Heading to Ethiopia for Art, Photos, And Stories

In just a few weeks, I will be heading to Ethiopia. It will be my fourth trip, my second with some folks from Ethiopia Reads plus some new friends, Ethiopian and American, all of whom are artists and writers.

Here’s what we will be doing:

Creating art and photographs that we will transform into books for Ethiopian children. The books will be fun and colorful; they will also be culturally appropriate and respectful. They will be translated into local languages for Ethiopia Reads’ schools and libraries. Books are a big deal. Books for children in the local language spoken by the children are rare; I am thrilled to be a part of making them more common, and getting them into the hands of children who have no books.

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Children reading in the Awassa Library of Ethiopia Reads © Maureen McCauley Evans

Traveling some 500 miles south of Addis Ababa to Maji, a beautiful, remote area with no electricity. Yes, indeed. We writers, artists, and photographers will spend a week in Maji taking pictures, drawing, painting, and listening to the stories of the people there. I and others will be donating our photos and paintings for several 2016 exhibits across the US, to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads’ libraries in southwest Ethiopia.

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Beautiful child in Ethiopia © Maureen McCauley Evans

Preserving the stories of marginalized, vulnerable people. In Maji, we will be talking with and listening to people who live without electricity, who are working to hold on to a language that could disappear, and whose stories will become part of books and other materials for the children.

I am also planning to continue a project dear to my heart: collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories of Ethiopian first mothers, those who gave their children up for adoption. Theirs are among the most silent and silenced voices in the adoption community, and their stories deserve to be told.

I look forward to visiting with dear friends in Ethiopia, and once again enjoying the vibrancy and beauty of the country. There is great upheaval there as well: economic, environmental, and political. I am not ignoring that reality. Children and women are often among those who suffer most in times of strife. Literacy (including books in local languages) can make a difference. So can electricity, and, I’d argue, art.

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

For more information about this adventure, please take a look at Ethiopian Odyssey.

 

Court Affirms Conviction of Larry and Carri Williams

A Washington state appellate court has affirmed the convictions of Larry and Carri Williams in the homicide of Hana (Alemu) Williams. Both Larry and Carri had appealed their convictions, but the appellate court judges said there is no reason to change the decision made by the Skagit County jury in October 2013: the Williamses will remain in jail.

More information is available here: “Court affirms convictions of WIlliamses in adopted daughter’s death.”

May Hana rest in peace.

Does Our US Congress Believe in Adoption?

If they did, the Adoptee Citizenship Act  (S. 2275) would have already passed.

If they believe that adoption is a way that children become part of forever families, there should be no hesitation to support this bill.

If they have ever supported the need for orphans to have families, they should pass this bill.

If they have children and grandchildren they love, they should pass this bill.

Thousands of children were adopted to the US for decades. Some of their American parents failed to get them citizenship. It was not the failure of the adoptees, who came here with the full oversight and the permission of the US government.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees brought to the US prior to 2000.

Why is guaranteeing US citizenship for internationally adopted children even an issue?

A small percentage of those adoptees whose parents failed to get them citizenship have gotten into trouble with the law, served their time, and are now subject to deportation, due to an immigration law that should never have included adoptees. Some have been deported. At least one has died after having been deported.

Some in our Congress believe that if an adoptee is convicted of a crime, and serves his time in jail, it is okay to then deport him forever out of the US. That perspective tells us that they do not believe in the integrity and value of adoption.

The bottom line: In failing to support this bill, members of Congress are saying that adoptees–who were promised a forever family, who arrived here legally as the children of American parents–are not really genuine family members, and they thus can be deported. The US government approved the international adoption. The US government should now approve citizenship for all international adoptees.

Many children of our Congressional representatives and other elected officials have gotten into trouble with the law. I hope the children were treated fairly by our justice system and, if found guilty, served their time. I doubt the sons or daughters of our elected officials were then deported away from the only family they have ever known, forever. Adoptees should be treated fairly as well.

There are many adoptive parents and grandparents in our Congress, and many whose staff members have adopted or were adopted themselves. If they are not supporting this bill, they are saying, “It is okay to deport adoptees, because they are not really part of our family.” And that is just not true.

Adoptive parents and adoption agencies should promote this legislation and contact their Congressional representatives. The 161 members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute–a third of our Congress–tout the value of permanency for children in need of parents, and celebrate Angels in Adoption. Every one of them should be demanding passage of this bill, saying it is long overdue, and it is right and fair for adoptees.

