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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 13:36 GMT
Celebrating adoption in Thailand
By Gudrun Dalibor
BBC News, Bangkok

International adoption has gone on for many years, and although many foreign governments are not keen on it, there is one that actually celebrates it.

BBC producer Gudrun Dalibor, who adopted a Thai toddler nine years ago, has just been back to Thailand to take part in a series of events, organised by the Thai Government, for hundreds of adopted returnees and their new parents from around the world.

Adoptees and their new parents gather around the 'tree of life' for the welcome ceremony
Each of the 250 strings on the 'tree of life' represent one adoptee

"Is he Thai?" asked the doorman, pointing at our son, Joshua.

While not usually responsive to intrusive questions about our family, we didn't think it was unreasonable here.

A white European couple with their non-white son, checking in at Bangkok's five-star Dusit Thani Hotel. We nodded. "Many other families come today," he said.

By the end of the day, more than 600 people from 15 countries had gathered.

Some of the adopted Thai children now spoke only Finnish or German, Norwegian or English.

"So many Thai children from all over the world," said our son in amazement.

Tearful time

The welcoming ceremony that evening made me realise the week ahead would be full of emotion.

There would be moments of joy and sadness, and the sharing of experiences with others like us.

One nine-year old boy was crying, touched that his former carers remembered him after all these years

The event that still brings tears to my eyes, was our visit - along with some of the other parents and their children - to Pakkret Babies Home, on the outskirts of Bangkok.

This was where Joshua had spent the first two years of his life.

Many of the visiting children were overwhelmed.

One nine-year old boy was crying, touched that his former carers remembered him after all these years.

A little girl met up with her foster mother who had travelled miles to see her. Tears were flowing as they hugged each other.

Other children told me they felt a deep sense of shame having spent their early life in a children's home.

Looking for love

One room was filled with 30 baby cots.

Adoptees gather at the foot of the stage at the farewell ceremony
The youngest adoptees at the event in Bangkok were two years old and the oldest, in their mid-20s

I remembered clearly the day, nine years ago, when I picked up our son from one of these and held him for the first time.

There was almost complete silence as we stood outside the babies play area.

Eight or 10 sat in a little pen, some curious, others staring at us through sad eyes.

Our son stood motionless, looking back at the babies, deep in thought.

These children are relatively well looked after but how can a ratio of 12 babies to one carer adequately meet the needs of any child?

The staff left us in no doubt what they believe: children need a family who love them and if that means going abroad, so be it.

Asking questions

Several months earlier, at our son's request, we had traced his birth parents in Thailand.

His father had been overjoyed to hear the news that his son was well and living with a family.

We travelled to the north-east of the country to meet him at a small guest house, close to the border with Laos.

I saw a programme on TV about children being reunited with their birth parents and I always hoped that one day this would happen to me
Thon, Joshua's birth father

I watched closely as the man, called Thon, gazed searchingly at our boy.

There were no physical similarities between them.

I had carefully put together a photo album for him which showed pictures of Joshua growing up in England.

"I saw a programme on TV," Thon said, "about children being reunited with their birth parents and I always hoped that one day this would happen to me. And now this day has come."

And then the questions started: "How is he doing in school, what sport does he like, does he eat well?"

Joshua was happy to answer for himself.

He wanted to talk about his life and the big question he had been desperate to ask: "Why?"

But the complicated family reasons which had led to his being given away for adoption suddenly did not seem important anymore.

A common goal

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Joshua's grandfather, as he emerged from his house, took his grandson's hands in his, saying: "You don't look like a Thai boy at all."

The reply was swift: "I must have been living in England for too long."

Soon we were joined by other family members: grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins and neighbours.

The photo album was passed around and Joshua's relatives were delighted to learn that he eats Thai food at home in England, has Thai friends and learns about Thai culture.

It felt comfortable sitting on the floor, talking and laughing.

And then I understood.

Here were two families and, although far apart culturally and economically, we all had one common interest at heart: Joshua's welfare.

Fond farewell

How did they feel about him being with a foreign family?

"It's the best thing for him," they said.

"It is giving him the best opportunities, better chances in life."

And, anyway, they were hoping to see him again.

They asked if we would occasionally send a photograph and let them know how he was doing.

As we said goodbye, I saw tears in the eyes of the grandmother.

She put her arm around me as if to say: "I know you love him and you are looking after him."

The football we had bought that morning we gave to Joshua's cousins.

"We'll have another match next time," we promised.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 18 January, 2007 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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