Canadian woman's quest to adopt son, help people of Kenya, sets precedent
In a tiny one room home in a dusty slum in Kisumu, Kenya, Anyango Akama anxiously waits for a vehicle to arrive.
It carries two treasured Canadian visitors, Devlin and Peggy Taillon, the boy she gave birth to seven years earlier and the woman who adopted him.
It was January 2007 when Peggy first came to Kenya. She was taking some time away from her work as Vice President of the Ottawa Hospital and volunteering in the AIDS-decimated village of Asembo Bay.
It was there that she learned about Anyango’s plight.
The 14-yearold orphan was about to give birth, and her poverty-stricken extended family had no way to properly care for the baby.
Peggy’s close friend, Wendy Muckle, suggested that she could help. “I’ve kind of thought okay, I’ll help them. I’ll see if I can help them with the baby. I’ll see what happens,” said Peggy.
Days later she received a call telling her that the baby had been born and that her help was needed immediately.
The family sent a friend on a motorbike. She jumped on the back, with a driver she didn't know. Light was fading, and they travelled into a slum called Dunga on Victoria Bay.
"My first thought was 'Canadian woman found dead on the shores of Lake Victoria. Like, ‘What am I doing on the back of a motorcycle?’” recalled Peggy.
The ride ended at a bar. It was there, in the back room, that she took Devlin into her care. "My life changed at that moment.”
The family asked her to raise Devlin, but Peggy soon discovered that unmarried foreign women were not allowed to adopt Kenyan boys. It had never been permitted.
Susan Acheng Tuoma is the Chief Executive Officer for one of the largest adoption agencies in Kenya. "I had to tell her the truth at that point, that it might not be possible to adopt Devlin," said Tuoma.
Nevertheless, Peggy remained undaunted. She moved to Nairobi and fought for the right to legally adopt Devlin. And if that couldn’t happen she was resolved to remain a part of his life even if the courts decided to put him in an orphanage.
"I'll just rent a place near the orphanage and volunteer” said Peggy. “I'll go clean the floors in the orphanage or cook the meals just so I can raise my son there. But I wasn't leaving."
After 15 months of pleading her case to local officials Peggy was at last granted a hearing at the Kenyan Supreme Court. The judge asked Peggy why she thought she should be allowed to adopt Devlin.
"I believe that Devlin and I were meant to be mother and child,” she told the court. “I believe I was meant to be here when he was born because our paths were connected. And I said, you know he is my son. I think a higher power chose him to be my son.”
The pale blonde blue-eyed woman won an unprecedented court decision. She was allowed to adopt Devlin.
The judge's verdict changed Kenyan law and allowed for other single parent adoptions. And it also allowed Peggy to bring Devlin back to her home in Ottawa as her son.
Nearly six years later, on Jan. 2, 2014, Peggy and Devlin are on the verge of a heartfelt reunion, as their SUV pulls into Anyango’s yard.
As the door of the SUV opens, Anyango can wait no longer. She runs out of the tiny housing complex and into the arms of Peggy. Both women weep as they embrace, Peggy whispering to her, “I know, I know. We're here now sweetheart".
“I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw them. And when he came out of the vehicle I couldn't hold my tears back because....anyway, they were tears of joy," said Anyango.
"It was overwhelming, you know, I worry about her wellbeing. And you know, she's part of our family. So you know, she's a constant, constant concern for us. So it was wonderful to see her," said Peggy.
After adopting Devlin, Peggy also became Anyango’s legal guardian and has been paying for Anyango's education and care for years.
Continuing to help
She’s not the only one to benefit from Peggy’s generosity.
Peggy and Wendy Muckle established a Canadian-based charity called Hera Mission after Devlin’s adoption was approved.
Hera is Devlin’s middle name and it means love in Luo, the language spoken in Asembo Bay.
The charity raises about $20,000 a year for 70 widows and 300 orphans in the community where Peggy was volunteering when she heard about Devlin's birth.
Some of the donations this year were raised through an annual event that I organize and host in Ottawa called the CTV Amazing People Gala.
The gala is a tribute to the people featured in my CTV Ottawa series called "Amazing People," which celebrates the accomplishments of local residents.
Of the 48 people featured in 2012, Peggy won "Amazing Person of the Year" at a red-carpet gala, as chosen by CTV viewers, through on-line voting.
Some of the money raised at the CTV Amazing People gala is being spent refurbishing Asembo Bay's rundown resource centre and equipping it with new computers.
Other donations will go towards children’s education, food and livestock, all desperately needed by the people in this community who view Peggy as a hero.
“I really believe that I got the greatest gift, the greatest gift,” said Peggy. “And if I can give them back even like a small drop of that, I’m honouring my son and I’m honouring his family and his heritage.”