An African Love story – story of single white woman who adopted a black African baby
By Peggy Taillon
By now, most of you are familiar with my journey to Kenya that led me on a winding journey to become a mother to my beautiful son Devlin “Hera” which means love in his tribal language of Luo.
For those who do not, here is the short version; in 2007 I left Canada for a volunteer trip to Western Kenya with my close friend Wendy Muckle, who had been traveling and volunteering in Kenya for a number of years. Days after landing, barely over my jetlag I was faced with the greatest decision of my life. A family whose 14 year old youngest sibling had recently found out she was pregnant. The family could not conceive of another mouth to feed as they were living in an impoverished community along Lake Victoria and struggled everyday to make ends meet. They wanted the young mother to go to school and they were praying for a miracle. I had recently divorced and had begun looking into adoption as a single parent to begin to build my own family, fate stepped in and brought us together. The led me through a 15 month journey to change adoption laws, challenge government process and become the first single mother to adopt in Kenya.
My son is my greatest gift, becoming his mother and bringing him home to Ottawa after fighting to prove my worth as a single mom was a dream come true. Coming home may have been my goal, signalling the end of a long saga, but in many ways, it was the beginning of another journey for us.
Our story has generated much media coverage because we made a commitment to support Devlin’s birth mother and his extended family and also to establish an organization called: HERA Mission www.heramission.org, that supports the leadership of a group of women in Western Kenya, who are committed to educating the hundreds of orphaned children and leading economic development initiatives for widows and elders in the village.
Making these commitments was part of a promise I made when Devlin came into my life when he was only 17 hours old. From the moment we met and everyday since, I am deeply committed to keeping him connected to his family, heritage and culture; my greatest fear is that he will grow up white.
We live in the community of Alta Vista in Ottawa, a community that enjoys a great quality of life, on a street where our neighbours are like family. We live only a block away from his school, it’s truly a community. Devlin is a quiet, thoughtful little soul with a big heart; he has many friends who all share his passion for sport. Devlin is incredibly athletic which has been a gift for a quiet, self-conscious little boy. Devlin’s school, considering the neighbourhood, is relatively diverse. There are many children from a mosaic of cultures that reflect the growing shift in our population. Despite that, most of Devlin’s close school friends are white; many people in his life, including me and my family are white. He played hockey for three years and was the only black face on the ice, even when his team played in tournaments, that really troubled me. I felt that I was breaking my promise, even though we spoke of Kenya, Africa, his birth family and extended family everyday, listened to African music and have so many Kenyan reminders in our home.
Then, when Devlin was in kindergarten he told me that he wanted to be “beige” like me and everyone else. He didn’t want to be brown. I stopped and sat with him and told how much I wished I was brown and that I am so grateful that he is and that despite the colour of our skin we are the same on the inside and that how we treat each other is far more important that what we look like. I also told him that being black is a gift and that there is a deep history in black culture that is grounded in strength, perseverance, and resilience and the more he knows those stories the prouder he will become.
After that day, I have worked even harder to connect Devlin to his Kenyan and Black heritage. I have introduced him to African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Wangari Mathai, Kofi Annan, Raila Odinga. I encouraged his obsession with basketball that started when he was two and as soon as he was old enough enrolled him into a league where he sees himself reflected in the many faces of his teammates who also are black. We watch movies, read books and listen to music that is rooted in African culture. I watch him today asking about Nelson Mandela, talking about Kenya, I can see his roots are firmly planted in his identity. I also know they will continue to grow.
Being Black , no being a proud Black Kenyan Canadian, is now how he identifies himself. Kenya, Africa and being black is part of everything we do and who we are. He sees himself as a little boy who is loved by two special communities in two beloved countries and everyday he understands more and more that he stands on the shoulders of African giants who fought for his generation. He also understands from his activist mom, that there is always more to do, more to shine a light on, more to fight for and more good to do and recently said, you are like a beige Kenyan Mama. I said yes, because my heart is African and it’s connected to yours.
About the writer
Peggy Taillon founded the HERA Mission of Canada in 2008, a foundation that supports women leading development projects, empowering widows, children and grandmothers in Western Kenya. Through this work, Peggy honors the community where her son Devlin was born. Peggy recently joined the Bruyère Foundation, which raises funds for Bruyère, a bilingual academic health care organization which includes two hospitals, two long-term care homes and Bruyère Village, a place that promotes aging at home. Peggy has also led the Canadian Council on Social Development, influencing public policy and the changing landscape for the third sector in Canada over the last several years. Peggy served as senior vice-president at The Ottawa Hospital, and previously led Ontario’s Mental Health Implementation Task Force, a sweeping reform process. Peggy served as an Advisor to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and to the Premier on the implementation of Ontario’s Regional Health Authorities, Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), along with a number of other major health reform processes. She sits on the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and is co-chair to the Canadian Council on the Social Determinants of Health under the Public Health Agency of Canada.