage was. She wanted to bring bad media coverage to our orphanage. She said what they were doing was “fraud, exploitation of children and deceptive practices.” (Little did we know that was Heather’s game and she was good at it!) She then told me she felt our case was a “fraud” case and she would process the adoption for free. Heather told me she had to go and I was to call her back that evening to get our game plan together as to what we were going to do.

I tried calling her back multiple times that night and never heard from her.

On August 16, 2012 I finally heard back from Heather by email. She wanted me to call her that night and we could talk more. We spoke to Heather on the phone that night and the plan she had come up with was for us to let her submit our dossier with one of the babies living at Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche! She explained that doing this would get us in to IBESR and then when she was able to get our kids dossiers from our orphanage she would just “add them to the file.” She told us IBESR lets her add children to dossiers all the time and this wouldn’t be a problem. She told us that if we didn’t want a 4th child it would be ok and that Tim Rowe (President of Voice of the Orphan) would “fix everything” when we got home.
Very similar to what she posted on the VOTO adoptive families group (of which Tim was a member):

We really weren't sure what to think. We had been to visit our kids in Haiti 4 times over the previous year. How in the world could our orphanage, which had previous supported our adoption, not approve us to adopt the kids? It just didn’t make sense. We had paid our orphanage money towards our adoption. We had signed contracts. The story just didn’t add up and we felt suspicious.

After speaking to our orphanage about this incident they told us a whole different story of what happened. They were unclear who Wesmin was and when he called them he didn’t explain who he was and talked to them about sponsoring our kids instead of our adoption. He asked for their dossiers but he never mentioned our names. The conversation Heather described to us did not happen in the way she portrayed it. We were, of course, glad that our orphanage was not willing to give away our childrens’ adoption paperwork to a stranger who was calling and not explaining his intentions!

On September 8, 2012 our orphanage finally agreed to let us use Voice of the Orphan (against their better judgement they told us) and VOTO/Giving Hope Rescue Mission’s Haitian attorney Guerdine. We emailed VOTO right away to let them know and to make them aware that our orphanage would be calling Guerdine on Monday. We just didn’t want anything getting messed up as we felt we were so close.  We got a response from VOTO via Heather’s assistant giving us Guerdine’s contact information so we could let our orphanage know who to call. We never heard anything from Heather.

On September 11, 2012 we received a phone call from our children’s orphanage director stating that she had talked to Heather’s attorney Guerdine and that Guerdine she said she wouldn’t take our case for VOTO/GHRM. We called and emailed Heather to try and get answers but heard nothing from anyone. Our orphanage director told us about the conversation with Guerdine:

She said that there are 2 problems.  One is your age and the second is that the kids are not registered to Voice of the Orphan.  That's why she refused the case.  I will be happy to talk with Heather and see what she says...  Praying...  Blessings!”

That was exactly what we were afraid would happen. No one from Voice of the Orphan had contacted Guerdine to let her know our orphanage would be calling and there appeared to be major miscommunication.

On September 13, 2012 we received another message from our orphanage that they still hadn’t heard anything from Voice of the Orphan and that our kids’ dossiers/paperwork was ready. The 14th of September was the IBESR deadline for fall adoption submission and we knew we were so so close. All Heather and her staff had to do was go and pick up the kids dossiers and then we could be submitted.

Email from our orphanage director: 

“Karena, The files are completed and ready to be picked up.  No one has contacted me, but the files are ready.” 

I had been in contact with another VOTO staff member that day and it was my understanding that another staff member who was going to Haiti was going to pick up the kids' dossiers that day and then be able to submit the next day. Then that night around 6:30 we were told our kids dossier didn’t get picked up and they would be doing so in the morning. We were also being told that there might be an extension for submission to IBESR so just pray for the papers to be picked up and for an extension.

On the morning of 09/14/2012 we were told we were good. Heather and a VOTO staff member had talked to our orphanage director and they were on the way to get our kids dossiers. We were filled with HOPE this was going to be our day we had been through so much to get here but this was going to be the day! We had everyone praying for us and we were waiting. We heard nothing on the 14th no news at all then on the 15th came the news of Heather has the dossiers. They are being analyzed!! . Will let you know the outcome.” We really didn’t understand this information since we thought we were being submitted. Why didn’t she try to submit us??  Then we were told that a 2 week extension was going to be granted so we were back to waiting again.

Then came the "question" from VOTO on September 21, 2013:

“Did we discuss that the way most have gotten in lately that are too young are also infertile? Would you be opposed to me taking out your bio kids from your HS (homestudy) ... not to say you don't have any but just not mention them so that it appears you don't have any. If they open again with the 2 week extension that will probably be the only way in. No mention of kids and an infertility letter. If you are okay with it or not okay with it, let me know. Please know you can't say anything to anyone because if someone made a stink your file could get pulled. In reality, IBESR doesn't care but for technicality sake of meeting the 1974 laws it has to appear the way the law wants it. ... Does that make sense?”

What in the world was this? We had been led to believe by Heather herself that Heather Elyse was this miracle worker and she was able to get dossiers in that didn’t meet the requirements… was this the way she was doing it??? We had thought Heather "had favor" with IBESR, not that she was having families lie on their documents.

