“Lions Roaring” Anthology

After much too long a time, the anthology “Lions Roaring, Far From Home” is edging toward publication. 

It will contain about 30 essays by Ethiopian adoptees, ages 9 to late 50’s, who were raised in the US, Canada, Sweden, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia. 

Funds from sales will go toward a guest house in Addis for returning adoptees. The book will be dedicated to Ethiopian adoptees who have died by suicide and other means.

Front and back cover art is by Art of Nahosenay Negusssie and by Ethiopian adoptee Adanech Evans. 

More details coming soon!

Original Art © Adanech Evans.

Remembering Hana Williams, 9 Years After Her Death

Today is the 9th anniversary of the death of 13-year-old Hanna Williams, whose name was also Hana Alemu. Two years after her death, her adoptive parents were jailed for decades in 2013 for homicide by abuse (the charge against Carri Williams, the adoptive mother) and for manslaughter (the charge against Larry Williams, the adoptive father).

Every May 12, and on many other days as well, my thoughts turn to Hana. On May 12, 2011, Hana died outside her adoptive family’s home, due to hypothermia and malnutrition. She’d arrived in the U.S. from Ethiopia in 2008, and died weighing less than she had upon arrival. Her time in America began with a semblance of love, and devolved into cruelty, torture (the use of torture was part of the homicide by abuse charge), physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately death.

She would have turned 22 this year, had she lived.

Larry and Carri also had 7 biological children, who all, I am guessing, are legal adults now. They witnessed all the things that happened to Hana, as well as to the Williamses’ other adopted Ethiopian child, Immanuel. He was abused also, and Larry and Carri were charged and convicted for their abuse of Immanuel. I don’t know how any of the children are doing now. The testimony of the siblings who testified in court, who were also ultimately victims here, played an important role in the conviction of Larry and Carri.

In 2018, Ethiopia ended international adoptions. Hana’s death played a large part in that decision. as many Ethiopians worried about the fate of their children sent away for adoption. Most Ethiopian adoptees do well, of course, though some struggle with the trauma and grief that can be part of adoption. I know some adoptees who are placed for adoption due to medical conditions that are essentially untreatable in Ethiopia, and am happy to say that the American and the Ethiopian families have stayed in contact, which is wonderful. Increasing numbers of adoptees are searching for and reuniting with their Ethiopian families, a complicated journey. For adoptees and for Ethiopian families who want to search, consider contacting Beteseb Felega/Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a wonderful resource. Others, please consider donating to their work.

Many Ethiopian adoptees have searched and reunited with their Ethiopian families, including my twin daughters. My daughters are both mothers now themselves—what a blessing. My older granddaughter met her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Ethiopia. My younger granddaughter is 8 months old now, and I hope she has a chance to meet all her Ethiopian relatives as well.

While some international adoptees are genuine orphans, with no living parents or other relatives, the vast majority are not orphans. Hana had relatives in Ethiopia. I think of them today as well, of course. May Hana rest in power, justice, and peace. We have not forgotten you.

May all children be safe and loved.

An adoption agency photo of Hana in Ethiopia, prior to her adoption in 2008
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There are many ways to support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, and I encourage you to do so. Adoption is by no means the only way to ensure that children grow up safely and happily. Organizations that support HIV+ children, that empower women and literacy for girls, that train midwives and provide maternal care, that bring electricity to rural regions, that build schools and libraries: there are many wonderful, transparent, and effective nonprofits/non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) working with Ethiopians in the community to help children.

2019 Stats on Intercountry Adoptions: Declines and Omissions

The U.S. State Department has released the 2019 international adoption statistics. There were a total of 2971 children adopted to the U.S. last year. There were 4059 in 2018; numbers have been dropping for years. Of that 2019 total, about half came from 4 countries: China, Colombia, India and Ukraine combined. From the U.S., 56 children were placed for international adoption in Canada, Mexico, Netherlands, and elsewhere. In 2018, there were 81 U.S. children placed for adoption overseas, according to the State Department.

