May 22 • 07:48 PM

Adoption of the heart

Despite thwarted efforts, Imlay area family considers West African children their own

July 30, 2008
When the Kalinowski family of Imlay City couldn't get past all the red tape and adopt three deserving girls from the West African nation of Burkina Faso, they decided to 'adopt' the entire country.

The country, one of the world's poorest, is now the subject of mom Cyndy Kalinowski's blog. She visited Burkina Faso this spring and now, in detail, shares what life's like for the Burkinabe people.

She's also heading up a donation drive to equip the underprivileged students and schools she visited.

Cyndy Kalinowski with Burkina Faso ‘daughters’ (left) Delilah, Stephanie and Rakieta.

"The country is in the midst of trying to modernize, but they're not industrialized. It's like they're going from the Middle Ages to the technology of today," Cyndy said.

According to the CIA World Book, the landlocked nation achieved its independence from France in 1960 but has few natural resources, a weak industrial base and is densely populated.

But Cyndy and others see the potential for growth and hope to foster it anyway they can.

It all began for the family when they welcomed a 13 year-old Burkinabe girl, Rakieta, into their home several years ago.

At the age of 8, she had been sent to live with her uncle. While there, she spilled kerosene on her skirt which subsequently caught on fire and she was badly burned. Long periods of hospitalization followed.

Then came a chance to travel to America and the promise of being adopted by a family there.

Cyndy said adoption was never a possibility. She characterized the program as 'young and unethical,' essentially a form of child trafficking.

Despite the confusion, the Kalinowskis—husband Matt, Cyndy and daughters Merry, now 23 and Jeni, 20—took her in and went to work at getting her the necessary medical treatment.

"Her left leg and knee cap had been fused together so she needed orthopedic surgery," Cyndy said.

"We got her into Shriners Hospital and they were willing to deal with her despite not having any medical charts or information."

Eventually, Rakieta had to return to Burkina Faso but was 'recruited' again by the same program and returned to the states where she lived with another family. Unfortunately, she didn't receive the care she needed for her leg and eventually had to undergo five amputation surgeries.

"She was sent back to Africa with no follow up care. We tried to bring her back one last time since her (prosthetic) leg was falling apart but she was refused a visa so we said we're coming to you." Cyndy said.

In the process of communicating with Rakieta and her family, the Kalinowskis managed to find a translator who spoke the tribal dialects of the Burkinabe. The woman who now resides in East Lansing had two nieces, both orphans, living with their grandmother in Burkina Faso.

"She asked us to adopt the girls," Cyndy said of Delilah, now 15 and Stephanie, 11 years old.

The family made plans to do just that, started exchanging photos and began sponsoring the girls' education in 2004, but complications arose.

"Our goals are that because we cannot get them out we'll continue to go (to Burkina Faso) every six months to a year and send supplies and care for the children the best that we can," she said.

A Burkinabe woman and companion head into town with mangoes to sell.

In June, Cyndy made the first such trip. She stayed with Delilah, Stephanie and their grandmother and visited Rakieta and her family. Rakieta attends a sewing school while the younger two girls attend a traditional school.

Upon her return, Cyndy starting sharing photos and tales of her travels on the family's blog,

Until just recently, the country's laws forbade picture taking of or in public places, but under the latest regime things are different. With that in mind, Cyndy said she took as many photos of everyday life as possible.

"They thought a lot of my pictures were just hilarious," she said of the people, writing in a recent blog post.

"They couldn't understand how or why I would want such silly pictures of things like an outdoor kitchen or privy. They were very good natured with me though and were willing to take me on lots of neighborhood tours."

She also shares lots of practical information that anyone traveling to Burkina Faso would find helpful, like what electrical adaptor cords work over there and what not to wear—no short shorts!

"I'm writing for the girls and family and friends here and for the people in Africa too," she said.

Soon, she'll post a long list of thank yous to all the local friends, businesses and organizations that have already donated their time, medical supplies and much more.

Cyndy said she already looks forward to the next trip, whenever that might be. Her daughters are in the midst of getting all the necessary vaccinations so husband, Matt, will most likely be her companion.

In the meantime, Cyndy will continue to collect supplies and send them to Burkina Faso, particularly the schools.

Items needed for sewing school students include: pin cushions, pins, tape measures, seam rippers, zippers, buttons, velcro, thread, lace, embroidery floss, embroidery hoops, needles, sewing machine needles, scissors and yarn.

School supply items needed include: pencils, pens, crayons, markers, manual pencil sharpeners, paper, wire bound notebooks, 3 ring binders, highlighters, Post-It notes, glue sticks, envelopes, erasers, rulers, backpacks, atlases and globes, children's DVDs, coloring books and educational games.

Other items that are always needed include: shampoo, conditioner, toothpast, toothbrushes, bedding, childrens games and books, manual can openers, plastic dishes, silverware and cutlery, cell phones and laptops.

Also, money is also needed to help with postage and mailing supplies.

Pen pals to sponsor an individual child would also be welcome.

To learn more or make a donation, contact Cyndy at (810) 627-1833 or send an email to

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