Tennessee Couple ‘Do a Brangelina’ with World Record Adoption of Eight Children from Sierra Leone Orphanage
Darren Boyle, Daily Mail, June 30, 2014
A couple have done an extreme ‘Brangelina’ by adopting eight siblings from an African orphanage in one go–the biggest single adoption in history.
Hayley and Mike Jones instantly increased the size of their family from two to ten by adopting the children from Sierra Leone.
The pair wanted a bigger family but were put off having children after both of Hayley’s pregnancies ended with emergency C-sections.
After talking to an orphanage in Africa they decided to adopt the seven brothers and one sister in one go.
The children, aged between five and 16 were in a children’s home after their father was killed and their mother was unable to cope.
Mrs Jones, 31, says that her life has now changed dramatically but that she wouldn’t change it for the world.
She said: ‘Not a second goes by when I don’t need to be cleaning, cooking, teaching, washing or just listening. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘Now we have eight new mouths to feed, we have to be careful with money, but we find the most joy from just being together as a family–we don’t have to buy expensive clothes or toys to be happy.
‘Our eight new kids were always destined to be a part of our family, it just took us a little while to find them. Now, our family has tripled in size and happiness.’
The former teacher, was inspired to visit the African country in 2010, after discovering one of her students was from Sierra Leone and had been adopted by an American family.
The family had then returned to Sierra Leone to begin their own orphanage, which is where the family chose to adopt from.
Alongside husband, Mike, 34, who works for the water board, they went to ‘The Raining Season’ orphanage where they were interviewed to become adoptive parents.
The orphanage is a Christian-run facility that can house up to 120 children in one go.
When the couple originally looked into adopting they were adamant it would just be one or two children.
But after hearing the names of a number of children who were still waiting to be adopted they decided they should take more.
They were then told about Michael, 16, Samuel, 15, Gabrielle, 12, Levi, 11, Malachi, nine, Judah, eight, Isaiah, seven and Zion, five, and decided they would be the perfect addition.
Mr Jones said: ‘We thought it was about two or three children we’d be adopting when we initially met the orphanage.
‘But God was telling us both separately to keep going for more and more–it was just brought up that there was a sibling group of six and eight.
‘They were just names on a piece of paper and we didn’t know anything about them.
‘It’s like I got hit in the head with a hammer, I didn’t know anything about them but I knew we were meant to adopt them.
‘We had no idea if there were physical, or any types of disabilities or anything at all, we had no idea.
‘When Hayley went over there and was able to spend time with them, she just knew straight away they were our kids.’
The couple decided that God had sent them to that orphanage for a reason and, as devout Christians, they should do all they could to help improve their lives.
After speaking to their biological children, Tucker, five, and Tyler, nine, they began preparations to welcome the new family additions.
Using the crowdsourcing website gofundme, the family were able to raise more than $16,000 (£9,556) which enabled them to extend their four bedroom bungalow in Tennessee, USA.
They were able to turn the cellar of the house into a number of bedrooms, as well as an extra bathroom and a laundry room.
The money meant they could splash out on a new dining room table and a minibus which would be able to transport the ‘Great Eight’, as they call them.
Kind-hearted locals donated enough clothes for all of the children and bunk beds, so that every child had their own bed.
The couple began the adoption process in 2010, and though the initial process didn’t take long, the children had to remain in Sierra Leone until they had passports and visas.
The whole process took the family three years, with Hayley splitting her time between her family in Tennessee and the children in Sierra Leone.
Though the delay was frustrating for the family, it allowed them to make the necessary adaptions to the home.
The children were flown to the family home in March 2013–almost three years after the couple began the adoption process.
She said: ‘I don’t think I can describe the feeling of getting them home, it’s just so surreal. I had them in my hands.
‘I got to the orphanage and I called the kids up to my apartment. I told them that we were all going home and there was just this screaming and jubilation and then there was silence.
‘We all just sat there and looked at each other. Three years and it was finally here, it has finally happened.
