Remembering Naomi Bronstein: A Homegrown Activist for Children Worldwide
By Brendan Cavanaugh, TDH Canada Secretary General
Published January 2011.
Naomi Bronstein was a hands-on, do-it-herself activist for children. She established orphanages in Vietnam, Cambodia and Guatemala. She was running a mobile medical clinic for rural children in Guatemala when she went to sleep on December 23, 2010 and died during the night. She had poor health including heart disease for a number of years and her heart finally gave out. She was 65.
Her death marks the beginning of the end of an era. She was part of the social phenomenon in Montreal that initiated and developed international adoption in Canada.
A Child of the Times
North America in the late 50s to early 70s was the era of the Beatles, President Jack Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and most pervasive of all, it was the era of the amorphous spirit of the youth-inspired Peace Movement which promoted many other things, some of them good, some of them not-so-good. Among the good was a concern for racial equality and global responsibility. Mottoes like ‘Make Love, not War!’ and ‘We are the Human Family!’ were everywhere. Books were being published threatening a future of overcrowding and scarcity of food. The war in Vietnam produced an awareness of war-orphaned and war-wounded children. All those things combined to produce a social attitude out of which arose the idea in the mind of many couples that both having children and adopting children would be a good thing and some couples took the concrete action of exploring international adoption.
But the fact was that at that time there was hardly anything to explore; there was little information to be found on the topic. The sole putative source, the government social services offices, were worse than useless. They were off-putting and actively discouraging. It took a certain style of independent, self-determining, and resourceful character to persevere with enough focused interest in international adoption to even continue researching the idea of international adoption, much less trying to accomplish it. Not that anyone of that period foresaw the implications of their aspiration.
Montreal Families Attempt International Adoptions
In the 1970s a small group of people living in the West Island of Montreal with a common interest in international adoption had found each other and met at the home of Ray and Liz Mowling under the encouraging banner ofWelcome a Child. Brendan and Dorinda Cavanaugh were among them. The constant topic was “From where could we adopt a child?” With all the problems reported about orphaned and abandoned children around the world, no one initially expected it to be so difficult. None of us knew it at the time, but we were in the process of developing a life-long commitment to the care of children in the international arena.
The only adoptions from Vietnam at that time were through the remarkable Australian, Rosemary Taylor. Rosemary was strongly supported by TDH Lausanne, Switzerland through the Swiss nurse sent to Vietnam by its founder, Edmund Kaiser. Liz Mowling had met Kaiser’s representative in Canada, the Swiss Charlotte Spire of TDH Lausanne. These connections made it possible for Vietnamese children to be adopted by Canadian families, including that of Herb and Naomi Bronstein. This preceded the establishment of TDH Canada as an organization by Brendan and Dorinda Cavanaugh.
Apart from the Welcome a Child group, three other couples were independently exploring international adoption at the same time: Sandra Simpson and her husband, Bonnie Cappucino and Fred, Naomi Bronstein and Herb. The husbands in these couples, all of them busy with their jobs, were all supportive and collaborative participants in the international adoption projects. But the wives in these couples were all particularly strong people and were the natural leaders in the quest for a child: Naomi Bronstein, Sandra Simpson, and Bonnie Cappucino. They were the counterparts of Dorinda Cavanaugh and Liz Mowling but not their their associates as they were determinedly independent and had only a peripheral relationship to the Welcome a Child group. Moreover each couple had their own style of doing things and philosophy about how to do it. Eventually Sandra focused on Bangladesh, Bonnie on India, Naomi on Cambodia and, most recently, Guatemala.