Heritage Camp: Ethiopian Celebration

Recently, I’ve written often here about the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, adoptive parents accused of homicide and manslaughter of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana and accused of first degree assault of their Ethiopian adopted son Immanuel. The case is tragic, unacceptable, and horrifying. It is also not representative of the vast majority of adoptions from Ethiopia to the United States. Here’s another, important perspective.

This past weekend, my twin daughters Adanech and Aselefech (adopted at 6 years old from Ethiopia, now almost 25), my granddaughter Zariyah, and I attended the Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp held in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at the Massanetta Springs Conference Center.

We joined over 200 people there, mostly other adoptive families like ours, as well as some Ethiopian families raising their children in the US. The camp is the beloved brainchild of Mekdes Bekele, the founder of the camp and a beautiful dynamo. This was the 5th year that families had gathered to celebrate and share their love for Ethiopia and its rich culture.  Mekdes would be the first to say the camp is the result of a lot of wonderful, passionate volunteers working extremely hard to present this thoughtful planned and executed 4 day event of workshops, kids’ activities, dancing, story telling, amazing food, terrific speakers, and more.  That’s true.  But Mekdes is the compassionate, energetic force of nature that propels the camp into existence.

Mekdes Bekele, founder of Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp

Mekdes Bekele, founder of Ethiopian Heritage and Culture Camp

This is the camp’s fifth year, an achievement in itself. Designed for both Ethiopian-American families and American families who have adopted Ethiopian children, the camp aims to connect and to educate, to celebrate being Ethiopian. It is a family camp, and not specifically focused on adoption, but adoption is a big part of this camp.

All the kids, from toddlers through teens, had their own track of activities. Most of the kids were Ethiopian, and some were siblings of adopted Ethiopian children. It was wonderful and amazing to see the kids connect. Some had been here before; for others, like my granddaughter, it was their first time. They learned to make chechebsa and to make Ethiopian baskets.  They listened to Esubalew Meaza talk about the stories behind his travels across Ethiopia, gathering photos for his beautiful book, Ethiopia: Inspiring Journey.

The Wolves (6, 7, 8 year olds) at Ethiopian Heritage Camp

The Wolves (6, 7, 8 year olds) at Ethiopian Heritage Camp

The parents also listened to wonderful speakers, including Esubalew Meaza, Dr. Electron Kebebew (chief of the Endocrine Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, and possessor of a cool name) and writer Jane Kurtz (Jane grew up in Ethiopia as the child of missionary parents, and has written many award-winning children’s books, including several about Ethiopia; she is also a founder of Ethiopia Reads).


Perhaps the most meaningful time for the children and the parents was the Saturday night traditional Ethiopian banquet, for which everyone wore their beautiful Ethiopian clothing.


IMG_9109The weekend also included lots of Ethiopian music and dancing, from many regions of Ethiopia.

Dancing Saturday night

Dancing Sunday morning

While that was great fun in itself, it was witnessing the sheer joy of children taking pride in their culture and witnessing the strength and love given to the children by the many Ethiopian role models that was astonishingly powerful.

Making connections, building pride

Making connections, building pride

Many of these role models are immigrants themselves, who love and miss Ethiopia, and who left Ethiopia to find more opportunities in America. They have a special place in their hearts for the Ethiopian adoptees. An amazing, beautiful weekend.

This post gives you, I hope, a sense for the overall energy of Heritage Camp. My next post will look at some of the challenging, courageous conversations that occurred around race, around bigotry, around hope, around expectations, and around listening.

7 thoughts on “Heritage Camp: Ethiopian Celebration

  1. Pingback: Ethiopian Culture Camps for Adoptive families

  2. How absolutely wonderful and joyous!! Thank you for participating and then sharing the photos and experiences with us. In such an unhappy world, such an organization and festivities are a sheer delight and a breat of fresh and pure air.

  3. Wonderful to hear about the camp and the shared joy & acceptance of people that appriciate our mutual humanitly—it makes us all better people. As I continue to attend the Larry & Carrie Williams trial in honor of Hana & Immanuel, this loving post will help me remember there are many, many positive stories out there. It will bring balance to the tragedy of this horrendous case of inhumanity. I agree w/Katy that Immanuel will hopefully be able to go one day soon.

  4. How awesome! So glad you and your family had this experience! If only Hana and Immanuel could have been part of this. Maybe Immanuel can go one day.

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