If they can't come home, make a home
Lise Sievers said she never meant to adopt children from outside the United States.
"I always felt there are so many children here that needed homes," she said, adding that all 12 of her adopted children have come from the United States.
But when a friend from Uganda told her about two disabled children living in a remote village there who desperately needed medical care, Sievers found she couldn't say no.
"I do take children with disabilities," she said. "That's what I do."
And through the process to adopt 12-year-old Sara and 5-year-old Francis, Sievers said she's found a bigger calling. The Red Wing woman is currently working to find a children's home in Uganda, which Sievers said she hopes will help the entire region.
Sara and Francis
The whole process started when Sievers was first told about Sara. The girl had been severely beaten and as a result her legs were deformed so that she couldn't walk and had to crawl everywhere she went. Eventually, her "heels had become embedded in her buttocks," Sievers said.
After Sievers agreed to adopt Sara, her Ugandan friend told her about another child in need.
"She said there's another little boy who needs a home," Sievers said.
Francis, who is now 5 years old, suffers from cerebral palsy and seizures. Because Ugandan nurses feared they would catch Francis' diseases, they stayed away from him, allowing the boy to lie on a low pallet for hours a day. Because of the way Francis' head laid, his trachea is now deformed, which causes him to aspirate a large majority of his food.
"It's amazing he survives. He's kind of a constant lung mess," Sievers said. "He was dying; there was no doubt about it."
Sievers left Minnesota last January, thinking that she would return four to six weeks later with Sara and Francis. But problems with the children's adoption visas prolonged the trip and eventually forced her to leave Uganda by herself.
The problem, Sievers said, is with U.S. Immigration and Customs. Currently, Sievers is the children's legal guardian, and she would have been able to bring them home with her if it wasn't for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said.
"They're mine in Uganda," she said. "U.S. Immigration has denied our application here."
The sticking point, Sievers said, is her income. She receives state subsidies for each of her adoptive children. And though she said she receives plenty of money to properly care for her family, U.S. Immigration won't recognize the subsidies as income. To the immigration officers, it looks like Sievers is making almost no money.
"I am too poor to take the children," she said. "I have a healthy income. (But) they're not counting 75 percent of it."
Sievers stayed with the children until the end of April, when she decided it was time to come home.
"I realized I was going nowhere, and I had to be home," she said.
That was when Sievers made national news when red spots on her arms caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suspect she had a communicable disease and quarantined her plane in Chicago's O'Hare airport for three hours. The spots turned out to be bug bites.
The beginnings of a children's home
In September, Sievers returned to Uganda to find the children a suitable place to live. She rented a three-bedroom house and hired a nanny to care for the children.
As Sievers was leaving to return to Minnesota, a woman brought her 9-month-old baby to the house. The child had fallen in a fire pit and burned his arm; the mother wanted Sievers to take the child in.
"I said, 'Well sure we can,'" Sievers said.
Since then, Sievers has taken in five other children. Currently, all eight children are living with a nanny and a housemaid in the three-bedroom home.
"We decided, 'Let's open a day care,'" Sievers said.
Sievers is in the process of getting His Grace Community Service -- which will operate out of Sievers' three-bedroom house -- licensed by the Ugandan government. When completed, the program will be able to provide day care services, shelter for at least 15 homeless babies, HIV education for pregnant women and educational scholarships for older children.
The project is being funded by donations from Red Wing area families, Sievers said.
"I really feel like His Grace is the reason we're there," she said.
As for Sara and Francis, Sievers is working on the application process to get the children medical visas, which would allow her to bring them to the United States.
"The main thing is to get the kids here and get them the treatment they need," she said.
Sievers hopes she will get the go-ahead to bring Sara and Francis home in February.
So far, Sievers said the process for the medical visas is going much more smoothly than the process for the adoption visas went. Currently, the adoption process is on hold, though Sievers said adoption remains her ultimate goal.
But for now, the medical visas are a step in the right direction.
"If I don't get to adopt them, they'll still have the surgeries," she said. "When I go back, it will be because the (medical) visas will be approved."