Home away from homeland
PETERBOROUGH: Couple adopts Congolese orphan, but must wade through bureaucratic red tape before bringing their new son home to the United States
Lucy and Owen Selby hold a sign that will go on the bedroom door of their newly adopted brother, Wetu, once he arrives from his homeland in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
PETERBOROUGH — Earlier this month, Tim and Caitlin Selby met Wetu, a 41/2-year-old Congolese boy, for the first time when the Peterborough couple visited Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“He got out of the car, ran to Caitlin and jumped into her arms,” Tim says.
Wetu was so excited because he knew he was seeing his new parents, who had arranged to adopt him more than a year earlier. Their visit was proof that he’d eventually be leaving the orphanage where more than 70 children live with only 15 beds available, heading to a new life in New Hampshire where he’ll have his own room and a new brother and sister to get to know.
“He’s got such a positive spirit,” Caitlin says. “It’s really a miracle for him to have come out as well as he has.”
That’s because the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is now widely considered the poorest country in the world. A decade of war began in the late 1990s, sparked by unrest in neighboring Rwanda that led to invasions by Rwandan and Ugandan armies. That was followed by years of civil war, which led to the deaths of more than 5 million people.
“It’s the most deaths since World War II,” Tim Selby says. “It’s estimated there are about 5 million orphans. Half of them won’t ever go to school. A third of them won’t make it to age 10.”
Wetu was 21/2 when he was brought to an orphanage in Kinshasha known as SECAM, an acronym for “Secours a l’enfant Congolais pour un Avenir Meilleur” — in English it means “Assistance to the Congolese Child for a Better Future.” SECAM was created, Tim says, when a Congolese woman and her family began welcoming orphaned children into their home. Wetu came from Kikwit, a smaller city in the southwestern part of the country. He has no known biological relatives.
The Selbys have two biological children — Lucy, 12, and Owen, 9. They knew that if they wanted to expand their family, they’d do it by adoption.
“We started the research two years ago, and gradually narrowed it down,” Tim says. “Adoption is a very personal choice. We don’t take it lightly. All the signs kept pointing to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We felt we could help someone.”
The couple investigated more than one adoption agency and eventually chose to work with Adoptions International Inc., a Texas-based organization with close ties to the Congo.
“They have a very strong presence on the ground,” Tim says. “They work with a Congolese lawyer who lives in the U.S.”
Shortly after connecting with Adoptions International, the Selbys were given a referral to adopt a 3-year-old boy, who turned out to be Wetu.
“We didn’t ask for a boy or a girl, or a specific age,” Tim says. “We kind of felt it was like a birth — you don’t get to pick and choose.”
So the Selbys forged ahead with the lengthy and complicated legal process of adoption.
“It’s a lot of time and paperwork,” Caitlin says.
“The Congolese definitely work on their own time,” adds Tim.
In February, they celebrated a milestone when a Congolese court officially declared them to be Wetu’s guardians.
“He was moved into a foster-care home,” Tim says. “We were able to Skype with him. He speaks Lingala, which is kind of an offshoot of French and Swahili.”
At the end of one of their Skype visits, Wetu asked Tim and Caitlin when they would come to visit.
“That did it. We definitely felt the need to go and see him,” Tim says.
So earlier this month, the couple spent a week in Kinshasha. They were able to take Wetu out for pizza and ice cream and he went swimming for the first time. They also visited a bonobo sanctuary, so he could see the great apes that are closely related to chimpanzees.
Wetu was able to understand a lot of their questions, which they posed in English, although he responded mostly with one-word answers in French or Lingala.
“You can tell he’s really learning,” Caitlin says. “He has such a positive spirit.”
Now the Selbys are back home, waiting. The Congolese government has suspended the issuing of exit letters, but the Selbys hope that ban will be lifted in September. Meanwhile, they are applying for the necessary U.S. immigration papers that will let them bring Wetu home.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to bring him sometime this winter,” Tim says.
The couple had talked at length to Lucy and Owen, who both attend Mountain Shadows School in Dublin, about their plans to adopt.
“Lucy was very involved from the get-go,” Tim says.
“She’d write us letters and notes,” Caitlin recalls, “saying ‘There are so many orphans. We need to help.’”
Now Lucy and Owen, who have enjoyed visiting with Wetu on Skype, are preparing for his eventual arrival.
“I’m excited to meet him,” Lucy says.
“Wetu really likes apples,” Owen says. “We planted two trees in the yard for him.”
“He tells everyone that his family has apple trees and chickens,” Tim adds.
The Selbys hope that Wetu’s arrival will help draw attention to the plight of so many other orphans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country has become more stable in recent years, Tim says, although violence still erupts periodically. He says foreign investment is on the rise and the country has untapped mineral resources and tremendous agricultural potential.
“There is enough agricultural space in the country to feed the southern half of Africa,” he says. “To take advantage of it, there must be a stronger government.”
But most of the 10 million people in Kinshasha are living in poverty.
“It’s a pretty sad place,” Caitlin says. “ I had no idea how bad it was, until we went there.”
The Selbys said they were dismayed by how grateful the staff at the SECAM orphanage were when the American couple arrived with donations of food.
“They hadn’t had any food for a few days,” Caitlin says. “It was so hard to see.”
“We’d like to see if there’s a way to target aid directly to the SECAM orphanage,” Tim says. “I think there’s great hope for the country. There are a lot of eyes on the Congo.”
In their effort to help more orphans, the Selbys are researching options for working with existing nonprofit organizations.
“If we can find something that works, that will be great,” Tim says. “If not, we’ll create our own foundation. We hope to be able to decide and get started in the next couple of weeks.”
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.