Please read through the report and look at the numbers. Here are some phrases you won’t find:


• “citizenship problems and deportations of adult adoptees,”
• “post-adoption services offered to birth parents,”
• “the tremendous need for better training for prospective parents in regard to racial identity and racism in the U.S.,”
• and “we are deeply involved with other nations to improve efforts for adoptee search/reunion and family preservation.”

You will absolutely see phrases like this:


“…to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


“…the ultimate aim of preserving and enhancing the viability of intercountry adoption in the United States.”


I have so much to say, and hope to provide a more detailed post later. In the meantime, here are some pull quotes from the report, followed by my brief comments in italics.


“In September 2019, we hosted an Adoption Symposium, “Strengthening Practice for the Future of Intercountry Adoption,” which convened more than 120 interested stakeholders, including representatives from adoption service providers (ASPs), advocacy organizations, U.S. government agencies, and the U.S. accrediting entity, Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME), as well as adoptive parents, birth parents, adult adoptees, and Congressional staffers.”


My understanding is that adoptees were few in number, and there was one birth mother, who was born and raised in the U.S., and placed a child here in the U.S. I’d guess that the ASP reps included many adoptive parents in their numbers. I do give credit for State reaching out for one of the first time to include adoptees and birth parents at the table, and I understand they did a great job, but there is still a very long way to go.

“While the overall number of intercountry adoptions to the United States declined from the previous year, 75% of that decline can be attributed to the decrease of intercountry adoption from two countries, China (a decrease of 656) and Ethiopia (a decrease of 166). In both cases, the reductions result from continued social, economic, or legal changes the Department previously observed and reported in those countries.”

In 2018, the Ethiopian Parliament officially ended international adoptions not, as is demurely phrased here, due to “continued social, economic, or legal changes,” so much as deep worry about the status of their children such as Hana Williams, who was murdered by her adoptive parents. The Ethiopian government also expressed concerns about the racism that permeates America, and stressed the need for in-country adoptions.


Additionally, there have been significant cases of fraud, corruption, and bribery in international adoption via U.S. agencies and/or their partner staff overseas. U.S. adoption agency staff have been indicted and convicted, and more than a few agencies have closed suddenly due to bankruptcy.


In any case, reports about the decline in the number of international adoptions should always include the perspectives of adult adoptees and of first/birth parents. When they are included in significant, meaningful numbers in these policy conversations, then perhaps genuine progress can be made in attributing reasons for the decline.


“The Department also hosted events overseas with members of the adoption community to discuss key issues in the adoption process. For example, U.S. Embassy Bogota hosted an Adoption Open House with more than 40 participants representing 15 U.S.-accredited ASPs, the Colombian Authorized Adoption Institutions, the Colombian Central Adoption authority, and the Office of Children’s Issues.”


Please note who is not listed as participating in the Open House: adult adoptees and first/birth parents. The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá missed a big opportunity there not to have the perspective of the thousands of Colombian adoptees and birth parents to discuss key issues in the adoption process.

“The Department’s new Senior Advisor for Children’s Issues, Michelle Bernier-Toth, appointed in December 2019, shares the commitment expressed at the Symposium and is actively engaging foreign government officials to advocate for the protection, welfare, and best interests of children in need of permanent, loving families, and to assist prospective U.S. adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families.”


There are elements of hope in this statement about advocacy for the protection, welfare, and the best interests of children, though there is tremendous disagreement in the adoption community as to what that should look like. What’s glaringly missing here is a strong, ethical call for family preservation, for orphan prevention, and for significant improvement in medical and mental health care for vulnerable women and children in particular. Arguably, I realize, that’s part of the mission of other U.S. government offices as well. Nonetheless, how great it would be to see it voiced in a report like this.


