- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The brief life of a little girl named Wren is making a positive difference for many other children.

Sarah and Tony Witbrod were in the process of adopting Wren in 2010 from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are an estimated 4-6 million orphans in this war-ravaged country in central Africa.

The Witbrods, who lived in Douglas at the time, also planned to adopt Wren’s sister Emory because they did not want the two to be separated.

On Oct. 27, 2010, they received a phone call with a devastating message that changed their lives: 15-month-old Wren had died.

A malaria epidemic swept through her orphanage, killing 12 of 18 children. Wren had no resources to put up a fight, as she came to the orphanage extremely malnourished.

A photograph of her shows a small, crying infant with extremely thin legs.

The Witbrods then committed themselves to telling her story, as well as the story of other orphans in the DRC and the conditions they face.

Sarah Witbrod started a website called Wren’s Song (www.wrens-song.org) as a living tribute to her adopted daughter, she said. The website also is a way to help people understand what the orphans endure. People can donate at the site, and she makes sure that all of the donations go directly to the orphanages.

She also bought a building at an orphanage in the DRC called Center Emmanuel, and the couple has donated money for repairs there.

The couple paid to replace roofs at the orphanage, and has taken several steps to improve the orphans’ lives. They donate significant amounts of money so that the children will be fed.

“My main goal of all of this is to be the voice of the voiceless,” Sarah Witbrod said. “These are children that die for no reason. If they were in the United States, it would be on the news every day.”

She has facilitated 30 adoptions between Congolese orphans and American parents. She does not collect any fees for her services, but asks the adoptive parents to donate $500 to help the orphanage.

Now, however, the Congolese government has ended such adoptions.

As a result of the couple’s work, they became friends with Germaine Muese, director of an orphanage called CAJAC.

Muese, a Catholic nun, is the Mother Superior of that orphanage and two others. CAJAC is located in Mbuji Muyi, a city in the DRC.

There is no running water at the CAJAC facility, and no electricity. Children sleep on the floors of a dilapidated building. Medical supplies are nil, and food is in short supply.

But there is plenty of love for the children and a desire to help them.

Muese stresses education to help the children.

“Education will break the cycle of poverty,” Sarah Witbrod said.

Parents in the DRC often can’t afford to feed their children. Conditions are so dire that a parent has to decide who is going to eat that night, Sarah Witbrod said. Sometimes, parents feed their children mud so they will feel full.

Muese has spent a couple of months at the couple’s home in Cheyenne in an effort to talk to Americans and make sure they are aware of the dire conditions. Her return to the DRC was set for Feb. 7.

While here, she has visited with officials at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and made others aware of the orphanages. It looks as if the church is going to help the orphanage, Sarah Witbrod said.

The Witbrods have tried through the years to adopt nine children from Congolese orphanages. Their first children were Wren and Emory. But after Wren died, Emory was deemed unadoptable.

They also adopted Larkin, but have not been able to bring her to her new home because the Congolese government suspended exit permits for these orphans. She lives with a foster family in the DRC and is one of hundreds of children who legally have been adopted but are stuck there. The Witbrods support her financially.

Two toddlers the family adopted - Rita and Micah - are living with the Witbrods in Cheyenne. They joined the couple’s older daughter, Lillian, an adopted child from Guatemala. The couple also has a biological daughter, Olive.

Adopted daughter Rita Witbrod had been thrown into a river in the Congo, left there to drown and die. But she survived.

“She was so malnourished,” Sarah Witbrod said. “The animals in the animal shelter were treated better.”

Now, Rita thrives, and her large dark eyes never miss anything.

Micah is in kindergarten at Anderson Elementary. “He’s extremely bright,” Sarah Witbrod said.

But two other infants they were in the process of adopting - Daniel and Merriville - died from the effects of poverty. They suffered such severe malnutrition that it was too late to save them.

The Witbrods have traveled to Congo several times. Once, they were there during an election when people shot each other on the streets.

Tony Witbrod is a computer specialist for the state of Wyoming. Technology has brought the world so close that these children are as close as your backyard, he said.

“We should be able to make a difference,” he said.

“These children should not have died,” Sarah Witbrod said, adding that she sees her work as a ripple on the water. “You never know how far the ripple will go.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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