An Academic Analysis of Ethiopian Illegal Adoptions: A Sobering Roadmap

“Children for Families: An Ethnography of Illegal Intercountry Adoption From Ethiopia,” an article by Daniel Hailu, Ph.D., in Adoption Quarterly, provides a stunningly clear road map of how illegal adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia. His research corroborates many anecdotal experiences, discusses the impact of Ethiopian sociocultural views, and offers suggestions for reform.

The issue of illegal adoptions from Ethiopia has been simmering for years. I don’t think anyone has statistics on how many adoptions have been legal or illegal. Families have shared stories on Facebook. Adult adoptees have learned, after search and reunion, that their adoptive parents were not told the truth about why adoption was needed. Birth/first families were deceived or coerced into placing their children in an orphanage. Blame can be focused on many people: adoption agencies, police officers, brokers, government workers, adoptive families, first/birth families, and almost anyone involved with adoption and fees.

Adoptions from Ethiopia have declined dramatically in recent years. In May of this year, the Ethiopian government suspended adoptions, though it appears that children who were in the legal custody of their adoptive parents have been allowed to leave Ethiopia. I posted recently about the upcoming sentencing hearing of three International Adoption Guides’ officials, who have pled guilty to charges involving fraud and corruption in Ethiopia. A frequent source of debate on Facebook among adoptive families is whose adoption was fraudulent, whose adoption agency was checked out thoroughly, whose adoption was “clean.” Some prospective and new adoptive families discount the stories of families who have discovered lies and deceits in their children’s adoptions.

Dr. Hailu’s article describes how illegal and unethical adoptions occur. He interviewed 54 “informants,” people intimately engaged in adoptions in Ethiopia. He writes:

“At the root of illegal adoption are fabricated documentation and false testimonies that establish the legal basis for the subsequent adoption processes. Informants reported that these bases could not be established without the support and protection of local authorities, including some police officers.

An orphanage involved in illegal adoption perceived four major advantages in involving local authorities, as summarized by an informant:

First, local authorities facilitate identification of brokers from within the local community where orphanages have no other trusted link.

Second, officials in clandestine support brokers in recruiting children: The authorities identify children for potential adoption and also coax parents and guardians into giving their children away for adoption.

Third, the official expedites issuance of a letter of testimony that the orphanage needs from the kebele (neighborhood or ward) administration or the social court in order to take the case to the First Instance Court.

Fourth, the officials buffer the orphanage from any allegations that may be posed by any higher authority against recruiting an ineligible child.”

No one disputes, I hope, the role that money has played and continues to play in adoption. Between 1999 and 2016, some 15,300 Ethiopian children arrived in the U.S. Using a fee of $30,000 per adoption, some $459 million went from the U.S. to Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, not all of it went to Ethiopia. Still. Millions of dollars poured into Ethiopia from adoptive families, not just to the adoption agencies, but also to the orphanages, and to others working in the network to secure children for adoption.

Here is one matter-of-fact and chilling quote:

“The following description of a country representative of an adoption agency regarding the relationship between adoption agencies and orphanages is shared by several other informants in the industry:

‘Take my case as an example. I have entered adoption agreement worth millions. Neither UNICEF nor any government subsidizes me. Rather I get the money from adopting families. They expect me to give them babies. My boss expects babies. So, I expect the babies from the orphanages to whom I agreed to give part of the millions. It is a clean supply and demand relationship that exists among adopting families, adoption agencies, and orphanages. Essentially, we are providing children for families rather than finding families for children without parental care.’ ”

And how would country representatives or brokers convince families to place their babies and children in the orphanages, and thus for adoption?

That method, according to Dr. Hailu’s article, is also matter-of-fact and chilling.

“Three techniques were identified that brokers applied to coax parents and guardians into voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The first was to appeal to the natural wish of parents for the future well-being of their children.

An informant explained:

As a first strategy, “Brokers would convince parents/guardians that it was better for the child to grow under better care than suffer with them: They promise that the child would be sent to [a] good school, eat well, [and] wear nice clothes and would generally live comfortable life. The brokers also give them the false promise that they would get to see the child once in a while whether the child is adopted locally or internationally.”

