Stranded in Kathmandu: A single mother's struggle to bring her daughter home

An interview with adoptive mom and blogger Candice Waltier about  the plight of the American families unable to bring their children home from Nepal. Photo: Candice Waltier

NEW YORK —  What began as a straightforward adoption of a beautiful little girl in Nepal, wound up as a difficult and protracted battle for Candice Warltier, a forty-something PR professional in Chicago.

After years of hoping to become a mother, Waltier was thrilled when she received a match with a Nepali baby on June 16th, 2010.  Her travel approval came through on July 27th, and she left Chicago on August 5th to pick up her daughter in Nepal. 

At that point, she could not have foreseen the changes in U.S. government regulations, changes that would throw her plans to become a parent into peril.  After processing adoptions in one fashion, after Waltier arrived in Nepal, the U.S. changed its process.  Suddenly, orphans in the adoption process could not be granted visas to leave the country without further U.S. investigation. 

Trapped in adverse conditions in Kathmandu, unsure when she would be able to return home, Waltier tapped her professional experience to grab media attention for the families, who like her, were stranded in Nepal without any clear path home.  She began giving interviews in an attempt to shine light on what most Americans knew nothing about.  And the experience inspired her to write a blog for Chicago NOW called Portrait of An Adoption. 

At the orphanage

Late last fall, Waltier was finally able to bring her daughter home.  She is one of the lucky ones.  Fifty-six American families remain in limbo, waiting for the U.S. government to approve their adoptions and allow them to bring their children home.  Many of these families have been stranded in Kathmandu since August of 2010 with no approval in sight.  Some of these families have lost their jobs, and one family has even lost their home, as they expend time and resources to fight to bring their children home.

To follow the plight of these parents stranded in Nepal and to sign a petition to encourage the U.S. government to help get them home, go here

Waltier has shared details of her personal story with The Red Thread and offers some insight into the adoption process in Nepal, which has gone so horribly wrong for so many children and American families.

 When did you first begin the adoption process?  Did you always have Nepal in mind, or how did the decision to adopt from Nepal come about?

 When I turned 39 and had yet to find Mr. Right, I began to think about adoption. I always thought adopting was a beautiful way to begin a family.  Nepal was not open as an adoption program when I first began the journey. I chose Ethiopia, as it was open to single women.  I was submitting my paperwork to Children’s Home Society and Family Services in Minnesota when they alerted me to the fact that the Ethiopian government was considering closing the Ethiopian adoption program to single women because the program was getting too large.  At about the same time Nepal opened a program and my agency asked if I wanted to be one of the first families in the new pilot program. I thought the country was interesting, especially the diversity of tribes and religion.

You and many families like you ran into delays and, in some cases, complete paralysis of the process.  But early on, can you describe the process you went through.  Was it cumbersome?  Easy? How long did it take?

I began the process when the program opened in January 2009.  At that point there were many unknowns because the Nepal program was new and being launched as a pilot. My agency, along with others, was optimistic that the Nepali government had made great strides in overhauling the previous adoption program and making changes to some of the guidelines. We were warned that there could be delays because the Nepali government was unstable. There was great uncertainty about the timeframe during the entire 18 months with many delays.   It was a rollercoaster ride.

When you travelled to Nepal, were you alone or with a group?

When I finally received my referral in June 2010 and then got my travel approval in July 2010, my mother agreed to accompany me to Nepal. Another family had also received a referral and travel approval at the same time so I knew they would be staying at the same hotel. 

My mother and I both thought we’d be in Nepal for approximately three weeks and planned accordingly. In fact, my mother retired from her job as a school psychologist so she could come with me and help with childcare.  She stayed with me in Nepal for an entire month. The hardship of the country was taking a toll on her and she didn’t feel well physically and was sick every day. She lost an enormous amount of weight, which she didn’t need to lose.   In addition, our family was going through some difficult times, including my sister who was in the midst of an awful divorce.

When I arrived in Nepal, my agency representative in Nepal greeted us and ended up being an amazing support for me during my stay there. In fact, she has become a great friend.  In addition, we relied on support from the other families who were also waiting for their visas.

