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Feature Stories

Triumphs Trump Tragedies

Devastation of international adoption crisis revealed

Srey Powers is a typical college student from one of Long Island’s high-achieving school districts. As a member of Garden City high school’s class of 2011, where competition in the classroom and on the field is imperative, Powers proved her grit. She was a fearless member of the school’s 2010 soccer team that captured both the Long Island championship and first-ever state championship. A junior at the time, she was named player of the state championship match by the NY State Soccer Association. Now a freshman at SUNY Oneonta, she’s still playing soccer and is pursuing a major in accounting.

These are notable achievements for any young American; even more notable considering Power’s roots. Until she was seven, she lived in an orphanage in Cambodia

Her childhood friends, University of Pennsylvania (Penn) freshman Srey Beaulac — they share the same name, and Beaulac was also adopted from Cambodia — is also pursuing her dreams. The Garden City resident is a nationally ranked fencer. In 2010, she was a member of Garden City high school’s varsity team, which earned the Nassau County championship and she was named a county champion. She also attended the Dwight School where she was winner of the 2012 Congressional Arts Competition. Her artwork is on display in the U.S. Capitol. She is a member of Penn’s fencing team and is majoring in Urban Studies.

Of her award, Charles Rangel (D-NY) remarked at the time: “I am proud of Srey’s talent and ambition … Art … is a big part of what makes us human.”

Craig Juntunen’s adoption advocacy group, Both Ends Are Burning is all about human potential. As executive producer of the award-winning documentary Stuck, he chronicles the plight of millions of orphans who are languishing in institutions. Powers and Beaulac, who are featured in the film, are an embodiment of the kind of success Juntunen is fighting for.

Although difficult to quantify, a study conducted by Both Ends Are Burning estimates there are 10 million orphans in institutions worldwide. Garden City’s Lutheran Church recently hosted a preview of Stuck which brings this statistic to life. Three Garden City families, the Powers, Beaulac and Oellrich families, who successfully accomplished international adoptions, are depicted in the film.

Powers believes that her adoption was lifesaving. “There are so many families who can provide a loving home and to deprive children of that option is cruel,” she said.

Juntunen has his own story as well. It’s the improbable journey of how a former athlete and successful entrepreneur who vowed he would never be a Dad became an advocate for the world’s most innocent victims. It reads like a Hollywood script, so it’s no surprise that he’s now in the film business.

Juntunen sold a West Coast company at the age of 43 and retired ready to enjoy the fruits of his labor. A conversation with a fellow golfer changed his life. The golfer told him about his experience adopting a child from Haiti.

“I had never even heard of Haiti,” admitted Juntunen. “I began to question the honest means of my worth and to think there must be more to life.”

A trip to Haiti landed Juntunen at a Port-au-Prince orphanage where he met three orphans, Espie, Amelec and Quinn. He adopted all three children. The process took less than a year. The two eldest were five and seven years old and the youngest was nine months old.

Friends were amazed at his transformation.  Soon he was meeting people who had been inspired to adopt. However, adoption rules were changing and the dichotomy of good people who wanted to adopt while children were neglected in institutions began to weigh on him.

He decided the most efficient way to spread his message would be through film. Stuck is a riveting depiction of the arduous, lengthy and heartbreaking process adoption has become. It debuted in 2012 at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Heartland Film Festival. It wound up getting picked up for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Haunting images of children sleeping on floors portray an ineffective system fostering a purgatory-like state. The documentary follows several families who brave the process. We meet Tihun from Ethiopia, Nate from Vietnam, and Erickson and Therline from Haiti on their journey to find a home.

Filmmaker Thaddaeus Scheel spotlights the emotional and physical damage the children endure — incessant delays along with moments of joy when the children are united with adoptive parents.

Why is it so difficult to adopt a needy child? Several reasons are explored in Juntunen’s film. In 1993 the U.S. ratified the Hague Adoption Convention (Hague), an international agreement implemented to safeguard international adoptions, becoming a full member in 2008. While Hague’s purpose is to eliminate fraud and trafficking, its rules have resulted in slowdowns or complete shutdowns in many countries. Nearly all adoptions from Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala and Nepal have been shut down. And a 2010 Hague Commission Report revealed that Hague has not eradicated corruption.

According to Juntunen, 78 percent of Americans believe that adoption is on the rise. However, statistics from the U.S. Department of State reveal the number of foreign children adopted by U.S. parents fell by 7 percent last year, to the lowest level since 1994, and is likely to plunge further this year due to the ban by Russia on adoptions by Americans. Adoptions in 2012 showed 8,668 adoptions from abroad, down from 9,320 in 2011 and a 62 percent decrease from the all-time high of 2004.

In the film, the crestfallen images of Romanian children who have aged out of the system are woeful. According to Orphan Hope International, studies have revealed that up to 15 percent of these children commit suicide before they are 18 while 60 percent of the girls become prostitutes and 70 percent of the boys become hardened criminals.

Woven into the film’s stories are testimonies from experts warning of the damaging effects of institutional life. The length of time spent in conditions of social deprivation correlates with a wide array of psychological and developmental challenges. The average international adoption takes three to five years to complete leaving children, in their most formative years, languishing.

With steely determination and bravado Juntunen is taking Stuck on tour. To heighten national outrage, the documentary premiered in 60 cities over 80 days at the beginning of February. The goal is to garner one million petition signatures asking congress and global leaders to take action to change the adoption process. Powers, will be joining the tour and Beaulac, is currently making plans to participate.

Of the families who have successfully adopted, the film provides a slice of typical family life. Powers hugs her mother, Claudia, while the Oellrichs, three teens that were adopted from Hungary, engage in classic sibling banter. In their clip, Marc, Jeanette and Edy, For youdiscuss their dreams, the chance of having their photo land on a cereal box and engage in a spirited discourse about food.

According to their father, Harrison Oellrich, who recently joined Juntunen’s board, his children viewed participating in the film as a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.

“That 90-second clip captured the essence of my ‘family,’” Oellrich added. “Red tape, bureaucracy and politics should not deny any child — the right to a family.”

Reflecting on her daughter’s and Srey Powers accomplishments, Virginia Beaulac pondered, “They are remarkable girls and there are so many more children just like them who could lead amazing lives.”

For further information, visit bothendsburning.org.