These promises have generally proven false, of course. Many adoptive parents and adopted persons have encountered Ethiopian birth parents who beg them to find out about the children they lost to adoption and have never heard from, despite the “promises” they were given. One important resource is Beteseb Felega—Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many adoptees with their Ethiopian parents. Whether the adoptive parents had made the promise or not, many Ethiopian parents were told there would be contact. I’ve heard of adoptive parents finding out that the Ethiopian parents hoped to know if their children were alive and well—and the adoptive parents refused to respond. I hope they can face their adopted children and tell them this someday, as the children will grow up and likely find out their truths.

The second strategy of brokers to acquire children is to draw the attention of parents or guardians to their poverty and entice them with a promise of economic gain that they would potentially accrue by giving their child away for eventual adoption.

Another informant explained:

“The broker calls the attention of guardians to the financial assistance and visits that some guardians who have previously given away their children may have obtained from adopting families. There may be many such stories known to the people that brokers use for their purpose. For example, adopt[ive] parents of a child had sent money to the biological parents in our area, who used it to open their own beauty salon. Some guardians have reported to have come to the orphanage for the purpose of giving their bank account number to the adopting family in anticipation of transfers.”

The issue of how, whether, and how much adoptive families contribute to the financial support of their children’s Ethiopian families is a hot button topic. Some people feel it encourages other Ethiopian families to place their children for adoption, hoping to get a financial return, a concern borne out by Dr. Hailu’s article. Other parents feel it is their ethical right and responsibility to send their child’s siblings to school, or to buy a goat, or to wire money on a regular basis. It’s complicated. There is no question there has been an impact, in any case. I hope there will be more studies done, by the Ethiopian government or by academics, on the financial contributions to birth/first families.

In the third strategy, the broker capitalizes on the socially constructed prestige that could be accrued out of having a child living abroad.

“A related enticement is the social prestige that can be derived out of forging familial linkage with a ferenji (i.e., a white person). Although guardians are the main targets, these coaxing rhetorics have a stronger influence on older siblings of the child being prepared for adoption, who consider this a special opportunity presented to their younger siblings. This is due to increasing globalization that is creating an image of opportunities and affluence that may be available in the freng hager (i.e., the country of white people).

Consequently, in addition to persuasion by brokers, siblings who are too old to be adopted put pressure on their parents to place their younger siblings in the hope that the above reported social and economic benefit may eventually trickle down to them as well.”

Many adoptive parents have been told their children were abandoned. Dr. Hailu’s informants describe how the abandonment is staged.

“Staged abandoning of a child takes the form of a play in the theater. The play is written and directed by the broker. He also casts the characters and assigns them roles. In this drama the parents/guardians are coaxed into leaving the child at a predetermined place and time that is out of public view.

Soon after the child is seemingly abandoned, an assigned person reports the case to a predetermined police officer. The police officer who is ready to take on his role goes to the site and takes the child to the police station where all necessary records are made. The police officer then takes the child to the temporary custody of the orphanage on whose behalf the broker has directed the drama. The case is then taken to the First Instance Court.

Abandoned children pose much less procedural and legal challenges for orphanages. To begin with, the strategy is, informants reported, generally applied with infants who had not yet developed verbal capacities lest the child leak information regarding his or her guardians or the staged abandoning.”

While there is much information in this article to process, some of which is familiar to many, some of which will be eye-opening and jaw-dropping, Dr. Hailu also offers some solutions.

A referral system could enable unparented children to benefit from NGO services, and hence avoid institutional care and intercountry adoption. Hailu writes that “In Ethiopia, there already exist thousands of NGOs that provide community-based services to children. For example, 275 NGOs that are operational in Addis Ababa in 2013 had implemented more than 291 child-focused projects investing Birr 703, 641, 865 (Hailu, 2013). But there is currently no referral system to connect the children in need to the services that could be provided.”

Dr. Hailu also writes that “Informants reported that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, when making decisions based on the recommendations of its regional counterparts, generally does not undertake an independent investigation about the child’s social economic status. This is partly because it lacks the institutional capacity to travel to the child’s locality of origin to conduct the investigation, and partly because regional governments could construe the attempt at independent investigation by the federal government as interfering in their autonomy.”

I believe Dr. Hailu is suggesting here that independent investigations by MOWA, if feasible and done with transparency, could provide oversight and confirmation of accuracy of reports from the regional governments.

Changing sociocultural attitudes about adoption in Ethiopia could also, Dr. Hailu suggests, help to minimize illegal adoptions.

