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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




Kristen Barbour Seeks to Alter Sentence for Abuse of Adopted Ethiopian Children

For the second time since she pled no contest in June 2014 to felony charges of endangering two adopted Ethiopian children, Kristen Barbour has asked that the terms of her punishment be changed. The district attorney has filed objections to any change in Kristen Barbour’s sentence.

Last September, Kristen Barbour was sentenced to six to 12 months in jail for pleading no contest to the felony charges of endangering the two children she and her husband had adopted in 2012. In October, she petitioned the court to serve the sentence in an alternative housing situation. That request was denied, and she was sent to the Mercer County (Pennsylvania) jail.


However, she has been allowed out up to six days a week to be in her home during the day with her two biological children (who were unharmed by her or her husband) while her husband, Douglas Barbour, works at the family gardening/nursery business. Her petition to allow time served before sentencing to decrease her time of 6 to 12 months in jail was also denied. She is not allowed to take the children outside the home, with the exception of doctor visits (or similar) for which she must get advance permission.

On December 17, Kristen’s attorney, Robert Stewart, filed another petition on Kristen’s behalf, asking that she be allowed to live at home, with electronic monitoring. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Stewart’s petition said that “Barbour ‘poses no threat to society and no evidence was presented to show that she has any propensity to be a recidivist.'”

To me, that misses the point. I agree it’s unlikely that Kristen Barbour will harm other children. She did not harm her biological children. She did, though, plead no contest to endangering and abusing two little children. The sentence is designed to be a punishment for child abuse, and to be a message that such abuse will not be tolerated.

Another family adopted the two Ethiopian children last year. Read more here about how the children are doing after having been removed from the Barbours. In the Post-Gazette article, the new adoptive mother, Alison Patterson, is quoted as saying: “That Ms. Barbour caused this petition to be filed just two months into a sentence that includes daily furlough is further evidence that she fails to grasp the seriousness of the crimes for which she has been convicted…(I)f this petition is granted, I worry for the future time when I will have to explain this to my children,” Mrs. Patterson said. “I worry right now for the message this petition sends to other child victims.”

The district attorney’s office has weighed in, objecting to any change in Kristen Barbour’s sentence. The January 2 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quotes Jennifer DiGiovanni, deputy district attorney, as saying “It would send a message to the community that endangerment that led to observable suffering and permanent damage is not something that the criminal justice system takes seriously.”

There will be a hearing to consider Kristen Barbour’s request; the date has not yet been set.


International Adoption Guides (IAG) Headed for Trial on Ethiopian Adoption Fraud

Almost a year after the Department of Justice indictment for fraud and bribery, two staff members of International Adoption Guides are scheduled to go to trial on January 26.

In February 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted 4 staff members of the adoption agency International Adoption Guides (IAG). Three former staff members from the US–Jim Harding, Mary Mooney, and Alisa Bivens–were arrested for fraud and bribery involving Ethiopian adoptions.The fourth staff member is Haile Mekonnen (the IAG program director in Ethiopia); he remains, apparently, in Ethiopia. The DOJ February 11, 2014, press release on the indictment is available here.

Last fall, Alisa Bivens (IAG Ethiopian program director in the US) pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. I wrote about it here.

Jury selection for the trial of Jim Harding (IAG’s International Program Director) and Mary Mooney (IAG’s Executive Director) is scheduled to start in South Carolina on January 14, 2015. The trial itself is scheduled to begin January 26. Pretrial meetings start soon.

It is safe to say that, if this trial is like other criminal trials, there have been and will be many meetings and conversations between the prosecution and the defense. Everyone has to have a chance to examine all evidence. The lawyers on both sides are building their cases, deciding on witnesses, and defining their strategies. Until the trial actually begins, schedule and other changes are entirely possible.

For example, a plea agreement could be made for either of the defendants prior to the trial, similar to what Alisa Bivens decided to do. My understanding is that, at this point, no agreement has been reached.

According to the DOJ indictment, “the defendants allegedly engaged in a five-year conspiracy to violate laws relating to the adoption of Ethiopian children by U.S. parents. The scheme involved, among other things, paying orphanages to ‘sign off’ on contracts of adoption with the adopting parents as if the children had been raised by those orphanages — even though the children had never resided in those orphanages and had not been cared for or raised there. These orphanages could not, therefore, properly offer these children up for adoption. In some instances, the children resided with a parent or relative.

