Hana, the Ethiopian Community, and Ethiopia Reads

Sometimes we American adoptive parents can forget the feelings of our children’s fellow citizens about the loss of their children.

I’ve known many Ethiopians who are grateful to be in the United States, because there are truly far more economic and educational options here for them. I know many Ethiopians here in the US who are working hard to bring their relatives to the US, and who send money back to their families in Ethiopia, hoping to help them in small and large ways. I’ve had many Ethiopians express gratitude to me for adopting my girls. And I believe that when Ethiopians express gratitude to me for having adopted two girls, their thanks are tinged with wistfulness and sorrow that the girls had to lose their culture, their family, their language, their heritage, their people to be here.

The trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Washington state captured attention around the world, as people shared sorrow and outrage, hearing what happened to young Hana Alemu, an Ethiopian adoptee, and to Immanuel, both of whom were adopted by the Williamses. The Williamses were convicted on August  of homicide by abuse, manslaughter, and first degree assault of a child; their sentencing is now scheduled for October 29.

As an adoptive parent of Ethiopian twin daughters, my heart ached for Hana and Immanuel. In the course of watching the trial unfold, I shared a number of conversations with adult international adoptees, as we sought to understand, grieve, and listen together. I also talked often with members of the Ethiopian community in Seattle and in Skagit County. Their grief was especially poignant.

In some ways, there is no understanding what happened in the Williams family. It is a tragedy for everyone involved. And it may seem simplistic or fatuous to suggest that any good can come from this harrowing case.

Yet I believe that good is indeed possible. I wrote about Hana’s Legacy here, and that gives some ideas for change and hope.

I have had a long-standing connection with the beautiful, complex, ancient country of Ethiopia for nearly 2 decades, as a result of adoption. I’ve long been interested in literacy and I love libraries, so my connection with Ethiopia Reads makes sense. Ethiopia Reads promotes literacy in Ethiopia, provides books in local languages, and has planted libraries in every region of that large country. I’ve been on the Ethiopia Reads Board, I’ve visited the Awassa Reading Center and other libraries, and I remain committed to the idea that with literacy can come empowerment and possibilities, especially for children, especially for girls.

Two talented Ethiopian artists, both of whom now live in the Seattle area, have also been wonderful, powerful friends of Ethiopia Reads. Both have also, like so many members of the Ethiopian community in Washington state and around the globe, grieved for Hana and Immanuel. Yadesa Bojia is an amazing artist and musician. Please take time to learn about him here. Sultan Mohamed is also an accomplished artist. You can read more about him here.

Both of these men have supported the work of Ethiopia Reads (and other important Ethiopian causes), through their time, their good hearts, and their incredible art.

Here is one of Yadi’s newest paintings:

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

To me, the painting shows the fire, the power, the light that can be created through reading. It’s a shared joy and gift between mother and child. It’s the mother’s knowledge of what reading and education can mean for her children, who have so much potential, given the opportunities.

Here is one of Sultan’s:

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Note the photo of Hana, surrounded by Ethiopian faces, perhaps angels, but certainly reminding us she is neither alone nor forgotten. Amharic writing engulfs her as well, ensuring us that she remains connected with her roots, her language, the sounds and words of those who loved her in Ethiopia and beyond.

These talented artists, these good men, have donated their paintings to an upcoming event (December 14, in Seattle, information provided below) to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads. I am in awe of their generous hearts, and of their deep commitment to children whose lives can change through literacy.

It may seem paradoxical that adoptive parents should work to ensure that fewer children need to be adopted, but it’s true. May we continue to move toward a world where all children can read, and thus be empowered in this world. May all children have safe, loving families, who can keep them and provide for them all that they dream of.

Information about Ethiopia Reads and the December event is available here. If you are looking for a small, effective organization that has opened libraries across Ethiopia where there were none, that has trained and employed Ethiopian teachers and librarians to sustain the libraries, that has worked with the local community in a respectful, transparent way, please look into Ethiopia Reads.

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