Ask your member of Congress: Do you believe in adoption? Then sponsor and vote for the Adoptee Citizenship Act.

You can find out who your Representatives and Senators are here. You can send a message about the Adoptee Citizenship Act here. Please contact them today.

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Carri Williams Cannot Stop Adoption Proceedings for 5 of Her Children

Carri Williams, sentenced for 37 years for the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Alemu, gave up custody of her minor biological children in September 2013, when she was convicted of homicide by abuse. This past January, she tried to overturn a ruling to stop the adoption of her children. Appellate court judges disagreed.

This means that Carri Williams cannot stop the adoption proceedings of 5 of her children, who range in age from 11 to 18. The two oldest biological children are over 18.

Read “Appellate Court Affirms Ruling on Convicted Mother’s Dispute Over Adoption of Her Children” from the Skagit Valley Herald for more information.

 

Carrie Williams, looking toward the jury

Carrie Williams, looking at the jury during her 2013 trial.

 

Appeals Court Oral Arguments for Larry and Carri Williams

This morning the Washington State Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for Larry and Carri Williams, who are seeking to overturn their convictions for the death of their adopted Ethiopian daughter, Hana Alemu. Many thanks to those who were able to attend the 40 minute hearing: there were about 25 people there for Hana, several from the Ethiopian Community Center as well as others who have held Hana in their hearts. It was a great showing of support for Hana. The courtroom does not have space for many more people than were there sitting behind the prosecuting attorney today.

Neither Larry nor Carri were in the courtroom. Both are in jail in Washington state, and this was a strictly legal process. It will likely be weeks before we hear the decision of the court.

As always, I must say that I am not a lawyer, so am writing about this with a non-legal background. In October 2013, Carri Williams was found guilty of homicide by abuse of Hana; Larry Williams was found guilty of manslaughter of Hana. Each filed appeals for their convictions in the death of Hana. Information about their sentencing is available here.

Three appeals court judges today heard the oral arguments by attorneys first for Carri Williams’ case, then for Larry. The attorneys for Larry and Carri had submitted significant legal documents for the appeal, which of course the judges had read prior to today’s hearing. The entire hearing was under an hour. This was not a re-trying of the case–it was a legal process to see if errors had been made at the 2013 trial which were signficant enough to reverse the convictions.

The main argument offered by the attorney from the Washington State Appellate Project on Carri Williams’ behalf involved the failure of the original trial judge to grant a mistrial after Hana’s Ethiopian uncle essentially disappeared, failing to return to Ethiopia. The prosecution had brought the uncle to the US, and he had testified (through translators) that he had proof in a family Bible about Hana’s age. Hana’s age mattered for the homicide by abuse charge; Hana had to be under 16 years old for Carri to be charged for that crime. There was controversy about Hana’s actual age, and dental and other experts were witnesses at the trial. The disappearance of the uncle was problematic. The trial judge struck all of the uncle’s testimony, telling the jurors to ignore it. The lawyer for Carri argued today that the mistrial should have been granted.

The attorney from the Skagit Country Prosecutor’s Office (representing the state on half of Hana) argued that the decision to strike the uncle’s testimony was appropriate. One of the Appeals Court judges today asked about the torture definition, as the standard of “torture” was a necessary element for the homicide by abuse charge. The attorney explained that one act in itself (food deprivation, outside shower, or locking in closet) might not have reached the level of torture, but the cumulative effect over time did, and so experts were consulted during the trial about the nature of torture.

Again, no one was arguing about the factual horrific events that led to Hana’s death. The appeals process is focused on whether proper legal procedure was followed in the 2013 trial. Hence, there were discussions today about whether the dental witness should have testified for a longer time, whether the instructions to the jury were adequate, and whether the timing of witness lists was correct.

The hearing then turned to Larry Williams’ appeal. Larry was not home the night Hana died, but had been aware and involved in the various disciplinary techniques by Carri Williams. There was discussion today of whether, from a legal perspective, Larry was an “accomplice” or a “principal” in the events that led to Hana’s death. The attorney representing Larry acknowledged that Larry “doesn’t have entirely clean hands” in the case, but that doesn’t make him an accomplice in Hana’s death that night. In response, the prosecutor argued that Larry breached his duty as a parent by denying Hana basic necessities of life, and participated in deprivation to Hana that was reckless. The jury at the trial believed Larry was a participant; one legal question in this appeal is whether both Larry and Carri were principals in Hana’s death, or whether Larry was an accomplice.

