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.

 

 

Adult Adoptees Speaking “Out of the Fog”

 

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I believe a lot of our lives are spent asleep, and what I’ve been trying to do is hold on to those moments when a little spark cuts through the fog and nudges you. ~Rufus Wainwright (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

How familiar are you with being in the fog or out of the fog, in terms of understanding adoption?

“Out of the Fog” is a new Canadian radio magazine where critical, thoughtful, lived perspectives on adoption are brought to the forefront. It is co-hosted by Kassaye MacDonald, co-founder of  Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, and filmmaker Pascal Huỳnh. The first episode aired this past Friday. It featured Shaaren Pine, whose Washington Post article “Please Don’t Tell Me I’m Lucky to Be Adopted” last year generated a lot of conversation.

I hope “Out of the Fog” also generates a lot of listeners, conversation, and the occasional controversy. Last Friday’s show was a great debut, as the speakers talked about the complexity of growing up as the only adoptee/only person of color, about adoption prevention versus family preservation, about struggles with depression and suicide, about reproductive rights versus reproductive justice. Big important topics. The show airs every first Friday of the month on CKUT 90.3FM at 8:30am EST.

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Friday Harbor, WA (Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans)

“Out of the Fog” is part of an evolving, important perspective on adoption. Betty Jean Lifton, writing in “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience,” might have been the first to voice the “great sleep” of adoption. In the years since Lifton’s book was published in 1979, the idea of the great sleep has evolved into a fog: the sense that some folks connected with adoption are in a fog, not wanting or able to see the clear, full reality of adoption. Like Lifton, Deanna Doss Shrodes and Laura Dennis are adoptees. In Adoptee Restoration’s blog post “Shaking the Adoption Fog Out of Adoptees,” Laura defines the fog as “that hazy perception that everything about adoption is simple, straight-forward, beautiful, and most importantly, not to be questioned.” First/birth mother Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy provides another thoughtful perspective in “The Birthmother Shift–12 Years in an Adoption Fog.

“Out of the Fog’s next episode will be on November 4, 2016. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. I’m looking forward to that show. Well done.

Be sure to like and follow Out of the Fog on Facebook.

 

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 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.

Lions Roaring: Learning From the Stories of Ethiopian Adoptees

Our upcoming anthology “Lions Roaring Far From Home,” with more than 25 essays by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries, is on the final stretch to publication, and will be published this fall. It’s been a longer road than we anticipated. I am aware now of how much I did not know about the process. Had I known, would I have embarked on this adventure? Yes. It’s been wonderful to learn so much about working with diverse authors, editing across languages and cultures, engaging with translators, and grinding through the details involved in putting a book together.

Beyond learning about publishing, though, I have learned much more from the stories these amazing writers have shared.

The essays reflect a range of Ethiopian adoptee experiences. Some are happy, some are tragic. Some adoptees were deeply loved, some were cruelly abused. Yes, those are realities for non-adoptees as well. Add on the layer of adoption, though–the removal of a child from his/her mother, family, country, and culture–and both the love and the cruelty take on different poignancy.

Racism and being “other” is a constant, around the globe, sometimes low-key and polite, sometimes harsh and shocking.

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees are involved in amazing, impressive programs to give back to Ethiopia.

Some adoptees have struggled with significant depression along the way, even while in loving families, sometimes to the point of considering suicide.

Many were older at adoption, and remember well their parents and siblings. Some have searing, wrenching memories of being separated from their mothers.

Some have stayed in contact with their Ethiopian families, or have reconnected with them. Some continue to wonder why they were adopted, and have not been able to learn their truth.

For some, being adopted has had a profound impact on their becoming parents, and the way they have chosen to raise their children.

Some have returned to Ethiopia to live and raise their families.

Some adoptees have very happy memories of being in orphanages, often with their siblings.

Some adoptees, even as adults into their 30’s and 40’s, hesitate to tell their adoptive parents about wanting to learn about their birth families, or .

