Encounter in The Philippines
A meeting with a Filipina birth mother was more touching, more rewarding than this U.S. military woman expected. by Debb Peterson-McClary - (as published in OURS magazine, July/August 1991)
(ClickOkinawa.com Editor's note: Before we launch into Debb's account of her amazing experiences on her quest to the PI, let me set the stage for this story. We had adopted our daughter, Kinsey, from the Philippines and in the process of getting her adoption finalized - in Japanese Family Court, and to the satisfaction of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service - we found it necessary to obtain signatures on certain documents. Debb and Alma, the wife of a Navy man, took off on a hop to the PI with a fistful of papers, each of which needed to have the appropriate birth mothers' signatures. They were on a "mission of hope" - in hope of finding women who were God-only-knows-where amongst the hundreds of islands of The Philippines. "Pastor Joey" had a congregation with whom Debb and Alma had been in contact and they promised to help us find our mothers. To keep this story in proper perspective it is important to understand that Tarlac was where at least one of the birth mothers was thought to be residing. Tarlac, at that time, was an area pretty much Off Limits to unofficial travel by American forces and families because it was home to a large contingent of the Philippine communist community. Nevertheless, armed with papers, a few pesos and faith in the folks from Pastor Joey's church, they went off to accomplish their mission! S. A. Mick McClary)
A friend and I traveled from the U. S. military base on Okinawa to the Philippines in July of 1989. The main reason for our trip was to meet our adopted children's birth mothers. We also brought oodles of clothing and Bibles to deliver to a barrio (a poor neighborhood) near the church that was helping us locate the birth mothers.
The Philippine Islands are so different from the world we know. In all its destitution the country still manages to hold on to its beauty. The countryside is lush and green all year round and the people are some of the friendliest.
However, because of their living situation, lacking basic necessities that we take for granted, some people there turn to money-making schemes that we would consider immoral and totally unacceptable.
Click on the photo to see enlarged image
There's a saying, "Destitution leads to prostitution," which I believe to be true. Another saying is, "Peso say so." In other words, you can get anything you want in the Philippines as long as you have a few pesos. Services that are outrageously expensive in the U.S. are cheap there.
Attitude change required
When you get to the Philippines you have to go through a big attitude change. The desperate economic situation of many people means that the crime rate is high. It's best not to carry a purse, so I didn't. I carried only the things that I absolutely had to, like my military I.D. (identification card) and only as much money as I thought I'd need for that day.
Being in The Philippines was a big emotional roller-coaster. I was so eager to drink in every little thing. I wanted to remember all the wonderful things about the country and its people so I can share them with Kinsey some day. But every time we were out walking among the children of the barrios I realized how much I have and how lucky I am to have been born an American. Some of these families don't have anything but each other. Some are lucky to have a shack made out of scrap wood.
A lot of the families don't have any regular work so they'll do just about anything to make a few pesos a day for food. There are lots of street vendors who are quite pushy and they can spot an American tourist a mile away!
Finding our birth mothers
The day after we arrived I sent a telegram to my daughter Kinsey's birth mother, asking her to come to the church so that we could meet. I also wired her the bus fare since I knew she was very poor. I had no idea how long it would take her to get the telegram but by Saturday afternoon I was feeling disappointed. I figured she would not be coming. In the meantime, I began working on finding birth mothers for other families who also needed their signatures to complete Japanese documents, under U.S. Immigration guidelines.
We found one birth mother right away and were able to get all of the paperwork done. My traveling partner also found her (adopted) son's birth mother and we were elated.
On Saturday morning we went to the church to see the barrio children who come every Saturday. The church has a children's service and a puppet show and then they feed the children. The day we were there they had chicken rice soup.
The children just begged for our attention and always ran to wherever there was a camera ready to be clicked. I didn't see a shy child anywhere. On some Saturdays the church feeds up to 400 children.
On Monday, as we were eating breakfast, the waiter told us we had guests. It was Kinsey's birth mother and her friends. I was so relieved to see her, not to mention happy, nervous, and tons of other emotions.