  This was your first trip to Nepal.  Can you describe the experiences—everything from the trip there to intriguing strangeness of the landscape to the culture?

When I arrived in Kathmandu, I was shocked at the amount of pollution in the air. I had prepared myself for third world conditions, but didn’t quite grasp what that meant until I arrived. It was difficult to breathe and many people wore facemasks on the streets.

 It was shocking to see the uncontrolled traffic on the streets with motorbikes driving in and out of the car traffic and cows walking slowly down the middle of the road. The first week we didn’t dare cross the streets by ourselves.  At the end of my three-month stay I was halting cars with one hand and holding my daughter in the other.

Although Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, the people have great pride. The people are calm and introspective and very kind. I found the diversity in religion and tribes to be fascinating. One of their favorite pastimes is guessing what tribe a person is from (i.e. Newari or Sherpa).

In Nepal

Although we were surrounded by majestic mountains, including Mt. Everest, we lived in Kathmandu, a city with third world  conditions that are extraordinarily unsafe for a child and for a single woman. 

Once, I had to rush Antara to an emergency clinic.  She opened up a toy cell phone (the toys there are of poor quality) and managed to put two tiny batteries in her mouth.

Some of the conditions we faced included:

  • There were no ambulances or 911. 
  • The phone networks were down throughout the day.
  • We were without power for hours a day. 
  • We couldn’t drink the water because it is contaminated and can contain feces.
  •  I couldn’t take my baby to the park because there aren’t any.
  • There are no sidewalks and we can’t walk the street because it is extreme chaos without any traffic laws. 

  Can you explain what happened when things started to go woefully wrong?

When I arrived in Nepal I was shocked to learn of the abrupt changes during a meeting we were asked to attend with the US Ambassador to Nepal.  I learned that the process by which the US government investigates children’s background had changed.  They were now conducting further investigations and involving another US government office - US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  - and sending the files to New Delhi, India – another country from where the investigation occurred - for further processing which prolonged the already long stay in Nepal.

They then shut down the program but allowed the families who had received a match before August 6 to continue.

How did you manage not to lose your job and continue to live while there?

I own my own communications firm and had two colleagues managing the office and clients while I was gone.  Of course, I had to communicate the dire situation to my clients as they only expected me to be gone a month.  For the most part my clients, including the Girl Scouts, were very understanding.

What do you attribute the primary problems to in getting back home and bringing your daughter home?

A bureaucratic mess! I believe it was political and that our government was not happy with the way the Nepali government was managing the adoption program. Clay Adler, consular at the US Embassy, claimed there were cases of fraud. However, he couldn’t cite any specific cases, nor in all the cases that have been processed has one been fraudulent.

I believe there are stronger, more powerful organizations, including UNICEF, that are pushing our government to closing all international adoption programs.

It is clear to me that some international children’s organizations see intercountry adoption as a Euro-American practice robbing children of their heritage.  While I believe a child’s identity and heritage is a critical part of their life and should remain so forever, providing a child with a loving “forever family” is a human right and supersedes keeping them in poverty and institutional environments.  According to Harvard Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, “Children’s most fundamental human rights should trump state sovereignty claims.”

 I also believe that our government did not do a thorough job of conducting background investigations on the children. The culture is such that the Nepali people do not want to talk with investigators so that makes it very difficult to investigate these cases. Many abandoned children were born out of wedlock, a situation causing mothers to be ostracized by Nepal society.  Many keep their pregnancies a secret.  These women and their relatives will do anything to remain anonymous rather than be shunned by their community.  This makes the investigation process nearly impossible. 

The Embassy has stated that one of the reasons for questioning the orphans’ files is that they are all so similar. However, the files are similar because the situations are very similar in the case of abandonment. A child is found by someone and then taken to either a police station or orphanage. This is the only information available because the mother has chosen to remain anonymous and others do not wish to report anything they know about the situation. 

How did you finally get your paperwork and return home when others did not?

