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.

 

Today’s State Department Call About Suspension of Adoptions in Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department held an hour-long, public conference call today “to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.”

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Ethiopia suspended adoptions to all countries as of April 21, 2017. I wrote about it here. The State Department officials on the call were clear that the Ethiopian government has not yet released the reasons for, or the potential length of, the suspension. State emphasized several points:

  • The State Department is working with adoption-related Ethiopian government officials to move the adoption cases which had children matched with parents as of the date of the suspension, but it is unclear what will happen to those cases.
  • The State Department will continue to promote intercountry adoption. The U.S. will continue to work on processing adoptions on the U.S. side but cannot control what the Ethiopian government will or will not do in terms of processing on their side.
  • The Ethiopian government recently approved a policy to promote adoptions within Ethiopia. The State Department is getting more information about this.
  • Families in process (those who have had children matched with them) are encouraged to send their case information to the State Department at adoption@state.gov and consadoptionaddis@state.gov. The State Department will try to help those families by providing information and working to move their cases through the system, even as the Ethiopian courts are apparently not hearing adoption cases anymore.
  • The State Department urged families to work with their adoption agencies (adoption service providers). State cannot provide legal advice as to what legal or political steps families should take.

The State Department answered questions from about 20 people who called in. The majority were prospective and adoptive American parents of Ethiopian children whose legal status is in flux as a result of the suspension. My understanding is that some of the children could be the legal children of their adoptive parents, but who do not have, as a result of the suspension, the Ethiopian government signatures needed to get the documents (passports, birth certificates) to leave the country.

One parent asked about contacting Congressional representatives for help. State noted that parents were of course welcome to do so, that State cannot advise parents about doing that, and that the Congressional offices often reach back to State for information. Another parent asked in vague terms about taking legal action against Ethiopia. State reiterated it cannot give legal advice, and suggested folks seek the advice of a local attorney. My sense is that we Americans often lean toward hiring lawyers and pressuring our way into getting the outcomes we feel are deserved: sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I would think there is little that American lawyers could do to pressure Ethiopian government officials, given the complexity of international law and the differing political philosophies of other countries. My hope is that everyone is transparent, and looking for the best outcomes for the children–that may be overly optimistic, I realize.

One caller said she had heard there are some 225 cases “in the pipeline.” State did not comment on that number. State reiterated their suggestion that all families with matched children are the priority right now, and to contact them at adoption@state.gov with information and questions. They noted that the cases of matched children have the best chances of being acted upon by the Ethiopian government.

There was a question about a “soft match,” cases where prospective parents have identified/selected a child they would like to adopt via an agency’s list of children, but legal formalities (including a home study) have not been completed. State suggested, given that there is no concrete information on how long the suspension will last, that the family send their information to adoption@state.gov so they can look at the situation more specifically. State sympathized with another caller who asked about families who are in the process but not yet matched, and suggested they work with their adoption service provider who may be in the best position to guide them.

I asked if the State Department would consider urging the Ethiopian government to invite adult adoptees to share their perspectives and experiences with the government. My personal hope is that the Ethiopian government would do this on their own, in some way reaching out to the thousands of adult adoptees around the world to hear their stories. Would it be possible for the State Department to suggest this? State said it was a good suggestion, and they are interested in hearing the views of all stakeholders.

One large and unfortunately realistic fear is that American and other adoptive parents will have legal custody of and responsibility for Ethiopian children, but not be able to take the children out of Ethiopia, for months or longer. I hope that the Ethiopian government will move these pipeline cases quickly. If the receiving country’s paperwork is all in order, and if the Ethiopian government has signed off on the adoptions far enough to give the adoptive parents custody, then let’s not leave these children in a legal limbo for months or years, unable to be adopted by anyone else, and unable to be with the parents whom the Ethiopian government has approved to raise them.

I applaud the Ethiopian government’s possible plans to increase in-country adoption. I also know that is a very long road to fruition, potentially involving intense, expensive, and long-term staffing, outreach, and education, if such an initiative is to succeed. Family preservation has to be a centerpiece of any effective child welfare policy, especially in a country where so many children in orphanages are not orphans at all.

So many emotions, laws, precedents, and policies are in play right now. So much money entangled in the business that is adoption, money flowing from parents to adoption agencies to comparatively impoverished countries. In the middle of it all: vulnerable children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

How My Granddaughter Changed My Perspective on Adoption

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2011 Reunion in Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

I am pleased to have an article on Catapult.co today, titled “A New Light: How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”

I am the parent through adoption to four amazing, wonderful, beloved children, now all in their late 20’s. When my daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was 6, became pregnant at 17, all our lives were changed. I had worked in adoption professionally for several years. I couldn’t imagine, though, even before she was born, my granddaughter being placed for adoption.

