Hana Williams Died Five Years Ago Today

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

The weather that day in 2011 was overcast and cold. Hana died from starvation and hypothermia, right outside her family home where her adoptive siblings and mother were inside. She had been adopted from Ethiopia less than three years earlier. At the time of her death, she was 13 years old, five feet tall, and 78 pounds.

Larry and Carri Williams, Hana’s adoptive parents, were convicted in 2013 of killing her, and are now in jail. They will be there for decades. The Williamses’ minor biological children ended up being adopted, likely by family members. Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child adopted by Larry and Carri Williams, is (not surprisingly) struggling, from what I have heard. During the murder trial, we learned that he had been diagnosed with PTSD. Larry and Carri Williams were convicted not only of Hana’s death but also of abuse of Immanuel.

I can’t imagine what life has been like for the Williams’ children: to have witnessed the abuse by their parents of Hana and Immanuel, to have witnessed the death of Hana, to have testified at their parents’ murder trial, to have described in public the abuse that their parents imposed on Hana and Immanuel, and to have lost their parents to jail for at least 25 years. On September 28, 2011, a detective from Skagit County Sheriff’s office requested an arrest warrant for Larry and Carri. The document recounts what the Williams’ children said about how their parents treated Hana and Immanuel. At Larry and Carri’s sentencing, the judge suggested that the children’s testimony may have been the most compelling in getting the guilty verdict.

Many people keep Hana in their hearts: her family in Ethiopia, those of us who attended the murder trial, Ethiopians in the Seattle community and around the world, and those who have been moved by her story.

In the last five years, Ethiopia has sharply decreased the number of children placed in the United States. Ethiopian courts have annulled 3 adoptions of Ethiopian children placed in Europe. Staff members of a US adoption agency working in Ethiopia have pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges. The adoption agency that placed Hana and Immanuel, Adoption Advocates International (AAI), has closed. A vital Facebook organization, Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, has been created. Some of the changes are obviously positive; some are less clear.

There is debate over whether the decrease in adoptions is a good thing. Maybe fewer children will be placed in orphanages illicitly. Maybe more children will stay with their families. Maybe children in genuine, desperate need of families will never get one, or never get the medical care they need, care that they might have received as a result of adoption. Maybe more or fewer children will suffer.

Could Hana’s death have been prevented? The list of “If Only’s” is long: if only she had been adopted by a different family. If only she had been able to stay with her biological family. If only Larry and Carri had been better prepared, or more willing to seek help, or had connected with the adoption and Ethiopian communities. Had AAI made them aware of resources? Did AAI make sure that the WIlliamses would feel comfortable asking for help? If only so many things had happened.

There’s a great deal of justified, vocal anger in the adoption community these days. I want to think that it means the time is ripe for positive, effective changes that truly and effectively put the needs of children first. A veil has been lifted from the idyllic, romanticized version of adoption that has permeated our global culture.

The Williams’ murder trial lifted not a veil but a heavy, carefully placed curtain that had covered a family’s life until it was horrifically raised, on May 12, 2011. Four days before Hana’s death was Mother’s Day that year. Hana may well have spent the day with little or no food, locked in the closet that Carri Williams kept her in, with no light switch, no room to stretch in, let out only for bathroom breaks in an outdoor port-a-potty or a cold water shower outside. What could any child have done to deserve the treatment that Hana received?

May Hana rest in peace, in power, in grace, and in our hearts.

 

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

Adoptee Anthology “Lions Roaring” Featured in Ethiopian Diaspora Newspaper

We are so pleased that our anthology Lions, Roaring, Far From Home was featured in Gizeyat, the first weekly for the Ethiopian Diaspora.

The article, “Ethiopian adoptees to author book for the adoption community,” quotes the co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Kassaye MacDonald says “we are creating this book because the voices of Ethiopian adoptees deserve to be heard.” And according to Aselefech Evans, “Many Ethiopian adoptees, wherever they have been raised, feel a connection to Ethiopia and want to give back in some way.”

Kassaye and Aselefech are co-editors of the upcoming anthology, due out in 2016. One of the main goals of the publication is not only to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees, but also to fund a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees from around the world.

We are beginning the editing process now of the essays selected to appear in the anthology, and are honored by the stories that have been shared. We hope to have an Ethiopian adoptee design the cover art for the book.

Thank you to Gizeyat reporter Bereket Dereje and Gizeyat for featuring Lions Roaring!

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology Nearing Deadline

The purpose of the upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” is to share the voices of Ethiopian adoptees. It is also in honor of Hana Williams, the young adoptee who died far too soon, voiceless and alone. Finally, the anthology will support our work to create a guesthouse in Addis Ababa for returning adoptees from around the world.

July 15 is our deadline for accepting submissions: please consider writing. Let us know if you’d like to write something, even if you think you can’t make the deadline. Please pass this on to potential writers.

We are thrilled with the submissions so far for the anthology. We have received wonderful essays from France, Holland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the US, and Ethiopia. We are reaching out to famous adoptees whose writing may be included, and we are seeking a solid range of perspectives about Ethiopian adoption.

Writer’s Guidelines:

Here are some possible questions for you to answer. These are ideas, or prompts, to help you get started. Use them if you want. If you want to write about something else, no problem.

What did it mean for you to be an Ethiopian adoptee when you were growing up? How did your family explain things? How did other children respond to your being adopted and Ethiopian?

What does it mean to you to be Ethiopian, and African, as well as a citizen of the country to which you were adopted?

How have you been affected by racism? In your family, school, work?

Have you visited or lived in Ethiopia? What was that like for you?

