Ethiopian Adoptee Gabe Proctor, NCAA Champ, Died By Suicide

Earlier today, I wrote about the death by suicide of a deported Korean adoptee, Phillip Clay. I am deeply saddened to report another adoptee suicide.

Ethiopian adoptee Gabe Proctor was just 27 years old, and died by suicide this past Saturday at his adoptive parents’ home in Vermont. The obituary shared by his family said he had struggled with depression from which he could find no escape.

Originally from Mekelle, Ethiopia, Gabe was adopted along with his to Ethiopian siblings in 2000. They grew up in Vermont. He graduated from Western State Colorado University, where he was a world-class distance runner. He was a professional runner in the marathon and half marathon.


A runner friend shared her memories about Gabe here.

Donations in honor of Gabe can be sent to Hope for Youth Ethiopia. The address and more information are available here. His funeral service will be held in Vermont on Friday, May 26.

How many more times can we hear about these deaths, and not work harder to learn about depression and suicide prevention, especially among adopted persons?

My small contribution is to post fairly often about this painful reality, to share information about the trauma of adoption, as well as to provide suicide prevention resources for individuals and families.

I hope that more adoption agencies, counselors, and therapists will take note of the role of depression, trauma, and suicide prevention as they relate to adoption.

Depression can be oppressive. It is very real. It is an illness which can affect people no matter their circumstances.

My deep condolences to Gabe Proctor’s friends and family. I cannot imagine their sorrow.

 

 

 

Update on Ethiopian Adoption Suspension: All Cases Will Be Denied

The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) will resume processing of adoption cases, but will issue only denials, no matter where the adoptive parents are from or where they stage in the process.

That information was part of a U.S. State Department update today regarding the suspension of Ethiopian adoptions. State will continue to urge the Ethiopian government to allow processing of cases in the pipeline prior to the April 21 suspension. However, Ethiopian ministries are having meetings throughout May and have been unresponsive to requests to meet with State.

The full State Department update from today is available here.

I posted information about the April suspension here: Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions.

 

Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa posted a notice today saying they had been notified by the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) that MOWA is suspending its processing of intercountry adoptions, effective immediately. At this point, I have seen no definitive information on the reasons for the suspension, or for how long the adoptions will be suspended.

This news is receiving a lot of attention on Facebook among adoptive families and adoptees. There is plenty of speculation about the causes: an investigation into an adoption agency or orphanage; a response to political events; a desire to ensure that children being adopted are genuine orphans and their reasons for needing adoption are accurate; a desire to change the image of Ethiopia as a country that needs to “export” its children.

Ultimately, of course, Ethiopian government officials are the only ones who know for certain, and it is entirely possible we will never know the reasons.

There is precedence for the suspension; adoptions were effectively suspended in a slowdown for a few months last year. MOWA was reorganized; required interviews were delayed. There is also precedence in many other countries for suspending, decreasing, or stopping adoptions. Examples which come quickly to mind are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russia, Guatemala, China, and South Korea. Adoptions have slowed or stopped for political reasons, because of internal fraud and corruption, because of agency fraud and corruption, and because of a country’s shame in having to send its children outside of its borders. Keep in mind that the U.S. also sends children to other countries for adoption, primarily to Europe and Canada. That’s a fact that often surprises people.

I don’t think anyone following Ethiopian adoptions in recent years is surprised by today’s development. The role of money in intercountry adoptions is powerful and for years has encouraged fraud and bribery. With adoption agencies being investigated by the FBI or closing as a result of a U.S. Justice Department indictment, with agencies who had Hague Convention accreditation (the only official accreditation available) suddenly closing because of bankruptcy, with adoptive families finding out that their Ethiopian children have living parents, with Ethiopian birth families having been told they would receive reports and updates which never happened, and with the pendulum of child welfare advocacy moving toward family preservation over adoption–well, it’s a perfect storm of sorts.

There’s no question the numbers of children being adopted from Ethiopia have declined in recent years, as is true in many other countries as well. I wrote last year about what people who were lamenting that decline could do: there are many ways to help the children, and I truly hope anyone moved by this recent suspension will do all they can to work toward orphan prevention and family preservation.

There will always be children who could benefit from adoption, perhaps especially those  who are genuine, verified orphans; or those who have physical conditions or disabilities which are untreatable or fatal in their home country.

I so hope that there will be some good that comes from this suspension: efforts to reunite children with their parents and to support family preservation; accurate assessment of whether children are true orphans in need of adoption; and strong policies for family preservation programs, women’s job training, and literacy.