In testifying that a child is an orphan or abandoned, “witnesses see their false testimony as an act of benevolence, or even socially required action, to both the child and family. If they refuse to falsely testify, they could be regarded as miqegna (literally means one who does not wish the good of others), with potential negative social repercussions. Therefore, transforming the cultural and social-psychological allure within local communities is a critical strategy to minimizing illegal intercountry adoption.

This may involve preventive interventions of systematic and sustained public education regarding child rights, the adverse impacts of institutional care and intercountry adoption on children, and legal adoption processes. It also requires protective interventions of strict legal enforcement against participation in illegal intercountry adoption.”

In terms of the financial incentives inherent in international adoption, Dr. Hailu writes that “criminalizing direct adoption-related transactions between adoption agencies and orphanages” could be effective. “This will require setting up a centralized agency under a relevant ministry managed by a public/private partnership. The agency may be part of a national social welfare system that may be mandated to undertake individualized assessment of each unparented child and refer the child to various alternative care options including intercountry adoption.

As part of the welfare system, institutional care providers may be given subcontracts or grants by the centralized agency (and not by adoption agencies) to provide institutional foster care until a better placement is found for the child. Measures to ensure accountability and transparency in the operations of the agency need to be put in place in order to prevent officers of the agency from establishing corrupt relationships with adoption agencies and orphanages.”

There are many possible ways to curb or perhaps end fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. They require diligence, funding, infrastructure, marketing, training, and sustainable capacity. I know many people and organizations argue that ending international adoptions is the only way to end the fraud and corruption. I know others who say that adoptions should continue only for children with special needs who cannot get appropriate (life-saving) care in Ethiopia. Others argue that adoptions, not life in abject poverty in an orphanage, would be best.

I’d argue that family preservation, orphan prevention, and in-country adoption are goals that everyone who cares about Ethiopian children should prioritize. I’ve written about the many ways to help children in Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

I hope Dr. Hailu’s article, which is available here (a paywall), will be widely read by anyone connected with Ethiopian adoptions, or who has an interest in child welfare. Although I was familiar with much of this information anecdotally, it is quite powerful to see it set in academic terms.

Ultimately, of course, it is Ethiopia’s decision to decide how to end fraud in Ethiopian adoptions, and how to make enact policies that best help children. I believe there are many in the adoption community who are watching the next steps carefully, and who are willing to help. I hope that, in addition to the usual government workers or international lawyers or lobbying groups, Ethiopian adoptees and birth/first families play a vibrant role in any discussions.

Sentencing Date (Finally) Set For International Adoption Guides’ Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Case

 

Update: The hearings have been delayed yet again until August 17.

 

At long last, the sentencing hearing will be held on July 13, 2017, for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty August 29, 2016, to fraud and corruption in their Ethiopian adoption program.

 

The sentencing hearing for IAG executive director Mary Moore Mooney is scheduled for 1:30pm in Courtroom  2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, South Carolina, before Judge David Norton.

 

The sentencing hearing for James Harding and Alisa Bivens is scheduled for 2:00pm, same place, same judge, as for Harding and Bivens.

 

I’ve written about the case multiple times since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three defendants as well as an Ethiopian IAG employee (who apparently remains in Ethiopia) in February 2014. The Justice Department had investigated the cases for years before the indictment, and the actual incidents of unconscionable fraud, bribery, and corruption had occurred years before that.

 

Child in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

The victims of these crimes–children and families in the U.S. and in Ethiopia–have been immeasurably harmed by the actions of the IAG staff. Whether the conviction and sentencing will have any impact on adoption agencies, on adoption policies, or on the fate of future adoptions from Ethiopia remains to be seen. It’s been such a long road for the families and children. It is possible that the sentencing date could change, given the nature of the American justice system. I am hopeful, nonetheless, that the sentencing will bring some small measure of peace for the families.

 

The Case Number is 2012R01249, and the Docket Number is 14-CR-00054.

 

 

 

Sentencing Hearings on IAG’s Fraud, Bribery (Finally) Held Today

Update: On October 20, 2016, I spoke with a clerk in Judge David Norton’s office who said that sentencing would not occur for at least another month. The clerk said that was because a different judge had originally heard the case. That judge has passed away, and Judge Norton “inherited” the case and apparently needs more time to decide on sentencing. The three defendants pled guilty about two years ago. The sentencing hearing was held August 29. The clerk said it is unusual for sentencing to take so long, but it was due to the previous judge’s death and a new judge in charge of the case. I am so sorry for all the families caught up in this. No such thing as closure.