This is what Tim Rowe had to say about how VOTO/GHRM were able to process adoptions quickly...(from article click here to view)

"We have an attorney that has some connections in the Haitian government and so … we’re hoping we can get our adoptions through the Haitian side in six to nine months and the U.S. side in two to three months." 

We were told by VOTO that this would be our best bet at getting in… They told us that this happens all the time… People take dossiers in to IBESR and they get rejected and then take them back a day or so later with information changed and they are accepted. We were 21 months into this adoption and we saw no end in sight and no light at the end of the tunnel. We told Voice of the Orphan and Heather that we trusted them fully and we wanted them to get our dossier in.
 It is our understanding that a VOTO staff member was encouraged to make several changes to our dossier that they felt would ensure us getting into IBESR when they opened back up. We should not have participated in this. But we believed we were working with a licensed and knowledgable agency that we could/should trust.

In October of 2012 Guerdine was let go and VOTO asked us to send a new power of attorney document to Haiti. IBESR did open back up in October but we again didn’t get in, we were informed it was due to our age. Another let down and we weren’t sure when IBESR would be opening back up or what the rules would then be if they did open.

In November of 2012 Heather asked us to write a plea letter to IBESR. Explaining what we had been through and asking for them to let us in to adopt. We wrote the letter, had it translated and sent to Heather. To our knowledge Heather never submitted this letter.

Over the next few months it seemed that the only person really trying to help us with our case was Shasta, a Voice of the Orphan staff person/GHRM volunteer who was assigned to work with “intervention” and “fraud” families. She worked day and night trying to get answers for us, was always available to us and always trying to figure out what was going on.

We heard from Shasta on January 6, 2013 

I have been talking with Heather a lot today and.......I wanted to let you know that Heather is going to IBESR tomorrow to see if she can go ahead and get some dossiers in.  If not, we've been told the new official opening date is the 15th and they will take dossiers that meet the new proposed law.... whether it's been voted on or not.  That's the plan and what they are saying right now.  Until Heather posts something on VOTO (the private facebook group), just hold on to this info.  You can posts general things like "Pray for us because the next couple weeks are big ones for our documents" or something like that but there are lots of new families that want their docs in and you are first in line so we don't want all them begging her to take theirs in too. :)”  We aren’t for sure if this actually happen but we know we didn’t get in on the 15th.

Then on January 18, 2013 we were told by email

“Hi guys.  We've heard that IBESR will now start accepting dossiers since the agency list has been sent out.  I have not talked with Heather today as I'm respecting their time with the xxxx family who flew in today.  I am pretty certain they will be at IBESR first thing Monday morning.  At this time dossiers will be submitted under MLJ, the approved agency we are partnered with.

And just to ease fears or confusion on the MLJ (adoption) agency, most other creches or orphanages in Haiti use a completely separate agency.  Heather just happens to be someone connected to BOTH an agency AND a creche so we just are fortunate enough that most of her adoptions have gone through her agency.  There is still a chance that future adoptions will go through VOTO but for now we will just use the name of MLJ to get them in.  It doesn't change anything really except the name of the submitting agency.”

We were then notified on January 27th that IBESR would now be opening on Feb 4th and Heather would be submitting us that day…. We were also told about the new limit for dossiers (IBESR would only accept 1 case/month per agency) submitted and they weren’t sure if they would be able to get us in.

In late January Heather posted a list of families, in order of how they would be submitted to IBESR, per the new quota of one case per month per agency. We were number 7 on this list (Price). Numbers 4,5,6 and 8 were all also intervention cases. ****

This gave us a little hope but then again not really… At the rate of one per month we were looking at 7 months just to begin the adoption process and we thought we had already been submitted 5 times before and always got a NO.

We decided to go to Haiti in February of 2013 and visit our kids. It had been 270 days since we had last seen them. We had previously decided that until we got into IBESR we weren’t going to visit. There was so much uncertainty we just didn’t want to do that to the kids. But it had been a long time and we wanted to check on them. We heard from Heather and she told us she would be submitting our dossier to IBESR while we were in Haiti in February. She had also planned on coming to the hotel we were at to meet us and see our kids. IBESR opened when we were in Haiti but our file wasn’t accepted again. We were told that IBESR would only accept 1 file per month and we didn’t make it. We also never saw Heather at our hotel.

Shasta had been giving us information, via Heather, as to when IBESR was going to accept files and what our options were. At one point in March of 2013 we were told that MLJ Adoptions would not be taking our cases because our children were not living at Giving Hope Rescue Mission and there was pretty much nothing else Voice of the Orphan or MLJ could do for us. (We were previously told in January MLJ was fine taking on cases of families with children in other orphanages besides GHRM.) Shasta was trying to find someone somewhere who would take our case or get a definitive answer from Heather on what we should do.

In early March 2013 we were put in contact with a guy in Haiti that some of our friends knew. This guy had a contact at IBESR and he thought he could help us get in. I ended up speaking with the contact at IBESR and he needed our dossier. We tried several times to get Heather or someone from Voice of the Orphan to meet with this IBESR contact to talk about our case. It became very apparent to me that our adoption was not a priority and we felt it was time to take matters into our own hands.

