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Playlist: Tiny Spark's Portfolio

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Corruption in International Adoption

From Tiny Spark | Part of the Tiny Spark series | 19:35

Tiny Spark takes a look at a seemingly good idea - international adoption - and explores its unintended consequences: corruption, fraud and child trafficking. Our story coincides with the release this month (Dec, 2011) of Erin Siegal's new book on adoption fraud in Guatemala.

Pearlhazelmommy_small In our inaugural episode, Tiny Spark takes a look at corruption in international adoption. Our story conincides with the release of Erin Siegal's latest book, "The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala 1987-2010". The book contains memos, emails, and cables from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala; correspondence which has never been released, until now.

The focus of our segment is Guatemala. We speak to adoptive mother, Jennifer Hemsley (photo included in attachments).  When she and her husband began the process of adopting a girl from Guatemala, they suspected fraud and feared the infant may have been kidnapped. “We were very concerned that [Hazel's] mother might be looking for her,” Jennifer tells us.

Hemsley says she could’ve ignored her own suspicions and adopted the girl anyway. “But I couldn’t do that, “Hemsley said. “That wouldn’t have been right.”

So Hemsley undertook a years-long quest for the truth. Along the way, she endured the scorn of a U.S. adoption agency, her sanity was questioned by Guatemelan lawyers and officials, and many American adoptive parents turned on her.

Hemsley’s story is a complex, nuanced exploration of what it means to make “right” choices on behalf of a girl, in another country, who needs a home.

We also speak with Erin Siegal, author of the new book, Finding Fernanda (photo included in attachments). Siegal’s book investigates corruption in Guatemala’s international adoption system.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Siegal gained access to a trove of cables from the U.S. embassy in Guatemala, which reveal the extent of the American government’s concerns about aiding and abetting child trafficking. The entire collection of cables is being released this month in a 718-page book, "The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala 1987-2010".

Siegal tells us, “The cables show that there was always some corruption, there were always women selling their children, and the embassy knew that. There were always imposter birth mothers showing up and relinquishing children that weren’t biologically related to them. And there were always financial incentives that did drive this corruption and the Embassy did know that.”

This episode combines an emotional narrtative with riveting investigative reporting. It gives listeners an appreciation for the moral and ethical complexities behind international adoption.

About the host:

Amy Costello has spent the past decade reporting on some of the most pressing human rights issues of the day. For four years, she was the Africa Correspondent for The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, Public Radio International and WGBH Boston. Her stories were heard by millions of listeners across the United States and around the globe.  She has reported for National Public Radio, PBS television, and the BBC World Service. Her PBS television story for FRONTLINE/World, Sudan: The Quick and the Terrible was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Amy was a producer at National Public Radio for three years before she moved to Africa.  She has worked as an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, her alma mater. From her base in New York, Amy has continued to report on human rights issues, moderating podcasts for UNICEF, Human Rights Watch and the recent PBS television miniseries, Women, War & Peace. She also reported a follow-up story for FRONTLINE/World on the PlayPump, a celebrated idea designed to “do good”.  Along the way she uncovered myriad problems with the technology, an experience which would become the impetus for Tiny Spark.

In praise of "Lost Causes"

From Tiny Spark | Part of the Tiny Spark series | 14:56

In this edition of Tiny Spark, we explore what happens when someone refuses to accept the idea of a "lost cause" and instead gets down to the work of transforming a troubled life.


We explore what happens when someone refuses to accept the idea of a "lost cause" and instead gets down to the work of transforming a troubled life.

We hear the story of former executive, Mark Goldsmith, who was asked to volunteer as Principal for the Day at a New York City public high school. The self-described "wise guy" agreed but told organizers, "I want a really tough school." So they sent him to Rikers Island, New York City's largest jail. Goldsmith spent the day sharing with young inmates some of the lessons he'd learned in the world of business. "I created an analogy between General Motors and a drug cartel," he explained. "And I showed them that the Kingpin who heads up the drug cartel is no different from the Chairman of the Board of General Motors."

The students were enthralled by Goldsmith's presentation and officials invited him to return the following year.  Goldsmith later formed Getting Out & Staying Out, a nonprofit that brings successful leaders to Rikers Island to speak with inmates. The organization encourages inmates to start planning for their release while they're still in prison and provides a range of services to the young men once they're released.

One of those men is Phillip Whyte, a 24-year-old former inmate who heard about Getting Out & Staying Out when he was serving time for a robbery conviction. Whyte, who was raised by a single mother, tells us that Goldsmith is a father figure to him now. "Even though I'm 24, I have way more learning to do," he explains. "And sometimes you have to talk to a knowledgeable person who is successful in what they do." Whyte will soon complete his Associate's Degree and interns at the hip hop label Wu Tang Management.