A Heartfelt View of Ethiopian Adoption, From Ethiopians: Listen Up

My dear friend Yadesa Bojia is a talented artist, graphic designer, and singer/songwriter. He’s Ethiopian by birth, grew up in Ambo (a small city near Addis), and moved to the US in 1995. He now lives in Seattle, and is devoted to his family and active in the community. His design was selected in 2010 for the African Union flag. Take a look at his website here.

Yadesa Bojia

Yadesa Bojia

He contributed this beautiful piece of art for the Ethiopia Reads fundraiser: the painting sold for just over $3000.

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

All too often in discussions of international adoption, we fail to include so many voices: adoptive parents are dominant. Adoptees and first parents rarely are included.

We adoptive parents must make sure the voices of first parents are always a transparent, ethical part of any discussion about adoption.

The voices of the people in the country of origin (in this case Ethiopia) are often varied, of course, and are also too rarely heard.

We need to listen to them.

The following is taken, with permission, from a Facebook post today by Yadesa. It includes a video link to a news report and a powerful interview with an Ethiopian first mother. The video is in Amharic, without translation. Yadesa has summarized it in this post:

“We heard the move by Ethiopian government to totally shut down international adoption. As a long time observer of adoption from Ethiopia, I know how difficult and heart breaking this can be for families that are invested their heart, time and money (it costs a lot). I met great families and friends who adopted from Ethiopia and adopted the culture and the love for the country. I watched them care for the babies and I love them. I also expected the shut down because of some of the unbelievable and inhumane corruptions by organizations to snatch babies out of poor mothers love so they can make them adoptable. This activity is incredibly cruel to both families in each side of the story.

Meet Ms. Asnaketch Negussie. According to the Ethiopian Television interview, she said ten years ago when her husband passed away, she was approached by these organizations and they urged her to let go of her daughter and her boy. Her daughter, Selamawit, was at the time was 3 and half and her son Abel was twelve. When she refused, the organization told her to ‘let your daughter live a better life than you can provide her.’ Imagine the need to keep her daughter and the guilt of keeping her away from a better life. She finally surrendered and gave Selamawit away but the age of the boy did not make him adoptable (older boys or girls have lesser chance to be adopted). Fast forward to today. Abel stayed in Ethiopia, graduated from high school and went to college and graduated with honor. He is now gainfully employed and helping his mom. They have no idea what happened to Selamawit and the report ends with the mother saying, ‘If I don’t see her, I will die with an emotional scar. My body will never rest.’

Selamawit may be living in a better place, with people that care for her and love her but at the end both families will deal with the emotional scar undoubtably. I am for better life for kids anywhere in the world. If it took adoption to make that happen, let it be. But adoption need to be the last resort, it needs to have stages and it also need to be transparent and voluntarily done.

Judge for yourself. To learn more about this please read “The Child Catchers” by Kathryn Joyce.”

Below is the link to the video Yadesa posted. Although I don’t speak Amharic, listening to this Ethiopian first mother was very powerful.


Thank you very much, Yaddi. We need to hear and listen to your voice, and to those of first families.

At the beginning of his post above, Yadesa alludes to the recent news about Ethiopia possibly closing to adoption. More information is available here.

I am beginning work on a project to preserve and honor the stories of Ethiopian first mothers. Here is a recent post.

My thanks to Asnaketch Negussie for sharing her poignant story in the video. I am keeping Selamawit in my heart as well.


Asnaketch Megussie, first mother

Asnaketch Megussie, first mother

Kathryn Joyce: Aftermath of Hana Williams’ Death, and of Ethiopian Adoptions

During the course of the 7 week trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Skagit County, Washington, I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Having worked years ago with international adoption agencies, I knew some of the people mentioned in the book, and was familiar with some of the issues raised. Kathryn is a thoughtful, intelligent, warm person, and a talented, insightful writer.

She covered the trial of the parents of Ethiopian adoptees Hana Alemu and Immanuel Williams, and talked with many members of the Ethiopian community as well, including adoptees. She has written a powerful, challenging piece published today on Slate. Click on the title to read it: Hana’s Story: An adoptee’s tragic fate, and how it could happen again.