I wish Ethiopia would invite adult adoptees to return and would listen to their stories and ideas. They would hear from those who believe adoption saved their lives and from those who have suffered greatly. They all deserve to be heard. I wish Ethiopia would provide a forum for birth/first mothers to tell their stories as well. I wish the U.S. and other countries would provide the same level of pre- and post- adoption services to Ethiopian birth/first families as they do to adoptive families: the inequity is shameful.

Time will tell what will happen in Ethiopia. This could be a wonderful opportunity for promoting child welfare that is a model to the world, rather than an event that results in no genuine change for vulnerable children.

The State Department notification is available here.

 

Updated: The Stunning Ignorance of White Adoptive Parents in Ethiopia

Note: This is an updated version of my post from March 31, 2017.

My original post under this title included an adoptive mother’s recent experience in taking her son back to visit his Ethiopian family, and encountering other US adoptive families in Ethiopia. This mom, not citing anyone by name, described an evening at a cultural restaurant (a place where there is Ethiopian food and often a show of traditional Ethiopian dancing) where another American family’s Ethiopian child was sobbing, where an Ethiopian adoptee did not recognize injera, and where an Ethiopian child’s unkempt hair was chatted about.

Here’s one excerpt:

Don’t drag your kid to an Ethiopian restaurant on your first night in Addis, allow him to sob on your lap, sit there and continue to eat and then give him a video game to play while you dance for the amusement of the crowd. Your child has to process what is happening. He’s back in his country for the first time in many years. The sights, sounds, and smells are likely triggering deep emotions. Also, his deep embarrassment at you dancing is legit. You are not Ethiopian. Imagine how exposed he feels being an adoptee in that crowd.

 Here’s another:

It’s not OK to be ignorant to the issues of raising Black boys in the US. It is not OK!
First of all, do your child’s hair!!!!!!!!!!!! For the love that is all things holy, no your child’s unkempt 6 inch curls are not ‘the best hair in our town.’ ” They are a disaster. If you are going to allow your child to have long hair, you need to be prepared to pick it out. Messy is not acceptable. Both boys had hair that might be cool in the white adoptive community, but is cool nowhere else.

In other words, my original post was about a few things: how adoptive families should handle the homeland visit, as well as about the sensitivity (or lack thereof) of white parents around issues of raising black children, especially in predominately white communities and states, where racism flourishes and racial mirrors are rare.

My blog post touched a nerve for many readers. A few days after the post was published, one of the previously unnamed subjects of the post commented, identifying herself, and disputing the details of the incident in Ethiopia. Many of her friends commented as well, defending her as a mother and criticizing both me and the original poster for what we wrote.

Because the mom identified herself, she and her son are no longer anonymous. This means that her son (and friends, neighbors, teachers, strangers) could be identified as well. Thus, I decided, for the sake of the son’s privacy, to take down the original post.

The issue of bringing adopted Ethiopian children back to visit Ethiopia (sometimes specifically to visit their Ethiopian family) is more complex than many people realize. Here are just a few admittedly controversial, argument-inducing points:

  • Adoptive parents should not adopt from Ethiopia if they do not have the financial means to take the children back at least once, maybe more. When they do take the trip, it should be organized thoughtfully and flexibly, allowing a lot of space for children’s emotional, physical, developmental, and psychological needs.
  • Adoptive parents should do all they can to search for their children’s Ethiopian families, since many (perhaps most?) of the back stories provided by adoption agencies have proven false.
  • Many (if not most) Ethiopian families placed their children with the belief that they would see their children again. Many did not fully understand (or were not told) that adoption meant a permanent severing of legal ties with their children.
  • The visits with Ethiopian families are far more complex than many people realize. The visits often attract dozens of neighbors and onlookers, even in remote areas. Translators are often the people who drive the families around, good people but not experts in adoption reunion issues. A lot of nuance and actual statements are lost in the emotions of the moment and the limitations (linguistic and cultural) of the translators.
  • While Ethiopia is a polite culture, slow to criticize others, Ethiopians and others watch the way that adopted children are treated in Ethiopia. In the US, black people sometimes keep an eye on how black children are cared for by their white adoptive parents, including the children’s hair. To say that hair care is an important issue in the black community is to provide a remarkable example of understatement.
  • Some adopted children, when visiting Ethiopia, find it healing and helpful. Lots of adoptive parents post on social media about the success of their visits. Other children are affected differently, sometimes traumatically. Their parents tend not to post.
  • The impact of the trips is felt immediately and long after the actual visits, as children grow up and process the realities of loss and gains in adoption.

