Kacee Rhodes will soon celebrate her 30th birthday, a milestone that probably would never have happened if she wasn’t saved from war-torn Sri Lanka after being dumped on the street as a baby.
In a courageous and generous move, Kacee will return for the first time to her birth country and the orphanage that took her in, to learn where she came from and give a little back to the Peter Weerasekera Children’s Home.
Formerly of Rutherford, Kacee now lives and works as a registered nurse in Calgary, Canada.
She was adopted by Rutherford couple Mark and Gail Rhodes when she was four months old.
For Mark and Gail (who sadly died in 2009), the journey to Sri Lanka in 1988 was a massive risk with the country in the grip of a civil war which lasted 25 years.
As she grew up Kacee, a former student of St Paul’s at Rutherford, St Joseph’s Lochinvar and St Mary’s in Maitland, vowed she would always return to her birth place. Next month she will make the trek back to Sri Lanka with her dad and her fiance Phil Jegard.
“There were no records kept of my birth parents,” Kacee said.
“Abandoned isn’t a word I like to think of, even if that was the case. As my dad explained, a lot of children that were born around the time I was, whose parents couldn’t financially support them, would sell their children to become beggars on the street.
“These children would often have their arms or legs broken in order to gain sympathy from tourists and get money. My birth parents could have easily done that with me, however, I was put into an orphanage. I consider myself one of the lucky ones based on that alone. The fact that I was able to be adopted was an absolute miracle,” she said.
Kacee has started a Go Fund Me page (#makeachangeformysrilanka) to raise money for the Peter Weerasekera Children's Home.
“When I was there babies were wearing rags for nappies until my parents brought disposables. There would be 20 cribs in one big room. Dad said they cleaned it the best they could. Mum and dad took over clothes, nappies, bottles and were hoping that I would get to wear some new nappies but the workers put them on all the other babies except me. They said I was going to Australia to a better home and the other kids weren’t.”
Thinking about what could have been if she wasn’t adopted, doesn’t sit well with Kacee. “I would not have had such a loving family, wonderful friends, amazing health care, safe and clean housing, clothes and water. I wouldn’t have had healthy and nutritious food, an education or the ability to go to university. I’m an only child and was very spoiled. To not know the life I have now would not only be heart breaking, but I would not even be the same person.
"Going back isn't just going to be a holiday for me. It's going back to see what my life could have and would have been," Kacee said. "It's going to be very humbling, very emotional, eye opening and amazing."
Kacee is fundraising so that she can give back to the place that was once her home. "It was my place away from the civil war. It was the reason I was able to have a life in a first world country. The kids that live there may not have the options that I had and may not have clean clothes and simple utilities, so I am hoping the money I raise will be able to help with that in one way or another," Kacee said.
"I am so overwhelmed and grateful for the amount I have managed to raise so far. I set my initial goal at $1000 and I was only expecting to raise $500 at the most. Low and behold I managed to reach my goal of $1000 by day three of promoting my fundraiser and now we're up to $2600. Every single dollar will make a difference and go a long way," she said.
"I think I'm going to be very emotional. There are a lot of issues about adoption that people don't realise, unless you're adopted and I think some of these will surface when I go back.
"It will be a very humbling and emotional experience, especially seeing what the orphanage is like and knowing that I could have been living there. I think there will be guilt, because I was given a life that other kids weren't and I've always wondered why I was chosen over someone else.
"I struggled with a lot of identity issues growing up as everyone does, but I feel mine were in a different sense. I physically don't look like anyone I grew up with apart from a few of my friends who were also adopted from Sri Lanka. But all my friends at school, and my family, are white. I was never made to feel different but I definitely did feel different.
"I never really knew the culture I was meant to grow up in, so going to a place where I look like everyone will be so different. It will be funny to see how my blue-eyed, white-skinned fiance handles the attention.
"I can't wait to immerse myself in the society and culture of Sri Lanka, the food, the landscape, the history.
"There will also be a lot of happiness because I know the money I am able to donate will make such a difference and I can't wait to spend a day with the kids and watch them teach my Canadian fiance cricket. I'll definitely be laughing with them."