The article discusses Hana’s life and death, and the subsequent trial of Larry and Carri Williams, now serving long sentences in jail. It also tells the stories of several other Ethiopian adoptees, placed primarily by Adoption Advocates International, the same adoption agency that the Williamses used. These now-young adults were adopted into very large, Christian fundamentalist families, and many were subjected to the same treatment as Hana and her adopted brother Immanuel. Some of these Ethiopian adoptees have been thrown out of their families, have struggled mightily fitting into American society, and are now desperately alone, far from the land of their birth.

As an adoptive parent of twin Ethiopian daughters, I read the story of the Ethiopian adoptees with a heavy heart. I’ve expressed my concerns about adoption practices related to Hana and Immanuel in several posts, such as Case Study, Part 1: The Williamses’ Adoption Agency, and Case Study, Part 2.

While Hana’s death was an extreme example of what can go tragically wrong in adoption, we cannot dismiss it as “isolated” and turn our eyes. We need to reflect very seriously on how to make things better for adopted children. The children (we hope) grow up to be adults. They continue to need services and support, especially if the placements were not appropriate for them and they have been exiled from their adoptive families–and now cannot return to their homeland either.

I encourage you to read The Child Catchers, and to read Kathryn’s article on Slate. Yes, it’s tough reading, and the temptation is to shake our heads, to throw up our hands. But that’s not enough.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

May Hana rest in peace, and may no child suffer as she did. May her legacy be one of hope and strength for Ethiopian adoptees.

Update: KUOW, NPR’s Seattle station, did an interview with Kathryn Joyce on November 13. Listen to it here.

Evangelicals and Orphans: Who Is Being Saved?

Kathryn Joyce, author of the acclaimed book “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption,”  has an important editorial in the New York Times today (9/22/2013). Here it is: “The Evangelical Orphan Boom.”

A quote:

For too long, well-meaning Americans have brought their advocacy and money to bear on an adoption industry that revolves around Western demand. Adoption can be wonderful when it’s about finding the right family for a child who is truly in need, but it can also be tragic and unjust if it involves deception, removes children from their home countries when other options are available, or is used as a substitute for addressing the underlying problems of poverty and inequality. We can no longer be blind to the collateral damage that good intentions bring.

This is tough stuff. There are children around the globe who need safe, loving families. We have to be sure that adoptions are transparent and genuinely necessary, and that adoption is truly the best way to help a child.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Thank you, Kathryn, for asking hard questions.


Child Catchers and One (Surprising) Christian Response

There is a maelstrom occurring in the world of adoption just now. One bit of thunder is the debate in churches and across the Internet about orphans, widows, Jesus, and Kathryn Joyce’s new book Child Catchers: Rescue Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. 

I understand if evangelical Christians feel defensive while reading Child Catchers. The picture painted is difficult to view.

Caleb David is the co-founder of the One Child Campaign, whose mission is “to raise awareness in the body of Christ for the orphan crisis and to provide ways for each person to touch and change the life of at least one child through Orphan awareness trips and other holistic methods.” There’s a photo of a sad, big-eyed child of color on the web site. Caleb is also the adoptive father of two children from Ethiopia–and a friend of Kathryn Joyce.

Caleb was a recent guest writer on the Kingdom in the Midst (Christian–“living in and looking for the kingdom of God”) blog. His perspective may surprise you.

One quote (and please read the whole post): “…friends, there ARE major problems with how we view adoption, orphan care, and poverty. Just being an adoptive family does not make us experts on the complex socio-economic issues of our children’s birth countries.”

As much as it is stirring lots up, Child Catchers might also spread patriarchal leanings, white privilege, sincere efforts, hidden cash, facts and lies, tragic stories, and viable possibilities out on the lawn for us to pick through in sunshine. There’s a big mess to deal with, but I am hopeful the time has arrived for us to look carefully at motivations behind adoption, and the realities that occur as a result–and especially what we can do to repair the damage and prevent future destruction. Deep breaths and deep listening go a long way sometimes.