 

More than two years after the staff of International Adoption Group (IAG) were indicted for fraud and bribery by the U.S.Justice Department, the three defendants finally faced a judge today for their sentencing hearing. Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens, all of whom had pled guilty, appeared in court today before District Court Judge David Norton in Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Norton could make a decision on sentencing within the week, though the exact time frame is unclear.

Camille Smicz and her family are among the victims of IAG. Camille was present in the courtroom today, and provided a victim impact statement. Camille’s voice spoke for the many families, in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, harmed by the criminal actions of IAG.

Today, according to Camille, the judge mentioned his concerns with the delays in this case, including Mary Mooney’s effort to change her plea from guilty to not guilty, (That attempt was denied.) Minimum sentencing could be probation. Maximum sentencing would be five years in a federal prison. Once sentenced, the defendants have 14 days to appeal the decision.

The prosecution in this case called a forensic financial analyst as a witness, who spoke about the finances of the victims due to IAG’s actions. The prosecution is asking for restitution for some of the families. It is unclear how or whether that will happen.

Camille noted that Alisa Bivens had been a youth pastor at a church up until last month,  and recruited 26 people from her church who wrote letters on her behalf. There was at least one person from the church who plans to report back to the congregation regarding the sentencing hearing.

While it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this point, the case seems to finally be moving toward a sort of closure. I know families are exhausted from the emotional toll this has taken. The extent of the corruption, fraud, and bribery done in the name of helping children is unconscionable.

My thanks to Camille Smicz for sharing this information, and for speaking out for the victims. I urge you to read Camille’s victim impact statement.

As soon as I hear the judge’s decision, I will post again.

Lions Roaring: Learning From the Stories of Ethiopian Adoptees

Our upcoming anthology “Lions Roaring Far From Home,” with more than 25 essays by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries, is on the final stretch to publication, and will be published this fall. It’s been a longer road than we anticipated. I am aware now of how much I did not know about the process. Had I known, would I have embarked on this adventure? Yes. It’s been wonderful to learn so much about working with diverse authors, editing across languages and cultures, engaging with translators, and grinding through the details involved in putting a book together.

Beyond learning about publishing, though, I have learned much more from the stories these amazing writers have shared.

The essays reflect a range of Ethiopian adoptee experiences. Some are happy, some are tragic. Some adoptees were deeply loved, some were cruelly abused. Yes, those are realities for non-adoptees as well. Add on the layer of adoption, though–the removal of a child from his/her mother, family, country, and culture–and both the love and the cruelty take on different poignancy.

Racism and being “other” is a constant, around the globe, sometimes low-key and polite, sometimes harsh and shocking.

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees are involved in amazing, impressive programs to give back to Ethiopia.

Some adoptees have struggled with significant depression along the way, even while in loving families, sometimes to the point of considering suicide.

Many were older at adoption, and remember well their parents and siblings. Some have searing, wrenching memories of being separated from their mothers.

Some have stayed in contact with their Ethiopian families, or have reconnected with them. Some continue to wonder why they were adopted, and have not been able to learn their truth.

For some, being adopted has had a profound impact on their becoming parents, and the way they have chosen to raise their children.

Some have returned to Ethiopia to live and raise their families.

Some adoptees have very happy memories of being in orphanages, often with their siblings.

Some adoptees, even as adults into their 30’s and 40’s, hesitate to tell their adoptive parents about wanting to learn about their birth families, or .

All these snippets give you a flavor of the book, perhaps. It’s the stories, though, that have such power.

Here are brief excerpts from 3 essays:

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Mani, Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

My grandpa was paying for my older sister and brother to go to school already, and when five more of us came to live with him and my grandma, he did not know what to do with us. It was a constant battle with my grandma as to what she should feed us. I don’t think he had any option but to put us in an orphanage. He never would have sent us back to the village because he knew if we went back, we never would have gotten to see the doorway of a school. Education to my grandpa was, and still is, the most important thing in life, after his faith.

 

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Woman walking in Addis Ababa. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

My mother’s brother wanted to murder my mother because she, as a young schoolgirl, without being married, became pregnant. My mother came from a Muslim family. A girl who is pregnant and unmarried shames the whole family. My mother fled to her older sister’s home in Addis Ababa, and there I was born. My mother would take me sometimes to visit my father, who comes from a wealthy Christian family, but he would not acknowledge me, given the disgrace.

