Three Okanagan families each have vivacious daughters because they made the decision to adopt internationally. Tara Guddi O’Sullivan, 13, adopted by Mohini Singh and Finbar O’Sullivan, is from Kolkata, India. Flora Wilson, 10, daughter of Tom and Colleen, is from Hunan Province, China. The adopted daughter of Norm and Helene Letnick, Naomi, 21, is from Manilla in the Phillippines.
The families’ reasons for adoption are all different, the processes from fairly straightforward to complex, the time period from months to years, and the cost from several thousand dollars to over ten times that. In all three cases, these families are enthralled that they went to the effort to search the globe for their adopted children.
“She loves us and feels very much like the three of us are one unit a family…..her family,” says Mohini Singh about her daughter Tara.
“She's a smart, funny, beautiful and resilient girl who gives us so much pleasure,” praises Tom Wilson about Flora.
“Naomi has been God sent to all of us,” says Norm Letnick simply.
Tara from Kolkata
“It isn’t easy for abandoned girls in India so we chose that country to look for a child,” says Mohini Singh, early 50s, about Tara Guddi,13, the daughter she adopted over a decade ago with husband Finbar O’Sullivan. “We had always talked about adopting a little girl. We felt it was the right thing to do. My husband wanted a daughter. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I felt I did not want to pass the disease on to a child. So it all became a reality after the diagnosis.”
Mohini, Kelowna city councillor and communications officer for the BC Ministry of Agriculture, says she and Finbar had registered at perhaps five agencies in India but found they were getting nowhere. A childhood friend of hers visited from India for a holiday and promised to be Mohini’s “eyes and ears in India.” Through her, the couple found out about Tara, who in India was known as simply as Guddi.
“Somehow Tara landed up at an orphanage at the age of four. She was very sick and was suffering from malnutrition. After a stint at hospital, she was back to good health and we got a bouncy happy little girl,” says Mohini.
“We saw a photograph of her and fell in love with her right away. Then we saw her for the first time on Nov 5, 2006 in Kolkata, India. She was sitting on the little wooden gate waiting for us. In her hand she had a little album I had sent her of photos of us and our home and Kelowna.” Mohini and Finbar asked the little girl if she would like her name to become Tara O’Sullivan and she said yes right away.
The process to find their daughter to adopt had been long—around four and a half years. “The delay was mainly at the Indian end of things. We had to first have her determined as being adoptable.That application had to go to court. The judge had to see she had no living relatives and could be adopted.”
When Tara arrived at her Kelowna home, she was “blown away”—she liked her princess bed and her room so much, according to Mohini. “Tara ran around touching everything. I kept thinking how lucky we are to be here.”
Almost nine years since Mohini and Finbar first laid eyes on their daughter, Tara is currently in school, doing well and adjusting well. “We have had times of great joy and great challenges. Tara is very proud of being an O’Sullivan. She has a positive network of people both of us and two godparents, Caryl and Brian McCabe, who stand by her and support her.”
Flora from Hunan
Tom and Colleen Wilson decided to adopt their daughter Flora Annette Jian from Hunan province, China in 2005 because they had been unable to conceive themselves. They wanted the experience of raising a child and being parents. “We were on the domestic list for a year and because we felt we were in an age bracket where it was now-or-never, we spoke with our adoption counsellor who suggested a foreign adoption,” says Tom, 53, Communications Supervisor for the City of Kelowna. He and his wife, Colleen, 54, a teacher-librarian, considered a number of countries, investigated them, sought advice from others and finally settled on China, based on others' good experiences.
Through the Kelowna Adoption Centre, the Wilsons filled out an application to adopt from China, which involved including photographs of themselves, information about themselves including professions and incomes. Within seven months, they were sent a package from the Adoption Centre, proposing Flora, or Jian as she was originally named. “There was a photo of her at five months old, we fell in love at first sight and could not wait to complete the process to go to China and bring her home,” says Tom.
The process took time. The Wilsons were close to two years on the domestic adoption list, and then were involved in the process with China for approximately a year. “It was quite a lot of rigor in Canada, with a series of meetings with our adoption counsellor and then a lot of paperwork with China.”
On July 25, 2005, exactly two months after they had seen Jian’s photo, Tom and Colleen were presented with their daughter in China. “We flew back with 30 other families from Canada who had also just adopted their daughters (those poor other passengers on the Air Canada flight of crying babies!) and arrived back in Kelowna, where we were greeted by family who were all very excited for us and eager to see the baby,” says Tom.
Jian Chow, meaning ‘beautiful enigma’ was the name that had been given to their daughter at the orphanage. Tom and Colleen kept Jian named her Flora Annette Jian Wilson. They call her Flora.
Flora is currently in Grade 5. She’s having a great year at school and in her extracurricular activities, according to Tom, singing in a community choir, taking piano and voice lessons, playing tennis, basketball and swimming.
“We have had a blissful experience since the day we first saw and held her almost 10 years ago,” says Tom.
The Wilsons say it has been an enriching experience being parents. “We hardly think about the ‘adoption’ side of things anymore. She's our daughter first of all and it's like Christmas morning for us every day when we wake up and there she is.”
Naomi from Manila
Naomi Letnick, the daughter of Norm, 57, and Helene Letnick, 57 is now 21 years old. She was adopted from Manila in the Phillippines in 1996 by Norm, now MLA of Kelowna-Lake Country and provincial Minister of Agriculture, and Helene, a homemaker and artist. “We had a family of four with much love to share and recognized a need in the world for good homes to assist children without parents,” he says. “Naomi was placed with us by God just like our other children.”
The Letnicks used an International Adoption Support Group to review potential countries of origin, then went through Social and Family Services in Alberta, where they then lived. “The process took nine months from decision to adopt to Naomi arriving at our home,” says Norm. “She was proposed to us by the Inter-Country Adoption Board in Manila via fax. She was two years old, was placed for adoption at birth by her birth mother, and initially raised by two Christian missionaries at Shalom Bata Rescue Centre.”
Helene first saw Naomi when she arrived in Manila and would take her home two weeks later. “Her brother, sister, and I first saw her when she arrived in Calgary from Manila with her new mom,” says Norm. “It was just as exciting as welcoming our two other children but with balloons.” Naomi kept her original name.
The MLA says with the assistance of the International Adoption Support Group the process to get Naomi was a very smooth one. “Nine months with no unexpected problems.”
Naomi is now one of five women in a class of 45 men at Okanagan College’s’s civil engineering technology program. Norm says she excels in school and is an avid musician.
Norm says his daughter’s challenges growing up have not been more than their other two children. “Frankly, our lives would have been much poorer without her,” says Norm.
Advice to Those Considering International Adoption
Mohini Singh and Finbar O’Sullivan: “Truly know what you want—this should not be an emotional decision. Foreign adoptions are fraught with challenges. Always ask questions. Make sure everything is double checked, especially medical records. Don’t let your heart rule your head; it is easy to do. But in the end you will know adopting a little child and raising them as your own is the right thing to do.”
The Wilsons: “I would say if you are eager to be parents, then you should do whatever it takes to accomplish that desire. If that's international adoption—great. I do say to people who ‘congratulate’ us about ‘saving’ a child from what might have been a difficult life, that she has ‘saved’ us just as much from a life that would never have been as rich as it is today. It's double happiness for our family.”
The Letnicks: “Whether you have children already or not, if you have room in your home and love in your family adopting a child comes highly recommended. Check out the entire process of adoption for children within BC, Canada, and internationally and once they’ve made a choice engage the assistance of other experts to guide them.”