British Columbia

B.C. woman's adopted son narrowly makes it to new home from Haiti amid COVID-19 pandemic

A Maple Ridge, B.C., woman is getting to know her newly adopted son in quarantine after he barely managed to make the trip to Canada from Haiti this week, as the global pandemic shut down services and travel options at every turn.

'I knew I had a limited window,' said Kelly Strongitharm as adoption process grew ever more complicated

Kelly Strongitharm hugs her newly adopted seven-year-old son Fanelson, after he arrived in Montreal from Haiti on Sunday. (Kelly Strongitharm)

A B.C. woman who had been working toward an international adoption for more than four years is now safely in quarantine in Maple Ridge with her newly adopted son, but the global pandemic nearly made her wait a lot longer.

Kelly Strongitharm flew to Montreal on Sunday, not even sure seven-year-old Fanelson had even made it onto an increasingly rare Air Transat flight from Haiti.

It was only after a stopover in Toronto that she knew he was actually en route.

"It was huge relief and then just pure, pure joy seeing his face," said Strongitharm.

International adoptions don't move quickly, but once everything was cleared in her case — except travel documents like a passport and visa — the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and services and travel options began shutting down.

'I just pushed really hard'

"I knew I had a limited window to try to do whatever I could to get him home," she said. "I just pushed really hard."

Strongitharm said the rules kept changing on her, presenting hurdle after hurdle.

"I'd get somewhere and they'd say, 'Well no, you can't do this.' I just ... a lot of the time felt so defeated," she said.

But with the help of friends, her adoption agency, the airline and government officials, Strongitharm was able to get Fanelson on a flight with a group of four other Haitian children bound for Canadian families.

Fanelson Strongitharm is full of love, says his new mom Kelly. (Kelly Strongitharm)

She said several other children weren't able to get on the flight.

Air Transat, which has now suspended all flights until at least April 30 due to the pandemic, declined an interview about the assistance it provided Strongitharm and the other families with children on the flight. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company was very moved and proud to have been able to participate in the effort.

'He's pretty amazing'

Even before the pandemic, the federal government was advising against travel to Haiti, citing civil unrest and security risks.

Now, Fanelson, who first met his new mother about a year ago, is safely in his new home in Maple Ridge. His first impressions? It's beautiful and cold, said Strongitharm. 

Fanelson Strongitharm, 7, poses in front of his new home after arriving in Maple Ridge, B.C., where he's now in quarantine with his new mom. (Kelly Strongitharm)

They'll have plenty of time to get to know one another in quarantine, she said.

"He's pretty amazing. He's very sweet and bright and loving and he's been through a lot in his short little life, but he's probably the bravest and strongest person I've ever met," said Strongitharm.


With files from Kamila Hinkson.

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.