Foreign Correspondent: April 21

Deborra-lee Furness speaks to ABC on international adoption, with focus on children adopted following the Vietnam War.


I’m reminded of a plot in The Time of our Lives in tonight’s episode of Foreign Correspondent, which looks at Australian-Vietnamese adults who were adopted here following the Vietnam War.

Imagine trying to find your identity among more than 90-million faces in Vietnam. Sophie English was born at the height of the conflict in Vietnam, and was one of the first war babies to be adopted by an Australian family. She was one of hundreds of children flown out to start new lives in the west. Foreign Correspondent’s Sally Sara joins Sophie on an emotional journey in search of family and a sense of belonging.

Sophie English could be walking past her mother in the streets of Saigon at any moment and not even know it. She was born into war, but has very little information about her family and why they gave her up. She was only ten months old, when the connections with her mother and motherland were broken.

“If you think about it too long it could make you cry because it’s such.. there aren’t words that could convey it.” – Sophie English, adoptee.

The pain of not knowing and not belonging is deep – it’s haunted Sophie for much of her life. She is grateful for the opportunity of growing up in Australia, but something is missing. She wonders about what life might have been.

“I might’ve been on the boats, fishing and I would be working really hard like them, but I would have that sense of family. I would probably have grandchildren by now, and I would have that deep need in me fulfilled.” – Sophie English, adoptee.

As the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon approaches, Sally Sara travels with Sophie into the Vietnamese heartland to meet a mother who relinquished a child during the war. It’s a conversation she has waited years to have.

“I hope you understand that it’s not your fault … We understand, it was the war and you did your best. We hope that we have done something good in our lives, so that our mothers would feel proud of us.” – Sophie English, adoptee.

More than four decades after she was adopted, she’s making peace with her past, but Sophie worries about future children who may be adopted into Australia from overseas.

The Federal Government is taking steps to re-open adoptions from several countries, including Vietnam. It’s a historic chance to address the trauma and mistakes of the past.

International adoption advocates like Deborah-Lee Furness, who speaks to Foreign Correspondent in New York, say it’s time to get adoption right.

“We have to change a whole culture and we have to make people step up and go okay let’s do this and you know when we need to do it by? Yesterday. Because every minute that that child is institutionalised or without a forever family they are being damaged.” – Deborra-lee Furness, Adopt Change.

8pm tonight on ABC.

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