If you haven’t been back to Ethiopia, would you like to return someday? Why? What would you like to do there? If you don’t want to go back, why not?

What was your image of Ethiopia when you were growing up? Has your view of Ethiopia changed over the years? Why?

Have you searched for your Ethiopian family, or reunited with them? If yes, how has that process been? If not, why not?

What advice would you give to young Ethiopian adoptees, or to adoptive parents?

What have been the easiest and hardest parts of being an Ethiopian adoptee?

If you are a parent, how have you explained being an Ethiopian adoptee to your children?

You are not limited in what you can write about, as long as it is in some way about the connection to Ethiopia from the perspective of an Ethiopian adoptee.

Length: Between one and six double spaced pages, or between 750 and 2500 words. Those are rough estimates. We want to read what you write, so don’t worry too much about the length. We will certainly look at essays that are fewer than 750 words.

Don’t worry about perfect grammar and spelling. This isn’t a test; you’re not going to be graded. We can work with you to polish the writing.

 We want to hear what you have to say.

Please send your submission (and any questions) to Maureen@LightOfDayStories.com.      Thanks!

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

 

 

French (And Other) Ethiopian Adoption Connections

Great partnerships are developing among adult Ethiopian adoptees, and between them and their allies. This one is about efforts to help adult adoptees travel back to Ethiopia.

If you are not following Les Adoptes D’Ethopie, a public Facebook group for Ethiopian adoptees raised in France, you might have missed this bit of news, posted by Annette-Kassaye. Annette is an Ethiopian adoptee, raised in Montreal, Canada. She learned to speak both English and French, and now participates in Les Adoptes D’Ethiopie. Annette is a good friend of my daughter Aselefech Evans, whose blog EthioAmerican Daughter recently featured (in English and French) the story of Yared, a French adoptee. Annette and Aselefech are co-founders of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora (EAD), a global group for adult Ethiopian adoptees only. There is also a public EAD page open to anyone here.

D’accord. Here is Annette’s recent post on Les Adoptes Ethiopie:

“Bonjour tout le monde,
Moi, Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans allons travailler sur un projet qui faciliterait le retour en Éthiopie pour les adoptés.

Chaque semaine (ou plusieurs fois par semaine), je suis étonnée de voir autant d’adoptés exprimer leurs désire de retourner et aussi leurs craintes et réticence d’y aller seule, avec leurs parents adoptifs ou avec leurs assos. C’est fou que nous travaillons tous dans nos petits coins quand qu’on pourrait faire quelque chose de grand qui faciliterait la vie de tout le monde, autant nous, nos parents et les jeunes adoptes et les futurs adoptés qui désiront retourner un jour pour connaitre leurs origine. Bref…. je vous tiendrai au courant de ce projet, je pense qu’il y a un grand besoin. <3”

And now, an automatically generated translation in English:

Re – hello everyone,

“Aselefech Evans, Maureen McCauley Evans, and I are working on a project that would facilitate the return to Ethiopia for adoptees.

Each week (or several times per week ), I am surprised to see so many adoptees express their desire to return and also their fears and reluctance to go alone, or with their adoptive parents or with their associates. It’s crazy that we are all working in our small corners when we could do something big that would facilitate the life of everyone, just as we, our parents and young people adopted. And the future adoptees that would like to return one day to know their origins. In short…. I will keep you informed of this project. I think there is a great need. ≺3”

Aselefech, Annette, and I have been talking about this for a while. The project is in very early stages, and the focus is this:

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees would like to return to Ethiopia but struggle with the expense. Some may not have been back since they left Ethiopia as small children.

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Photo taken by Maureen Evans August 2014 Ethiopia

Some adult adoptees do not want to travel with their adoptive parents. Some adoptive parents do not want to travel to Ethiopia, and will not or cannot assist their children in traveling. Some adult adoptees would like to travel back alone, some with other adoptees, some with their partners, spouses, or friends.

Some would like assistance and support (not necessarily financial) in the arrangements for travel in Ethiopia. This would mean the usual items such as hotel/guest houses, meals, translators, tour guides, drivers, etc., but also resources in Ethiopia that are specific to adopted persons, such as adoption-competent social workers and translators with fluency in multiple languages. Connecting with other adoptees who have traveled and searched for birth family would also be important.

Some adoptees are interested in searching and spending time with their birth families. Some have not been able to locate birth family members. Some would like to participate in projects to help Ethiopia (literacy, clean water, health care, etc.) while they are visiting.

Models for this undertaking exist in Korea, where adult adoptees have been very active. KoRoot and GOA’L provide wonderful, established models of adoptee-led organizations designed to support adoptees traveling to their country of birth.

We hope, of course, to see the services envisioned in Ethiopia extended to Ethiopian birth/first families, such as translators and adoption-competent social workers.

One effort already up and successfully running is Ethiopian Adoption Connection (EAC), a database in which Ethiopian families can enter information about children they have placed for adoption, in an effort to locate them. Adoptive families and adopted individuals can enter their information as well, and already there have been several matches. The site is in English and Amharic.

Currently, an Ethiopian first/birth family is looking for news about a boy adopted at age 7 in 2007 from the Kembata Tembaro area, possibly to the US or Italy. Information is available here. Please share this with others, and take a look at all the entries on the EAC page.

EAC has a lot of helpful information, including online groups for adoptive families and adoptees, as well as this master’s thesis on Ethiopian birth/first mothers’ experiences.

Some 13,000 Ethiopian children have been adopted to the United States. Thousands more have been adopted to Canada, western Europe, and Australia. While most are still minors, many are adults. Some are turning their hearts, eyes, and feet toward their country of birth. Let’s join them on the journey.