A Heartfelt View of Ethiopian Adoption, From Ethiopians: Listen Up

My dear friend Yadesa Bojia is a talented artist, graphic designer, and singer/songwriter. He’s Ethiopian by birth, grew up in Ambo (a small city near Addis), and moved to the US in 1995. He now lives in Seattle, and is devoted to his family and active in the community. His design was selected in 2010 for the African Union flag. Take a look at his website here.

Yadesa Bojia

Yadesa Bojia

He contributed this beautiful piece of art for the Ethiopia Reads fundraiser: the painting sold for just over $3000.

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

All too often in discussions of international adoption, we fail to include so many voices: adoptive parents are dominant. Adoptees and first parents rarely are included.

We adoptive parents must make sure the voices of first parents are always a transparent, ethical part of any discussion about adoption.

The voices of the people in the country of origin (in this case Ethiopia) are often varied, of course, and are also too rarely heard.

We need to listen to them.

The following is taken, with permission, from a Facebook post today by Yadesa. It includes a video link to a news report and a powerful interview with an Ethiopian first mother. The video is in Amharic, without translation. Yadesa has summarized it in this post:

“We heard the move by Ethiopian government to totally shut down international adoption. As a long time observer of adoption from Ethiopia, I know how difficult and heart breaking this can be for families that are invested their heart, time and money (it costs a lot). I met great families and friends who adopted from Ethiopia and adopted the culture and the love for the country. I watched them care for the babies and I love them. I also expected the shut down because of some of the unbelievable and inhumane corruptions by organizations to snatch babies out of poor mothers love so they can make them adoptable. This activity is incredibly cruel to both families in each side of the story.

Meet Ms. Asnaketch Negussie. According to the Ethiopian Television interview, she said ten years ago when her husband passed away, she was approached by these organizations and they urged her to let go of her daughter and her boy. Her daughter, Selamawit, was at the time was 3 and half and her son Abel was twelve. When she refused, the organization told her to ‘let your daughter live a better life than you can provide her.’ Imagine the need to keep her daughter and the guilt of keeping her away from a better life. She finally surrendered and gave Selamawit away but the age of the boy did not make him adoptable (older boys or girls have lesser chance to be adopted). Fast forward to today. Abel stayed in Ethiopia, graduated from high school and went to college and graduated with honor. He is now gainfully employed and helping his mom. They have no idea what happened to Selamawit and the report ends with the mother saying, ‘If I don’t see her, I will die with an emotional scar. My body will never rest.’

Selamawit may be living in a better place, with people that care for her and love her but at the end both families will deal with the emotional scar undoubtably. I am for better life for kids anywhere in the world. If it took adoption to make that happen, let it be. But adoption need to be the last resort, it needs to have stages and it also need to be transparent and voluntarily done.

Judge for yourself. To learn more about this please read “The Child Catchers” by Kathryn Joyce.”

Below is the link to the video Yadesa posted. Although I don’t speak Amharic, listening to this Ethiopian first mother was very powerful.


Thank you very much, Yaddi. We need to hear and listen to your voice, and to those of first families.

At the beginning of his post above, Yadesa alludes to the recent news about Ethiopia possibly closing to adoption. More information is available here.

I am beginning work on a project to preserve and honor the stories of Ethiopian first mothers. Here is a recent post.

My thanks to Asnaketch Negussie for sharing her poignant story in the video. I am keeping Selamawit in my heart as well.


Asnaketch Megussie, first mother

Asnaketch Megussie, first mother

Hana, the Ethiopian Community, and Ethiopia Reads

Sometimes we American adoptive parents can forget the feelings of our children’s fellow citizens about the loss of their children.

I’ve known many Ethiopians who are grateful to be in the United States, because there are truly far more economic and educational options here for them. I know many Ethiopians here in the US who are working hard to bring their relatives to the US, and who send money back to their families in Ethiopia, hoping to help them in small and large ways. I’ve had many Ethiopians express gratitude to me for adopting my girls. And I believe that when Ethiopians express gratitude to me for having adopted two girls, their thanks are tinged with wistfulness and sorrow that the girls had to lose their culture, their family, their language, their heritage, their people to be here.

The trial of Larry and Carri Williams in Washington state captured attention around the world, as people shared sorrow and outrage, hearing what happened to young Hana Alemu, an Ethiopian adoptee, and to Immanuel, both of whom were adopted by the Williamses. The Williamses were convicted on August  of homicide by abuse, manslaughter, and first degree assault of a child; their sentencing is now scheduled for October 29.

As an adoptive parent of Ethiopian twin daughters, my heart ached for Hana and Immanuel. In the course of watching the trial unfold, I shared a number of conversations with adult international adoptees, as we sought to understand, grieve, and listen together. I also talked often with members of the Ethiopian community in Seattle and in Skagit County. Their grief was especially poignant.

In some ways, there is no understanding what happened in the Williams family. It is a tragedy for everyone involved. And it may seem simplistic or fatuous to suggest that any good can come from this harrowing case.

Yet I believe that good is indeed possible. I wrote about Hana’s Legacy here, and that gives some ideas for change and hope.

I have had a long-standing connection with the beautiful, complex, ancient country of Ethiopia for nearly 2 decades, as a result of adoption. I’ve long been interested in literacy and I love libraries, so my connection with Ethiopia Reads makes sense. Ethiopia Reads promotes literacy in Ethiopia, provides books in local languages, and has planted libraries in every region of that large country. I’ve been on the Ethiopia Reads Board, I’ve visited the Awassa Reading Center and other libraries, and I remain committed to the idea that with literacy can come empowerment and possibilities, especially for children, especially for girls.

Two talented Ethiopian artists, both of whom now live in the Seattle area, have also been wonderful, powerful friends of Ethiopia Reads. Both have also, like so many members of the Ethiopian community in Washington state and around the globe, grieved for Hana and Immanuel. Yadesa Bojia is an amazing artist and musician. Please take time to learn about him here. Sultan Mohamed is also an accomplished artist. You can read more about him here.

Both of these men have supported the work of Ethiopia Reads (and other important Ethiopian causes), through their time, their good hearts, and their incredible art.

Here is one of Yadi’s newest paintings:

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

Original artwork by Yadesa Bojia

To me, the painting shows the fire, the power, the light that can be created through reading. It’s a shared joy and gift between mother and child. It’s the mother’s knowledge of what reading and education can mean for her children, who have so much potential, given the opportunities.

Here is one of Sultan’s:

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Original painting by Sultan Mohamed

Note the photo of Hana, surrounded by Ethiopian faces, perhaps angels, but certainly reminding us she is neither alone nor forgotten. Amharic writing engulfs her as well, ensuring us that she remains connected with her roots, her language, the sounds and words of those who loved her in Ethiopia and beyond.

These talented artists, these good men, have donated their paintings to an upcoming event (December 14, in Seattle, information provided below) to raise funds for Ethiopia Reads. I am in awe of their generous hearts, and of their deep commitment to children whose lives can change through literacy.

It may seem paradoxical that adoptive parents should work to ensure that fewer children need to be adopted, but it’s true. May we continue to move toward a world where all children can read, and thus be empowered in this world. May all children have safe, loving families, who can keep them and provide for them all that they dream of.

Information about Ethiopia Reads and the December event is available here. If you are looking for a small, effective organization that has opened libraries across Ethiopia where there were none, that has trained and employed Ethiopian teachers and librarians to sustain the libraries, that has worked with the local community in a respectful, transparent way, please look into Ethiopia Reads.