State’s ongoing focus on adoptive parents (mostly white, well educated, politically connected, and relatively well-off enough to both raise the $40,000-$50,000 to adopt and then get the adoption tax credit for it) and relative silence on, say, the post-adoption needs of international birth parents, or the citizenship status of adult adoptees, truly needs to change.(Citizenship is handled primarily through the Department of Homeland Security. State issues passports, a vital form of proof of U.S. citizenship.) Commenting this way about the help given to “adoptive parents in realizing their dreams of creating or expanding their families” continues the traditional and outdated Hallmark adoption narrative. I know: many adoptees do great, but many suffer abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, and a disconnection with their culture and racial group. Imagine if we were routinely transparent and accurate about that. Imagine if our U.S. State Department worked with other countries to research status and improve outcomes of first/birth parents around the globe, after they placed their children for adoption. It is so easy to keep forgetting about that most vulnerable group. But: many international adoptees have found that they were never orphans, that their mothers thought about them every day, and that some of them were trafficked. The truth is coming out more every day.


Imagine if the State Department, working with other international governments, assisted international adoptees in realizing their dreams of searching for and reuniting with their families.


“Lastly, in FY 2019 families outside of the United States adopted 56 children from the United States to seven countries: Canada (24), the Netherlands (17), Mexico (6), Ireland (5), Belgium (1), Switzerland (1), and the United Kingdom (2).”


Most of the American children appear to have been placed from agencies in Florida and New Jersey. It’s often a shock to Americans to find out that the United States is also a sending country for the purpose of international adoption. I have heard, only anecdotally, that some black birth mothers decide to place their children overseas to escape the racism so prevalent here, and that some birth mothers wanted to place with gay couples and were prevented from doing so in the States. The U.S. didn’t used to keep any statistics about how many U.S. born children were adopted oversea. When the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption came into effect in the U.S. in 2008, we like every other sending country had to keep statistics on the numbers of outgoing cases. I do not believe statistics are kept on the race nor the outcomes of these placements. In any case, we do place our American children for adoption overseas.


Let me place the necessary “not all” disclaimers. Not all adoption agencies have corrupt, selfish, uncaring staff. Not all adoptees are unhappy. Not all birth parents suffer. There are efforts being made to help in terms of family preservation and orphan prevention. There need to be more of those efforts. So many more children could be helped.


Here’s the thing, though, about international adoption in 2020. There are hundreds if not thousands of international adult adoptees who are writing and speaking out about their experiences. We need to listen to them. The U.S. government has yet to agree that all international adoptees should be granted U.S. citizenship. That must change. Adoptees are still being left out of adoption policy-making. The post-adoption fate of first/birth mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and other family members is rarely even considered, never mind studied or documented. The radical inequity of post-adoption services provided to international birth families compared to American adoptive families is astonishing, and we need to do a far better job here.


The statistics next year will be even lower, due to COVID-19, due to bans on air travel and closed visa offices. All around the world, nonprofits, governments, and businesses stopped. Adoptions have too, for the most part, during the pandemic.


So. Read the report. Listen to adoptees. Help empower women, educate girls, and support medical and mental health aid around the globe. Help preserve vulnerable families.

Update in Hana Williams’ Case: Carri Williams’ Petition Denied

A legal update: You may remember that in September 2019, the Washington state Court of Appeals refused to reverse the convictions of Larry and Carri Williams in the death of Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams.

Today, the Court of Appeals turned down Carri Williams’ Personal Restraint Petition, which she had filed on October 29, 2019, in response to the September denial. I am not a lawyer; this is my understanding. The bottom line is that both Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

You can read the denial from the Court of Appeals here.

In 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were convicted for the homicide of Hana Williams and the abuse of Immanuel Williams. I wrote about the conviction and the sentencing here.

Hana, you remain in our hearts. Immanuel, we wish you peace and healing.

