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School nurse adopts children from Africa

School+nurse+Emily+Powell%2C+husband+James+Ohlinger%2C+and+their+children+pose+for+a+picture+taken+in+Nabbingo%2C+Uganda
School nurse Emily Powell, husband James Ohlinger, and their children pose for a picture taken in Nabbingo, Uganda

School nurse Emily Powell, husband James Ohlinger, and their children pose for a picture taken in Nabbingo, Uganda

Courtesy of the Powell family

Courtesy of the Powell family

School nurse Emily Powell, husband James Ohlinger, and their children pose for a picture taken in Nabbingo, Uganda

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Emerald Ridge school nurse Emily Powell traveled to Thailand at 16 for missions work and her world was transformed forever. After a touching, yet heartbreaking experience with a boy at the orphanage they were working at, Powell knew that she wanted to adopt.

“[A little boy] ran right up to me and I picked him up for a while,” Powell said. “I put him down to play with the other kids and he began banging his head against the ground. I ended up holding him the rest of the day and the mothers working there had to pry him off me at the end of the day and they told me he just wants to be held and never put down.”

Powell said her heart broke for this child and all the others who were sharing cribs and often didn’t have a caretaker to look after them.

Many years later, Powell is now married to and has adopted two children from Uganda and is soon to adopt a third.

“Our story is kind of unique,” Powell said. “It’s been a wild ride. It’s definitely not how we expected our life to go, but we wouldn’t
change it.”

In 2010, Powell graduated from nursing school and traveled to Africa with her father, where she worked in the hospitals and villages. On that trip, Powell found a renewed sense of passion for the children and her desire to adopt. When Powell met her husband, James Ohlinger, she discussed this desire.

“It wasn’t something he had thought about, but it wasn’t necessarily something he was opposed to,” Powell said.

In August 2013, Powell and Ohlinger moved to Africa, primarily to do mission work through their church. The couple also had undergone the process of being approved to adopt and hoped an adoption would coincide with their time spent there.

“We got there and through a series of crazy events, the orphanage we were going to adopt from was a substantially longer wait than we expected,” Powell said.

The very same day Powell and Ohlinger were told they had been placed on a three year waiting list for adoption, they went to a local hospital to visit a pregnant woman who worked at the school they were helping at.

“She ended up passing away from complications in the pregnancy, and she had the little girl, and they didn’t know quite what to do for her care,” Powell said. “So my husband and I offered to help the interim until they figured out what was going to happen.”

This is how Powell and Ohlinger met their first child Evelyn.

Through a series of DNA tests, the couple discovered Evelyn had a 6-year old biological brother named Aven whom they decided to adopt as well.

Since Evelyn was only 2- weeks- old when she entered the couple’s life, Powell feels it’s as if they have had her since she was a newborn. With Aven, however, the process at first for the 6-year-old child was confusing and painful with the loss of his mother.

It’s been really cool watching him learn to trust, to learn to love.”

— Nurse Emily Powell

“It’s been really cool watching him learn to trust, to learn to love,” Powell said.

The transition Powell and Ohlinger has experienced with having these children in their home has been radical, however Powell says they would never change a thing.

Eventually, Ohlinger left for America just four months before Powell, and from there the three were able to move into a larger home still in Uganda where Aven had his own bedroom.

“I didn’t understand why everything was taking so long but I think it was for Aven’s sake,” Powell said.

By June, Powell had gone to court and in July they visited the village that Aven and Evelyn’s birth mother lived in to see her grave. There, Powell met Justin.

Justin is the 10-year-old biological brother of the two children that Powell wasn’t aware of until that visit to the village.

“I texted my husband and just said ‘we’re in trouble,’ because I knew we had to do something,” Powell said.

After getting to know Justin better, Powell decided that adopting him was the route to take. However, because it wasn’t until July that the two met it was too late in the legal process to adopt Justin as well. The family will be returning in June 2015 to go through the whole court process with Justin so he can join their family in the U.S.

“[The kids] have made me realize that the issues that the things I’ve thought were so big in my life, the things I’ve gone through over the years, really aren’t comparable to the issues some other people face,” Powell said. “Living in a culture where most of the culture is way below the poverty line, surviving off less than a dollar a day, and seeing children lose parents and family members to diseases that are preventable and some curable, it’s heartbreaking, and my kids have just shown me the resilience of that, the ability to bounce back.”

Although Evelyn is too young, Aven still remembers his birth mother, and he and Powell have conversations about her. His birth mother and family remains a huge part of his life and Powell says it always will.

“We gained their family,” Powell said. “They have taught that there are bigger things even when I’m struggling or have something going on and I’m stressed out, there’s the ability to see a light or see something more, to see a goodness
in people.”

Powell would never change anything in the adoption, however, she admits it’s not a glamorous process nor an easy one.

When considering adoption, she suggests individuals to do extensive research and to have a passionate heart for it.

Adoption is beautiful but people don’t realize that it also comes from heartbreak.”

— Nurse Emily Powell

“Adoption is beautiful but people don’t realize that it also comes from heartbreak,” Powell said. “There is a tremendous loss that leads to a child being adopted. And that’s a side is generally overlooked. You think ‘ohmygosh they have a family, it’s wonderful,’ but you forget they lost their mother and they’re being pulled into a new culture, a new family, and that’s hard.”
Powell looks forward to the many wonderful and challenging moments ahead with their soon-to-be three children and continuing to watch them grow and adjust to their lives.

“My husband and I started the adoption process here in the U.S. in 2012 and it has been quite a process,” Powell said. “There were tears shed and it’s hard, It’s not pretty all the time, but at the end [it’s beautiful] seeing orphans become a son and daughter and watching them transition from total loss to that smile again.”

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School nurse adopts children from Africa