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Colombia Adoption

Adopting Cristian: A Herndon Family's Struggle. After 14 months, Stephanie and Jorge Duenas are able to bring Cristian Daniel "home."

With wide brown eyes, long eyelashes and a mischievous look, Cristian Daniel Duenas peers at himself in the walled mirror behind his new parents.

" Look at how big the restaurant is," says the 9-year-old in Spanish to Jorge and Stephanie Duenas.

Laughing, Jorge Duenas plays with Cristian saying "yes, it is so big." Then looks at his wife and asks in English, "he wasn't serious, was he?"

Turning over his right shoulder to look at Cristian's reflection, Jorge Duenas again teases him in Spanish. Sitting directly across the table from Cristian, Stephanie Duenas moves to the side so he can see his reflection. Getting excited, Cristian begins to make faces at himself and his adopted parents.

It has been almost one month since the couple returned from Bogota, Colombia with Cristian, their new son.

" It was a huge, huge relief that it was finally real," said Stephanie Duenas, a petite woman with shoulder length blonde hair. " I couldn't believe it," added her soft-spoken husband. "It was great."

THE DUENASES FIRST met Cristian in August 2004 when he was visiting the area through Kidsave Summer Miracles. A Washington, D.C.-based organization, Kidsave International champions on behalf of older orphans in Colombia, Kazakhstan and Russia, hoping to find them homes in the United States. Through the Summer Miracles program, a select number of older children from orphanages in each country are brought to the United States to live with host families for six weeks. During the six weeks, the children — who think they are on a vacation — meet potential parents, participate in events and get a chance to see life outside of an orphanage.

" The older kids tend to enter the orphanages at an older age," said Hiliary Jenkins, program manager for Kidsave Summer Miracles, at an event this summer. "They have been taken from their families after it has been determined it is not safe for them to stay."

In Cristian's case, he had been given up for adoption when he was a 12-month-old, said Stephanie Duenas.

" I don't think we would have adopted an older child if we had not met him," said Stephanie Duenas, a reading specialist for Loudoun County Public Schools.

MARRIED FOR 10 years, the Duenases have been a couple for 21 years.
Since their honeymoon in Mexico, the Herndon couple — who grew up in Arlington — have discussed adoption several times.

But, it was not until they read an article about Kidsave Summer Miracles in the Herndon Connection, that they decided it was time to do more than just talk.

" I said I'll call Hiliary [Jenkins] about fostering next summer," recalled Jorge Duenas, who works for a software development company in Herndon. "But she invited us out to meet the current group of kids."

The next thing they knew, Stephanie and Jorge Duenas were meeting Cristian, and immediately falling in love.

" After I met him I said, 'Yeah, let's do this,'" said Jorge Duenas. "He's got a really good heart."

" He is very giving and very sharing," added Stephanie Duenas, smiling at Cristian as he sits quietly across the table.

A favorite story of Cristian's "giving" was during his first visit to their house in 2004. Wearing his host mother's watch, Cristian gave it to Jorge Duenas' mother, telling her she could wear it temporarily. Noticing Jorge Duenas' father did not have a watch, Cristian asked "why not?" Jokingly Jorge Duenas' father replied because he was too poor. Cristian retrieved the watch from the man's wife and handed it to him, telling him he could keep it — indefinitely.

With almost no possessions at the orphanage, the Duenases were impressed that Cristian would give up something of value to help someone else, said Jorge Duenas.

AFTER DETERMINING they wanted to make Cristian — then 8 years old — a part of their family, the Duenases began the process of adoption. Told it would only take approximately six months, it was difficult saying good-bye and sending Cristian back to Colombia. But, they knew it would not be long before he would be with them.

Or so they thought.

" Before we could even start getting our adoption papers together we had to undergo FBI and police checks," said Stephanie Duenas. "We then had to complete three homestay visits by a licensed agency in Virginia that had an international license." On average the homestudies take 90 days. The Duenases paid extra to have it expedited. Instead, it took 88 days, said Jorge Duenas in disbelief.

After the homestay evaluation, the couple set up required psychological and physical exams, filled out the proper paperwork and had it notarized. Then they had to get county, state and federal level certifications of the documents.

But, the requirements did not end there.