All these snippets give you a flavor of the book, perhaps. It’s the stories, though, that have such power.

Here are brief excerpts from 3 essays:

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Mani, Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

My grandpa was paying for my older sister and brother to go to school already, and when five more of us came to live with him and my grandma, he did not know what to do with us. It was a constant battle with my grandma as to what she should feed us. I don’t think he had any option but to put us in an orphanage. He never would have sent us back to the village because he knew if we went back, we never would have gotten to see the doorway of a school. Education to my grandpa was, and still is, the most important thing in life, after his faith.

 

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Woman walking in Addis Ababa. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

My mother’s brother wanted to murder my mother because she, as a young schoolgirl, without being married, became pregnant. My mother came from a Muslim family. A girl who is pregnant and unmarried shames the whole family. My mother fled to her older sister’s home in Addis Ababa, and there I was born. My mother would take me sometimes to visit my father, who comes from a wealthy Christian family, but he would not acknowledge me, given the disgrace.

 

 

 

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

Which family, in my heart, do I belong to more? Which parent do I love more? Where should I live once I grow up, in Ethiopia or the U.S.? Which parent do I listen to more? Which one do I call Mom? Why did I get adopted if my one parent is alive? What is my purpose in life in America? Why me?

I feel I am living a double life. I am Ethiopian, but I am also American. I have family in Ethiopia, and I have family in America. I lived my first 8 years in Ethiopia and have lived the rest in America. This has been a blessing as well as hardship for me. I feel blessed that I have my American citizenship and I got that very easily, by being adopted. I know of other Ethiopians that have immigrated to America and had much more difficulty and fewer opportunities than I have had.

On the other hand, I feel like there is a hole in my heart, because when I go back to Ethiopia, I don’t feel 100% Ethiopian. I look Ethiopian, but I can no longer speak Amharic. There are many cultural differences. When I am in America, I speak the language, but I do not look like others in my community. So, being an Ethiopian adoptee in America is both a blessing and a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Preventing Adoptions From Being Annulled

There are several ways that international adoptions, after they have been finalized, can be terminated. What can be done to prevent this from happening, and to heal those involved?

We live in a world where adoptions can end in at least four ways.

  • One is illicit “re-homing,” where adoptive parents hand their children over to other people, whom they may or may not know well, without any sort of oversight or protection for the children. I’ve written about this here.
  • A second ending is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of the adoptive parents’ parental rights, thus moving their children into the US foster care system, This happens with internationally adopted children more often than any of us are aware. Because the children are usually US citizens by the time they enter foster care, their international origins are often difficult to trace.
  • A third is the voluntary or involuntary legal termination of parental rights which moves the children into a private adoption system. The Utah agency Second Chance Adoptions is the best known organization for handling these disruptions.
  • A fourth is the annulment of the adoption in civil court by the country of origin. Ethiopian courts have recently annulled three international adoptions. You can read my recent post here.
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Maji, Ethiopia. January 2016. © Maureen McCauley Evans

Obviously the best approach is prevention before adoption occurs: preventing the child from losing his first family by preserving families when possible, by intervening to keep children out of orphanages, and by providing resources to feed and educate children. I’ve written about some possible means of helping children that do not include international adoption here.

 

 

The decline in international adoptions to the US does not mean that the needs of vulnerable children have also declined.

Another important approach is providing services for families before and after the adoption, so that the child is safe, and is not re-traumatized by losing a family a second time.

Here are a few ideas:

  •  More rigorous screening of prospective adoptive parents. Proof that prospective parents have excellent insurance, including access to adoption-competent therapies and resources for respite care.
  • Adoption policies and practices that focus on Inclusion of adult international adoptees and from international birth/original parents, and not solely adoptive parents, adoption agencies, and adoption attorneys.
  • Funding and training for pre-adoption and post-adoption resources that are effective and accessible. Emphasizing to families that asking for help is not embarrassing or shameful, but is a sign of strong parenting skills.
  • Legislation and/or other resources that provides guidance and oversight for families in crisis, with transparency for adoption disruptions and services for children.

