'We nicknamed her DR EVIL but no-one dared challenge her because we were afraid we would not get our babies'
Published 08/07/2006 | 00:11
The road to Hung Yen 'orphanage', two hours south of Hanoi, with its run-down street stalls, paddy fields and modern high speed cars shows just how quickly Vietnam is moving from communism to capitalism.
However, it all passed mostly unnoticed by Anne Marie Kennedy and her husband Paul who travelled to there in July 2004.
They were in a cramped minibus with three other Irish couples in Vietnam to adopt a baby and it had been a particularly traumatic morning in their long adoption process.
Six weeks previously Paul and Anne Marie, who live in Tramore, Co Waterford, had received their referral - the documents that every Irish adoptive couple waits for. The referral was an acknowledgement from the Vietnamese authorities that their application had been accepted but, more importantly, it contained a picture of the baby girl who was to be theirs.
As they waited in Waterford for word from My Linh Soland, their Vietnamese facilitator, they pored over the picture imagining what their lives would be like with their new baby.
For Anne Marie and Paul the tiny baby girl had become a Kennedy in their hearts - even if she wasn't home yet.
They travelled to Vietnam and nine days after they arrived in Hanoi a note was pushed under their hotel room door. They were to visit the orphanage and their daughter, the next morning.
But the next day as they waited for the minibus, they received a shocking phone call. Ms Soland's assistant explained that their daughter was "no longer available". She had been reclaimed by her mother - but it was okay because they were going to get another child.
Anne Marie and Paul were devastated but also suspicious. Babies were not supposed to be made available for international adoption unless every legal avenue had been exhausted - that it had been proven they were abandoned and that there was no hope they could be looked after in Vietnam.
Ms Soland was waiting for them at the Hung Yen orphanage. She offered no apology or real explanation as to why their child had been taken from them. And there were more shocks in store.
Ms Soland casually pointed to another baby girl on a bed and told them she was their new child. "This baby is more beautiful than the other one. She is a better baby I got for you," Soland announced to the distraught couple.
"I was shocked and very upset at her cruel manner. It was all just a business to her and I felt she didn't give one thought for the parents or children involved," Anne Marie wrote in a letter of complaint to the Irish Government when she got home.
But the shocks were not over. As Anne Marie was holding her new baby, one of the other couples noticed the child was not the one they had visited the previous week. "My Linh looked at my baby and realised she had made a mistake. She very roughly grabbed the baby from my arms and handed her to the other couple," said Anne Marie.
"She had given us a baby that belonged to someone else and, if the parents had not been in the room, she would not have noticed."
Anne Marie says that to lose two children in just a few hours was extremely traumatic. "I was then handed another child - but she was taken away to be washed. Eventually the baby was brought back.
"Her attitude towards the children and us made me sick. This heartless woman ruined what should have been a special moment for our family."
Then there was the money. Already the Kennedys had sent Ms Soland a $3,700 personal cheque and, following the instructions of the Irish Adoption Board, they arrived in Hanoi with the remaining $3,000 in cash and in small bills. In Vietnam where the average salary is $640 a year the fees were enormous sums of money. But Ms Soland kept piling on other 'surprise' charges.
It is suggested to parents that they give a voluntary donation to the staff of the institution they adopt from but, according to Ms Soland, this was now a compulsory payment of $300 which she collected. No receipts were given.
"Not one of us knew how the money went to the staff," says Anne Marie.
The couples had a similar experience when they applied for their children's passport. Ms Soland charged $400 a passport but their receipt said it cost just $20.
My Linh Soland arranged almost 150 Irish adoptions. From the official fees listed by the Irish Adoption Board, she grossed over $1m but if the extras are added she received at least a further $100,000.
These large unaccounted for sums of money and her cold businesslike attitude made many Irish couples suspicious.
"We nicknamed her Dr Evil. No one wanted to challenge her because we were afraid we would not get our