In the News

Ebola virus traps adoptive parents between hope, fear

News about the Ebola virus’s deadly run in western Africa has struck a nerve with many people, but for several couples in Williamson and Davidson counties who are in the midst of adopting children from the area, these days are particularly tough.

Parents who are adopting children through The Raining Season, a Spring Hill-based nonprofit that supports an orphan center in Freetown, Sierra Leone, are doing everything they can stateside to support the center as panic over the spread of the virus is growing. The harsh reality is they fear for the safe passage of their children to the U.S.

Tim McLaughlin, a Williamson County school board member and president of the organization, earlier this week said that he is convening the organization’s board members to determine whether the orphanage, which is housing 100 children, should go on lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.

The organization is also asking for donations to help the center stockpile food, diapers and water since travel has been restricted and it is too expensive and would take too long for a container ship to reach them.

The World Health Organization last week reported more than 686 confirmed deaths across four countries — Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria — as a result of the virus. Sierra Leone has reported the most confirmed cases of the virus, with 706. Of that number, 295 people have died, according to WHO reports.

These numbers don’t include the 500 or more cases that are suspected of being the fatal illness. Regardless, there are now about 200 more children in Sierra Leone who have been orphaned because of the virus, McLaughlin said.

“There’s almost this paralyzing fear,” said Megan James Garrett, who also works with The Raining Season. She and her husband, Josh, have adopted four children — ages 8, 7 and 4-year-old twins — and are anxiously awaiting their arrival in their Nashville home.

“Adoption is tough no matter whether it’s domestic or international,” she said. “Longer waits, and there are worst-case scenarios of them getting sick. We’ve had this overwhelming sense of helplessness. We make the phone calls, stay on the attorneys. We have this virus now. All we can do is support The Raining Season”

The Raining Season was created in 2008 by Erica and Jason Rust, who after many years of trying to adopt a child from Sierra Leone, were finally able to bring her home. The organization’s primary focus is to protect the family unit and help control the number of abandoned children in the country. There is a reported 340,000 orphans on the streets with 1 in 5 dying before the age of 5, McLaughlin said. It is the highest death rate for children from birth to 5 anywhere in the world, he added.

The sad statistics are the repercussions of a 10-year war that ended more than 10 years ago and devastated the country. There are still refugee camps, said Erica Rust, who lives in Spring Hill and has one biological child, four adopted children from Sierra Leone and is awaiting another. This country has had a hard time recovering, she added.

The orphanage was opened in 2009 in Freetown, the country’s capital, and employs 71. An adoption ban in the country was lifted in 2012. There are now more than 30 children, most living in Williamson County, who have been adopted from the center.

Five families are in the middle of the adoption process — with 15 orphans in limbo — either waiting for the embassy to release documents and/or to dispense visas for travel, Erica Rust said.

“It may be on a different continent … but it’s affecting our neighbors here,” she said.