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.

A Global Facebook Group for Ethiopian Adoptees

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Please join me in promoting a brand new Facebook site for “Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora.” The two young people who created the site, Aselefech Negesso and Kassaye Magnime, are very special to me. Both are Ethiopian adoptees, one in the US and one in Canada. Annette speaks English and French, so has been able to reach out to a number of folks in Europe and Africa. Together the two young women form a powerful team that hopes to build a strong Ethiopian adoptee community, one that talks together comfortably and advocates effectively for the needs and interests of Ethiopian adoptees all around the globe.

As an adoptive parent (including being Aselefech’s mom), I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ethiopian adoptees who were raised in the US, Germany, Holland, Canada, England, Belgium, Australia, France, Italy, and elsewhere. This Facebook group will enable adopted Ethiopians to share their stories and perspectives, to help each other learn about options for searching and reuniting with their Ethiopian families, and to collaborate on potential projects. It is closed to all except Ethiopian adoptees, and is geared to adults, over 18, not younger adoptees right now. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point the older adoptees pulled mentoring programs together for their younger fellow adoptees, offering support and information for them as well.

There is an increasingly strong global community of Ethiopian adoptees whose individual experiences may have been markedly different but who are open to learning from each other. Strong interest exists in Ethiopia for members of the adoption diaspora to return and bring their experiences and education to help strengthen the country. Ethiopian adoptees are sharing information such as the Ethiopian Adoption Connection and other resources around the globe. Already there has been enthusiasm in creating programs and in funding the costs for adult adoptees to visit Ethiopia, outside of agencies or tour trips. Adult adoptees have begun developing partnerships with each other and with existing organizations to help children and families in Ethiopia. Exciting possibilities.

So please, spread the word about this new Facebook resource for and by Ethiopian adoptees. Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Danke! Dank u! Grazie! Amasegenallo!

Libraries, Mothers, and Children: Visiting the Awassa Reading Center

Being able to read, and having books, changes the world. I love to read, and take it for granted far too often. When my kids were growing up, the house was full of books. My granddaughter, at almost 8, is a terrific reader, at home and at school, with books at her feet, under her bed, on the family room couch, in her backpack, in her hands.

What a treat, then, for my daughter Aselefech, her daughter (my granddaughter) and me to visit Ethiopia Reads’ Awassa Children’s Reading Center during our recent visit to Ethiopia. The mission of Ethiopia Reads is to collaborate with Ethiopian communities to build schools, plant libraries, teach teachers, boost literacy and provide youth and families with the tools to improve their lives. They have planted libraries in every region of Ethiopia (no small accomplishment), and fill an enormous need in this ancient, beautiful country.

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Awassa (sometimes spelled Hawassa) is about a 3-4 hour drive south (about 140 miles/220 km) from the capital city Addis Ababa. We were just dropping in, a group of 7 of us, on a Wednesday afternoon. About 10 kids were inside when we got there, a few in the little nook to the left, a couple looking at the books on the shelves, and a bunch in the sweet treasure of a reading room at the front. The adults working there were gracious to us, helpful to the children. Books were available in English and in Amharic; the kids were reading a variety.

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Children at the Awassa Reading Center

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Boys choosing books from the collection at the Awassa Reading Center

For my granddaughter, the Awassa Reading Center was a comfortable, familiar place, some 7,000 miles from home. She looked through the books, pulled out a Magic Tree House book, and joined the kids in the sunny front room.

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Children in the cheerful reading room at the Awassa Reading Center

As an American middle-class child, she finds books and libraries nothing unusual. Not so for her Ethiopian counterparts, and that’s what makes Ethiopia Reads so valuable. They are building communities by bringing books and libraries to places that had neither. They are educating girls, as well as boys. Ethiopia Reads also provides soccer balls to kids (who deserve to play with more than deflated, dirt- and hole-covered footballs–look what our kids have for equipment here in the US), supports a running team of girls (including job training,which provides employment and keeps them safe), and offers monthly sponsorships for kindergarteners. Many families struggle to send their little ones to school, since there are no publicly funded options for kindergarteners. For just $21 a month, you can sponsor a kindergartener for a full year: that will help with tuition, food, and clothes. $21 A Month. Amazing. I’m sponsoring a child to go to school through Ethiopia Reads, and you can too. Change the world with me.

Libraries here in the US and there in Ethiopia are important community centers as well. While we were visiting, we dropped off flyers at Awassa about Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which offers a searchable database to connect adoptive families around the world with first/birth families in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopian mothers long to know how their children are, after placing them for international adoption. EAC helps in a compassionate, pragmatic way. Many children placed for adoption come from the Awassa area. As an adoptive mother, I was very happy to think that some mothers might be able to know that their children are alive and well. As an adoptee connected with her Ethiopian family, Aselefech was glad to share EAC’s information as well.

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The transcendentalist Margaret Fuller said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Lovely sentiment from the early 19th century, and exactly right some 200 years later, whether meant for children in 1840’s New England or children in 21st century Ethiopia. Create a reader and change the world.

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Children’s books in Amharic at the Awassa Reading Center

 

 

 

 

Remembering Mothers, Remembering Hana

I was blessed to have a mother who loved me unconditionally, who believed in me fully, and who was steadfast in her love for and devotion to my children as well.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom died over 10 years ago, and I miss her every day. She would have been crazy about her great-granddaughter, who’s now 7 years old. While I sometimes can’t believe I’m a grandmother, I know how fortunate I am.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be the mom of 4 amazing young people, whom I love beyond words.  I am their mom through adoption, and I hold their first mothers tightly in my heart. I’m especially proud on Mother’s Day of my daughter Aselefech, who is a wonderful mother herself.

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I’m thinking today also of Hana Alemu, born in 1997 in Ethiopia. She was brought to Washington state in the US for adoption in 2008, and she died, three years ago today, on May 12, 2011.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

An amazing story of hope and beauty has emerged from the tragedy of Hana’s passing.

David Guterson, the acclaimed novelist who lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, attended nearly every day of the trial last summer of Hana Alemu’s adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams. The Williamses are now each serving lengthy prison sentences for Hana’s tragic death.

David is writing a book about Hana, and traveled to Ethiopia in March for research. He met Hana’s best friend and cousin there, a young woman named Haimanot. Haimanot was struggling with a brain tumor. Wiithout surgery, she would lose her vision. David arranged for Haimanot to come to the US in April.

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Haimanot had surgery to remove a pituitary tumor at Swedish Medical Center. It went well. She had some headaches and low energy afterward, but is now feeling great.

Swedish did everything pro bono and will continue to provide treatment for Haimanot as needed. Rep. Derek Kilmer (6th-WA) opened the door for the visa. The Ethiopian community has provided room and board, and there has been lots of support from the Seattle Ethiopian Community Center.

My mom would have loved this story.

I’d like to also remind folks about another positive recent development: the excellent resource Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a website to connect Ethiopian original families with their children adopted around the globe. After only a short time, they’ve already been able to connect adoptees with their Ethiopian families. There are also many resources listed on the site, which is in Amharic and English. Keeping families connected is a gift beyond words.

May we all have hope that good can come from tragedy.

May we hold in our hearts those who have died, and honor their memory.

May we treasure those who love us and care for us. May we not miss an opportunity to help others, with kindness and compassion.