Many of the commenters on the original post scolded me for being negative, even citing the chestnut, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” That approach would have us all saying nothing about racism. It would have us never sharing information and resources about what experience we have gained through making mistakes, or through witnessing naiveté, insensitivity, abuse, or even cruelty.

The incident related in the original post was, unfortunately, not one-of-a-kind. Many of us, whether adoptive parents, adopted persons, or Ethiopian parents, could cite many examples of the stunning ignorance of white adoptive parents in Ethiopia. We are increasingly hearing the perspective of adult Ethiopian adoptees, and far too rarely, that of Ethiopian birth parents, who are the most marginalized of all in this triad.

My decision to leave the subjects of the initial post unnamed was purposeful, and, I would argue, valuable. Once one of them was no longer unknown, the scale tipped. I appreciate all those who weighed in on this post. I hope that everyone continues to give thought to the complexity of international adoption, especially transracial adoption, not only in childhood but well into adulthood.

The Long Road to Sentencing For International Adoption Guides: Still Not There

In February 2014, four employees of International Adoption Guides were indicted by the US Department of Justice for bribery, falsification of documents, and more, based on a multiyear investigation of Ethiopian adoptions. James Harding, Mary Mooney, and Alisa Bivens, the three American IAG defendants, all pled guilty to various counts about two years ago. They are still awaiting sentencing, three years after the indictment. The one Ethiopian defendant, Haile Mekonnen, as best I know is still in Ethiopia and has not been in court.

According to the 2014 DOJ press release, ” ‘The defendants are accused of obtaining adoption decrees and U.S. visas by submitting fraudulent adoption contracts signed by orphanages that never cared for or housed the children, thus undermining the very laws that are designed to protect the children and families involved,’ said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. ‘As today’s indictments show, the Justice Department, alongside its partners both here and abroad, will respond vigorously to these criminal schemes and will act to protect the many families and children who rely on the integrity of the adoption process.’ ”

Behind that legal language is astonishing loss and heartache for many children and their families in Ethiopia and in the United States.

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I recently came across a website, justiceformary.weebly.com, which seems to be written by Mary Mooney. While it mostly has password protected pages, it has a long list of the court documents from 2014 to 2016, including the plea agreements from the three defendants, as well as transcripts of several court appearances. The site mentions a court date in January 2017, but I have yet to see anything to confirm that.

In May 2016, the government recommended a sentence for Mooney of 51 to 60 months of incarceration, per this Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing.

A sentencing hearing was held in August 2016.

In November 2016, there was an order filed on Mary Mooney‘s case. My understanding, as a non-lawyer, is that in January 2015 Mooney had made a plea agreement: she pled guilty to making false statements for the agency’s Council on Accreditation process, and the government then dropped other charges, including those related to Ethiopia.

Mooney could, however, face a conviction on charges related to adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mooney’s co-defendant James Harding had operated World Partners Adoption, located in Georgia; he is an adoptive parent of children from Kazakhstan. WPA lost its accreditation to handle international adoptions in 2008. Harding and Mooney then arranged for Harding to take over at IAG, which still had accreditation at that time. Apparently IAG also has charges against it in relation to adoptions from Kazakstan, and Mooney could face a conviction as a result of those.

Any lawyers who want to weigh in would be welcomed. It is not clear to me whether this means that Mooney will face no punishment in regard to the bribery and falsification of documents in Ethiopia, but that could be correct.

Every month or so, I have called the office of Judge David Norton in South Carolina, the judge handling the case. A pleasant court official consistently tells me that, no, there’s nothing on the sentencing yet. He can’t comment on whether that’s unusual, or on any reason as to why sentencing would not have taken place. He says he will send my inquiry on to someone who might have more information. I’ve never heard anything back.

Unless I’ve missed it, I have not seen any outcry about this case from adoption agencies or from the National Council on Adoption.

The three defendants are, I believe, not in jail. I understand and applaud the value of a full and fair legal process. Still, I can’t help but feel deep disappointment in the slowness of this case, especially when the defendants pled guilty. Will the final sentencing be minimal, with the defendants getting jail time reduced?

I also can’t help but feel this long delay for sentencing is a slap in the face of the Ethiopian adoptees brought here via lies and deception. They have gone through so much, as have their families, in Ethiopia and in the US. What is the message for them about the American court system?

Where is the justice for the innocent victims?

 

 

List of Contributors to Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology: “Lions Roaring, Far From Home”

We are thrilled to announce our list of international contributors to “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” the first of its kind anthology by Ethiopian adoptees.

