As a child, Julia Oliver loved to sit on her father’s knee and hear stories — tales about her grandfather being an orphan and immigrating to Canada alone on a big ship, or how her father found an orphan in the ruins of Italy during the Second World War and desperately wanted to bring him back to Canada, but international laws in wartime made it impossible.
Julia’s grandfather later became a newspaper man, printing The Miniota Herald, his family heritage still unknown. Her father, Lloyd, returned to Miniota after the war and raised a family of his own with wife, Beth, on a farm one mile south of town.
Julia grew up and became Julia Schettler of Winnipeg, and provides a loving family to those who weren’t as lucky as she was. She and husband Bryan have a blended family of six children, and when the older ones started university, Julia and Bryan started the process to adopt a child.
Phillip Fuhe, now 14, joined the family in 2007, with Jian Kai, now 12, and Jayden Rui, now eight, becoming family members in 2010 and 2013, respectively. The Schettlers have recently completed their fourth international adoption, welcoming son Chase Rao.
The experience prompted Schettler to write a children’s book, Fur is Only Fur Deep being launched this month. It is focused on international adoption, inclusion and seeing past differences, with the story about two black bears that adopt a little panda bear.
“My book is fictional, but based on the journey we made to adopt our four sons from China,” said Schettler, who hopes the book will be an enjoyable read for children and parents to share while delivering an important message.
“The colour of a bear’s fur is just that, a colour. It’s what’s inside a bear that matters,” said Schettler. “If children can grasp the concept that ‘fur is only fur deep’ then maybe they’ll understand that ‘skin is only skin deep, too.’
“Families come in all different shapes and colours,” she said, adding that what makes a group of people a family is the love and care they give each other. “How you join a family is irrelevant.”
For Schettler, who grew up listening to tales of her grandfather and father, growing her family through international adoption came naturally. It wasn’t always easy, though.
“The adoption process is long with massive amounts of paperwork and international regulations,” said Schettler. The result is higher fees, fewer adoptions, longer waiting times and older kids still needing a family. The Schettlers’ sons also required medical attention.
“Our sons have all been approved by the province of Manitoba, as medical-needs adoptions,” said Schettler. “Here in Canada they have received much needed surgical and medical care.”
The four boys also experienced a bit of culture shock. They went from living in large orphanages to becoming part of a huge, extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins who love them. Seeing her children surrounded by family brings back fond memories for Schettler, who recalls growing up in a busy household with five older brothers and a younger sister.
“My parents firmly believed that it takes a community to raise a child,” Schettler said. “They were avid volunteers and their children active participants in the Miniota community.”
Now, when Schettler’s sons go for a holiday in Miniota, they return to Winnipeg talking about discovering a foxhole or watching a newborn calf take its first wobbly step. It’s a wonderful feeling for Schettler.
For more information on international adoption, go to juliaschettler.com.
Fur is Only Fur Deep is available in the Miniota area for $12 by leaving a message for Darcy Oliver at 204-567-3605. Delivery to Birtle and Hamiota areas can be arranged or call Jordan Moffatt 204-724-0018 for Brandon pickups. The book is also available online at amazon.com or chapters.indigo.ca.
Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake, Manitoba