(Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on local, Hanover families who have adopted internationally.)
Technically, they were now a part of the family.
A Ugandan court had given Desiree and Matt Williams, of Mechanicsville, guardianship over a pair of young Ugandan brothers, whose mother had died from a snakebite, whose father was a migrant farmer and whose elderly grandmother had fallen ill and could no longer take care of the boys.
But they would have to leave Africa without John and James. The United States would not allow the boys entry, and for two months, they would stay in their native Uganda while the Williamses worked to iron out visa troubles.
“Everything was done on the Ugandan side; we had birth certificates and passports and the irrevocable release and the guardianship order from the court saying we were their new parents, and the paperwork from the surviving parent saying that he couldn’t care for them,” Desiree Williams said. “We had everything in order.”
The boys finally came home in February and are now adjusting to their new life in America, according to their new mother, but their experience, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident.
“For us and a lot of the people we know, it was the U.S. Embassy and U.S. [Citizenship and Immigration Services] side that was the hardest part of the adoption,” she said.
A family from North Carolina went so far as to sell their house in America and move to Uganda so that they could legally adopt a child there. Williams knows of another family in Maryland currently going through visa troubles while trying to adopt a deaf girl from Uganda. Like the Williamses, the family had obtained guardianship but ran into difficulties with the U.S. because both of the girl’s parents were still alive, even though they had abandoned her because she was deaf, which in that culture meant she’d been cursed.
“She has a home and clothes and a family to love her and she’s been rejected by her first family, but because the way the adoption laws are to get visas, to get that petition to classify a child as your immediate relative, it’s very black and white and there’s a lot of kids that fall into the gray area and are being left behind,” she said.
In the Williamses’ case, during the interview process, John’s and James’s biological father was told that he would never see his children again and panicked, Williams said. This caused the U.S. government to issue a “not clearly approvable.” Eventually, the boys’ father went to a lawyer and had the issue ironed out and Williams said she promised to send him photos of the boys as they grow up.
Williams said that she and her husband had known for several years they wanted to adopt but had awaited a sign from above to continue on.
“We waited for Him to push us to the next step, open the next door and in May that’s exactly what He did,” she said.
Last May, the couple started the home study process and began contacting adoption agencies that specialized in keeping sibling groups together. They were granted guardianship of the boys in November and they were allowed entry into the U.S. in February.
Birthdates list James, the oldest, at 6 years old and John at 5 years old, but Williams is pretty sure that James is older than his documentation says. Birthdays aren’t really celebrated in Uganda; age there is often estimated based on the number of rainy seasons you’ve been through.
Their adoption will technically become finalized this August, because of a law that requires the children to stay with a host family for six months before the process is through.
Even though the legal process still isn’t fully complete, today, the boys are enjoying their new home.
The Williamses researched how to help make the boys comfortable. A Ugandan flag hangs on the wall, as a reminder of their native home.
“They talk about Uganda and we get to hear their stories, but they love it here,” Williams said. “They’re excited to have their own bikes – things they didn’t have before – going and picking out a pair of shoes was just the greatest thing ever.”
The oldest is beginning to read in English and is speaking the language well; the younger sibling is doing well with the language but is still working on reading skills.
The boys are also eating well, something Williams had worried about.
As for how they’re getting along with their new siblings, the Williamses’ four biological children – let’s just say the relationship is natural.
“They fight with their brothers and sisters like they’ve always lived in the same house, which lets me know that they’re adjusting well,” William said. “They’re willing to act out, they’re willing to argue and they’re also willing to ask for forgiveness.”
Though their process reached a happy conclusion, eventually, Williams said she plans to continue to help families trying to adopt internationally.
“I’m still fighting for these other families because I’ve seen the tears,” she said.
“For a child that thinks they’re going to go home with you and then all of a sudden can’t, it’s devastating.”
The recent plight of the family in Maryland triggered an emotional response in James, Williams said, who remembered what it was like to wait in limbo for a new family.
Staying involved in adoptions is also a way for Williams to “pay it forward,” in response to the outpouring of support her family received during the process.
“If someone hadn’t been there for me, it would have been really hard,” she said. “We want to make sure we do the same and pass that along to the next family so that we can be there to support them and be that encouragement and that shoulder to cry on when things get hard and be there to hold ‘welcome home’ signs when they get back.”