- by Brigitte Perreault
Adoptions into the U.S. have fallen by more than 60 percent since 2004, due in large part to a broken system filled with delays, bureaucracy, discrimination and staggering costs.
In the meantime, children are suffering.
“When things are wrong, they can be made right.”
These were the words spoken by Craig Juntunen as he introduced his film “STUCK” to an intimate gathering in Los Angeles in March. I was fortunate enough to be there and learn more about the plight of orphans and the shockingly broken system of international adoption that continues to fail vulnerable children.
Craig is an interesting character, an inspiring and charismatic force. Having played collegiate and professional football before transforming himself into a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, he has an intensity of focus and drive that helps explain his success both on and off the field. In 1998, he sold his businesses and set out to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He did not have children and had no desire for them. He spent his days on the golf course or ski slopes, and his nights at cocktail parties with friends. He was living the dream, until a conversation about adopting from Haiti one afternoon on the golf course with an acquaintance changed his life.
Within a few weeks, Craig was on a plane to Haiti to see for himself the poverty and despair his friend described. What he saw changed him. During this trip, Craig visited several orphanages and began to have a new sense of purpose.
Suddenly his life of leisure seemed inconsequential, and he wanted to do more, to make a difference. He saw with his own eyes the importance of a permanent loving family for a child, and the devastating impact the absence of a family has on children.
Within a year, Craig and his wife adopted three children from Haiti. He was fundamentally transformed by the process and committed his life to helping the children who were left behind. Craig was again transformed, this time he emerged a father and an advocate but his focus and drive remained.
Not a social or political priority
Craig’s three children are now thriving in a supportive and loving environment, but millions of children are left behind in orphanages worldwide without love, care, guidance and hope. The main problem, says Craig, is that children living outside of parental care are not a social or political priority.
Craig began to believe that a family is every child’s basic human right and far too many children are being deprived of this right around the world.
Craig is on a mission to change that.
In order to fix the problem, Craig first sought to understand it. He approached the problem as a business man, and commissioned studies to get a handle on the depth and breadth of the orphan crisis. Initially Craig assumed there were not enough people interested in adopting kids. However, he learned quickly that his assumption was dead wrong. The number of potential adoptive parents grows every year, but so does the number of orphan children. There are millions of kids who need a family, and many families who want to adopt, and yet adoption is in free fall decline.
So where’s the rub? Craig discovered the root of the problem to be political and social apathy. “The reason apathy persists is very few people have any awareness of the issue.”
In 2010, Craig Juntunen founded Both Ends Burning - www.bothendsburning.org. - a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend every child’s human right to a permanent loving family through outreach, advocacy, and engagement. His first major initiative was to produce STUCK, an award-winning documentary that tells three compelling stories of families and children stuck in the broken system of international adoption, each of whom are separated by bureaucracy and apathy for far too long.
A silent social tragedy
What Craig did next, everyone who knew him thought was crazy.
He rented a tour bus, and set out around the country to expose a silent social tragedy.
Craig took the film on a barn-storming tour last spring, traveling on the tour bus to sixty cities in eighty days. In the end, his crazy idea seems to have worked. Local and national media paid attention. Craig’s tour and the film were the subject of feature stories and interviews everywhere he went.
Over 1000 people volunteered to help bring STUCK to their cities across America. And for those who came to see the film, the UNSTUCK movement was born.
Once people saw the film, and understood that the problem even existed, they shared Craig’s outrage and indignation and they shared Craig’s desire to find a fix. Craig was overwhelmed by the positive response he received in community after community, but his experience affirmed his belief that there comes a time when you know too much to walk away.
At the close of the STUCK tour, hundreds of people from over 37 states descended on Washington DC to demand change and participate in the Step Forward for Orphans March that Craig dreamed up as the culmination of the STUCK tour. In the end, tens of thousands of people have joined Both Ends Burning and the UNSTUCK movement was born.
“When the people lead, the leaders will follow,” Craig often says.
Today, Both Ends Burning is continuing to grow and Craig’s vision and drive continue to lead people from apathy to advocacy. Currently he is dreaming of a number of exciting initiatives to reach high school students, college campuses, and anyone who cares about children.
Both Ends Burning is becoming a real and relevant activist organization, and in the process developing a wide range of communication platforms, including never been done before symposiums where countries will gather to discuss opportunities and challenges to better serve the welfare of children.
Craig believes communication influences and changes everything. Having met Craig, and spent some time with him, he is a powerful communicator, a man on a mission, and I am absolutely certain that he won't accept anything less than success for the kids he is fighting for.
- Brigitte Perreault