Sometimes the future in the life of an orphan can begin to change thousands of miles away, on another continent, where cartoons on TV speak a different a language. There can be hope of a family, a home, a blank page for coloring one’s dreams. But how? It starts with a phone call, a visit to an agency, the first steps in any adoption process. Little miracles do happen but they take time and effort. When I see the faces of adopting parents I see the eyes of unconditional love, their patience a solid rock against the crossing out of days in the calendar. The passage of time can be unforgiving.
In Belgium many couples have found their miracles abroad, in Africa or Asia, in Latin America, and once a year they get together to share the joy that has blessed their lives. On Saturday, September 29th, in the Flemish town of Hoogstraaten, dozens of adopting families gathered in the main hall of Het Spijker school to celebrate Family Day, an event organized by Het Kleine Mirakel (The Small Miracle), a non-profit organization that helps couples in Belgium adopt children abroad. Some of the countries they work with are Kazakhstan, Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal, among others. On Saturday they received the visit of the Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Belgium, Ms. Aigul Kuspan. “We are happy to see that 433 children from Kazakhstan have found a home and a family in Belgium,” Ms. Kuspan said. “I’m pleased to see how happy they all are.”
In the hall long tables were set with small potted plants on them, peach-colored napkins folded in the shape of a pyramid. The midday sunlight poured in through the large windows in the back while couples sat at the tables with babbling toddlers on their laps. Some small children stared at balloons rising to the ceiling, others chased each other and shrieked with joy.
Het Kleine Mirakel was founded in 2007 by Annemie Paeshuyse, and colleague Annick Joris. “My daughter was the first Kazakh child to be adopted in Belgium back in 2000,” said Ms. Paeshuyse. “There was no agency then. We did it all by ourselves. We have two boys of our own and we decided two adopt two girls, one in 2000, the other in 2002. Both of them come from Semipalatinsk.”
Though the majority of the children in the hall were from Kazakhstan, a few others had come from Gambia. “In Flanders there are three adopting agencies,” explained Ms. Paeshuyse. “Each one works with a specific set of countries. When parents choose a particular country, they know which agency they need to contact.” Het Kleine Mirakel employs three psychologists who follow up the integration of children in Belgium, their psychological well-being until the age of eighteen.
The agency experienced a lot of success in bringing Kazakh children and Belgian couples together but there was a period when they had to stop. “In 2011 there were some regulation changes in Kazakhstan,” explained Ms. Joris. “It was determined that any adoption agency had to be in operation for at least ten years. And that’s why we could only resume our work in 2017.”
Through short interviews, I learned that many of the children live in different parts of Flanders but they come to the Family Day to keep a connection with the community. “I want my kids to listen to Kazakh music, to play with other children from Kazakhstan,” said Luk van Tittelbom. Together with his partner, Tabitha Wauters, they have adopted two children, a boy and a girl. Ward is eleven, Nuray twelve. They drove from Herzele, a small town in East Flanders, about 20 km from Ghent.
“It is important for us that they are in touch with their roots, that they keep a connection with Kazakhstan,” said Luk. “We want to take them on a trip in a couple of years, when our son Ward turns thirteen.” His son looked at me with curiosity, then averted his eyes and hid behind his father. “He’s quiet now but wait until one of his friends from Kazakhstan arrives. Then you’ll see.” I noticed Ward blush. He was trying not to smile.
“On Monday it will be exactly ten years since we went to pick up Nuray,” said Tabitha. “First of October 2008. Being here today with all these families at this time of the year is very meaningful to us.” Nuray is a lively girl, talkative and full of life. “My hobbies are reading, spending time with my friends. Oh, and skiing. I love skiing,” she said.
Then a clown dressed in a red plaid shirt and brown suspenders arrived, and the children ran to gather around him. Ambassador Kuspan introduced a group of musicians who interpreted traditional Kazakh songs. A soloist began to play the dombyra, a long-necked lute with two strings. After a moment, the singer filled her lungs and approached the microphone. The crowd was in awe.
“I could listen to her voice for hours,” said Ambassador Kuspan. “Last night she sang for me. And I couldn’t let her stop. This is something the children will keep in their hearts.”