Larry and Carri Williams (Again) Denied New Trials in Murder of Hana Williams

This past June 2019, Larry and Carri Williams, convicted in 2013 of the homicide of their Ethiopian adopted daughter, requested new trials. Today, the Court of Appeals denied those requests. Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

Larry Williams was sentenced for 27 years, and Carri Williams for 36 years. They have been in jail since their jury trial in 2013. In 2015, they appealed their convictions, saying that evidence was incomplete and that the court made multiple errors. The appellate court denied their appeal.

This time, they argued that they received deficient legal representation, and that their convictions should be vacated; Carri asked to be re-sentenced for a lesser charge than first-degree manslaughter.

A hearing was held on Wednesday, June 12, in Seattle.

Today, the Appellate Court released their rulings. The judges, in a 43 page decision, rejected all of Carri’s claims about prosecutorial misconduct. The judges wrote: …”we conclude there were no constitutional errors giving rise to any actual prejudice and no fundamental defects resulting in a complete miscarriage of justice. Carri received a fair trial. We thus reject her….petition.”

In a 52 page decision, the Appellate Court also rejected Larry’s petition, which included 8 claims. They concluded their decision the same way as they did Carri’s: no constitutional errors and no fundamental defects in the trial.

I am not a lawyer, and I welcome lawyers to weigh in. The bottom line, though, I can state as a non-lawyer: the petitions were denied, and Larry and Carri will remain in jail.

The slip decision for Larry Williams in available here.

The slip decision for Carri Williams is available here.

Be aware that these lengthy decisions contain details about Hana’s life and death; they make for tough reading. May Hana rest in power and in peace.

Larry and Carri Williams’ Appeals Hearing, and the Contrast of Ethiopian Resilience and Hope

Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in 2011 of malnutrition and hypothermia, weighing less at death the she had when he arrived in the US three years earlier. In 2013, her adoptive parent were found guilty of homicide, child abuse, and manslaughter. Last week, (June 2), I attended the one hour appeals court hearing in Seattle regarding Larry and Carri Williams’ request that their 2013 convictions be overturned or, failing that, that they get a new trial. The three appeals court judges listened to the arguments of the lawyers. They asked a few questions.

I am not a lawyer, but I know the appeals court process does not re-try the case. No new evidence is introduced; there are no witnesses. The question in an appeal is whether there were legal errors made in the trial that were sufficient to overrule the conviction.

Larry and Carri were not there. Several of Carri Williams’ relatives were at the hearing and conferred with their lawyer afterward; Larry’s relatives may have been there too, but I did not recognize them from the trial. 

The attorney arguing for the overturning of Carri Williams’ conviction for Hana’s homicide and immanuel’s abuse was James Lobsenz, a partner with the law firm of Carney Badley Spellman in Seattle. The attorney arguing for overturning for Larry Williams for ,manslaughter and abuse was Todd Maybrown, a partner with the law firm of Allen, Hansen, Maybrown, and Offenbecher. in Seattle.

The attorney for the state of Washington, requesting that the convictions be maintained, was Erik Pedersen, a Skagit County prosecutor. Pedersen argued successfully in 2015 when Larry and Carri also appealed their convictions.

We don’t know when the judges will make a decision on the case. My understanding is that appeals court decisions can take a week, or they can take months. Right now, decisions are filed on Mondays. If you go to the Washington State Court of Appeals website, you can click on Opinions and sign up for notifications of Appeals Court Division I decisions.

I have no insider information about this, but I do find it interesting that Larry and Carri have private attorneys for this 2019 appeal. Perhaps Mr. Lobsenz and Mr. Maybrown are doing this work pro bono (for free, as volunteers, “pro bono publico” which means for the public good). Perhaps family members or friends are underwriting the costs. I do know that neither of the lawyers was at the 2013 trial to see the autopsy photos of Hana’s emaciated, scarred body, nor to hear the testimony of the Williams’ children about the isolation, deprivation, and punishments that Hana and Immanuel endured.

I for one pray that justice is served, and that the convictions for homicide, manslaughter, and child abuse will be upheld.