 

 

My article includes the story of my daughter’s re-connection with her Ethiopian mother. My granddaughter is her granddaughter as well, always and in all ways that matter.

I have often spoken out about how first/birth parents deserve far more support and resources than they currently receive, and that their voices are among the most marginalized in adoption. I have also spoken out about the need for greater emphasis on family preservation. There surely is a place for ethical, transparent adoptions, and there surely are children who will benefit. That said, we need to do a better job of supporting those mothers and fathers who want to keep their children, and of providing resources and communication for those who do place their children.

My eyes were opened in many ways because of my daughter’s pregnancy and my granddaughter’s birth. A decade later, and we have all met/reunited with my daughters’ Ethiopian family. I have learned so much, about love, privilege, and family, in ways I never could have predicted.

 

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.

Al Jazeera’s Lost Opportunity on International Adoption

It could have been a compelling show about identity from an adoptee-centric perspective. Instead, it fell far short.

Here’s what a producer wrote in an email to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on September 22: “I’m with Al Jazeera English’s live daily show “The Stream” and working on a show about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. The show is next Thursday, Sept. 29 and airs live at 3:30 p.m. EST.
I wanted to find out if you know of any Ethiopian adoptees who decided to live in Ethiopia. Better yet, if they are still in Ethiopia.”

Great! A show about a rarely considered perspective in adoption, and a show intentional about having actual adult adoptees speak about their experiences. Ethiopian adoptee Heran Tadesse, who was raised in The Netherlands and now lives in Ethiopia, was chosen as a guest. She has a fascinating, important story.

The show, The Stream, tweeted a link to a New York Times article about Korean adoptees who have returned to live in Korea: “We’ll discuss more stories,” said the tweet. Two Korean adoptees, Hollee McGinnis (raised in the United States) and Kasper Eriksen (raised in Denmark), who have spent much time in Korea, were the other adoptee speakers.

When the show aired on September 29, the angle had apparently changed. It was billed on the website as “The challenges of international adoption: What happens when adoptees can’t adapt.”

What does that even mean?

Elizabeth Bartholet, a lawyer, adoptive parent, and founder of the Child Advocacy Project at Harvard Law School, was the fourth panelist. She is often noted as an advocate for adoption agency-supported legislation such as the Children In Families First (CHIFF) bill.

In fact, Bartholet’s Child Advocacy Project recently received $250,000 from Children of All Nations, a division of the Great Wall China Adoption agency. Great Wall has adoption programs in 15 countries. That quarter of a million dollars, from an adoption agency, will be hugely helpful to Bartholet’s mission, a press release said.

The show itself, which you can watch here, turned into breathless questions from the two hosts (Tell us a “nice, juicy story!”) that jumped around topics and had little focus. They showed a photo of Mia Farrow’s family, a photo that included Woody Allen. One of Mia Farrow’s adopted sons recently committed suicide, but that wasn’t even acknowledged. They showed a photo of Angelina Jolie.

Despite the original intent, the show lost the opportunity to discuss the interesting, evolving topic of adoptee identity as experienced by adoptees themselves.

Instead, we heard Professor Bartholet (not an adoptee) asked how she related to an adoptee’s struggle for identity. We heard her say to adoptees that she is “not somebody who thinks that there are major sorts of traumatizing, psychological issues built into the idea of being adopted.”

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L-Elizabeth Bartholet. R-Heran Tadesse

Heran raised the issues for international adoptees not knowing their names, their background, their parents, their culture: “I think this is not to be underestimated.” She noted that many children in orphanages in Ethiopia are not orphans at all, and called out the Western demand for children, along with the West’s wealth, as vital factors in problems in international adoption.

Having selected Heran for her perspective, the show never addressed the story of why she returned to her motherland to live after being adopted to Europe. Indeed, toward the end, one host asked Kasper Eriksen, “What are we missing” in what was discussed today? “Probably many things,” he answered.

If and when Al Jazeera’s The Stream does a follow-up that genuinely and effectively looks at the issues in adoption, perhaps they will take the time to hear Heran’s story, as well as those of other adoptees who have re-connected with their homelands.

Perhaps they could also include the perspective of the birth/first mothers in any show about international adoption. Their voices are even more marginalized than those of adult adoptees, and this show was no exception.

 

You can comment on The Stream’s page. I hope more adopted persons comment, as there are many adoptive parents who have weighed in. You can tweet to @AJStream and @AlJazeera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!