An Ethiopian Adoptee Death: Heartache

Because his adoptive parents spoke publicly about his death, I am sharing the news of the March 6 passing of Mekbul Timmer, an Ethiopian adoptee. I cannot imagine the heartbreak the family is enduring, and I send the deepest of condolences.

He was adopted by Jeff and Mattie Timmer of Michigan. Jeff Timmer is a political and media consultant who works with the Lincoln Project; both Jeff and Mattie have a substantial social media presence. Jeff posted on his Twitter feed various photos and information about Mekbul, including this obituary.

The family makes no mention of suicide as a cause of death—but neither do they give any other cause. Mekbul was 18 years old, adopted from Ethiopia (per the obituary posted by Jeff Timmer) when he was 11, as best I can tell from the obituary.

Mekbul Timmer

Because the family has been so public, we will include Mekbul Timmer’s name in the Dedication of our upcoming anthology of essays by Ethiopian adoptees, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” We are dedicating the book to all Ethiopian adoptees who have died too soon, whether by suicide or other causes. We grieve as a community.

We know also how painful and searing a death by suicide of a young person can be not only to immediate family, but also to friends. Yes, the death is painful for those left behind at any age, but teens and young adults can often struggle a great deal with confusion, grief, and even suicidal ideation themselves.

I’ve written several times about adoption and suicide. I know it is a difficult topic at best. As a society, we are not good at talking about it. The popular narrative of adoption does not allow much room for adoptees who love their adoptive families and still struggle with depression or trauma. It doesn’t allow much room for adoptees who were failed or abused by their adoptive families either, and who deal with suicidal ideation.

Last October, I facilitated a webinar via United Suicide Survivors International called “Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.” The powerful speakers were Jessenia Parmer, Amanda Transue-Woolston, Kevin Barhydt, and Lynelle Long. You can find the video of the webinar here.

United Suicide Survivors International has many excellent webinars and resources. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, available 24/7. The K-12 School Suicide Prevention info from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention may be useful also. Check out “How to Talk About Suicide” from Indian Health Services, There are “Resources for Youth and Suicide Prevention” on the page as well.

Jeff Timmer posted a thank you to the thousands of people across social media who expressed condolences. He included, “Please just love your kids and those close to you.” Absolutely.

I will add this, and I know it’s painful to even think about: Please learn and talk about suicide prevention with those you love.

May Mekbul rest in power and in peace. May his memory be a blessing.

NCFA on Wars and Webinars: Ethiopian, Russian, and Ukrainian Adoptees

Why is the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) holding a webinar for families with Russian and Ukrainian adoptions, yet has not held anything for families with Ethiopian adoptions?

The NCFA Facebook page says: “As the crisis has unfolded in Ukraine, NCFA is aware that adopted individuals with roots in Ukraine and Russia, and their families, are grieving and grappling with how to process these events.” NCFA is hosting a free webinar next week, “Supporting People in the Adoption Community with Roots in Ukraine and Russia,” with a panel of adoption agency professionals to provide guidance and expertise. This could be valuable and important for these families; I respect, applaud, and support that.

I am curious though.

Ethiopia has been experiencing a horrific civil war since November 2020. NCFA has held no webinars offering guidance and resources for Ethiopian adoptive families. Why is that?

From the BBC:

“In Ethiopia, the last 16 months have been hell.

In the north of the country, as a result of a conflict in Tigray, more than two million people have been forced from their homes.

In addition hundreds of thousands face starvation, and the government has been accused of blocking deliveries of aid and essential medicines – something it denies.

There is mounting evidence that war crimes may have been committed by both sides, include mass killings and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war.

On the scale of human suffering it is surely on a par with anything else that is grabbing the world’s attention.”

Why has NCFA, by their own description the “leading expert on adoption issues, providing resources and education for all people and organizations in the adoption world,” been totally silent on Ethiopia? There are some 15,000 Ethiopian adoptees in the United States, and thousands more around the globe.

Yet NCFA has offered nothing for them or their families.

Many Ethiopian adoptees are deeply worried about their Ethiopian families. Many have family members who have been killed, maimed, and starved. Many adoptive parents struggle to explain the complexity and devastation of the war to their adopted children. Ethiopian adopted individuals and their families, like the families with children from Russia and Ukraine, “are grieving and grappling with how to process these events.” NCFA’s webinar will host adoption agency representatives (not, as best I can tell, adopted adults from or citizens of those countries) to provide the insights and leadership.

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in 2018. Adoptions from Russia ended in 2013. Adoptions from Ukraine are still happening, though the numbers have been increasingly low and obviously the situation is very complicated now.

NCFA will, in this upcoming webinar, “provide guidance and clinical expertise for navigating this challenging time” for the Russian and Ukrainian families.

