by Craig Juntunen
The STUCK bus travels in the middle of the night, driving off to the next city after we pack up and say our goodbyes to the many wonderful people who created yet another unique experience.
I usually sit up front in the seat next to Ron for a little bit as we pull out of town and head to our next city before I write this blog. The lights in the distance provide an illuminating backdrop for reflection on the accomplishments and meaning of every night.
Our interaction with each community has become much more than a screening of STUCK. It is difficult to describe, and those that have been part of the tour, including me, have tried to put into words the human connectivity that happens. A few hundred individuals who for the most part don’t know each other, quickly form a bond and enjoy a distinguishable energy of substance and significance that has been formed by introducing new information. Parties are causal…this is much different. Our events are intensely interesting because of the people who show up.
We had a very full theater in Cupertino and once again the people created the magic. From the beginning the energy in Cupertino was over the top and once again it was because of the people.
We have had a great experience working with the various theater managers. Everyone seems to understand our purpose and has been willing to rearrange the rules to make the event special. Last night we were in the Blue Light Cinema, owned by Art and Jackie Cohen, who really extended themselves and their hospitality to set a new standard for the customer service we have been benefiting from. Art and Jackie were all in, and the outcome was an unforgettable evening. Art and Jackie’s adopted son, Zimin, is from Russia. I had the privilege to meet Zimin Cohen and spend some time with him and his brother. The Cohen family is just one more brilliant point of light telling us that love grows kids.
Srey and Claudia Powers attended the event and significantly added to the “Love grows kids” theme. Srey is one of the adoptees we showcase in the bench scenes in the film. If you know the scene: Srey and her mom say they love each other, hug and then laugh about how they may not resemble one another. It is a very touching moment of the film as it is as beautiful as it is authentic. Srey is another one of thousands upon thousands of positive stories that underscore how a family gives a child the gift of encouragement. Today, Srey is an accomplished collegiate athlete, a circumstance that would never have materialized had she spent her entire childhood trapped in an orphanage.
Srey and Zimin represent the positive outcome in the haves and have not proposition we showcase in our message.
Last night, like every night, is about life…kids’ lives and the consequences of love and the consequences of neglect. The other side of Srey and Zimin is the story of Fenet Winikoff as shared by her mother Rachael. In Rachael’s words:
Thank you for everything you are doing for the children. There are so many.
This is Fenet Winikoff, may her memory be a blessing. She was abandoned at a medical center in Lege T’Afo shortly after her birth. We got her referral in November 2011. In January 2012 we traveled to Ethiopia for court and to assume custody of her. In our update a couple of weeks earlier, we heard she had been in the hospital for a cold but that she was fine by then.
Our court date was January 23, 2012. We arrived on January 21, 2012 and went immediately to the orphanage. When we got there it was obvious to me that she was very sick so I insisted we take her to the hospital. They thought we were crazy and that she wasn’t that sick (they are all sick) and why did we care about this one child? But they let us take her even though she was not legally our daughter until 2 days later. I did not realize how skinny she was until I changed her diaper. Where her bottom should have been there was basically nothing. It was just a flap of skin. She was 5.5 months but less than 3 kilos.
After she became our daughter, she got even sicker. Her lungs filled up with fluid and then we took her to another hospital because they supposedly had a ventilator for her but they did not. There were 20 kids in a tiny room waiting for the ventilator and the whole hospital smelled like death. It was hard for us to take her from one hospital to the next because they wanted us to pay them before we left but no one could figure out the amount. There were like 10 people crowded around. They couldn’t figure out why we cared so much. We just threw money at them and took her. We went to another hospital. The ambulance driver also took money from us and someone stole our camera so we have very few pictures of her. These are good people but they are so poor. They are very poor.
The last hospital was the cleanest but they also did not have a ventilator. They didn’t even have an oxygen meter so they just pumped the oxygen into her and I could tell it was rupturing her lungs. I screamed at them to turn it off but they ignored me so I reached over and turned it off myself. Fenet died in our arms a few hours later on January 31, 2012. We whispered in her ear that we loved her and that we were her mommie and daddy until she finally lost consciousness.
Fenet was truly beautiful in all ways. Even though she was sick, she was completely aware right up until her final hours. She had enormous eyes and she looked right at us. She was in so much pain. That was obvious but she really looked at me as if she were saying “Why is this happening to me? Please help me.” She even found comfort nursing with me (I didn’t have any milk but she loved to suck at least until the final days).
I think Fenet would have lived if we could have gotten her to America. They didn’t have an infant oximeter anywhere in Addis. And of course there was no ventilator. The oxygen equipment they used was filthy. And when they put needles into her arms they used no anesthetic or cleanser. There was no toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms of the hospital (these were private hospitals).
Fenet was buried 10 hours after she died. I wanted to see her in the morgue but they made me leave because I wanted to hold her tiny body. I was also hysterical. But we were in the parking lot and I saw them taking a tiny body out of the morgue, wrapped in a sheet, and put it in the trunk of a car. I knew it was our baby so I asked our driver to follow the car and we went to a graveyard on a hillside which is beautiful with goats and other living things surrounding it. We talked our way into the graveyard. There were tiny coffins lined up outside the graveyard and they put her tiny body into one of them and carried it to a hole that was already dug and ready to go. I asked for them to put her lifebook (a book I made with pictures of our family) into the grave with her but they didn’t so I put it in the ground next to the coffin. I was the only one who spoke at the funeral and I just told her that I loved her.
When we got home we realized that she had no gravestone or marker of any kind. When I go back to Ethiopia I will not be able to visit her grave because I won’t be able to find it. I contacted the agency and I asked if we could put a gravestone on her grave. She had no dignity in this life—she never even had a chance. I just wanted to give her some dignity in her death. But they contacted the people in country who said no.
Not the most succinct story. But it’s hard to write about this and it breaks my heart over and over again to think about it. So here it is. Thank you, Craig, for helping these children. Like you said, even if one child of the 10 million beautiful kids who need families can find a family because of STUCK—it’s all worth it.
I thought about it all…Zimin, Srey and Fenet…and the consequences for all of the children who are STUCK as we drove up the freeway with the lights in the distance. Even though San Francisco is minutes up the road, time has lost meaning as I drift in thought. It seems this night could go on forever…