Adopting Jesús, Chapter II: He Called Me “Papá”

It takes a village to adopt a child in Venezuela: Las Villas de los Chiquiticos AKA Fundana

Illustration by Platanohay

The collection of small houses sits on a steep hill. They look like a cluster of villas with a spectacular mountain view in the distance. Several are arranged around a central courtyard, while others are a hike up a concrete path surrounded by lush vegetation. Both staff and residents typically identify the place with the moniker “Las Villas,” an abbreviated version of “Las Villas de los Chiquiticos”—itself an informal name for the organization Fundana. This is the orphanage where I first saw Jesús. It was July of 2013. He was two and a half. El Avila that day was lit up by spectacular sunshine, and the air had the unmistakable softness of an afternoon in Caracas. The sound of children’s laughter carried across the courtyard. Jesús giggled infectiously as he jumped on a trampoline with another kid who chased him in circles. I first approached him as he stood inside a toy house playing with a toy kitchen.

That was the day that I had to decide along with Isabel, my wife at the time who is now a friend, whether we wanted to become the parents of a child we’d only seen a single photo of. For years I’d wondered how a person makes the decision to bring an unknown child into their life. That was the day I understood: you don’t make the decision, the circumstances make the decision for you.

Jesús held my hand. He spoke a lot, I couldn’t understand much. But he repeatedly said one word that stood out: papá. The circumstances had decided. 

It was the day I began to learn an untold number of things about parenthood   and about adoption in Venezuela. It was also the day I really started learning how to wait. We would wait an entire year before seeing Jesús again due to legal wranglings we did not fully understand. 

For years I’d wondered how a person makes the decision to bring an unknown child into their life. That was the day I understood: you don’t make the decision, the circumstances make the decision for you.

We also started to understand some of the myths about adoption. The first was the idea that Jesús instinctively thought I was his dad. “At that age, they all say that,” one Fundana staffer told us. “Every man is papá and every woman is mamá.” By the spring of 2014, we were spending weekends with Jesús and his sister Kimberly, who would go on to live with us for a few months before deciding to return to Fundana.

Those weekend visits were like a week’s worth of parenting condensed into 48 hours. We would pick them up on Friday afternoon, spend the weekend at parks, malls, or movie theaters, and then drop them back off on Sunday. Jesús alone had more energy than everyone in the house. He would stay awake playing until well after I was yawning and would be chatting with me well before I was awake. He’s one of the most intellectually curious people I’ve ever met. It was evident at that age. “Is this your house? Why? What for?” he would ask, and then repeat the same cycle of questions about something else. Jesús was a happy child who could laugh about anything. Sometimes he would be sad when it was time to go back to Fundana, big tears splashing down his face. But other times it didn’t seem to matter. “Fundana? Again?” he once asked me, genuinely baffled by the back and forth. 

That December, a judge issued a foster care ruling that made us temporary legal guardians. A few days later we went to Fundana for what turned out to be a ceremonial goodbye for a group of children moving in with foster families. Jesús, just shy of four years old, was bouncing off the walls, oblivious to the tears being shed around him. But as we left, he offered one nod to the gravity of the moment. He stood on the wall that overlooked the parking lot and Avenida Rio de Janeiro below, puffed out his chest and announced he was leaving. 

“Me moy,” he said

What he meant to say was “me voy,” but wasn’t yet able to pronounce all the consonants. It’s still a running family joke.

P.S. I would not have met my son if it had not been for Fundana, which has for decades done exceptional work in helping build families. Please consider supporting them

Brian Ellsworth lives in Washington, DC. He lived for 18 years in Venezuela, mostly as a correspondent for Reuters. He’s thrilled to be back in his home town and is still overjoyed that the adoption was successful.

Chapter I: Finding Joy In a Hopeless Place
Chapter III: Suing My Son’s Mother
Chapter IV: They Made the Adoption Possible
Chapter V: “He’s my kid. Nobody believes me”
Chapter VI: Immigrating to Lady Liberty
Epilogue: Becoming Gringozuelan

Brian Ellsworth

Brian Ellsworth with a Washington based journalist and communications advisor. He spent 18 years in Venezuela, principally as a correspondent for Reuters.