How one Bangladeshi’s adoptee uncovered a tragic past

‘I lost my family and my real identity’: Kana Verheul (left) with her family in Bangladesh Photograph: Courtesy of Kana Verheul
‘I lost my family and my real identity’: Kana Verheul (left) with her family in Bangladesh Photograph: Courtesy of Kana Verheul
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It was not long into a research trip to Bangladesh, on behalf of an organisation seeking to reunite children adopted abroad with their birth relatives, when Kana Verheul found herself huddled in a cafe toilet, comparing birthmarks with a stranger.

That trip seven years ago was one of many that Verheul, 49, had taken to the country of her birth since she was 16 years old, travelling back to Bangladesh for the first time as part of a “roots trip” organised by the Dutch government for children such as her, an orphan adopted to the Netherlands as a baby.

But this trip was different. After decades of trying in vain to find her siblings, Verheul joined forces with other people in her situation to set up an organisation called the Shapla Community, creating a network of hundreds of Bangladesh adoptees raised in the Netherlands. If she could not find her own family, she could at least help others find theirs.

Verheul was among those from Shapla who spent hours interviewing Bangladeshis with extraordinary stories about their children, many of whom claim they were taken for adoption abroad without their consent. It was one of these interviews that led her to the cafe meeting with a woman from the area where she was born.

Verheul tried to see if there was any family resemblance with the woman, but could not see any. “Some details matched but some did not,” she says. “Her sister was called Nasima. I truly believed that Kana was my real Bangladeshi name because it was in my birth papers. I couldn’t comprehend that I may be Nasima. Then I asked them the name of the village I have in my Bangladeshi passport, and she said, ‘Yes, that’s where we lived before.”

Verheul was still not convinced, so she asked if there were any birthmarks. “The woman said her mother would often tell bedtime stories about the sister who was lost, that they both had the same birthmark on their leg. This was a shock because I have one on my knee.”

In disbelief, the women headed to the toilets and revealed their almost identical birthmarks. They hugged and cried, and soon afterwards, Verheul says, “I finally saw the resemblances between us – in her hands, her mannerisms. I have really funny feet, and she has the same funny feet,” she laughs. “It felt undeniable, but I couldn’t accept it fully until the result of the DNA test came in.”

Verheul returned to the Netherlands and anxiously awaited the results. Two weeks after they met, a DNA test confirmed they were sisters. “I remember like it was yesterday. I was driving on the highway when the doctor called. I could finally accept that this was my sister. Immediately I got a huge headache. I had to stop next to the road. I started crying. From all over, from my ears, from my toes, from deep inside me. I cried for an hour.”

Amid the joy of finding the woman she had spent decades trying to find, her sister, Taslima, was able to explain to Verheul how she came to be adopted abroad as a baby. The story she shared horrified Verheul, but it also confirmed suspicions that she had had for years.

Imperial Hospital Sylhet

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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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