After trying for 2 weeks to get our dossier away from VOTO/GHRM (located in Montrouis) and moved into Port Au Prince, on April 17th we finally had a friend succeed in connecting with a GHRM missionary who handed over our dossier and three others. Shasta had coordinated this handover with S, the GHRM missionary, and after asking me some identifying information S was very nice and helpful and he did what we asked him to do.

We then decided to move our file to an independent attorney and let him try to get it into IBESR independent of an adoption agency when they were opening to “old” dossiers in May 2013. We knew our case wasn’t a priority to Heather and Voice of the Orphan but hoped that it still had a chance to be submitted independently.

As soon as the lawyer received our file he let us know that the file was missing our home study, IBESR letter, infertility letter, my husband’s medical records and our tax returns. Additionally it contained French translations from the W family’s dossier (another GHRM/VOTO family)!! And he told us that our file had never been through Pre IBESR this meaning our file was never submitted to IBESR all those times that Heather told us she was submitting it.

We contacted Shasta right away and she then contacted Heather to confront her about the situation. We received this email from “Wesmin” (could be Heather since she has very obviously written emails to families pretending to be Wesmin)… It is our opinion that this email was written by someone who was guilty and trying to cover their tracks.

We had someone at IBESR look at the dossier, two separate independent attorneys reviewed the dossier and another adoption contact reviewed the dossier and unanimously they all said the dossier had not been through Pre IBESR and was missing key documents.  But here is “Wesmin’s” response:

This was devastating but we were able to quickly get our attorney the original non altered documents and once our file was put back to its original state, including our BIO children, it went through Pre IBESR and our new attorney submitted it during the opening for old dossiers period IBESR had in May. We were accepted for adoption and finally got into IBESR once someone was completely honest with us.

We didn’t lose any money to VOTO/Heather Elyse but we lost time. Ten months that we can’t get back. Ten more months that our children had to live in an orphanage.

Once we stepped back and started looking at all the things that had happened we realized all those red flags Heather had always warned us about, particularly in her blog post about "How to survive the Mission Field" and on the website "Adoption Reform Talk". 

“Enough is Enough! I am tired of all the corruption surrounding the orphan and adoption. It’s time we as Orphanages/creches, adoptive parents, adoption agencies, etc STEP IT Up and simply, “Do The Right Thing.”
“Here is a list of “Red Flags” I am noticing as I am cleaning up four adoption scams currently:
(from paragraph one about Haitian orphanages)
"We are realizing many orphanages started with good intentions, they just simply “did not know.” I know there is no “How to start an Orphanage” for dummies handbook. ( hmmmm maybe I should write one! Ok getting off track!) I am amazed at how much trafficking is going on in this country and what is sad… It is done by most “so called” missionaries and non profits. I watched a video on Vimeo, of a missionary woman walking into a Haitian hut and literally taking the Haitian woman’s child from her. I was appalled. Two weeks later the very same woman who says she “rescued” the child from a life of poverty, promised this child to an American family, who fell in love with the child while on a mission trip."
"If you are not licensed to do adoptions, please stop promising your kids to hopeful adoptive families."
"Dear Orphanages, there are tons of legitimate cases of children in need. Please be extremely cautious and picky which children you accept."
"You can not come into a foreign country and decide to start an orphanage and just start taking kids in. If you are not licensed by IBESR, you are currently operating illegally." (Note from Zach and Karena -Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche does not currently have a license as far as we know.)
"If an agency or orphanage has to constantly tell you “they are telling the truth and wouldn’t lie to you” hmmmmm red flags!!"
"If your agency/orphanage/Creche are constantly bashing other organizations- big red flags should be going up. I saw a website, where lots of independent Haitian adoptions take place, say they disagree with orphanages charging monthly sponsorship fees or child care monthly fees, they called it unethical and cheating, yet they claim to only be charging in country fees, which I did the math… They charge 11,000-13,000 when their adoptions only cost them less then 4,000. So while they bash Those who charge monthly fees, they make close to 10,000 to help support their kids… Ugh! Tired of all the lies."

....she was guilty of doing a lot of them herself. We feel bad for not listening to our orphanage when they told us they didn’t like it that we were using Voice of the Orphan. They had a bad feeling about things. Our orphanage has been in Haiti for 15+ years. We should have listened to them. Heather tried to make our orphanage look really bad to us. In our opinion she was trying to manipulate us, use us to adopt an infant from the Giving Hope Rescue Mission creche to possibly relinquish to Tim or another family, and pull our support from the ministry/orphanage we had trusted and believed in. 

Zach and Karena

Our three little ones, still waiting for us.

**** To this day 09/20/2013 Heather has still never brought her “adopted” Haitian children home to the U.S. as far as we know. Here is a screen shot about what Voice of the Orphan, Heather's adoption agency, says about qualifications to adopt (note that Heather in her email to us said she was 31.)

***** It is our understanding that none of the "intervention cases" documents were legalized and none have brought their children home to date.