Had she not died from torture, hypothermia, and malnutrition 3 years after arriving for adoption from Ethiopia, Hana would now be about 21.

Immanuel is now about 18 years old, and is apparently doing fairly well. He hopes to return to Ethiopia with his new, loving family. Immanuel is deaf. (One of the punishments Carri Williams sometimes used with Immanuel was requiring that no one communicate with him in sign language.) His family now includes people who know sign language, and they will travel with him to Ethiopia, in part to help with signing and with deaf culture issues. It will be, I would guess, an emotional, complicated trip. The death of Hana was among the reasons that Ethiopia closed to adoptions, and many Ethiopians around the world deeply grieve her death, and of course want Immanuel to heal and thrive as well. There is a GoFundMe campaign for Immanuel and his family’s trip back. Please contribute if you are able.

Painting of an Ethiopian woman cradling her baby.
Original Art © Adanech Evans.

I want to close this post with a mention of another Ethiopian adoptee, Abai Schulze. Abai is the founder and Creative Director of ZAAF, “a collection of premium leather goods and accessories handcrafted by artisans in Ethiopia.” The products are stunning. They have been featured at New York Fashion Week, in Elle, Lucky, Vogue, and Forbes.

Abai came from Ethiopia to the US for adoption at around 11 years old. Her adoptive family encouraged her not to lose her Amharic language and to keep her connections with Ethiopia. She holds a degree in economics from George Washington University, learned about design and fine arts, and returned to Ethiopia to establish ZAAF in 2014. You can read more about her in Tadias and elsewhere.

Abai recently gave an incredible, inspiring Tedx talk, available here. The theme of the Tedx was a “A World of Change, A World of Hope,” and Abai’s talk was titled ” ‘Made in Africa’ The Power of Shifting Perceptions.” She briefly discusses adoption, but the focus is much more on the tremendous potential of Ethiopian and African creativity and business power. Abai offers an important view into alleviating poverty not through charity or saviorism, but through liberation of talent and ingenuity. She gives a solid business plan based in economics, pragmatism, resilience, and hope.

It’s resilience and hope I want to focus on, as we keep Hana in our hearts always. May justice be served.

For lawyers and others who may be interested, here is the link to appellate briefs in Carri Williams’ petition. Her case is number 77416-6.

Here is the link to appellate briefs in Larry Williams’ petition. His case number is 77460-3.

Larry and Carri Williams Request New Trials And Release From Prison

The Skagit Valley Herald has reported that Larry and Carri Williams, convicted in 2013 of the homicide of their Ethiopian adopted daughter, have requested new trials, and to be released from prison in the meantime.

Larry Williams was sentenced for 27 years, and Carri Williams for 36 years. They have been in jail since their jury trial in 2013. In 2015, they appealed their convictions, saying that evidence was incomplete and that the court made multiple errors. The appellate court denied their appeal.

This time, they are arguing that they received deficient legal representation, and that their convictions should be vacated; Carri has asked to be re-sentenced for a lesser charge than first-degree manslaughter.

A hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 12, in Seattle.

More information is available here: Skagit Valley Herald, “Wliiamses ask for new trial, release.”

Remembering Hana Williams on the 8th Anniversary of Her Death

On May 12, 2011, three days after Mothers Day, Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams died in the Washington state backyard of her adoptive family. The cause of death was hypothermia; the other reasons were malnutrition, bruises, beatings, isolation, loneliness, and fear. She was 13 years old, and she had been in the United States for less than three years.

The photo is of Hana when she was in Ethiopia. She is wearing a striped shirt and has a slight smile.
Hana in Ethiopia, prior to adoption. May she Rest in Peace.