…the defendants then allegedly submitted or caused to be submitted these fraudulent contracts of adoption to Ethiopian courts in order to secure adoption decrees, and submitted or caused to be submitted the fraudulent contracts of adoption and the fraudulently procured adoption decrees to the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia in order to obtain U.S. visas for the children to travel to the United States to be with their new families. The indictment also charges that the defendants’ scheme involved paying bribes to an Ethiopian government official and agreeing to create counterfeit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service forms that were to be submitted to the Ethiopian government.”

If the defendants are found guilty, the penalty for fraud and bribery could be five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost.



That’s the current factual update. Here are some important questions to consider in light of adoption policy:

How, if at all, will these charges and the trial affect the way adoption agencies work? How will they affect the way adoptive families pursue adoption?

The charges are for defrauding the US government. Many of the affected families, in both the US and Ethiopia, were also defrauded, and their lives immeasurably and unfairly damaged. There will be no direct compensation for them, though they have experienced considerable trauma and harm. This is especially true for the children, who are all now 7 or 8 years older than they were during the time this fraud was allegedly occurring. How can these families–now the witnesses and victims in this trial–best be helped and healed?

Some have suggested that IAG should be charged with trafficking. Trafficking, though, involves the transfer of children internationally for purposes of exploitation, such as forced labor, sexual purposes, military service, drug trade, or forced begging. While these end purposes were not the intent, as best I know, of either IAG nor the adoptive families, the way that these children were “internationally transferred” appears jarring and exploitative. The children may not have been trafficked under the current definition of international law. That does not mean, though, that serious thought should be given to a new definition of criminal offense that may not be “trafficking,” but that does relate to the way fraudulent international adoptions are handled. Such a definition should include compensation and support for all victims: birth families, adoptive families, and the adoptees.








Prince Alemayehu: The First Ethiopian Adoptee?

“Their story, yours and mine — it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.” —William Carlos Williams

When he was just seven years old, living in Ethiopia, Alemayehu Tewodros lost both of his parents, his father to suicide and his mother shortly thereafter, probably to tuberculosis. Through an odd twist of history, he was sent to England. He had been accompanied to England by Ethiopians, but they were sent back home. Over the course of about 11 years, he was molded into a Englishman, though he never seemed to fit in. Racism was certainly a factor. He died of pleurisy at only 18 years old, never having returned to Ethiopia.

It’s a tale of what might have been, a tale of a child born into royalty, who witnessed bloodshed and his parents’ deaths, who was transported to a new country, and who then died alone far from home, at far too young an age.

Alemayehu was born in 1861, to the royal Ethiopian family, the House of Solomon. His father was Tewodros II, a ruler who hoped for attention from Europe to help develop Ethiopia. Tewodros wrote to the monarchs of England, France, and elsewhere, asking for their assistance. Apparently his letters were largely ignored, to his great frustration. He imprisoned some British officials in Ethiopia to get the attention of the Empire. What transpired was the Abyssinian Invasion of 1868, in which the literally superior firepower of the British brought the downfall of Tewodros, who shot himself at the end of the battle, rather than become a prisoner of war. His wife, Queen Tiruwork, died soon after, and the little prince found himself an orphan transplanted to England.


Prince Alemayehu, as photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868

Alemayehu attended British schools, including Sandhurst. He became a favorite of Queen Victoria, who made efforts to help him, aware of how lost he may have felt. When Alemayehu died in Leeds, England, in 1879, the queen “mentioned the death of the young prince in her diary, saying what a good and kind boy he had been and how sad it was that he should die so far from his family. She also mentioned how very unhappy the prince had been, and how conscious he was of people staring at him because of his color,” according to Wikipedia.

The 2012 BBC radio show “Great Lives: Prince Alamayu” provides some fascinating commentary. The show features another Ethiopian adoptee, Lemn Sissay, the poet, playwright, and MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), who has experienced some parallels to Alemayehu in his own life. As an adult adopted person, Sissay notes that Alemayehu may well have been more of a little exhibit than a little boy, a child who was trained out of his own language. Sissay says that in the so-called saving of Prince Almayehu, his controversial transport from Ethiopia to England as well as in his “other-ness” due to his race, we may well see some similarities to more current international adoptions.

The other guest on the BBC show is Elizabeth Laird, author of The Prince Who Walked With Lions, a biography of the young prince. On the BBC show, Laird recounts a poignant event that took place near the end of Alemayehu’s life. A traveling menagerie visited England, and young Alemayehu spent a night leaning against the lions’ cage. No doubt he remembered the lions that lived in his father’s palace and were part of his royal life in Ethiopia.