‘So the excitement was just crazy but there was still the nervousness, at that point I just wanted everyone to be home, I just wanted the flights to be over and immigration over, I just wanted everyone to be home.
‘Each day was an emotional rollercoaster.’
Mr Jones added: ‘It was such a long process and there were so many highs and lows, I guess the surreal feeling was “have we really got them this time?” “Is something going to happen?”.’
The family say that life has now changed dramatically after their family tripled in size.
Mrs Jones gave up her job as a teacher in order to be able to take care of her massive family.
After initially trying to complete the household chores alone, she realised it just was impossible, so drew up a rota chart for the children where they take it in turns to wash the dishes, clean up after meal times and vacuum.
Meal times have undergone the biggest change since the adoption, with Mrs Jones spending the majority of her time in the kitchen.
For breakfast alone the family polish off a gallon of hot tea, 36 eggs, 2lbs of sausage, 24 biscuits and two packages of bacon, on a daily basis.
If eating meat the family will also require around 5lbs of meat to fill everyone up and they get through 50lbs of rice a fortnight.
The couple added that their grocery bill has now tripled to around $700, which was initially a struggle due to Hayley giving up her job.
Mrs Jones said: ‘As far as cooking goes, cooking is a whole other story. I spend hours in the day cooking.
‘As soon as you’ve done breakfast then you have to start setting up or start thinking about what you want to prepare for lunch and then after that you’ve got to start thinking about what you want to do for dinner.
‘The amount of time I am now spending in the kitchen is much more than it was before.
‘Before it was easy–you could just go into the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich.
‘But when you’ve got ten kids it’s chaotic if everyone is in there trying to make something different.
‘It’s just easier for me to go ahead and prepare a meal each time, it just kind of works better.
‘Another big change has been the laundry. I do laundry everyday and it’s never caught up–there is always laundry, it never ends.’
Despite being a little bit behind their classmates, the majority of the adopted children attend the local primary school.
However, the oldest three children are given five to six hours of home school tuition a day by Mrs Jones.
She said: ‘I gave up my job so I could home-school Michael, Sam and Gabrielle. They’ve missed years of schooling and really benefit from the one-on-one tuition.
‘The others love school and have fitted right in to the local school.’
Despite initially being a little shocked by the culture change, all eight of the children have now settled into their new home.
Though the children are not still in contact with their birth mother, Mr and Mrs Jones say they have nothing against them talking to her and thanks to Skype it is completely possible.
They added that it is up to the children whether they decide to stay in America in the future or if they wish to return to Africa.
Mrs Jones said: ‘As far as their future goes, they all have their own dreams and aspirations, so we’ll just encourage them with whatever they feel like they are called to do.
‘Maybe it’s live here and stay here. Maybe some of them want to go back and do some work and help out some other children in Sierra Leone.
‘We’re going to support them with whatever they feel like their calling is, whatever their heart is telling them to do and we’ll be there to support that.
‘There are some of them that would like to go back and visit, in fact one of the guys is excited to show me a lot of places that he has memories from.
‘I’d be excited to go back but that fact is how we could ever fund that I don’t know.
‘It’d be a dream for us to all go back together as a family and spend some time in their village.
‘One of the things they talk about it talking soccer balls there, so I really hope and pray one day we can make those things happen.”
Summerising their decision to adopt eight siblings in one go, Mike said: ‘Now we feel complete. It was something we had to do.
‘They’re all so special, you can’t love each one of them enough–they bring us a lot of joy.’
Mrs Jones added: ‘To have them here, it’s crazy, busy and hectic and there is always something to do but I am truly, truly joyful.’
No central records of adoptions are held but British agencies say they have never heard of such a large single adoption before.
Dan French, a spokesperson from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said: ‘I’ve never heard anything like it, although no official records are held for things like this.
‘I’ve heard of people taking in large sibling groups, perhaps three or four, but not eight.
‘I’ve also heard of people adopting more siblings over time, so perhaps they adopt two children then two years later the birth mum has another one which they adopt, but not heard of people taking that many in, in one go.
‘It would certainly take a very special family to take in eight children in one go.’