This year, the anniversary of her death falls on Mothers Day here in the United States. Hana’s adoptive mother Carri Williams has been in jail since her conviction for homicide by abuse. In Washington state, where Hana lived, homicide by abuse means that the death was the result of “extreme indifferent to human life,” as well as a pattern or practice of assault or torture” of a child under 16 years old. It’s a tough charge to prove, and the Skagit County prosecutors were able to do so because of the horrific ways that Hana had been treated over time.

I have written about Hana many times. I attended most of the 2013 trial which ended in long jail sentences for her adoptive parents. I often wonder how the Williamses’ biological children are doing. Their testimony was pivotal to their parents’ felony convictions. The siblings all witnessed their parents’ abuse and torture of Hana over years; several of them also witnessed her death.

All around the globe, and especially in Ethiopia, people have grieved for Hana. No human being, no child, should ever go through what she experienced in her too brief life. We all keep her in our hearts in different ways. She would have been 21 now.

I offer a few suggestions for honoring her memory.

One is to support the hopes of her adopted brother, Immanuel. He was adopted from Ethiopia at the same time as Hana. Immanuel was also severely abused by his adoptive parents. Like all the minor Williams’ children, Immanuel was removed from his home after Larry and Carri Williams were accused of homicide and abuse in 2013. He was placed with a foster family who had experience with deaf children like Immanuel, and was later adopted. He will soon turn 18, and would like to return for a visit to Ethiopia. His new adoptive family is helping him achieve this dream through a GoFundMe campaign. Please consider helping Immanuel in this way. He has been through so much.

Another possibility is to support a campaign to provide much needed medical care for two brothers in Ethiopia who have the extremely rare and painful disease Epidermolysis Bullosa. E.B. means extremely fragile skin and constant blisters that must be cleansed and treated daily. The condition and the treatment are painful. The boys, who are 7 and 13 years old, were only recently correctly diagnosed with E.B., and as a result have suffered from painful infections, loss of skin in some places, and a compromised immune system. This fundraiser has already delivered medical supplies and the boys’ parents have been trained how to best care for their sons. This is about family preservation as well: keeping children with their parents, even as the boys have significant medical issues and the parents have few resources. This is about life and love. You can learn more about this family and the GoFundMe campaign to keep these boys as healthy as possible. My dear friend Jemal Countess knows the family and has set up the funding campaign, as well as assisted with the arrangements to get the medical supplies to the family.

I would also suggest donating to and sharing information about Ethiopian Adoption Connection-Beteseb Felega. EAC provides free services to reunite Ethiopian adoptees with their Ethiopian families. They have a database in Amharic and English where individuals can share information about an adoption, and have been successful in reconnecting families. They also provide emotional and social support for Ethiopian first/birth families through caseworker-led support groups. You can learn more about them here.

Many people have expressed concern about the end of Ethiopian adoptions, which occurred in January 2018. All international adoptions to the United States have generally declined in recent years. Take a look at my post “Lamenting the Decline in International Adoptions? Take Action.” There are many ways to still support vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia: adoption was never the only way to help.

There is a Facebook site, In Rememberance of Hanna Williams, that may be of interest.

My biggest suggestion is to treasure those you love, and to let them know it. I think of Hana so often, and of her Ethiopian mother and family. So much loss.

An Adoptee’s Reflection on Trauma, Love, and Adoption

Every Thanksgiving, one of the most wonderful and emotional traditions in my family is to light a candle for the people who aren’t there: for those who have died, who are alive but far away, who aren’t with us for whatever reasons. Sometimes the person lighting the candle says the names out loud of the people he is thinking about and missing. Sometimes the person just lights the candle, then smiles, or tears up. We leave the candles on through the meal.

Adoption, for all its joy, happens only through loss. Children have lost or lose their first family in order to be adopted. That can be necessary, if the child was in danger or had been abused or neglected to the point of needing a new family. But it’s still loss: loss of what could have been, or should have been, or would have been if only…

Adoptive parents, you can love your child deeply. Your child can love you deeply as well, and also feel grief and trauma that are real. It’s okay. It may manifest in different ways over time, in angry words or silent tears. There may be what seem puzzling outbursts at certain times of year—traumaversaries are real too. Join your child on the journey: encourage conversation, honor their grief, know that every child is different, love them, be silent with them, respect their realities at 3 or at 30.