A side note: Elizabeth Laird collected many folktales from all across Ethiopia. They are available here, in English and in Ethiopian languages.

Alemayehu may well have been the first Ethiopian international adoptee, some 150 years ago, though he was never officially adopted.  While he had various guardians, he was essentially a ward of the British government. I doubt at that time that there were laws governing international adoption. A prince in a long line of royalty, Alemayehu was state-less and home-less, in the sense of never having been allowed to return to Ethiopia, and never fully feeling comfortable in England.


Prince Alemayehu as a young man in the UK

Alemayehu was buried at Windsor Castle, in a brick vault near St. George Chapel. According to a BBC news article, in 2007 the Ethiopian government requested that the prince’s remains be returned to Ethiopia. I have not been able to find any information confirming that this happened.

Why should we remember him? On the BBC show, Lemn Sissay says Alemayehu should be remembered because his was a great life that did not have a chance to happen. Alemayehu’s was a greatness waiting to happen, and we ought to celebrate the future that Alemayehu never had.




Adoptive Parents Who Move to Their Child’s Country: “We Belong Here”

I wrote this article for the October 2014 issue of Gazillion Voices. I am reprinting it here with permission. Warm wishes to all families for very happy holidays, whatever their faith traditions. May all children be safe and loved, wherever they are in the world.

If you’ve adopted internationally, did you ever consider moving to and living in your child’s country of origin? If you are an international adoptee, did your adoptive parents ever suggest that the family move to the country where you were born?

How many adoption agencies suggest that parents should move There rather than bring the children Here?

Isn’t the point of international adoption to get the kids out of their country?

Some 50 years ago, when international adoptions to the US began in earnest, the dominant thought was that the children would leave their native lands, never to return. Who knew that, in only a couple of generations, not only would adoptees return in large numbers to their countries of origin, but that adoptive parents would consider raising their children in their birth countries, as well?

Korean children, the pioneers of international adoption in the 1950’s, traveled via airplane to the United States, where adoptive parents met them at the airport. Most countries and adoption agencies followed Korea’s example for years, with adoptees essentially having a one-way ticket out of their birth country, a minimal amount of information about their origins, and the expectation they would stay put in America.

In 1994, when my twin daughters were adopted at six years of age, families didn’t go to Ethiopia, and the adoption was complete before their arrival in the US. I met the girls for the first time at LaGuardia Airport in New York and then we flew together to Washington National Airport.

Within the last 10 years or so, adoptive parents have traveled to their children’s country of origin to meet their children, as more countries opened to international adoption and implemented legal processes that require the presence of the adoptive parents. Also, there was a growing belief that the adoptive parents should see, at least briefly, where their children came from. Some countries now require long stays, or more than one visit. Homeland tours have emerged, as adoptees travel back as tourists, sometimes also meeting their foster parents or first parents.

Those connections, while significant, are usually done at a distance, with sporadic visits or phone calls, often using translators.

I just returned recently from visiting Ethiopia with my daughter, Aselefech. We spent wonderful, powerful time with her Ethiopian family, with whom we had visited 3 years before. We also spent time with three American adoptive families who have chosen to live in Ethiopia, in part so that their young adopted Ethiopian children would grow up among their family, culture, and history.

Ethiopia is a vibrant, beautiful, ancient, expanding country. It’s also a third world adjustment for first world travelers in terms of convenience, with power outages, poverty, and safe water being among the challenges. Wi-Fi, trash pickup, sidewalks, and street addresses can be erratic. There’s awareness that the government controls free speech in a different way than in the west, for journalists as much as for ordinary citizens. Poverty is overt, as are physical and mental disabilities, which don’t get the attention and care we are accustomed to in the west.

So what would make American families pack up and then put roots down halfway around the world in Ethiopia? How has the fact they are adoptive parents of Ethiopian children influenced their decision?

Richelle Main is an American social worker, currently a child protection consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She and her husband, Nathan, a Canadian also working in Ethiopia, adopted their daughter, Titay, five years ago.

Richelle told me that “Before adopting Titay in 2009, both Nathan and I had spent time living in Ethiopia for short-ish periods of time –one year and then a few months’ visits when I was in grad school. We both fell in love with Ethiopia—-the good, the hard, and all of its contrasts. I would say that it was a somewhat idealized love, but not totally blind either.