Some children are in need of adoption because of abuse by their parents. The annulled adoptions in Ethiopia were granted because of the treatment of the children by the adoptive parents. Access to services–and willingness to use the services–would likely have helped in some cases. Further, a red flag of the cases was that the Ethiopian parents thought they would hear about their children after placement, and then were not given any information or contact.

One of the most significant developments in international adoption is increased openness, where the adoptive family and the birth/first family keep connected. I am aware anecdotally of many adoptive parents of Ethiopian children who visit Ethiopia regularly, who have phone or Skype contact with the birth family, and who have heard the reasons for adoption directly from family members.

Ethiopian Adoption Connection provides a database for Ethiopian and adoptive families to find each other. IMG_6400Many Ethiopian mothers and fathers were promised connections with the children they placed for adoption, but never received updates, photos, news, or anything at all. EAC helps Ethiopian families and adoptees around the globe to find each other. Having access to information seems such a basic human right, for everyone involved in adoption. Yes, it’s complicated to navigate the relationships. Yes, safety issues are always paramount.

And yes, these connections have been made and have been successful. Adoptees are finding their families. Dying Ethiopian grandfathers are able to learn that their grandsons are thriving. Ethiopian mothers can know that their babies (placed in the US, Sweden, France, or elsewhere) are alive.

Would these connections have meant the annulments would not have occurred? We will never know. But transparency and integrity can go a long way in adoption, and we need to take more steps in that direction.

Ethiopian Adoption Connection is doing groundbreaking work. Please share information about them, and help them to continue. Learn more here. A donation would be a wonderful Mother’s Day idea. 

France Joins Other European Nations in Suspending Adoptions From Ethiopia

France has announced that it will suspend adoptions from Ethiopia. You can read the announcement in French here: Communiqué relatif à la suspension des adoptions internationales en Éthiopie (4.05.2016)

This is a Google Translate version of the announcement:

“Statement on the suspension of international adoptions in Ethiopia (05/04/2016)

The Mission of the International Adoption (DIA) informs candidates for adoption in Ethiopia in April 22, 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development has sent a letter to Ms. Zenebu Tadesse, Minister for Women and Children in Ethiopia, announcing the suspension of international adoptions to the implementation of legislative and institutional reforms undertaken by that country.

Other host countries such as Germany, French-speaking Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland have suspended adoptions in Ethiopia.

The decision comes after the May mission in Ethiopia conducted from 10 to 12 February. During this mission, in May met with the Minister of Women and Children for a status report on the situation of adoption. The observation was made jointly by the need to suspend international adoptions to ensure ethical and legal certainty of procedures and to encourage local alternatives supported international adoption.

Only the procedures related families of Ethiopian children by 22 April 2016 and whose name list was transmitted to the Ethiopian authorities have received agreement in principle from the Ethiopian minister. These procedures are allowed to continue through the operators. Regarding the situation of children already adopted and arrived in France, the OAA ( Organismes Autorisés pour l’Adoption–Authorized adoption agencies)  will ensure monitoring and transmit the monitoring reports in compliance with the requirements of the Ethiopian legislation.”

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Graph showing decline in international adoptions to France

We Iive in a global adoption community. Around the world, international adoptions are declining: it’s not just the United States. Millions of vulnerable children need help, though international adoption is increasingly not an option, for many reasons. Those of us involved with adoption must continue to advocate for children in the US and around the world who need safety, food, families, and health care.

My thanks to Andrea Kay of Ethiopian Adoption Connections (EAC) for sharing this information. EAC works to connect Ethiopian adoptees around the world with their Ethiopian families. EAC also works with Ethiopian birth mothers and families to help them in a number of ways, such as empowering Ethiopian families who have lost children to adoption by providing emotional and social support through caseworker led discussion groups; education about the system through which their children were adopted; and meaningful, realistic information about reunion, potential reunion, and ongoing contact with their adopted children. Please visit their website and support their work.