I am a mother because of adoption. I love my children more than I can possibly put into words. Each of my children has been affected, in different ways, by the fact of being adopted. I am a firm believer that the stories (events, memories, traumas, happiness) they have lived through are theirs alone to tell.

My daughter Aselefech Evans has chosen to tell her truth today, to share her lived experience. This is a beautiful, poignant, and powerful essay. Please read, reflect, share.

The Unwanted Arrival of Trauma in Adoption

 

And maybe light a candle to keep warm the realities of those who are both present and absent in our lives.

US Embassy-Addis and US State Department: No Role In Post-Adoption Support?

I had an idea: Ask the US Embassy in Addis if they would be interested in an event focused on adult Ethiopian adoptees who are now Americans.

They said no. I then asked the Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department. Nope.

Should our US government, the entity responsible for oversight of international adoptions to the US, have any role in post-adoption support? International adoptees are here  because the US government allowed them to enter, coordinated the adoption process, researched the background of the child and birth parents, and signed off on visas and other documents. Those are all enormous, significant, life-changing responsibilities. Does our government then close the door on adoptees when they grow up?

Since 1999, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa has processed some 16,000 adoptions. While the legal procedure has had some changes, US State Department staff at the Embassy handled a great deal of adoption paperwork; listened to many adoptive families, adoption agencies, and birth families; and worked hard to make sure all those adoptions were legal and appropriate.

The US Department of Homeland Security, of course, plays a large role in intercountry adoption as well, including issuing Certificates of Citizenship. I believed the U.S. Embassy in Addis would be a more appropriate possibility for an in-country event with adoptees, and hence I contacted them.

Adoptions have closed now from Ethiopia, for a number of reasons.The history of adoptions has been rife with challenges and controversies. That said, the US Embassy has signed off on thousands of adoptions from Ethiopia. They have been closely involved with adoptive parents and adoption agencies for decades.

I thought, perhaps naively if optimistically, that an event like this might be a chance for our U.S. government working in Ethiopia to welcome back Americans who began their lives in Ethiopia, who could provide a unique perspective on their experience as adoptees, and could provide a tremendous bridge between our two countries. Healing, transparency, communication, connections. Why not? I emailed the Embassy last May.

After several weeks, they finally wrote: “Unfortunately, we generally do not go as far as organizing conferences for groups from outside Ethiopia as our programmatic resources are focused in-country. That said, we…recommend that you reach out to adoption advocacy groups and/or Ethiopian media if that’s of interest to you.”

Huh.

After that first turndown from the Embassy, I tried again. I can share the full exchanges with anyone interested, but here a snippet.

From me to the Embassy: “I applaud the Embassy’s efforts to fund proposals that empower women, youth, and underrepresented voices, as well as to strengthen independent media through media literacy. We all believe, as Ambassador Mike said, that when Ethiopia succeeds, when it taps the potential of all its people, not only Ethiopia but the region, the United States, and the world also benefit…We have a tremendous opportunity to bring fact-based information about adoption, and to heal some of the misinformation around adoptions. You brought the Eastern Shore Network for Change to Ethiopia during Black History Month 2018 to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders. Partnerships like that one and the many others that you promote can, indeed, improve understanding and provide hope for a more equitable future.

Beautiful, complicated Ethiopia. © Maureen McCauley

A program with adoptive parents and especially adult Ethiopian adoptees would bring accurate information around a subject that has had a great deal of misunderstanding. It could promote important connections. It could build astonishing partnerships among young Ethiopian and American leaders, and between the US and Ethiopia.”