With Richelle Main (far left) in Addis Ababa, August 2014.

“When we met Titay, a child who had already spent her entire three years of life only in Ethiopia, only spoke Amharic, and only ate Ethiopian food, there was a part of us that couldn’t image taking her away from this country—her country. Nathan and I had always wanted to live here, and at that point we had had a relationship with Ethiopia for six years.

“I can’t say that adopting Titay pushed us to move here, because we had been looking for ways to move here for many years, but adopting her reinforced the IMPORTANCE that we move here. We wanted to give her diverse experiences in Ethiopia—so that she is able to see the contrasts for herself.

“I think she will always be different than some Ethiopians, since she is adopted by white American-Canadian parents, but living here might give her a sense of this being ‘her’ country. In fact, in her eight years of life, she has only lived in the US for one of those years, so I hope that she feels like Ethiopia is home and that she will always have a place here.

“We also really wanted her to understand the diversity of peoples and cultures that exist within her country. That is something that you don’t necessarily feel when you only visit. People say, ‘Ethiopia is like this,’ but it really isn’t. It’s New Year this week, and yet the area I am in now doesn’t really care or celebrate that. You can’t say a country that is this diverse eats only injera, etc. I want Titay to know and experience those nuances.”

Another family, the Benkerts, have lived in Ethiopia since 2009. They are parents of four children, two adopted and two born to them. Levi told me this: “As far as living in Ethiopia, we were actually living here already when we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia, and so it was not really much of a decision. Of course, living here is hard, and hardly a month goes by without us having a serious discussion about moving back to America, but we feel that we belong here, and are excited to see all that we can do by staying. Our daughter loves it here, as do all our kids, so that part is easy.”


Aselefech with Levi Benkert, August 2014

Levi and his wife, Jessie, are the amazing powers behind Bring Love In, a program in Ethiopia that creates new families from widows and orphans and also works alongside families who, without the help of Bring Love In, would place their children in an orphanage. According to Levi and Jessie, “Although we are believers in adoption, personally having adopted two children ourselves, we have seen, from living in Ethiopia, that adoption only solves a minuscule part of a huge problem. More needs to be done to address the greater issues, and we know that our family is called to do just that.” Their work focuses “on keeping the orphans in country and giving them the best possible foundation, both spiritually and emotionally, to go out in their country and contribute to its future success.”

Karleen and Lance Klopp have two sons by birth and a son and daughter adopted from Ethiopia in 2007. They all moved from Washington State to Addis Ababa this past July, a big move for kids in high school and middle school. Lance and Karleen are in the process of setting up a daycare program for Ethiopian women who are widows or whose husbands have left them or are disabled. Without childcare, the women would not be able to work, thus becoming beggars or worse to support themselves. The women’s monthly salaries are often in the range of $20-30 a month. You can read more about Lance and Karleen’s work at Encourage Africa.


With Karleen Klopp (far right) at Kaldi’s in Addis, August 2014.

Why uproot a family and take them all to Ethiopia? Since the adoptions in 2007, the Klopp family had visited Ethiopia a few times, and ultimately felt called to go live and work there. “We also felt a responsibility to our adopted children and to their birth family and culture. We have contact with almost all of the (Ethiopian) family.” As Karleen said, “Yes, we left a lot of family in the U.S., grandparents, great grandparents, etc. But I hope ALL my kids will eventually see the good here and not the frustrations and fraud we have experienced so far. Lance and I love Ethiopia-we see the beauty and the potential beyond the frustrations. We hope to be here as long as we can and hope to open the center in Kirkos in November with 20 kiddos under 2 years old.”

There have been many adjustments. The Klopps’ house had no water for 10 days and sometimes has uncertain electricity. They recently purchased a car; cars are taxed at over 200% in Ethiopia, and the roads have very few rules, signs, or traffic lights. The kids are learning (re-learning) Amharic. They have two new puppies as pets; most dogs just roam around outside in Ethiopia and are not usually let in the house. My sense is that there is exhilaration, exhaustion, uncertainty, and joy in their lives right now.

The religious beliefs of the Benkerts and Klopps were part of the motivation for their presence in Ethiopia; their Christian faith created a call in their lives that they acted on. There is overlap among the families of a deep sense of connection with Ethiopia and of a desire to help their adopted children fully know and understand their families and culture.