 

 

 

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

Which family, in my heart, do I belong to more? Which parent do I love more? Where should I live once I grow up, in Ethiopia or the U.S.? Which parent do I listen to more? Which one do I call Mom? Why did I get adopted if my one parent is alive? What is my purpose in life in America? Why me?

I feel I am living a double life. I am Ethiopian, but I am also American. I have family in Ethiopia, and I have family in America. I lived my first 8 years in Ethiopia and have lived the rest in America. This has been a blessing as well as hardship for me. I feel blessed that I have my American citizenship and I got that very easily, by being adopted. I know of other Ethiopians that have immigrated to America and had much more difficulty and fewer opportunities than I have had.

On the other hand, I feel like there is a hole in my heart, because when I go back to Ethiopia, I don’t feel 100% Ethiopian. I look Ethiopian, but I can no longer speak Amharic. There are many cultural differences. When I am in America, I speak the language, but I do not look like others in my community. So, being an Ethiopian adoptee in America is both a blessing and a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Mary Mooney of International Adoption Guides Has Changed Her Plea

Mary Mooney, the former executive director of International Adoption Guides (IAG) indicted by the Justice Department for fraud and corruption in Ethiopian adoptions and who pled guilty in January, has recently asked the judge to change her plea from guilty to innocent.

You can read about her guilty plea here. You can read the Department of Justice’s February 2014 press release on the indictments here.

Alisa Bivens and Jim Harding, the other two IAG staff people also indicted by the Justice Department, pled guilty last year. None of them has been sentenced yet. There will now be a delay in their sentencing pending the outcome of the judge’s decision as to whether Mooney can change her plea. It is unclear when the judge will rule on Mooney’s request, but it probably won’t happen until sometime this summer.

As far as I know, the fourth person indicted, an Ethiopian citizen apparently now living in Ethiopia, has not been arrested.

I am not a lawyer, and I have no inside information about this. Defendants can indeed change their plea, and will do so for various reasons: new evidence is uncovered, they want to have a trial, the lawyer didn’t provide adequate information about the plea, the deal worked out with the judge and prosecution under the guilty plea was unacceptable to the defendant, or some other reason. I don’t know if making this request six months after pleading guilty will have an effect on the judge’s decision.

If the judge allows Mooney to change her plea to innocent, the whole legal process starts again. She could then go to trial, or there could be a deal worked out between the defense and the prosecution to which the judge must agree.

I don’t know how much this has cost the Justice Department for years of gathering evidence for the indictment, nor how much has been spent for the legal process of the three current defendants.

I do know this is one more level of heartache for the families who adopted from International Adoption Guides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abused Ethiopian Children Now Thriving: Life and Love With the Pattersons

In adoption, as in life, love isn’t all you need–but it surely is a big help. For Robert and Didi Patterson (formerly Eskindir and Rediet Barbour), love, along with therapies, medical care, stability, patience, and realistic expectations, has helped the two children begin to thrive. It’s beautiful and remarkable, though their mom, Ali Patterson, notes: ” Once someone feels safe, then you can work on everything else.”

Robert and Didi were originally placed for adoption from Ethiopia in 2012 with Kristen and Douglas Barbour. A short time later, both children were hospitalized for conditions that included broken bones, severe weight loss, and skin lesions. Kristen and Douglas were arrested. Ultimately they pled no contest to charges of child endangerment. I’ve written about the case several times, most recently here. In July 2014, the children became the son and daughter of Ali and Kevin Patterson.

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Parents Kevin and Ali Patterson looking at photos with son Robert and daughter Didi. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Robert and DIdi, now eight and four years old, have three older Patterson siblings, and are thriving in their active, safe, loving family. They will have challenges in the years ahead as a result of the abuse and trauma prior to life with the Pattersons, but mom Ali and dad Kevin are well-prepared, and have deep faith in the children’ strengths.

A recent Pittsburgh-Post Gazette article, “Family creates a home for Ethiopian Adoptees abused by previous parents,” has more photos and information.