Australia

Tamieka Small

 

Canada

Hana

Kassaye MacDonald

 

Ethiopia

Heran Tadesse

 

France

Mekdes

Mumasiquery

Vincent Proffit

Rasselas

Damien Vanier

 

The Netherlands

Abenet Bakker

 

Spain

Eleni Merelo de las Peñas

Kasech Navarro Wauters

 

Sweden

Genet

Sara Grönroos

Daniel Rosenlind

Hanna Wallensteen

 

United States

Edelawit A.

Zufan Bazzano

Bektu

Aselefech Evans

Harmony Fisher

Kiya Herron

Helen Samuel

Sarah Solomon

Hirut Tilleskjor

Tizita

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans, 2007.

The writers are listed by the countries in which they currently live. Some chose to use only first names or pseudonyms, for a variety of reasons. We respect the sacredness of each of their stories, which include reflections on being dropped off at an orphanage in the middle of the night, on the impact of racism, on the love for adoptive family and the need to know one’s origins, and on the hopes and dreams a father has for his child. Some have wonderful adoptive families; some had horrible ones. Some have chosen to search for their Ethiopian family; some have been successful and some have not. The writers range from young children to adults in their 40’s. They are amazing people.

And they are patient people. For a variety of reasons, the publication has taken longer than we hoped, and that is life. We plan to announce the publication date soon. The book will feature stunning cover art by the Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie. On behalf of my co-editors, Aselefech Evans and Kassaye MacDonald, we appreciate all the energy and power that has gone into the essays. Amaseganllo.

 

 

Thinking of Fisseha, Thinking of Ethiopia

Two years ago today, Ethiopian adoptee Fisseha Sol Samuel was found to have died by suicide. I am thinking of him and his family, the US and in Ethiopia today. He was, of course, much more than an “Ethiopian adoptee,” and I don’t mean to limit his impact in and on the world. He was a son, a brother, a soccer player, a friend, a person of warmth, laughter, and energy.

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Fisseha Sol Samuel

I wrote a post about him shortly after he died: Fisseha Sol Samuel: “Irreplaceably Marvelous.” I continue to keep him in my heart, as do many people.

Last year, on the first anniversary of Fisseha’s death, I wrote about October, Traumaversaries, and Hope. I’m not sure just why, and this is totally anecdotal, but October can be especially hard on many folks.

Right now, October seems hard on Ethiopia. After months of unrest, protests, injuries and deaths, Ethiopia is now in a state of emergency. It’s difficult to know what this means for the government, the protestors, the farmers, the students, the businesses, the tourists, the missionaries, the children, the schools, the people in cities and countryside, the people in jail, the journalists and bloggers, the future. It’s heartbreaking. Ethiopia is and will be a side note in the news, not on the radar for a lot of people, especially as our own U.S. politics dominate the headlines and social media.

So today, I reflect on Ethiopia, on those who have left it and those who remain there. I reflect also on the loss of Fisseha. His mother, Melissa Fay Greene, has written beautifully (no surprise, or course) about her beloved son in the two years since his death. Fisseha’s sister, Helen Samuel, has a powerful essay about her brother in our upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” Suicide claims so many victims. Here is a link to some Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.

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© Maureen Evans. Photo taken at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, Summer, 2014.

I am thinking today of both Fisseha and Ethiopia, on the notions of potential and loss, of sudden life-changing decisions, of hope for the future, of our understanding of what can be controlled and what cannot. My mom used to say we should pray for perspective, for a sense of what really matters in hard times, especially given that tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us. That approach, she suggested, would help us hold on to hope or to faith, and move us toward healing. May our memories lead us towards peace.

Ethiopian Adoptee to be Featured on Al Jazeera

Tomorrow the Al Jazeera show The Stream will feature a story about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. Al Jazeera reached out to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a global Facebook community, and connected with Heran Tadesse. Heran will be on the show tomorrow, September 29. It airs live on Al Jazeera at 3:30 p.m. EST/ 22:30 in Addis Ababa/ 20:30 in London/ 21:30 in Amsterdam.

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Heran is one of the writers included in our soon-to-be published anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, Lions Roaring, Far From Home. Born in Ethiopia, she was adopted to the Netherlands, and returned to live in Ethiopia several years ago. She has re-connected with her Ethiopian family. Heran is married to the artist Mulugeta Gebrekidan, and they are raising their three children in Ethiopia. Heran is on the Adoptee Advisory Board of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, grassroots resource to reconnect families separated by adoption. She holds a degree in forestry, is a yoga instructor, and is currently the general manager of a wonderful child care facility in Addis, Regina Family Center.