Some of the adopted children are in close contact with their Ethiopian family members, who are now across town, rather than across the world. The siblings of the adopted children are embracing a new culture and language—just as the adopted children did when they went to America. It’s a remarkable reinvention of the adoption Diaspora, when American parents emigrate to the land of their children’s birth.

I don’t think it ever occurred to me that our family would move to Ethiopia after we adopted our twin girls 20 years ago. I understood the importance of retaining and honoring their culture as best as possible, though I see now that the retention and honor are often superficial at best. It’s a lip service approach to understanding an international adoptee’s heritage. Pulling up (some) roots and (re) planting others may seem a feat of courage, but I bet these parents would smile and just say it is the right thing for them and their children. Moving to an adopted child’s homeland may not be feasible for most families. Still, what wonderful possibilities. What a powerful re-invention of adoption.


© Copyright. Gazillion Voices. 2014. All rights reserved.

A Convergence of Concern Around Seattle’s Ethiopian Adoptees

The recent Dan Rather AXS TV show, “Unwanted in America: The Shameful Side of International Adoption” has evoked two main impulses. One is to help the adoptees featured, who have been re-homed and/or thrown out of their adoptive homes. The other is to reform laws so that these tragic situations don’t happen to more children. This post provides an update about the Seattle-area adoptees on the show. My next post will discuss the possibilities for reforming adoption laws.

You can watch the Dan Rather show, using the password danrather, here.

Efforts to Help the Seattle Area Adoptees

The Seattle-area adoptees were adopted by Julie Hehn and her husband, who apparently adopted over 20 children from Ethiopia. I have been told Rich Hehn is dealing with a serious medical issue now. The Hehns declined to comment for Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again,” which has a great deal of information about the adoptees, as well as for the Dan Rather show.

I’ve seen different numbers in different reports as to how many children the Hehns adopted, and how many are currently in their home. There are two YouTube videos from 2009 that feature Julie: one is called “Julie Hehn Super Mom” available here and one is “Mother of 22”  here. Julie was actively involved with Adoption Advocates International (AAI), the adoption agency that placed the Ethiopian adoptees with the Hehns, and she frequently traveled to Ethiopia. AAI has been in the news for being the agency that arranged Hana Williams’ adoption, as well as the agency used by the family featured in the documentary “Girl, Adopted.” AAI closed in March of this year.

In response to concerns about the children adopted by the Hehns and featured on the Dan Rather show, the Ethiopian Community Center of Seattle held a meeting this past Saturday afternoon. About 150 people attended. Most were members of the Ethiopian community; a few were, like me, adoptive parents of Ethiopian children. Everyone shared a deep concern about the status of the Seattle-area Ethiopian adoptees featured on the show.

Several people spoke out against adoption. Some specifically discussed their concerns for the young adoptees. Many ways to help were offered, including resources for emergency shelter, fundraising efforts, and legal assistance. An Ethiopian aide to Seattle’s mayor was there, as were Ethiopian attorneys and other concerned professionals.

Among those attending was Pastor Berhanu Seyoum of the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church in Seattle. Pastor Berhanu has been working with the adoptees for quite a while. He was featured in the Dan Rather show, as well as in Kathryn Joyce’s Slate article (cited above). Like the majority of speakers, Pastor Berhanu spoke in Amharic to the group. I do not speak or understand Amharic, and I appreciate those who translated for me and otherwise helped me to understand.

Pastor Berhanu has set up a Facebook page, “Unwanted in America,” which has links to 3 Gofundme pages that are apparently all involved in helping the adoptees. My understanding is that the Pastor will be handling the funds. The Facebook page also has a great summary, in English, of Saturday’s meeting, as well as details about what kind of help is needed.


Many complicated issues remain to sort out, but the priority seems to be getting stable housing for the homeless adoptees, arranging medical assistance, and ensuring that all legal matters are clarified. Many people have indicated their wish to help, and while that is wonderful, it also takes time to make sure everyone connects. Still: there is progress.







CHIFF Meeting: Suggestions For Agenda Items

For quite a while, there has been deafening public silence from supporters of the Children in Families First (CHIFF) act. CHIFF is an international child welfare bill that sounds so good and reasonable: of course all children deserve safe, loving families. It is, though, full of flaws, and never gained the momentum that the proponents (mostly adoptive parents and adoption agencies/lawyers) thought it would.

The last piece of “News” on the CHIFF website was in June. Their Facebook site has articles about adoption, but nothing for months about the legislation. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vocal proponent of adoption-related legislation during her tenure in Congress, lost her recent election, and thus her influence will be gone from Congressional actions. She was the leader on CHIFF, which has a 5% chance of being enacted at this point.