I am not sure. My file was the first to be sent from the State Department in Kathmandu to USCIS in New Delhi. It sat there for months without any update on the status. In fact, I received a letter stating not to contact them.

For months, I emailed legislators and other advocacy organizations and eventually obtained quite a bit of media coverage for our case. Finally in the beginning of November, I received an email from USCIS stating that there was ample evidence proving my daughter was an orphan. I was then granted a visa and left Nepal in early November.

Do you know any of the families still stranded in Nepal, unable to come home?

 Yes, I do. Many were stranded for six months. There are a few who just this week received approval to come home.  There are other families living there. Many have been separated from other family members, lost their jobs and some are considering bankruptcy. I know one family who had to sell their home.

What can and should be done to a) get these families back home and b) change this system that this never happens again?

People can contact their legislators directly and ask them to urge our government (the Department of State and USCIS) to conduct responsible and expedient processing of orphan investigations on Nepal’s pipeline cases, especially the families living in Nepal, and that those investigations be done with comprehensive consideration of Nepal’s cultural, social, and political issues. 

Any words of advice for parents looking to adopt now, perhaps stuck in the process?  Any resources to turn to?

For those stuck in process, I would tell them to follow their hearts.  Many of those further in line than I was are choosing to continue knowing what I didn’t know.  They have made the courageous decision to move ahead and hope for the best.   I think the best resources are the families living in Nepal waiting out the process. These families have come together to support each other during these tough times.

Are you hopeful about Nepal opening again as a place for Americans to adopt from? Adoptions are plummeting and children around the world are being stranded without homes and families, and many of them will now face “aging out.”  From your recent, first-hand experience, what can and should be done to start to open adoptions again?  Any areas that officials—here and abroad—should be focusing on?

Although I’d like to remain hopeful that the program will open and many orphans will be united with families who are waiting, I don’t believe it will be in the near future. I am deeply afraid that international adoption is under siege at this point and powerful forces are attempting to shut down programs.

With Santa, Christmas 2010

I strongly believe in international adoption and that children are better off with families than living in institutions within their own country. I also believe the process can work with the right procedures and guidelines in place. I do recommend that our government takes into consideration a country’s culture when conducting background investigations on the orphans.

Now that you are finally home.  How are you adjusting to being a mother and how’s your daughter adjusting to home?  What’s her daily life like?

 We are doing fabulously! It’s been quite an adjustment. I realize now how much stress I endured and that I was living on adrenaline.  I feel much more at peace now that my daughter, Antara, and I are home. 

She is quickly adjusting to the hectic American lifestyle. She is in childcare three times a week while I work and try to maintain my PR firm.  She is a very social child and loves to be around people.

She is constantly dancing – with or without music – and loves to read. She is a huge fan of Curious George and Elmo.  She is talking up a storm and really thriving here in the U.S. 

We have had a few play dates, including one with another family who adopted a little girl from the same orphanage.  It’s important to me that we maintain the Nepali culture in Antara’s life.

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Andrea Poe

Andrea Poe is a veteran journalist, whose work has appeared in thousands of publications, including Town & Country, Marie Claire and Entrepreneur.  She is the author of several books and her work has appeared in many others, including anthologies and college textbooks. 

Andrea serves as editor of the Travel & Food section at The Washington Times Communities.  Her love of travel has led her to cover everything from remote villages in the Andes to her hometown of New York, from Paris to Pittsburgh, from Beijing to the Bahamas.  No matter where she travels, she likes to uncover the unusual and share with readers those often-overlooked aspects of a place and its people.  She dubs her column Raven’s Eye as a nod to her illustrious (and, yes, infamous) relative, Edgar Allan Poe, a writer who knew more than a little something about the quirky and unique.  

Andrea is also mother to Maxine, who was adopted from Vietnam in 2006, and is the inspiration for The Red Thread column on adoption at The Washington Times Communities.   Andrea is currently at work on a book on international adoption.

In addition to her work as mother, writer and traveler, she is the founder and president of Media Branding International, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations craft and promote their image in media outlets around the globe.

Find Andrea at andpoe@Twitter, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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