Neither Larry nor Carri has appealed their convictions of assault of a child, which involved their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. Today’s hearing was solely about the convictions for Hana’s death.

The judges could take weeks or months to issue a decision. If the convictions are not overturned, the Williamses can file more appeals.

Hana, we are standing with you.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light at the End of the International Adoptee Citizenship Tunnel

Adoptive parents and adoption agency professionals: Step up with adoptees. Insist on US citizenship for all international adoptees. Contact your Congressional representatives. Share this news.

There is now progress and hope that US citizenship will be granted to all international adoptees.

It comes as a shock to many people that, for decades, international adoptees were not granted automatic US citizenship. After all, the children were approved to leave from their country of origin for the purposes of joining US families as permanent legal family members. US agencies and the US government oversaw the process on this end, via paperwork, visas, and more paperwork.

However, until the year 2000, there was no automatic citizenship. If parents failed to file for their adopted children, the children were and are at jeopardy of having uncertain or no status in the US. Despite the intent of adoption–adopted children are part of the family, just like biological children of the parents, right?–and despite the various government approvals, some international adoptees never received citizenship.

Some found that out after they got into trouble with the law, served their time, and then were subject to deportation.

The sweet, cute children who pepper adoption agency ads and whose faces appear on adoption websites grow up. Some make terrible decisions. They deserve their day in court, and they deserve to be punished. They do not deserve to be deported, as adults, to countries to which they no longer have any connection: no language, no family, no friends, nothing, never to return to the US, the place that was supposed to be their forever home.

Many of us in the adoption community are hoping that this situation is about to change. S. 2275, the Adoptee Citizenship Act, has been introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This is very good news.

The bill closes the loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2000: it would give retroactive citizenship to all international adoptees regardless of when they were adopted. It is highly significant for thousands of adoptees who, through no fault of their own, were not given the citizenship promised to them by the US government, their adoptive parents, and adoption agencies. It’s significant for deported adoptees who’ve had to deal with a lot of struggles for, in many cases, minor mistakes. It’s the first US federal law that is being addressed, crafted, and pushed through the legislative process with huge adoptee leadership.

Please help with the effort to get this bill enacted.

Contact your lawmakers and tell them that they should support S. 2275 . You can do so quickly and easily via 18 Million Rising.

Spread the word. This is not a done deal. The bill has to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then must pass on the Senate floor. Please share this news, and encourage others to contact their Congressional representatives.

Many thanks to the adoptees and allies who have worked tirelessly on this legislation. Let’s get this done.

 

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Seattle Screening of “Difret”

UPDATE: Tickets are sold out. Many thanks to everyone who bought a ticket.

 

I am delighted to say that there will be a screening of the award-winning movie “Difret” here in Seattle on December 2, 7pm, at Central Cinema. Please buy your tickets now by clicking here.

The film was produced by Angelina Jolie Pitts, and is based on the true story of a young Ethiopian girl accused of killing the man who had kidnapped her, and whom she was supposed to marry. The writer/director is Ethiopian-born and -raised Zersenay Berhane Mehari; an executive producer is Ethiopian-American artist Julie Mehretu.

Child marriage, or early/forced marriage, has devastating lifelong consequences, according to the film’s writers. Education and empowerment of girls is one solution to eliminating child marriage. The nonprofit She Reads Ethiopia is working to help Ethiopian girls go to school and grow stronger; you can help support their work when you purchase a ticket to the screening.

We will have a panel of Ethiopian speakers after the screening to discuss the film and the impact of child marriage in Ethiopia.

We must sell 78 tickets by November 24 to have the screening. It’s an amazing, important film. Please share this info. Please join us, and buy your tickets today! Amaseganallo. Thank you!

 

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Appeals Court Info on Williamses’ Case

There will be an appeals court hearing for Larry and Carri Williams on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am.The address is One Union Square, 600 University Street, Seattle.  I wrote about the hearing here, and I want to share some additional thoughts, especially if you were interested in attending.

