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How an email and a phone call from two listeners spark a documentary

By Sasha Aslanian

This project came about as the result of two listeners who contacted American RadioWorks with stories about adoption. In 2004, P.J. Whiskeyman sent ARW a short email with the subject line: "Needs Investigating." She described her unsuccessful experience trying to adopt using an adoption facilitator. I called her up and was intrigued by her story about traveling to Ukraine and coming home empty-handed. The Internet seemed to have both helped and hurt her. It's how she got into the unfortunate deal in the first place, but also how she got the word out to a listserv of other adoptive parents and began networking with others who had encountered similar problems. Michael Montgomery did extensive reporting on the story and interviewed other families and experts and the owner of the company and produced the story that eventually included Whiskeyman.

The other listener who contacted ARW with an adoption story was Becky Helgesen. She called to say her family was planning to travel back to China to visit the orphanage where her daughter had spent her first four years and she wondered if it was a story we'd be interested in. Becky talked readily about how her daughter's early experience had affected her, and I was drawn in. Leah's story would put a face on one of the thousands of Chinese daughters brought into this country every year. And her story was unique in that she was adopted when she was a little older, almost four. The family agreed to bring an audio diary with them to China, and I interviewed them over a year and a half, during the months leading up to and after the trip.

This is how the best ideas get started. Stories that move and interest others, but are also hooked to some larger issue, in this case, the burgeoning trend of international adoption. The 50-year time span dating back to Korea's post-war adoptions gave us a chance to examine the history of the practice, and what some of these first adoptees have to say about it. We wanted to hear from birth mothers, so we contacted filmmaker Laurie Stern, who had interviewed numerous birth mothers around the time she adopted her own son, Diego, from Guatemala. Laurie and Diego traveled back to Diego's birthplace with us to see Isabel, Diego's birthmother. The story would eventually center on Diego learning a difficult truth about his birth family. And we tapped Public Insight Journalism to ask listeners all over the country to send their stories. This Web site is an attempt to document the rich variety of experiences that make up international adoption in the 21st century.

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