By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
A Steiner Ranch couple is having to take drastic action in a further attempt to bring their adoptive son, Henry, home from Africa.
On Sept. 4, Sherri Smetana is boarding a plane by herself with a one-way ticket to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I’m pretty much staying until I can bring him back,” she said. “I need to make sure that he’s ok. I’m trying to parent a child from across the world and that’s impossible.”
The decision wasn’t easy. Staying behind will be her husband, Andy, and their 5-year-old twin girls, who just started kindergarten last week.
In July 2013, after going through the adoption process, the Smetanas became the legal parents of Henry, a 3-month-old baby boy who had been abandoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But just two months later, the DRC government suddenly and without warning closed its adoption office and stopped issuing all exit letters for adoptive children, saying it needed to look into its adoption process to ensure the safety of its children.
More than a year later, the couple is still waiting. Henry is now 17-months-old and despite having a U.S. Visa and all the necessary U.S. paperwork, the DRC refuses to grant his exit letter. The couple has been visiting Henry every six months since he was born, but they have now decided to take more drastic action.
Sherri leaves this week with her one-way ticket to Africa.
“I have half of my body that’s extremely excited about being able to see Henry,” she said. “The other part of me is having to leave my family here and not know when I’ll be able to come back. I’m used to being the stay-at-home mom. I have to explain to (my twin girls), I don’t know when I’m coming back.”
Why Sherri is going
Several factors led the family to decide that Sherri should go stay with Henry. One was the discovery that Henry had come down with malaria without them knowing about it.
The Smetanas learned of his illness only because they had hired a private doctor go check on him. In the last year, 11 adopted children who were also waiting for exit letters have died due to illness. Fortunately, Henry’s symptoms were not severe and he is now recovered, though he has still not received his vaccinations.
The Smetanas have also been having problems with the DRC adoption agency they have been using. Once Sherri arrives in the DRC, she plans to work with an attorney to transfer all of the adoption paperwork to her and end her contract with the agency.
Once in Africa
Once she arrives, Sherri will take Henry out of the foster home he’s been staying at and the two will spend some time getting reconnected. She plans to stay at a hotel across the street from the U.S. Embassy, along with another adoptive family going through the same situation. She said she feels like the area is relatively safe.
“It is a third-world country but I do feel like I will be fairly safe, especially being by the Embassy,” she said. “Both times I’ve gone I’ve felt very safe. You just have to be smart. I just have to be really aware of my surroundings. I never go anywhere by myself.”
For the past year, the DRC has been saying their adoption office will reopen Sept 21 and she is holding out hope that they will keep their word.
“We’re not sure if they will,” she said. “Things change daily over there.”
She said many adoptive families are also eagerly waiting for the DRC Parliament to reconvene. There is hope that they may write new laws for adoption and may lift the suspension on exit letters after that. Here in the U.S., the issue has reached the top levels of government – President Obama recently met with DRC President Joseph Kabila during the U.S. – Africa Summit and urged him to lift the suspension on exit permits.
As for how people can help, Sherri said they are just asking for prayer.
“At this point, we’re just asking for prayers for safety and for health and for peace and comfort while I’m gone and while our family is separated,” she said. “And that we could receive that exit letter quickly and that Henry and I can come home very quickly and that I’m not stuck there a long time.”