Still, there has likely been much action behind the scenes in Washington, DC. In fact, the CHIFF proponents may be meeting again soon, for all I know. If so, I’d like to make some suggestions for the agenda:

Discussion Items for CHIFF

1–The #flipthescript social media movement during National Adoption Month (November), in which adult adoptees (US and international) have shared their experiences and perspectives. Perhaps all the CHIFF meeting participants will watch the excellent video produced by the talented Bryan Tucker featuring 8 powerful women from the Lost Daughters’ writing collective.


2–E.J. Graff’s November article “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?” The article focuses on Ethiopian adoptions, includes documents attained through the Freedom of Information Act, and provides cross-referenced lists of adoption agencies’ activities.

3–Dan Rather’s December news show on AXS TV, “Unwanted Children: The Shameful Secret of International Adoption.” Use the password danrather to watch the show here. Ethiopians in the US and around the world, as well as the adoptive parent community, have been hard at work to help the adoptees featured in the show. More information on these efforts is available on the Facebook page “Unwanted In America.”

4–Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, powerful, grassroots effort which has been successfully reuniting adoptees around the globe with their Ethiopian original families. Many people have found very different information than what they were told at placement. An important corollary is the increasing amount of adoptee-centric and adoptee-led organizations in many countries, such as KoRoot and GOA’L (for Korean adoptees traveling back to Korea). The Facebook group Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is another example of the increasing presence and power of adult adoptees, who are increasingly engaged in adoption policy work.

5–The failure of CHIFF as introduced and currently to not include retroactive citizenship for international adoptees. More information is available here.

6–The reality that international adoptions in the future will have/must have some form of openness, and thus adoption practice must include far better and long-ranging services to original families, wherever they are in the world.

7–The reality and divisiveness of racism in the US, and how that affects all families involved with transracial adoption. This is a huge, raw, real, vitally important matter. Huge.


I’ve been a broken record on these additional concerns regarding CHIFF, which may or may not be current agenda items:

* Much needed funding for improved pre-adoption and post-adoption resources
* Federal level legislation on “re-homing” of internationally adopted children
* Lack of support for CHIFF from the State Department, from international adult adopted persons, from international family preservation organizations, and from international first parents
* Pre- and post-placement resources, support, counseling, and information for international first parents

If indeed CHIFF proponents are meeting soon, let’s hope all the above items are on their agenda. These Discussion Items are big and complicated. Resolving them will require, at a minimum, the transparent inclusion of adoptees and of first/original parents if the legislation is truly going to make viable changes in child welfare. That’s the first, overdue step.

Dan Rather’s Show: “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption”

Dan Rather hosted an in-depth show on AXS TV called “Unwanted Children–The Shameful Side of International Adoption.” To view the show, which is available here, you will need this password: danrather.

It’s a tough and important 2 hours to watch and ingest. Much of the focus is on Ethiopian adoptions, and children who have been “re-homed,” moved to new adoptive families with little oversight, assistance, or regulation. Reuters did a series on re-homing; information is available here.

“Unwanted Children” sheds light on some terrible child welfare practices in adoption. The idea that children can be internationally adopted to the United States, and then moved to new adoptive homes with less oversight than occurs with dogs, is deplorable.

Kathryn Joyce wrote powerfully in Slate in November 2013 about some of these adoptees as well. Her detailed, insightful article “Hana’s Story: An Adoptee’s Tragic Fate and How It Could Happen Again” was part of the impetus for the Dan Rather show.

This show, on the heels of E.J. Graff’s incisive report “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?“, is an explicit call to action for change in Ethiopian adoptions. I have spoken out about this; many, many people are deeply concerned around the globe. I hope to see a response soon from organizations such as the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, the National Council for Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and Both Ends Burning to demand changes in oversight and regulations, as well as solid improvement in services provided to adoptive and first/birth families.

Because: enough. I am so proud of groups like Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, who are speaking out and working hard to give voice to those who are too often left out of adoption policy discussions: the adoptees and the first families.

As an adoptive parent, I hope to see more eyes opened to some of the realities of adoption practices today, so that the rights of all children and parents are safeguarded, and all adoptions are done with transparency and integrity.

Please note also that a “GoFundMe” campaign has been set up to help the 9 Ethiopian adoptees who “are now homeless after being pushed out of their adoptive home,” according to the fundraiser. Information is available here.