Brothers and filmmakers Bobby and Kevin Downes certainly know what it’s like to experience the love a parent has for a child. A love that’s so strong that it would survive physical separation or even natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti.
Kevin Downes was already planning to adopt a child from Haiti when the earthquake hit in 2010. While he worked to get his child out of Haiti quickly after the tragic earthquake, he assisted over 75 other adopting families bring back their children from Haiti. The entire effort came to be known as the “Haiti 80”.
Bobby and Kevin Downes took that inspiration and created a new film called “Like Dandelion Dust”. This movie shows that sometimes parents show the love they have for a child by giving the child a better life – one that they could not give themselves. Beliefnet recently had a chance to talk to the filmmakers about the movie, their faith in God, and the incredible story of the “Haiti 80”.
Jana Melpolder: I'd like to start with the film so we can get a grip on “Like Dandelion Dust.” I thought it was very interesting and a great reflection on the love between a parent and a child. I was wondering why did you both choose this particular story to make a movie?
Bobby Downes: In 2001, our wives met the author of the book that this movie was adapted from. From that point, we pursued Karen Kingsbury. It took us about six years to finally get the rights to “Like Dandelion Dust.” We all felt a connection with the story of “Like Dandelion Dust” because Karen Kingsbury had written it. [She] adopted three boys from Haiti herself. My wife and I were considering adoption for a few years. It really did something for Kevin when we were developing the story at Karen Kingsbury’s home in Vancouver, Washington, and [we] got to spend some time with her and her family and her three boys. Something special happened in Kevin's heart.
Kevin Downes: When you make a movie, it’s such a long process [and] we wanted do a story that we truly were passionate about. Adoption was something we were both passionate about. My wife and I have struggled with infertility for nine years. When we met Kingsbury's boys we were in the process of exploring adoption but didn't know a lot about it. We came home from that trip and started exploring adopting from Haiti. “Like Dandelion Dust” kind of correlates with the process of Bob and I going through this phase of bringing our children home.
JM: I understand Bobby that you adopted a child from China.
Bobby: It was like a three week process going through all of the paperwork and in the middle of it we got introduced to her and got to take her back to our hotel room. From that point on, she was in our custody. We still had more paperwork before she received her US citizenship, but we did get to take a journey back to her orphanage to say goodbye. We learned that her parents had dropped her off into a park when she was seven months old. Police officers at the park had held onto her for a few days before they released her to the orphanage. What's interesting about her process was that she was a girl, and obviously in China having one child is still the law and they prefer boys. I think they knew that she had a hole in her heart (she had a physical condition called ADS). The problem is that she had two strikes against her. She's female and she is not perfect. Perfection is everything in China because of Buddhism.
JM: Is it seen as punishment to be born with a disability?
Bobby: That's a really great question. I don't think I have enough knowledge to answer that question. It sounds right, but one of the interesting things is that children in Buddhist cultures feel like they owe their parents a debt of some sort so you see a lot of child prostitution in order to make money for the family to buy a car or motorcycle. With our situation, our little girl was so young and she was immediately put into such great care. Her orphanage only had about 30 to 60 kids at anytime. We were there with other families who were coming over in the same schedule that we were. They were going to an orphanage that had 600 to 1,000 kids in them. We learned that 25 percent of all U.S. adoptions are from China. So we are adopting a tremendous amount of children from China. The process was very smooth. You could tell that our side of the system had done it many times, and you could tell that the Chinese side of the system had done it many times. It was very smooth.
JM: Kevin, could explain your process of adopting your son from Haiti. How was it different?
Kevin: Haiti was incredibly disorganized even before the earthquake. They have a multi-step process that is often quite dysfunctional and out of order. They will tell you one thing, meaning the Haitian government, and sometimes it’s not all factual. I don't think it’s done on purpose, but they are so unorganized. It was often, even before the earthquake, a two or three year process. Often times we were wondering, “Is this even going to happen?” We were about six to eight months away from getting him when the earthquake hit. Obviously we got him ten days after that happened. That was because their whole infrastructure was demolished.
