February 08, 2011

A few words from Jilma

I don't ask a lot of people to guest post on my blog. (Maybe it's because I'm a word hog.) But I asked Jilma Meneses, founder and CEO of Our Family Adoptions (OFA), to guest blog and give everyone a look into the organization since they are the recipients of half of our raffle proceeds. OFA is not really like any other organization I've ever been a part of. OFA and Jilma (pronounced HEELma) hold a special place in my heart because they helped us bring our little Miles home. Jilma Meneses can best be classified as a machine- the woman is like the energizer bunny.  She lives a life dedicated to serving the children of Congo.  As a full time working attorney- she runs OFA out of the goodness of her heart, making sacrifice upon sacrifice (who needs sleep, right Jilma!?) to keep the organization running. Jilma will say in her post that OFA is not an adoption agency. In fact, I'll just throw it out there that they are no longer taking applications to complete adoptions so that she is not dealing with a deluge of emails today :-) OFA's focus is on serving the children in Congo who will never be able to have a family. In a country of 5 million orphans, we know that we can help more children by using our resources to help vulnerable children where they are- in this case, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another reason that I don't ask people to guest post? They rarely write what you hope they will write! I asked Jilma to talk all about the humanitarian aid that OFA is delivering, and while she did that, she also wrote a slew of things that downright make me blush. I considered not publishing the first half of her post because, quite honestly, it really embarrasses me. But when you ask a great woman like Jilma to write for you, it would be bad manners for me to edit her work. So even though it embarrasses me to no end, I present to you Jilma Meneses and the outstanding work of Our Family Adoptions...

From Jilma Meneses:

During preparation for her 2011 raffle, Megan asked if I could provide a guest post on her blog. She prompted me, “share about how the donations people give are helping: how many mattresses, schoolbooks, etc. have been delivered.”

Well, yeah. But first I want to talk about the Terry family, and about Megan in particular.

Adopting from DRC is not easy. I tell everybody this. And then I tell it to them over and over again. Very few listen. When families consider adoption, it is quite common for those families to be inward-looking. Many mean well, but are trying to fill some sort of void. They are focused on what their child will mean to them.

The critical difference is that Our Family Adoptions wants to cultivate families to do more. To be more. If you adopt from DRC, you make a difference in the life of that one child. But OFA wants you to adopt DRC. We want you to understand the country’s history, politics, language, food, music, culture, environment and people.

So I want to take a moment here to celebrate Megan Terry. This is not what she wants from me, I know. But it’s what I want for her, and a proper southern gal knows guests get what they want.

Megan traveled to DRC and saw what it means to be an orphan in that country. And when she truly realized it, she broke. If you read her blog post about that day you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. For a year and half, she researched DRC. She learned the unpleasant history and current situation of the country, and she was still unprepared for what it looked, smelled and sounded like when she got there.

But sometimes when you break, or you are torn, the scars heal stronger than before. And Megan is stronger now than she was before; the Terry family is stronger now than it was before.

The healing balm is love.

Miles is loved. And Miles loves. When you haven’t grown up with love always present, then you don’t know what love is. Love is dangerous, because love means trusting somebody else with your best interests.

If you grew up in an orphanage, nobody there has your back. It is every child for himself. You grab and punch and kick to get all you can. And if you are reprimanded for that, you simply learn to do it only when no one is watching; when you will not get caught.

But children are resilient, and they can learn to love. Because love feels better than fighting. Trust feels better than distrust. And now Miles knows what love feels like, and he knows how to love.

On her blog, Megan puts it all out there for us to see: Dirty laundry, therapy, unwashed dogs, and massive diaper blowouts. But she puts all the good stuff, too: Family dinners, date nights with Kamron, and the love and daily small successes of her three beautiful children.

In order to share all that, she trusts us. She puts her faith in us. And she asks the right question. That question, as I stated above, is not, “What will my children mean to me?” She asks, “What will I mean to my children?” And I love her for that.

So here’s what Megan means, not only to her children, but to all of us:

- Megan raises awareness: Her blog has had thousands of readers on important issues like attachment disorder, DRC, adoption, and chicken tagine and plantains (mmm, plantains).
- Megan organizes getaway weekends for 14 of her best friends, some of whom she had never met before.
- Megan posts up giveaways to raise funds for other families who are adopting.
- Megan speaks in public about Congo.
- Megan knows how to take good care of Miles’s hair.
- Megan’s 2010 raffle raised over $5,000 for Haiti and DRC.
- Megan helped OFA win $20,000 in the 2010 Chase Community Giving contest.
- Megan’s 2011 raffle is has already raised over $3,000.

And then there are about a thousand other little things that would make this a very long list.

All this, and more, from “jus’ a lil’ gal from Kentucky.” “Aw, shucks.” she says, “Weren’t nothing.”

Now, as Megan originally wanted, I am pleased to let everyone know that OFA is working with 5 orphanages in DRC: three in the Kinshasa area, one in Lubumbashi and one near Bukavu.

Though we cannot provide the same level of support at each, here is a quick list of some of the things our supporters have been able to provide through OFA in 2010:
- Hand-carried approximately 1500 lbs of infant formula to DRC

- Purchased basic foods for older kids: dried beans (nearly 5000 lbs in 2010), rice and dried fish

- Purchased and provided schoolbooks

- Purchased and provided mattresses

- Provided over 200 dresses for girls of all ages

- Purchased and provided medicine for malaria and other tropical diseases

- Paid for doctor’s visits for gravely ill children

- Provided monthly stipends for some of the orphanages

- Provided university fees for a student in Bukavu

- Painted the interior walls of an orphanage

- Provided toys, dolls and soccer balls

OFA families collected a mountian of baby formula to deliver to children in various orphanges

OFA families painting the walls of an orphanage

In many ways, 2010 has been a difficult year for OFA. More people than ever before want to adopt from DRC, but we stopped taking new applications. We needed to concentrate on completing adoptions for families who were already on our list and in our pipeline. I turn away three to four new email inquires every day, which is the hardest thing I do. It breaks my heart every time. Nonetheless, we completed 23 adoptions from DRC in 2010 as an all-volunteer organization. We turn people away because we wish to focus on the children in Congo who will never find families for one reason or another. They are the reason we do what we do. OFA is not an adoption agency and will not charge for our services. We use the resources that come in to us to give back to the children. We remain staffed, organized and implemented by a network of committed volunteers. Our principal work is to serve the children of DRC. We do this by empowering the members of OFA’s family network.

These members are OFA’s greatest blessing, greatest strength and most valued asset. I would be unable to accomplish my tasks without all the time and support that the OFA team freely gives. Each of them, like Megan, are saving lives and building community, and I am eternally grateful for every single act of kindness they do.

They ask the right question. They ask Megan’s question.

“What will I mean to my children?”

And so I challenge you. Ask that same question of yourself.


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