20 March 2018 - OKAY.com Manager Louise Garnaut does not stop at finding the perfect home for her clients: she is equally committed to helping families joined together by adoption or fostering rediscover the meaning of “home”.
Since 2013, she has served as Chairperson at the Adoptive Families of Hong Kong (AFHK), a non-profit volunteer-run charitable organisation made up of people connected by the common experience of adoption or fostering. Below, she talks to OKAY.com about her personal experience with adoption, the challenges she faces in her role, and the changes she hopes to see in society.
OKAY.com: What inspired you to get involved with AFHK?
Louise: When I’m experiencing a challenge or an unfamiliar situation, my natural inclination is to look for support. So, when I adopted my son, I wanted to connect with a like-minded community, especially since we’re an interracial family that has been joined together by adoption. I also wanted to educate myself about how adoption impacts a child of a different race.
Since joining AFHK as a member in 2008, I’ve learned a lot more about what it can be like for children who have come from difficult circumstances. Children arrive at adoption due to loss. They lose a family or a culture, before they gain a new family. On the other hand, adoptive parents arrive at adoption with a gain. My journey over the past decade since we came together as a family has been full of surprises and challenges.
OKAY.com: What are some challenges you face in your role?
Louise: Finding a balance between my responsibilities at AFHK, my busy schedule as a property agent, and as a mother of two. Because we’re an all-volunteer organisation, it can be difficult to manage people’s expectations. People have high expectations of what we should be doing and we are a small group of volunteers trying to make a difference to the community through regular family events, monthly discussions, film nights, talks and professional conferences—all on a tight budget. And with people coming and going as they always do in Hong Kong, finding volunteers is that much harder.
Being relatively reserved, many local families are reluctant to talk about adoption, which can cause problems. We also want to recruit more volunteers to work at a community level, within both English and Cantonese-speaking communities.
Thankfully, we have a great backend system that was specifically designed for NGOs, which has been very helpful in running AFHK. I’m fortunate enough to also have a great backend system and database at OKAY.com, which has allowed me to serve my clients from home when needed, and to be highly productive with my time. This gives me more time with my family, and to be active with AFHK.
OKAY.com: How do you manage to stay on top of work, and your role at AFHK?
Louise: I work with a team in both places, so there are people to call on when help is needed. When I’m unable to attend AFHK events, someone will always stand in for me. As a property agent, when you are working on a sale, no one goes home until the documents are signed, so I have to build flexibility into my commitments. Fortunately, we have great team spirit at OKAY.com, with team members who proactively offer to help when they know I’m in a tight spot. Knowing that there are others on whom I can rely on helps me stay on top of my various responsibilities.
OKAY.com: How does the AFHK fill existing adoption-related social service gaps?
Louise: We work with both local and international families through education and providing information that can help parents and professionals in the community understand the difficulties of children who’ve had a less smooth start in life. We support adoptive and foster parents who are facing situations that are more difficult than anticipated, and we also help families and professionals to connect with each other.
OKAY.com: What kind of change would you like to bring about?
Louise: As an interracial family, people often stare at us—I’ve even had a woman ask me how much I paid for my son. The staring questions the validity of us as a family, my validity as a mother to my son, and my son’s place in the family. The situation is improving, and I hope to see adoption understood and accepted unquestionably in Hong Kong, and, within the local community, greater support and acceptance for people touched by adoption or by foster care.
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