Article in the Sunday Morning Post paper in Hong Kong.
Adoptees reaching out to Hong Kong birth parents
Artist Serena Sussex, visiting the spot where she was abandoned 49 years ago, says birth mothers should know children found happiness
Almost 50 years ago, two-week-old Serena Sussex was found abandoned in a cardboard box in a Sai Ying Pun stairwell.
Last week Sussex, now a 49-year-old artist, visited the building on Hing Hon Road where she was found and said she wanted to reassure local birth mothers that their children could lead happy lives.
“I want to let mums that were forced or had to abandon [their children] due to their circumstances know that a lot of adoptees are very happy. If they wanted to get in touch there is an opportunity for them to find us,” Sussex said.
“I would have liked to have known my birth mother, who she was and what she is doing now.”
Sussex was 2½ years old when a British family adopted her and moved to the United Kingdom. She is now an award-winning artist based in Brighton, southern England, whose oil paintings are in exhibitions and collections across the world.
She spent her early years at the Chuk Yuen Children’s Reception in Wong Tai Sin, East Kowloon, where she believes there was little stimulation. She said her new parents had to teach her to cry and her speech was impaired.
A social worker’s report ahead of her adoption described Sussex, then known as Wu Wai, as “not an attractive baby as her features are rather plain but this is very largely redeemed by her responsive and sociable personality”.
Sussex grew up in a largely white area south of London and said she was shy until she started to excel in sports and art. She said adoptive parents in Britain were not offered support groups. “They probably all thought they were alone adopting this subdued baby, and the difficulty they were having, and it would have been nice for them to compare how to bring up this little baby,” she said.
Her mother, Brenda Sussex, has since met other adoptive mothers through her daughter’s involvement in the Hong Kong Adoptees Network.
One hundred mostly female adoptees were matched with parents in Britain under a plan to find families for Hong Kong orphans as part of the United Nations Year of the Refugee in 1959.
Margaret Bryer, a UK-based former social worker who worked for the International Social Service said publicity in 1959 drew great interest from potential adoptive parents in Britain.
“Towards the end of the period, applicants were being turned away because of the lack of children coming through for adoption,” she said.
In the United States, at least 500 children were adopted through the Hong Kong Project by the early 1960s, according to Professor Catherine Ceniza Choy, who studies adoption at the University of California, Berkeley.
This month a Hawaiian former professional dancer adopted from a Fanling orphanage in the 1960s traced her birth mother through social media after efforts via official channels failed.
Mandy Horst, now 50 and a retired businesswoman, said she first contacted Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department 10 years ago with information from her adoption records, but the department was not helpful. “I pretty much gave up,” she said.
Horst renewed her search in June, approaching city agencies and contacting people who shared her unusual Chinese surname, Tsigg, on Facebook.
She has been in touch with her birth mother by email and has told her to let go of any guilt she still holds for giving her up.
Horst will travel to Toronto this month to meet her birth mother and family.
The Fanling Babies group, which Horst has joined, provides information and support to Hong Kong adoptees. It plans a reunion next year
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Adoptees reaching out to HK parents.