We know the mom and three of [his] siblings are alive. We don't know if the dad and the oldest sibling are alive yet. The orphanage isn't really sure. They just believed that they needed to give their child up to give him a chance for life. They showed up at the orphanage and they dropped him off there. That was when he was three months old. Five months old is when we got a referral to him. The next day we found out that my wife was pregnant. It was quite an interesting experience, but we knew in our hearts that God had prepared us for this child, Benicio, and he was to be our son and there was just no question that was going to happen. We had no idea the journey we would be on to be able to bring him home. There were struggles and pains, especially right after the earthquake and the unknowing whether or not he was alive (because we had visited Haiti two months before the earthquake). We got to meet him for the first time in person, and got to hold him and spend time with him and really love him. Of course, saying goodbye was really hard. Then two months later the earthquake [hit and my] mind kind of [went] through a lot of things. Then 10 days later he was home. Adopting is something that we are both passionate about. It is a wonderful opportunity that God put in front of us and we are thankful and blessed that we were able to do it.
JM: That reminds me of the movie “Like Dandelion Dust” – how sometimes loving your child can actually mean giving your child up for adoption.
Bobby: It’s so courageous of a parent. I couldn’t imagine doing that. But it does show the love that parents do have for their children. When Karen Kingsbury wrote “Like Dandelion Dust” there was a verse out of I Kings 3:16. It’s about these two mothers that are vying for a child. They go before Solomon and he says, “Split the child in two; you can each have half.” The real mother says “No! Let the other woman have the child.” It’s like a modern day version of that parable; of the sacrificial love of a parent. There’s just nothing like it.
JM: Absolutely. Going back to the earthquake and the “Haiti 80”, what hurried the whole adoption process along? What helped the 80 American families?
Kevin: Well, it really was the earthquake. There was a lot of pressure put onto politicians and the state department. Ultimately the state department had to create a process to allow children into the country. They passed the Help Haiti Act of 2010. The orphans’ paperwork had to be submitted to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince. All of that happened literally within 48 hours before Benicio came home from Port-au-Prince. Even when we got home, there was still paperwork to be done, and legislation that had to be figured out, because international adoption had never been done this way before. You bring them home and they are on visas. Usually as soon as you bring them home they are U.S. citizens. In this situation, they are on an American visa, a special visa that was made just for the Haiti situation. We were finishing paperwork as it happened. Currently the adoption process has been finalized by the courts in California. We are still working with the state department on the citizenship issues, which is all of us who brought our children home. That should be resolved sometime in the next four or five months.
JM: You both will be back to the Haitian orphanage in May. What do you plan on doing?
Bobby: We are going with a company called Family Christian Store, which is the largest retailer of Christian goods in the United States. They are bringing a couple of their customers along. We are going along to help serve in Benicio's orphanage. We have also put together some behind-the-scenes clips of the rescue and adoption story with Benicio's adoption. The Family Christian Store sold that as a DVD prior to the theatrical release of “Like Dandelion Dust.” The proceeds from that are going to Benicio's orphanage.
JM: That's great! That ties into my last question. Obviously it’s going to take a long time for Haiti to rebuild. What do you both think is the best way that people can help Haitian leaders rebuild after the earthquake?
Kevin: To me there is obviously a lot of help needed on the ground. There are a lot of church groups and organizations that are doing missions trips. In my opinion, the biggest way to help is to get involved and do a missions trip. There is certainly a lot of need on the ground and getting the resources that were committed right after the earthquake into the right hands. I'm sure there are other ways to get involved without going over there, but that is one of the things we wanted to do was to try and give back. When we were in Miami bringing Benicio home, it was ten days after the quake. Part of my heart still wanted to go to Haiti to help out. His family is there, [and] we wanted to help as much as we can. I'm definitely looking forward to going back in May.
Bobby: An interesting thing about our movie “Like Dandelion Dust” is that we hit the two greatest fears that potential adoptive parents have regarding adoption. The greatest fear is that will the birth parents ever come and take my child away. The second fear greatest fear is will the child ever feel like my child. There is fear and risk anytime you have a relationship with someone. There is a risk of losing them, but that doesn't keep you from loving or having a relationship with someone just because risks are there. I think it’s no different when you walk into an adoption agency, it’s just a different set of risks you have to adjust to. The greatest thing about a relationship is, and is also the theme of the movie, is that love overcomes fear, [and] the bible says that perfect love overcomes fear.