The Pattersons debated making a victim impact statement at the trial of Kristen and Douglas Barbour, after the Barbours had entered their “no contest” plea. In the Post-Gazette article, Ali says they decided ultimately to make a statement, because they felt an obligation to children whose abuse and neglect might not be reported. “There were so many missed opportunities for help for our children, from mandated reporters to people in the community. People need to understand that it isn’t their job to determine whether abuse and neglect happened, but to report their concerns.”

Ali says also in the Post-Gazette article that “No one involved in the children’s lives at that time, from their community, family or church ever apologized to Robert and Didi…Nobody said, ‘I’m sorry you suffered.’ ”

The story of these children has been made public in the course of the Barbours’ criminal case, and the Pattersons are well aware that Robert and Didi could look up those stories in years to come. Says Ali in the recent article, “We wanted them to see themselves not as forever victims but as the resilient people they are, and we want them to know they are admired and adored.”

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Big brother Will Patterson, 13, getting a hug from little sister Didi, 4. © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

IAG’s James Harding Pleads Guilty to Ethiopian Adoption Fraud

James Harding, the program director for the adoption agency International Adoption Guides (IAG), has pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges regarding Ethiopian adoptions in 2008 and 2009.

The Justice Department’s press release is available here. Harding admitted that he and the others submitted false documents to the State Department, paid bribes to Ethiopian officials, and provided fraudulent documents about children’s eligibility for adoption.

Harding is the second of four indicted IAG staff members to admit guilt to these charges. Last fall, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. I wrote about it here. The trial of IAG’s executive director, Mary Mooney, is scheduled to begin jury selection on January 14. More information is available here.

The fourth staff member is Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia); he remains, apparently, in Ethiopia.

While this guilty plea cannot make up for the traumas and losses of the families here in the US and in Ethiopia, it is enormously significant. May it be a sign of movement toward much better transparency and integrity in adoption, for children and families around the world.

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My thanks to Adoption News and Events for posting/sharing this information.

Aselefech’s Ethiopia Journey: Adoption, Family, A Film

This is, of course, my daughter Aselefech’s story to tell: what it meant to her to travel back at age 26 to Ethiopia, the land of her birth and where she spent her first six years of life. What it meant to sit with her Ethiopian mother and siblings outside the house she might have also lived in, had she not been adopted. What it meant to her to see the cities and the countryside again, the breathtaking beauty and the breathtaking poverty. What it meant to consider what was, what is, and what might have been.

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She will be talking about that, about the film now in development, and more, on her newly launched blog. I’m incredibly proud of her. Please go read and share it!

It is Aselefech’s journey. Still, the thing about adoption is that those of us who love her also accompany her.

This past August, Aselefech, her then seven year old daughter Zariyah, and I spent about 20 days in Ethiopia, visiting with her family, cheering her on in a 10k trail race, and spending time with friends in Addis. It was my third trip there, Zariyah’s first, and Aselefech’s second since arriving in the US with her twin sister in 1994, when she was about a year younger than Zariyah.

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Aselefech and Zariyah in Addis Ababa.

It’s Aselefech’s story. The thing about adoption, though, is that it reaches far beyond the adopted person (the “adopted child” grows up). It’s more than the birth mother–it’s also the father, and the siblings, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandparents. It’s more than the adoptive parents–it’s the siblings, partners, and the children of the adoptee. A very big family portrait, in which smiles and sorrows appear, disappear, and appear again. Sometimes.

We were tourists on the trip this summer, some of us less than others. We were accompanied by translators, tour guides, drivers, a talented photographer, and an insightful social worker. We didn’t all speak the same languages. We loved the food. We were saddened, inspired, enlightened, challenged, and blessed.

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Zariyah and I outside the Hilton in Addis.

The film about this trip will share Aselefech’s story, and that of her Ethiopian family and, to a lesser degree, her American family. I look into the eyes of my beloved daughter and  granddaughter, and know that while we have no biological connection, we are inexorably connected. I embrace my daughter’s Ethiopian mother, who is also Zariyah’s grandmother, and who share the same blood. So beautiful, so simple, and so complex.

Zariyah is amazing in the film clip, by the way. She is a gem.

One final note: Aselefech and other Ethiopian adopted adults have been networking and connecting with their fellow adoptees around the globe.  For anyone who is or who knows an (adult) Ethiopian adoptee, please take a look at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Please “Like” the page. Many thanks.

Also, a big shout out to Gazillion Strong and to Red Shiba Media for their partnership with Aselefech. Powerful.