Next they had to find an adoption agency familiar with international adoptions. The agency needed to translate the paperwork into Spanish so it could be sent to the Colombian government.
The couple also had to send copies of their birth certificates with the information, causing another hiccup to arise.

As a native of Peru, Jorge Duenas — who moved to the United States when he was 4 years old — had to go through the Peruvian government to get his documentation. Taking longer than anticipated and after frustrating weeks of uncertainty, the problems were solved and the documentation was sent. It was time for the couple to wait again, this time for the Colombian government.

DURING THESE MONTHS the Duenases spoke to Cristian on the phone at least once a week, if not more.

" It was really frustrating and very stressful," said Stephanie Duenas. "It's hard when you're talking on the phone with them and they're saying to you, 'When are you coming?' You're not able to answer them. You just keep saying soon and they want to know when 'soon' is."
Because the couple wanted to make Cristian's transition as easy as possible, they did everything from learning Spanish to buying toys and furniture to fill his new room. Although Jorge Duenas' parents were fluent in Spanish, when they moved to the United States he and his siblings began to speak only English.

To reassure Cristian that they were coming for him, the Duenases also sent him frequent packages. He received a new backpack stuffed with Skittles — his favorite candy — and his favorite action figure, Max Steel.

They also paid to have Cristian put into a private school where he was one of 12 students in a class. At his public school, he was one of 40 or 50 students.

In July Jorge Duenas went to visit Cristian for his birthday, and to assure him that, almost a year later, they still wanted him to join their family.

Knowing Cristian was not getting proper nutrition, the proper attention, and that he was not in the U.S. was at times unbearable, said the couple.

FINALLY, 14 MONTHS after meeting Cristian, the couple got the call: they could come to Colombia to get their son.

Following the pattern of the adoption process, things again did not move smoothly. Departing the day before an early morning adoption appointment in Colombia, the couple's plane was grounded in Atlanta because of mechanical problems, leaving the couple uncertain if they would make it in time.

Luckily their flight arrived at midnight.

Next they had to adhere to Colombian laws that require one person of an adopting family to remain in the country for three weeks. Stephanie Duenas stayed in the country with Cristian, while Jorge Duenas returned to Herndon for work.

Unable to stay away, Jorge Duenas returned to Colombia a week after leaving to help his wife bring home their son.

Before leaving, the new family took extra time in Colombia visiting friends, saying good-bye to the other orphans — including Cristian's two older brothers — and seeing the countryside. The son and mother pair even spent a day in Cristian's home town so he could see it before they left.
And, after visiting Colombia, the couple plans to return next year and every few years after so Cristian will know his heritage.

BUT, BEFORE future vacations are planned, the couple is still relishing the fact Cristian is more than a shy voice over the phone.

Constantly giving him hugs, kisses, touching his head and lovingly joking with him, Jorge and Stephanie Duenas are enjoying the adjustment into parenthood.

The new father even had a chance to try out his hair-cutting skills the other day, leaving a few stray hairs here and there.

And Cristian has done a remarkable job adjusting to his new life as well, said Stephanie Duenas.
" I expected more crying and more problems, but it's helped a lot that we can speak Spanish," said Jorge Duenas. "I remember when I first called him [in Colombia], we couldn't talk because I didn't know Spanish."

The Duenases are aware that the adjustment may not stay this simple. Cristian has already asked a few times what happens when the couple gets rid of him?

Stephanie Duenas has also worked with her new son on his studies. Because he failed the first grade twice in Colombia — from a lack of academic attention — the couple does not want to set him up for failure, said Jorge Duenas. Having almost completed the first grade requirements, Cristian will begin second grade in another month.

In January he will attend the elementary school where Stephanie Duenas teaches, taking English for Speakers of Other Language courses in the morning and English-speaking classes in the afternoon.

As they leave the Herndon restaurant, Jorge Duenas gives Cristian a hug. Telling him he will see him after work, Cristian acts like a typical 9-year-old boy being hugged in public. Squirming in his father's arms, Cristian tries to break free — but it is obvious he still enjoys the attention.

" It's great to have him back at home," said Jorge Duenas. "It's definitely going to be a great thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving."

 

Article by Brynn Grimley and provided by: Herndon Connection


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