Bert (along with Abner) was one of the first chaps to capture my heart when I began advocating for orphans. Since both Bert and Abner are also listed on Hands of Help in Adoption, we can also ascertain that they are in the same country as our Angelina. Unfortunately this is a country that does not have the best track record for orphan care, particularly orphans with disabilities. Of course there are some institutions that are better than others and some caregivers that truly love the children, but the culture as a whole still lives in the shadow of USSR views concerning people with disabilities.
On Bert’s Reece’s Rainbow page there are only a few short phrases to the right of two tiny pictures of this guy, not a lot to go off of.
So what can we know about Bert? Just the bare bones really.
Boy. Born February 2008. Bert has cerebral palsy, we don’t have any specific information.
And then this afterthought info is thrown in, just a tiny tidbit that breaks my heart:
Bert’s younger brother, Ernie, has been adopted domestically.
(Yes, you read that right, these brothers were listed as Bert and Ernie…I got stuck on that for a while, I mean, who would do that to kids! Even if they are nicknames, naming a boy Bert and his little brother Ernie…seriously?!)
But then I got the thinking, even with my limited knowledge of Sesame Street (my dad thought it was too frenetic for us to watch, we stuck to Mr. Rodgers), I do know that Bert and Ernie are best friends. They are friends who kind of get on each other’s nerves, a lot like how siblings get on each other’s nerves, but they are also always there for one another through thick and thin. Perhaps the person who nicknamed them Bert and Ernie was hoping this would be their relationship, brothers and friends through thick and thin.
Ernie has already been adopted domestically, that’s all the info we have about him. I can’t help but wonder if his adoptive family tried to keep the boys together before being overwhelmed by the prospect of raising a child with special needs in a country with no social structure to help support them, a country where medical professionals actually recommend parents give up their children with disabilities to state run institutions.. Maybe they had to make the hard decision that Bert would be better off in a country more accepting of disabilities, where he would be able to get extensive therapy, have a comprehensive medical team on board, go to school, have a chance to follow his dreams, get a job, and possibly even live independently. Was Ernie a bubbly baby with an infectious laugh? Do his parents plan on telling him one day when he’s older that he has a big brother? Maybe Ernie has a few hazy memories of time spent in an orphanage with his brother.
And what about Bert? Does he remember his little brother? Did he get to say goodbye on the day his brother was adopted? Were they ever able to see one another when they were existing in the orphanage? Could Ernie’s family possibly still visit Bert from time to time – that’s a pleasant, though unlikely, thought. Does he wish the family that adopted his brother had made room in their hearts and lives for him as well? Or does Bert have more immediate primal questions that crowd out such thoughts, concerns like will he get enough food today? Will he be taken out of his crib today? Will he see the sky today, or tomorrow, or this week? Will he be yelled at by overworked nannies? Will he be hit by stronger children desperately seeking any interaction with others? Does he know that the days are passing, soon he will be herded to a new intuition to wait out the days till he ages out of the system and is left to decay in an adult mental institution, past hope of adoption, past hope of a life lived with dignity and love. Does he know that is the path his life is on right now?
Originally Bert and Ernie were listed together and it stated in their profile that they needed to be adopted together. Clearly that did not happen, and I want to believe splitting up the siblings was done with their best interests at heart. Their story is not uncommon and shows how the life of an orphan is a series of loss, something one should never forget even when if the “happy ending” of adoption occurs – which by the way is never the end of the story and certainly not the end of loss; if anything, a finalized adoption is the gateway that allows grief to flood in. The following links are all for children who are listed with their siblings; we can pray that families are able to adopt them together and keep their families as intact as possible.
The fact that little Ernie did not have a disability yet both brothers were in an orphanage leads me to speculate that perhaps they are not social orphans, perhaps they lost their primary family caregivers to death. Again, we will never know. Because so often children with disabilities are social orphans, I generally make the assumption that ALL children in orphanages with special needs are social orphans, but of course that is not always the case. I want you to know the term “social orphan” because when people try to use statistics when talking about orphans sometimes they include social orphans, sometimes they only use “double orphans“. Either way, becoming an orphan through the loss of one’s parents due to death or still having living parents who cannot (or will not) care for you is one of the greatest losses a person can ever experience. Children who are waiting in orphanages but have living parents are no less in need of loving families to care for them, their needs are no less urgent than children who fit the dictionary term of orphan.
Let’s be clear about this: it is a tragedy for children to be torn from their siblings. It is also a tragedy for a child who has a family willing to adopt him to be forced to remain an orphan because his hopeful family cannot (or will not) adopt his sibling as well. In a story where there is already a broken family and children no longer have their parents, there will always be hard decisions, there will always be heartbreak, there will always be immeasurable loss. We are left to hope that the hard decision to split up Bert and Ernie in order for Ernie to be adopted by a loving family will also open doors for Bert to be adopted soon.
Bert’s short story tells you more in what it does not say. The bland phrase ” we don’t have specific information” opens up the chance to stop analyzing his medical report, sit back, look at his beaming smile and wonder. Wonder about his confined life as I briefly described it. Wonder how long he will last if transferred (his short description sounds similar to Vitaly who recently passed away while waiting for a family). And then take time to wonder what his life would be like if he was adopted into a family who saw him as the charming young fellow he is, a little boy full of potential.
Do you have friends who have mentioned to you how much they’ve wanted to adopt? Maybe Bert is the little boy their family is waiting for. Maybe all they need is to become aware that he is waiting for them. Share Bert’s story with your friends and become his advocate. And maybe, just maybe, you have been looking at his face ever since you started this story and you saw something there. Maybe what you saw was your son looking back out at you from across the world; your son waiting for you. I hope that is how Bert’s story continues, that the chapter of orphan closes by him leaving the orphanage in the arms of loving parents, not carried out in an unmarked crudely constructed casket to be buried by dry-eyed forced laborers who are also residents at the adult mental institution.
I know stories like Bert’s are heart-wrenching yet it can also seem so daunting; you ask yourself if you can really make a difference. As a mom who recently started the adoption process I can give you a resounding YES, every little bit helps. I cannot begin to thank all the people who slowly donated $5 or $10 to our Angelina’s grant over the years. The generosity of absolute strangers giving to a child they would most likely never meet led to Angelina’s grant being over $5,000 by the time we committed to her.
Advocates for Bert on Reece’s Rainbow recently banded together to raise a matching grant for Bert. If his grant reads $7,595.64 by Wednesday 7/29 then an additional $280 will be added, bringing his grant to a total of $7,875.64. This is a pretty significant milestone grant to achieve because it is not uncommon for families who are adopting to meet additional children while in country adopting their child and end up coming home with two children! I know of at least one family doing this right now!!! Although the estimated cost of adopting a child in Bert’s country is approximated $25k, it is only about $7k to add a second child during the adoption (since the majority of paperwork already applies and you have already covered the costs for your flights and in-country living expenses). The $7k covers the facilitation fee, passport, visa, second i600, medical and flights home. As much as we all wish money was not a factor in adopting, the reality is that we all have to take it into account and the expense of adoption is a major barrier for many families who wish to adopt. A donation of $5 or $10 (or, you know, $100!) does make a difference for a family to potentially add Bert to their adoption. And I don’t need to tell you what a difference being adopted will make in Bert’s life, it is truly the difference between life and death.