It is a public hearing; all are welcome. There will be 20 minutes of oral arguments for each case, so the hearing itself will last about 40 minutes. There will be no decision made that day by the judge. It is not a huge room, and attorneys for other cases get preference in seats, but there is certainly room for the public. You may want to allow time to get through the security and get a seat.

I know there is great interest in the case, and enormous support for Hana. It will be great to have a strong showing of folks in court for Hana. I want to be sure everyone understands that this is a brief event, a legal process, lawyers talking to the judge. I will be there, and I know several others in the Seattle area who are planning to attend. If you can easily attend, wonderful. If you are unable to be there. we know you are joining us in spirit, and we will update you as soon as possible after the hearing.

Many thanks for all those who have kept Hana in their hearts.

 

 

Flipping the Script: Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption

What would you predict about the future of international adoption? Who will be part of creating that future?

I have an article in the November issue of Adoption Today called “Predicting the Future of Intercountry Adoption.” That was the title of a panel I participated on at the Families First Conference last June. The conference was co-sponsored by the now defunct Joint Council on International Children’s Services and the National Council For Adoption.

Adoption Today asked if I would write an article on the same subject for them, and so I did, covering many of the points I offered at the Families First conference. Here is a brief summary of my predictions from a June blog post:

  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless adult adoptees and first families are included in conferences and policy discussions in advocacy groups, Congress, the Hague, and around the world.
  • Adoptions will continue to decline unless fraud and corruption are overtly acknowledged, not just discussed among agency workers.
  • Openness will be the norm in international adoption, and needs to be promoted by agencies as a positive development. That said, openness is complicated.
  • DNA technologies and social media will expand connections between adoptees and their birth/first families.
  • Most international adoptions will be for special needs children, another reason that pre- and post-adoption and resources must be strengthened.

I hope you will take a look at my article and the others in Adoption Today.

Tomorrow, National Adoption Awareness Month (November) begins. While the commentary has historically been dominated by adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the voices of adoptees and first/birth parents are increasingly being heard. The social media movement #FlipTheScript by adoptees was powerful last November in opening eyes and in questioning long-held narratives that included only adoptive parents and adoption agencies.

I’ve no doubts that this November will see an even greater expansion of #FlipTheScript. That’s another hope-filled prediction, and I am looking forward to reading and learning. We need all the voices, and we need to understand that adoption casts a wide net. Engaging and listening are the only ways to create a better future.

May this November truly bring about an increased awareness of the genuine needs of children (who grow up!), and a deeper understanding of the far-ranging realities of adoption.

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Forest, trees: a manipulated, colorful view of reality. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Birthdays and Adoptees: Finding Power in Both

My sons were adopted as babies; my twin daughters at six years old. When they were little, we had the mad abundance of birthday parties, at the pool, the soccer field, the grandparents’ front yard. The parties were full of presents, friends, family, ice cream, and cake.

Who was missing at these birthday celebrations? The women who gave birth to the children. The people (fathers, siblings, grandparents) who are biologically related to them.

I can’t help but wonder what those birth days were like for those family members.

Birthday parties evolve over time. Some adoptees have a rough time on their birthdays. In our family, we have all grown in our understanding of how a child’s beginnings can affect the child, and how powerful memories can be. We have seen how longing for what is not conscious can be quite deep. We have lived watching the ways that trust can be broken and losses felt, and how hard it is to heal that broken trust. My children’s birthdays are still celebrated, of course: they can count on receiving socks every year. And other stuff too. But they are in their late 20’s now. Still very young, but hardly children–except in the sense that they are always my children.

They are also the children–always–of their first families. Each child has had a different approach to connecting with their family of birth, and those stories are theirs alone to tell.

Today is the 27th birthday of my twin daughters, Adanech and Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia in 1994. Aselefech has been actively involved with the adoptee community. She wrote a wonderful post today at Lost Daughters, a writing collective of women adopted in the US or internationally as children. In it, she celebrates her connections with other Ethiopian adoptees whose hearts are in the country of their birth, their mother land, their home country. These young people, part of the diaspora, are actively working to help their younger selves in Ethiopia: children who witness their mothers die, children who are deeply loved but whose families are horrifically impoverished, children who beg on the streets, children who are unable to walk or to see, children who never go to school.

Happy Birth Day. May all children know safety, love, education, and hope. May these adoptees bring light and healing to each other and to the children. May all the voices be heard.

My daughters, my granddaughter, and me. © Maureen McCauley Evans