International adoption is a complex process. Not only did we have to work with two agencies in the US, but our International agency (Wide Horizons for Children, which we highly recommend) worked closely with a liaison agency in the Philippines to make the adoption happen – in additon to the US and Philippine governments.
The agency with which WHFC partners in the Philippines is called Chosen Children Village. It’s this agency which provided us with a guide at every turn while in-country, and who made all the travel arrangements to and from Laoag City and the orphanage where John was living.
Chosen Children Village (CCV) is “a safe haven, a home for life, for abandoned children who are physically and mentally challenged.” This means that children that will likely never be adopted are brought to CCV from all over the Philippines to live out their lives together and with a staff who loves and cares for them in the name of Christ.
Any adoption journey to the Philippines may optionally include a trip to visit Chosen Children Village while staying in Manila. Faith was very excited about going, but I have to admit that I worried it would be emotionally difficult, so I was less enthusiastic. On our original schedule, we intended to visit CCV the day before going to get John, but it turned out not to work that way. Instead, the trip was pushed off until after we got back to Manila – and the day had finally arrived.
Though CCV is located just 40 miles or so outside Manila, we were told to plan the whole day for the visit. First, the roads there aren’t what they are here in America. And second, it’s common to stop by the Taal volcano – rumored to be a beautiful, scenic place – on the way back.
So, we got up early, had our traditional breakfast buffet, and met our guide Che (who works for Chosen Children and would be our tour guide for the day) at around 8AM. We hopped in the CCV van, and headed out to the suburbs.
In Chicago, if you’re driving to the suburbs, you get to the expressway as quickly as possible and drive very speedily to the exit nearest your final destination. All in all, you typically spend as little time on side streets as possible, concentrating on driving on the biggest possible roads at all times. Not so in the Philippines. Our 40 mile journey to CCV started out on the expressway, but we hit traffic quickly. The van then pulled off, and wound through subdivisions, fields, and at one point even tresspassed on a private road through the Philippine equivalent of a golf course community to get us there. I’d say the trip to the village took about 90 minutes, and as it was with every other place we drove, I couldn’t even begin to find my way back there. At one point, we were on a semi major (though two lane) road, and we suddenly turned onto this tiny narrow alley, drove on it for like 10 minutes, and emerged on another semi-major two lane road. I remember thinking, “How the heck does the driver know where to go?” … just as I had with the bus driver when we went to Laoag City.
These two lane roads were under construction and quite congested. We had plenty of slow-moving time to breath in lots of exhaust, and take pictures both of the construction efforts and the shanty shops on the side of the road. Each bears mentioning… With regard to construction, I noticed that there was very little equipment, just dozens of men with picks and shovels. What they lacked in technology, they made up for in manpower – a reality in every poor society, I assume. With regard to the santy shops, it was the same deal as I observed on the bus ride a few days prior. People, mostly women, sat in these very dirty, very small, very impoverished little lean-to shanties, with a few pieces of fruit on a rickety old table, and just waited for someone to stop. On the way back, Che actually did stop us and buy a couple pineapples from a roadside vendor, for what I’m sure was almost nothing by American standards.
But back to the trip…
We arrived at Chosen Children Village in the late morning. Unlike Shekinah, which is pretty much out in the boonies, Chosen Children Village is a gated compound which seems to be located in the middle of a medium-sized village. We turned off a two lane thoroughfare (I didn’t even see a sign) onto a gravel road, past a number of houses, up to a big metal gate spanned across the road between high, whitewashed walls.
The gate opened for us, and the first thing we noticed upon entering the compound was that it felt like we left the Philippines and were now in some kind of Caribbean-style plantation. Everything looked new and well-kept and, by Philippine standards, very expensive.
Che gave us an absolutely fascinating tour of the village. It was built and is maintained with mostly American funds. It had beautiful classrooms, an indoor therapy pool and center, an amazing gymnasium (something you’d expect to see at an affluent American high school), a beautiful courtyard in the center of the complex with playground equipment galore, well-kept dormitories, and a nice little cafeteria. We got to see all of this, including the main office where we learned that they grow coffee there (within the walls of the compound) to sell to raise funds for the village. Of course, we had to get some of that for souvenirs. One of my favorite parts of the tour was when John played in the ball pit the kids use for therapy.
Here are a few pictures of the village…
Faith was active in the Yahoo! Philippine Adoption Group (Yahoo! membership required) throughout the entire process. BTW, we really recommend getting into a Yahoo! group or other online community forum if adopting. One of the women active in the group was adopting an infant from Chosen Children Village, so one of the things we wanted to do in visiting was to take pictures of this future-mother’s little baby girl. So, a highlight of our tour was to spend some time in the infant ward. The babies were SO well taken care of. Both Shekinah and Chosen Children Village really set the standard, in our minds, of a high-quality environment for the kids. We were repeatedly impressed with both, especially compared to the reality of conditions in many other orphanages there (or many other places for that matter).
While I took pictures of Faith holding this little baby, John-John had to entertain himself. That, in addition to suddenly being in competition for being held by mom and dad, didn’t go over well at all, and John ultimately broke down and threw a tantrum. It was our first outside Shekinah, and I spent way too long trying to comfort him. Eventually, mom said it was enough, and we scooped him up and just moved on to something else. His short attention span worked in our favor, and he was better fairly quickly – probably because he forgot he was supposed to be all stressed out.
In order to finish off John’s recovery from his little fit, we spent some time on the playground. It was interesting that John was afraid of the swings, but was all over the slide and just climbing on things. Even when mom or dad offered to swing with him, he wasn’t interested. But as soon as mom demoed the swings, and he tried it, he was all over it – just not too high, daddy! I think his favorite was the teeter-totter. He absolutely LOVED that.
After recovery-through-fun-on-the-playground time, we headed for the cafeteria for lunch. One of the adult workers and a beautiful girl named Pinky fixed us pizza, french fries, and pop for lunch. Well, she didn’t “fix” the “pop”, but you know what I mean. Pinky was so wonderful and so adorable. We took several pictures with her, and she was so excited to be serving and helping, so proud that she could do the task given to her. It was touching and heart-wrenching at the same time. I wish I could show you a picture of this beautiful little girl, but obviously I really can’t.
We left CCV with full hearts, and headed for Taal volcano. John fell asleep fairly quickly, and I wanted to make sure to snap a picture of a tiny road-side Internet cafe I knew we’d pass on the way back toward Manila.
The volcano was breath-takingly beautiful. There were posh resorts up on the crest overlooking the culdara of the volcano, and private residences on little islands in the lake that had formed there over the centuries. Down on the shore of the lake, there looked to be a thriving fishing business. It was a cool area. Here’s one of the many pictures we took. It’s terribly difficult to snap a picture of such a panoramic scene and do it justice, so I just picked one with us in it.
We got back to the hotel earlier than we’d anticipated – about 2PM. So, there was plenty of time for swimming before our dinner out that night. We were meeting a family that Faith met online right near the hotel, but I’ll save that story for another entry.
Overall, it was a wonderful and eye-opening day, not to mention a fun time together as a family. And daddy didn’t even collapse from heat stroke. 🙂