Stephanie’s Story: 102 Days of Love

 

Dear friends,

We are honored to share with you first hand stories from those who have lived in Foster Care in India.

We hope these words move you like they move us. We are inspired and motivated to help other children have a voice and ask you to spread word about out this page and encourage others to share their story.

Please join us in honoring Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter’s foster parents by reading their story:

102 Days of Love

Written by Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Ph.D.,
Licensed Master Social Worker, Child Welfare Scholar, Author and Life Coach.

It’s not every day an orphaned girl has a beautiful turning point in her story, I am glad that mine does. Abandoned in the cradle of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity’s Kanpur orphanage, I was selected for adoption and transferred in 1975 to the Delhi orphanage where a woman by the name of Mrs. Joan Pereira often volunteered. Mrs. Pereira’s husband, Captain Dennis Pereira, worked for the Royal British Navy which became the Indian Navy after India won her Independence in 1947. He worked in External Affairs where he met with different heads of state and hosted visiting dignitaries like United States President Nixon, two Popes and Mother Teresa. After retiring from the government, Captain Pereira had a second career working for Motion Pictures Export Association of America entertaining both Hollywood and Bollywood movie stars. The Pereira’s were a well-established, socially active and politically connected Catholic Indian family.
Kripa Cooper-Lewter
One day, Mrs. Pereira was asked by her neighbor who was involved at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage if she would care for me while my adoption paperwork was finalized. Mrs. Pereira responded without any hesitation, “Yes, send her along.” India did not have a formalized foster care system but the Pereira’s were perfect candidates with four grown children and no grandchildren yet to lovingly dote upon. At age two, I arrived at my foster parents home malnourished with a distended stomach (a common symptom of kwashiorkor resulting from a lack of protein in the diet), unable to walk, and had a vocabulary of only three or four words. On April 1, 1975, my foster mother wrote in her first of many letters to my adoptive mom, Marilyn Backstrom, several weeks after I had been placed in their care: “Stephanie is the most adorable child and has won the hearts of our whole family … I don’t know when she will be sent to you, but as long as she is with us, we will look after her as our own.” Mrs. Pereira described me as sociable, charming, and very affectionate. Mrs. Pereira also noted I was a restless sleeper, would often whimper and call out in the night, which she attributed to the many moves I had from place to place, uncertain when the next upheaval would be. With love and attention in their family, I made tremendous progress. I learned how to eat with utensils, sang songs, played on the piano, enjoyed walking, swimming, and was showered upon by their grown children.

Mrs. Pereira and my mother continued to exchange letters throughout my childhood with my foster mother expressing ongoing love and well-wishes on behalf of their family, along with the desire to one day meet again. I, too, held in my heart the same wish, even as a child. In 1999, I wrote my foster parents my first letter in adulthood and received a beautiful reply just days after the death of Mother Teresa. By 2005, the Pereira’s had relocated and I worried that I had lost contact with them forever. With the help of my dear sister, Usha, in the beginning of 2005, I reviewed every letter I had saved searching for clues about their family, and finally reconnected with their son, Mark, and daughter, Valerie, both of whom remembered me when I lived with their family in India.

In the summer of 2005, I flew to visit my foster parents exactly 30 years after I had left them so many summers ago. Stepping off the plane, I was welcomed by my two foster sisters, Valerie and Sandra. Upon arriving to my foster parent’s place with tears flowing down my face, I was embraced warmly by my foster mother. Turning to my foster father, I heard him say, “Is this the daughter I lost thirty years ago?” Captain Pereira had been out of town when I left for the United States, and was upset he didn’t get to say good-bye years ago. Since reuniting in 2005, my foster parents have met my husband and two children. We have shared other family memories together including a New Year’s celebration, the weddings of two granddaughters, birthday celebrations and visited with family members in Goa, India. While at my foster father’s 90th birthday celebration in 2012, Captain Pereira was presented with a precious family album that his daughter, Valerie, compiled. Each member of the family contributed pictures and a special message for him, and Valerie touched my heart by asking me to create a page of my own.

The Pereira’s interacted with many influential, fascinating people throughout their life, yet were not above finding a place in their home and hearts for a bright-eyed Indian orphaned little girl. They have included me as part of their extended family ever since, and for someone who was once an orphan, this connection has been priceless. Now 40 years of age, 102 days doesn’t seem very long; but when I was 2 years old, spending 102 days with a family meant the world. 102 days of love with my foster family has carried me across my lifetime – and for their gift of unconditional love, I am forever thankful.

Kripa & Foster Parents