Aselefech Evans, Ethiopian Adoptee, Speaks With the BBC about PM Abiy’s Recent Adoption

A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and his wife were granted permission to adopt an Ethiopian child. The little boy, about two years old, will have three siblings in the Abiy family.

In 1994, 6-year-old Aselefech Evans arrived in the US from Ethiopia along with her twin sister. They were adopted by white parents in Maryland, and have two brothers who were also adopted. I am their adoptive mother. I love them all beyond words. I also recognize the challenges they have faced, as adoptees, as black people, as transracial adoptees.

Today, Aselefech was interviewed by the BBC’s Newsday program about the PM’s adoption. Her interview is available here.

I am so proud of her. It is not easy to do a brief phone interview on a nuanced, multi-layered subject. She spoke straight from her heart and her intellect. When she received the link from Newsday, she reflected on it this way: “I think after listening to the interview, i stayed true to my lived experience while honoring the complexities of adoption, But the conversation can’t stop here. Adoptees and birth parents need to be leading this discussion.” Absolutely true.

Aselefech reuniting in Ethiopia with her mother. Photo ©: Maureen McCauley

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in January 2017. Some 15,000 Ethiopian children were adopted to the US over a span of about 20 years; hundreds if not thousands went also to western Europe, Canada, and Australia, among other places. Slowly and steadily, we are hearing the voices of these adoptees, sharing good and bad experiences, demanding change, wanting to re-connect with Ethiopia, working with Ethiopian NGOs to promote family preservation, searching for birth family, wondering about DNA, and so much more. Their voices are invaluable. Hopefully we will eventually hear from Ethiopian first/birth parents, as well as grandparents, siblings, and other family members.

The fact that the Prime Minister and the First Lady of Ethiopia have chosen to adopt publicly sends a big message in a country that has thousands of children in orphanages, as well as a history of informal adoptions and an understanding of adoption that varies greatly from that of the West. Maybe there will be stronger impetus toward family preservation, toward promoting social programs that keep children (who are often not orphans) out of orphanages. Maybe more Ethiopians will adopt in-country, meaning that children will retain their language, heritage, and culture.

Aselefech has been a long-standing proponent and advocate for family preservation. Having reunited with her Ethiopian family, she has said that some questions were answered, and some never will be. As an adoptive parent, I work toward a world where adoption isn’t needed: where medically fragile children can be cared for in their own country and with their own family of origin; where all children are safe and loved; and where no mother has to lose her child due to poverty or social stigma. In the meantime, I advocate for transparent, ethical adoptions that have resources for everyone, before and after the adoption.

I am hoping that Aselefech will write more. She blogs at EthioAmericanDaughter, and tweets at @AselefechE. She is the co-founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. I hope that other adopted people continue to write also, and to share their stories.

To close out this post, I want to remind folks of the great work being done by a number of organizations in Ethiopia. One is Bring Love In, an NGO in Addis that creates families with widows and orphans, rather than international adoption. Another is AHope For Children, which provides support to HIV+ children and aims to preserves families and reduce stigma. Another is Ethiopian Adoption Connection/Beteseb Felega. They have created a database for Ethiopian families and adoptees to find each other. We also support the work of Selamta, of Roots Ethiopia, and of the Lelt Foundation. There are many excellent organizations working to strengthen vulnerable families to prevent separation, to empower women, and to keep children in families. Please support them.


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.

Update on Hana Williams: Larry and Carri Williams Have Filed an Appeal to Their Murder Convictions

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams) Photo from Facebook page: Remembrance of Hanna Williams

In late October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams, the adoptive parents of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams/Hana Alemu, were convicted and sentenced to jail for Hana’s murder and associated torture. You can read about their sentencing here.

Larry and Carri have filed appeals of the conviction, and the Seattle Appeals Court has scheduled oral arguments for the appeals on Monday, November 16, at 9:30am. I will be there, and I hope many other folks in the Seattle area will be there also. A good showing by the public on Hana’s behalf could be a powerful statement to the judges. Many thanks to all who have kept Hana in their hearts.

I feel certain that many folks in Washington State, in the US, in Ethiopia, and around the globe will be watching this case closely.

We haven’t forgotten you, Hana.

Adoptee Anthology “Lions Roaring” Featured in Ethiopian Diaspora Newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology Nearing Deadline

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

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

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

Writer’s Guidelines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 We want to hear what you have to say.

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

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

 

 

French (And Other) Ethiopian Adoption Connections

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

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

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

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

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

And now, an automatically generated translation in English:

Re – hello everyone,

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

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

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

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

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Photo taken by Maureen Evans August 2014 Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Adoptions: An Eye-Opening, Jaw-Dropping Investigative Report

E.J. Graff has written a far-reaching, detailed, urgent investigative report on Ethiopian adoptions: “They Steal Babies, Don’t They?”

Many people, including me, have been extremely concerned about the role of fraud and corruption in adoptions in Ethiopia. For far too long, according to Graff, “orphans were ‘produced’ by unscrupulous middlemen who would persuade desperately poor, uneducated, often illiterate villagers whose culture had no concept of permanently severing biological ties to send their children away.” It is heartbreaking–for the children, for the Ethiopian parents, and for the adoptive parents.

This report is an “exclusive investigation of internal US State Department documents.” These adoption-related cables, emails, and other written material were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

There is also “an alphabetized index of every U.S. adoption agency and Ethiopian orphanage that we found mentioned in these hundreds of pages. Each item…below the name of the agency or orphanage is a link to the FOIA-ed documents posted on our site. We realize that these are raw documents, out of context, and give only partial impressions of what some Embassy staff members were thinking at particular moments. To offer a fuller picture of what was happening, we asked every U.S adoption agency named in these documents whether they would like to submit a response that might clarify, correct, or comment on anything mentioned regarding their agency.” The agencies’ responses are available here.

Graff is ultimately optimistic about the future of Ethiopian adoptions, as a result of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, Uniform Accreditation Act which took effect in July 2014 as well as the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR). We all want children who need safe, loving families to have them. If that happens through adoption, we all want the adoptions to be transparent and ethical–nothing short of complete integrity.

As the adoptive parent of twin daughters adopted from Ethiopia in 1994, and as a mother who met my daughters’ Ethiopian family in 2008, I know firsthand the role of inequity, economics, and heartache that adoptions can have. I also know the love and joy surrounding all of us, as we have been able to meet, talk, and learn. I am hopeful that many people–especially adoption agencies, government officials, prospective parents, adoptive parents, and Ethiopian adoptees around the globe–will read this. I am less confident that Ethiopian birth parents, marginalized and too often voiceless, will have their questions answered and their fears resolved, but that is their right, and only fair. And fairness is long overdue.

My thanks to E.J. Graff for her incredible efforts on this important article, and to the US State Department for its work to make adoptions more transparent. I applaud all those involved in adoption, in Ethiopia and around the world, who are genuinely committed to ensuring an ethical process that protects the rights of children and families.

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A Global Facebook Group for Ethiopian Adoptees

ethiopiaAdoptee

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