They were not interested:

“The role of the Embassy in intercountry adoption is to facilitate the lawful placement of children with American adoptive families. We do support the inclusion of all voices as you pointed out, but we hope you understand that that does not mean we can create a program for every proposal that we receive. And while we certainly think there is value in having Ethiopian adoptees share their stories and be involved in their home communities, we do not see that as an appropriate space for us to take the lead. That said, there is nothing at all preventing adoptees from organizing such outreach on their own – one potential avenue might be to reach out to adoption placement agencies that have been working in Ethiopia – and we wish you every success should you choose to do so.”

I then tried the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) at the US State Department, the one that is the Central Authority under the Hague Convention to oversee adoptions.

Their 21 full-time OCI employees have several adoption-related responsibilities, including this one: “Working with U.S. embassies and consulates on diplomatic efforts with host governments about adoption laws and procedures.”

OCI, however, had no interest in my idea either. They noted that their focus and that of the Embassy was to complete pending cases.

“Although we understand the Embassy is currently unable to get involved in this particular event, we certainly support and encourage the involvement of private individuals and organizations in promoting these positive stories. As the Embassy mentioned, you may want to consider contacting adoption advocacy and/or child welfare organizations in Ethiopia to support these efforts. We would appreciate learning the outcome of any events you should organize.”

My response to OCI: “I understand the focus of both the Embassy and State in recent months is to complete pending cases. You note that the processing of the current cases is the focus of the Embassy. You don’t cite any other reasons to oppose this idea.

Thus I conclude that once the current cases are resolved, the Embassy and State would then be open to considering an event of some sort. Am I correct? That would be wonderful.”

The OCI response to me: “We would refer you to the Embassy’s public affairs section for the answer to that question.”

And that’s a wrap.

A few final thoughts:

Why the suggestion of working with adoption agencies is naive at best:

When the US Embassy suggested working with adoption agencies, I realized we were at an impasse. Many adoption agencies these days have slim budgets and are struggling, especially in light of the decline in international adoption. Adoption from Ethiopia has ended. Some agencies are not interested in providing post-adoption services to adult adoptees without charging fees, if they in fact offer post-adoption services at all to adopted adults. Among the reasons adoption from Ethiopia ended was because of adoption agency behavior: One adoption agency, International Adoption Guides, had its staff indicted for fraud, bribery, and corruption in Ethiopian adoptions. Another big agency, Christian World Adoptions, was the subject of a powerful expose for possible trafficking in Ethiopia; CWA suddenly closed it doors due to bankruptcy. The death of Hana Williams at the hands of her adoptive parents in Washington state is one reason that Ethiopian adoptions closed. AAI, the agency that placed Hana and hundreds of other Ethiopian children, is out of business. Many other agencies working in Ethiopia have also closed for various reasons. The new accrediting entity, IAAME, has suspended or evoked accreditation for several agencies. 

No, adoption agencies would be unlikely partners.

What the U.S. Embassy-Addis did for Black History Month:

In February 2018, for Black History Month, the Embassy sponsored three speakers from the US, specifically from the Eastern Shore Network for Change, to visit Ethiopia for a week “to heal history and promote constructive change, an outreach to the next generation of Ethiopian leaders.” The folks from the Eastern Shore (MD) organization spoke at Addis Ababa University, the African Union, the Nativity Girls’ School, the Jesuit Refugee Center, and St. Mary’s University. They held a roundtable with the Ethiopian Women’s Journalists Association, and did live broadcasts on Facebook that reached some 11,000 people. They went to a reception at the US Ambassador’s home.

As a result of seeing all the press and support that the Embassy gave to this visit, I thought they might be open to something similar for American citizen Ethiopian adoptees. I was wrong.

The idea for an event is not dead, by any means. We are pursuing other options.

I wish, though, that the US Embassy in Addis and the US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, having been involved with thousands of adoptions, had embraced the idea of supporting adult Ethiopian-American adoptees. Instead, they turned down the opportunity, as I see it, to promote healing, listen to adult adoptees, and advance understanding.