Cradle adoption therapist Mandy Jones has a lot going on. In addition to her counseling practice at The Cradle and her work with families as a certified Theraplay® therapist, this past winter she ventured all the way to Vietnam with The Ties Program. Established in 1994, Ties is a heritage journey program that helps international adoptees and their families visit and learn about their home country and their birth story. Mandy was only gone for a week, but during her stay she learned so much about the heritage journey process. All of us at The Cradle loved hearing about her trip, so we thought we’d share the highlights of her experience.
After learning about The Ties Program, Mandy decided she would combine her love of travel and her passion for assisting adoptive families by applying to be a program assistant. She got the position, and after a bit of training and a lot of packing, she jetted off to Hanoi to help run her first program. There, she joined one other program assistant and the program’s Vietnamese partner agency, Tonkin Travel, to manage the itinerary and help the families have memorable visits.
The number of families participating in each Ties trip to Vietnam varies year to year. Families have the option to spend two weeks and visit both the southern and northern part of Vietnam (Vietnam Ties Flagship Program), or spend one week visiting either the south or north.
For Mandy’s first voyage, she and her co-staff supported seven families as they explored northern Vietnam. Throughout the trip, Mandy and the other assistant acted as support staff, making sure hotel arrangements went smoothly, transportation was taken care of, belongings were remembered and that everyone was feeling comfortable. They were available 24/7 if any issues arose – from lost items to complicated emotions. Mandy and her co-staff also ran process groups for the kids and parents to help them work through whatever the experience might be bringing up for them, from unexpected meetings to unforeseen emotions. Mandy’s work was just as much about emotional support as it was about logistical needs.
Among sightseeing and taking in the culture, The Ties Program sets up “adoption connection days” for each of the families. On these days, the families split off and visit orphanages, villages and hospitals to learn about the children’s individual birth stories. When possible, The Ties Program tries to arrange meetings with birth and/or foster families.
Throughout adoption connection day, the staff will split up their time between families and make sure they are there for both the parents and children. The staff members bring gifts for the nurses, hospitals and orphanages who host them (a commonly practiced tradition in Vietnam), and remember to take a lot of pictures. All of this takes stressors off the families, ensuring the parents and children are able to be fully present in the moment.
Mandy hopes to head back for another Vietnam trip this December. The Ties Program prefers that she travel to Vietnam at least three times before switching to another country the program visits. This way, she will be well acquainted with the customs, culture and the Vietnamese who work with Ties.
Through her experience as an adoption therapist and her time with The Ties Program, Mandy knows a thing or two about homeland journeys. Click here for some recommendations and things she believes families should think about before planning a trip.