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To Haiti with love

DISCOVERY: Judith Craig wanted to find out more about her Haitian identity

IN 1979, a baby girl was found abandoned in a ditch in Haiti. At four months old, she was adopted by a white Canadian couple.

But despite her supportive family, Craig felt she wouldn’t be complete until she had read for herself the very first chapter of her life.

More than three decades later, she took the first steps in a journey to discover her roots.

Now 33, Judith Craig of southwest London, told The Voice what inspired her to delve into her past, even though she wasn’t sure of what she would find.

Her story was captured on camera by Canadian filmmaker Sonia Godding Togobo. The finished product, Adopted ID, will be screened at the BFI on Sunday, May 11, as part of the 9th annual Images of Black Women Festival.

Craig said: “What my mom did, which I think all adoptive parents should do interracial or not, is explain my story so I always knew I was adopted.

“But there’d always been that part of me that was missing. It is something so vivid in my head; this hole that nobody could fill except my birth family.”

ADVENTURE

In 2005, the fully-qualified social worker moved to the UK as a young graduate looking for adventure, setting into motion a chain of events that would dramatically shape her life.

For a start, she met Godding Togobo, also Canadian, through mutual friends and before long, the pair hit it off.

“We connected and got to know one another,” explained Craig. “When I started telling my story, her filmmaker head went off and she said it would be an amazing film to make. I had always wanted to go to Haiti but for some reason it had never quite happened, and then it all started to come together”

In October 2007, the pair spent a month on the Caribbean island as part of a quest to find Craig’s birth family.

It was no small task, particularly as Craig had neither a date of birth nor a family name. To raise information, Craig had to do a public appeal through the Haitian media, exposing herself to hoaxers looking for an opportunity.

Recalling the experience, she said: “On the emotional side, as a social worker I knew I would need to protect myself so I had counselling before I went.


APPEAL: Judith on the radio in Haiti

“The most daunting thing was doing it on film and in such a public way. But I firmly believe timing is everything. As much as I’d wanted to go earlier, I’m glad that I didn’t go with a group or as part of a mission. The first time had to be personal journey for myself.

“I still get chills when I think about it. It was the most incredible experience.”

LOVE COUNTRY

While Craig remains tight-lipped about whether or not she found her birth family, the visit was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Haiti.

She added: “I truly can say I fell in love with my country. Haiti has been downtrodden for so many years but it really is beautiful.

“I was worried about how I’d be accepted as a returnee but the people were so warm and welcoming. I was overwhelmed by the way they championed me and, yes, challenged me to become a champion for Haiti’s children.”

Craig was determined to make good on her promise and upon her return to the UK, went all out to embrace her Haitian identity. She helped set up United Haitians UK, which she now co-chairs.
It was through her work with the charity in the wake of the devastation caused by the earthquake in 2010, that she met her husband Handel, who is of Haitian and Grenadian heritage. They married a year later.

“It’s so cheesy, I know. I started a love affair with Haiti and it ended in a real life love affair,” Craig said with a laugh.


FILM: Judith’s journey has been documented by Sonia Godding Togobo

“I was wary about dating Haitian men because we could be biologically connected, but even though I wasn’t looking for love it happened. That was the blessing that came out of the earthquake. Our marriage has opened me up so much more to my country. We share such a passion to develop it and getting people to come back to Haiti and use their skills to uplift it.”

Craig is now also a mother to two daughters Handerline, 11, and Afrykah-Amaya, 2.

“I literally tick every box imaginable when it comes to adoption: transracial/transnational/foundling adoptee, birth mother and mother to a child who is not biologically mine,” shared Craig.

With her experiences as both a social worker and a mother who was adopted and has adopted, she has strong views on transracial and transnational adoptions, which is no surprise.

“It is such a heated debate and it will continue to be especially as more and more celebrities choose to adopt in this way.

COMPLEXITY

“I do think it’s important that people talk to ‘us’ as the ones who lived and experienced it. Adoption in itself is a complex thing to go through because, let’s not forget, there’s a reason they are there. When you add in the transracial experience it’s a whole other kettle of fish. I would caution people: do not enter it naively. If you can’t handle being stared at, or learning about another culture and bringing that into your family, do not do it. You must accept not only your child, but your child’s culture and history. You can’t just get a cute baby from Asia or Africa and think that’s the end of it. That child will grow into a black man or woman, an Asian or Asian woman,” she advises.

“When we were in Haiti, we met a [white prospective adoptive mother] who said, ‘I’m black on the inside’. It’s that kind of naivety that scares me. We simply don’t live in a colour blind society. That to me is what people need to wake up to, or it’s their child that will suffer the most.”

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