I last visited with Heran and her family in Addis this past February. Heran is a person of depth, warmth, and strength. Hers has not always been an easy journey, and she handles challenges with grace and openness. I know you will be moved by her essay in the Lions Roaring anthology, and I have no doubts her perspective on the Al Jazeera show will be compelling. I am thrilled that her voice will be heard.

As to how to tune in to the show: I have not always been successful in viewing Al Jazeera here in the U.S. Depending where you are in the world, you may be able to watch live.  Ethiopian Adoption Connection tells me that the show will be archived and can be viewed at this link after tomorrow’s airing of the show. My guess is that could mean September 30, but could be sooner. Thank you!

 

Remembering Hana Williams, Three Years After the Guilty Verdict

Three years ago today, a jury found Larry and Carri Williams guilty of the death of their daughter, Ethiopian adoptee Hana (Alemu) Williams. She would have turned 18 this year, had she lived.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Instead, Hana died on May 12, 2011, at 13 years of age. The causes: hypothermia and malnutrition. About two years after her death, the case went to trial in the summer of 2013. Her adoptive parents were accused of the homicide of Hana, and of the abuse of Immanuel, an Ethiopian boy adopted in 2008, at the same time as Hana. I attended most of the five-week trial, blogged about it, and posted this on the day of the jury decision: Williams Trial Verdict In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel.

In October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were sentenced to jail for decades. They also have seven biological children. They lost custody of Immanuel, of course, but also lost custody of their five minor biological children as well. The children were all adopted by relatives, as I understand it. At one point, Carri tried to get back custody of her children, but failed. I have no details on Immanuel, except that he continues to struggle. All of the children struggle in many ways, I would guess.

In recent years, adoptions from Ethiopia have dramatically declined for a number of reasons, one of which is surely Hana’s death. I am not minimizing the tragedy of her death when I say that it is an anomaly, an exception. I don’t want her to be forgotten. I want her to be remembered as a light in the world, and still in our hearts.

 

Sentencing Hearings for International Adoption Guides (IAG)

Update July 13: The sentencing hearings have again been rescheduled. Now they are supposed to take place August 29. Unbelievable.

Update June 20: My understanding is that the IAG sentencing hearings are now scheduled for July 13 and 14. What a long, hard road this has been for the victims.

Update: I have heard from someone connected with the trial that the June 16 and 17 sentencing hearings have been postponed, yet again. How frustrating and disappointing this whole process has become for the adoptees and their families. When I have more news, I will post again.

Three International Adoption Guides officials could be sentenced, finally, next week.

They were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in February 2014, after lengthy investigations. They are scheduled for sentencing next week, having pled guilty over a year ago to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by bribery and fraudulent documents, all involving several Ethiopian adoptions.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney (IAG’s executive director) is scheduled for 11am on June 16. Mooney had pled guilty in January 2015, then changed her plea to “no contest” several months later. In August 2015, the judge ruled against the “no contest” plea, and the guilty verdict was reinstated.

For James Harding (IAG’s director of international programs), sentencing is scheduled for 10am on June 17. Harding had entered a guilty plea in January 2015.

For Alisa Bivens (IAG’s Ethiopia program director), sentencing is scheduled for June 17 at 10:30am. Bivens had entered a guilty plea in August 2014.

Each of these hearings will take place before Judge David Norton in Courtroom 2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC.

There is a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for the original charges, according to the February 2014 press release by the Department of Justice when the indictment occurred.

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My guess is that the sentencing hearings will be fairly brief. Many details have probably been worked out by attorneys in advance. It’s possible that victims of these cases will speak at the hearings.

I have no insights as to why there has been such a long time between the guilty pleas and the sentencing. I thought, and was told by others, that the sentencing would take place within months after the guilty pleas. Clearly I was wrong about that. As I (a non-lawyer) understand it, there can be a number of reasons for delays: courts are overloaded with cases and everything just takes a long time; the guidelines for sentencing can be contested by the defendants; pre-sentencing investigations can be lengthy; lawyers can ask for continuances; and other reasons that a lawyer could no doubt better explain.

It’s not clear to me whether the three defendants have been in jail awaiting sentencing, but I don’t think that’s the case. My understanding is that defendants can earn reduced sentences by cooperating with the process and, of course, not getting into any further trouble. That could mean, given the lengthy time between convictions and sentencing, that the three defendants’ actual time in jail, if any, would be reduced.

What a long, hard journey this has been for the Ethiopian children adopted via bribery and fraud, for their Ethiopian families, and for the adoptive families. This case represents so much that is wrong in international adoption, so much that is heartbreaking for innocent victims. Here’s hoping that justice is done in the sentencing next week.