I had just about given up on her coming, but as it turned out, she (hadn't received) my telegram until Sunday night. She had to borrow the bus fare from a neighbor since my money-gram hadn't arrived yet. As soon as she got the telegramshe had made arrangements for friends to watch her three other children: a 5-year old girl, 3-year old boy, and a 1-year old boy.
Happy to meet each other
I will refer to Kinsey's birth-mother as "T." She lives in Manila near the city dump (in an area) called "Smokey Mountain." [see video at end of this story] She lives in a wooden shack and works at odd jobs. Much to my relief, she seemed genuinely happy to meet me in person. We had written to each other a few times but had never met. Soon after they sat down with us for some breakfast she pulled a letter from me out of her purse. It was tattered and worn; I could tell that she had carried it everywhere. She told me, "I am very proud for my neighbors that you write to me."
While I was with her, T always called me, "Miss Debbie Lynn." I normally do not like the name but I enjoyed it coming from her. From the beginning, I could tell that she was happy that Kinsey was with us and that she in no way wanted her back. That was a relief because there had been so many rumors (on Okinawa and throughout the INS and the press) about Filipino babies having been kidnapped.
I explained to T that I needed her signature on the Japanese Adoption Registration Form, and she signed it without hesitation. She said that she would do anything that I needed her to do to complete Kinsey's adoption and her American citizenship. T's English was fairly good, but when she got emotional she had a tough time finding the right words.
We had already made plans for that day to look for three other birth mothers. I explained that to T. She was invited to stay at the church until the next day when we would all go to Manila to get a certified copy of Kinsey's birth certificate. The (people at the) church told me how many pesos to give to T so that she and her friends could buy their meals. I later found out that instead of eating they got her a new dress and a few other things. We were really impressed with how much they got for such little money. The church ended up giving them meals.
The trip to Manila
The next morning we picked up T and her friend for the two-hour drive to Manila. They seemed to feel more at ease with us than they had the day before. T's friend was very shy but she did eventually talk and smile.
On the way to Manila I was able to get to know T more. She told me that when Kinsey left - the year before - her 5-year old daughter asked where she went. T told her and her daughter's reply was, "I want to go live McClary's in the United States too." It nearly broke my heart. T was hoping that we could adopt her baby who is always ill. She named him John Patrick McClary. The (foreign adoption) laws have changed and we can no longer adopt Filipino children.
After we had secured Kinsey's birth certificate we decided that my friend and I would go to a "real" mall - Okinawa doesn't have one - and the others would eat lunch. Since we were in Manila solely for my benefit I paid all expenses. While they were eating I bought T some diapers and pins for her baby and also (bought some) outfits for her kids.
After they enjoyed a nice lunch, we walked around.On one corner was a colorful fruit stand. T asked if Kinsey liked, "these," as she pointed to a bunch of grapes. I said, "Oh, yes, she likes everything!"
Then she said to me, "I've never tasted a grape." Needless to say I bought her a bunch. She saved most of them to take to her family.
At the time, I handled it all very well but when I got home and told my husband the story, it made me cry. She is 35 years old and had never eaten a grape, and I am 33 years old and have everything I need and then some.
Before we were to start our two-hour journey back to the motel we saw a rather nice restaurant and decided to have dinner. We thought it would also be a nice place to say good-bye to T.
She got very emotional while trying to tell me how happy she is that we adopted her child. She put her hands (over) her heart and with tears in her eyes said she was very glad that one of her children has a bright future. This woman was so kind and she had given me the most precious gift that you can give another person, and I felt so bad for her. I hugged her good-bye and promised her pictures and letters. They left with smiles on their faces and they really seemed to have enjoyed spending the day with us
I really went through emotional turmoil. I regretted that I could not do more for her; to somehow make life easier for her and her children. I felt sad but I was glad that I had gotten the chance to meet her and spend some time with her.
Epilogue: In November, 1989, T gave birth to a baby girl. She named her, "Debbie Lynn." In May, 1990, Debbie Lynn died from respiratory complications from measles. Kinsey got her U.S. citizenship - also in May.
This is Part 1 of a 3-part YouTube presentation. Part 2 Part 3