But not, apparently, for families with Ethiopian adoptions.

Why is that?

You can ask NCFA directly here:

Phone: (703) 299-6633
Media Line: (703) 718-5375
Emailncfa@adoptioncouncil.org

New Novel by David Guterson about the Hana Williams’ Case

David Guterson is the prize-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars and other books, and is also an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child. I met him while attending the Hanna Williams’ trial here in Washington state in the summer of 2013.

Guterson has recently published a novel, The Final Case, based on Hanna’s death and the trial. I have placed a hold on it at my local library, and will post my comments here after I have read the novel.

Having attended almost every day of the trial, I have vivid memories of the people involved: the defendants Larry and Carri Williams, their children (some of whom testified at the trial), the prosecuting and the defense lawyers, the many witnesses. I have written about the trial extensively here on my blog. It will be interesting to see how much adoption as such (trauma, fraud, oversight, etc) is a part of the novel.

It is also interesting to consider the decision to write a novel as opposed to a nonfiction book about Hanna’s story. I am guessing that could be to avoid potential litigation. Beyond that, perhaps a work of fiction will bring more readers? I don’t know. The fictionalization of Hanna’s life and death gives me pause, and I am not sure just why. I look forward to reading the book. I hope Hanna is never forgotten. Maybe that is part of the book as well. May she rest in peace and in power.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Sweden to Investigate International Adoptions

The government of Sweden is the most recent to announce that it will investigate “irregularities” in the last 60 years of international adoptions, focusing in particular on China and Chile.

Around 60,000 children have been adopted to Sweden, most originally from South Korea, India, Colombia, and Sri Lanka.

Results of the investigation are expected to be released in November 2023.

In February 2021, The Netherlands froze international adoptions after adult adoptees raised concerns about adoptions from Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. A government commission found some adoptions, dating back to the 1960’s and through the 1990’s, where children had been stolen or bought.

An additional article about Sweden’s investigations from February 2021 is available here.

Fraud in Adoption: A Question

I am putting together a list of countries/places where international adoptees have challenged their adoptions due to fraud, and where governments have charged, indicted, or convicted agencies or individuals for fraud, bribery, and/or corruption. This could include adoptee lawsuits for wrongful adoption.

I am aware of cases taking place in or involving adoptees from or living in the U.S., Ireland, France, Finland, South Korea, The Netherlands, Brazil, Uganda, Ethiopia, Poland, Mali, Marshall Islands, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, India, Liberia, Rwanda, China, and Chile. I am sure there are other countries as well that have had investigations due to fraud.

My main focus is on adult adoptees who have brought lawsuits, called for investigations, and/or who have annulled their adoptions due to fraud. Do you have statistics or any other information you are able to share? If you have some thoughts on this, please feel free to comment below, or to go to the Contact page here on my blog and send me an email.

One solid source of information is here: “Fraud and Corruption In International Adoptions.”

The government of Ireland–the home of Magdalene Laundries and the discoveries of children buried in graves at the orphanages–recently announced financial payments to some survivors of “mother-and-baby homes.” Controversies remain for many reasons, including around how long children had stayed at the “homes” to be eligible for payments. Controversies also surround the apologies by the Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church. Some 2000 Irish children were adopted to the U.S. between the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

Fraud, bribery, and corruption come in many forms in adoption. While there can be great love and joy, there is also darkness.

Adoptee Citizenship BEFORE Children in Family Security Act

To our U.S. Congress: Pass the Adoptee Citizenship bill before even considering any other international adoption legislation.

A new bill, the Children in Family Security Act (CFS Act), has been introduced into Congress to “ensure a diplomatic focus on keeping vulnerable children in the security of a family.” My first impression, and I am not a lawyer, is that the bill would require the U.S. State Department to promote, as a diplomatic mission, the adoption of children from other countries to the United States.

The bill does not, unless I am wrong, focus on preserving families, preventing children from entering institutional care, finding in-country relatives to foster or adopt the children, providing micro loans to help families keep their children, or increasing funding for equitable medical care around the globe.

The CSF Act supporters are listed as the National Council for Adoption, American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Bethany Christian Services, Nourished Hearts, Center for Adoption Policy, and Gladney Center for Adoption.

During National Adoption Awareness Month, I posted every day about adoptee-centric, adoptee-led organizations, I must point out that none of the above orgs are adoptee-led or adoptee-centric. Neither are they international birth parent-led nor international birth parent-centric. They are adoptive parent-centric and adoption agency/lawyer-centric.

Here’s the thing: I am an adoptive parent, and I love my children more than I can say. Like the sponsors and supporters of the CFS Act, I also support keeping children out of institutions. Primarily I support family preservation to do that, which is I realize an enormous task. I get that. And I argue that we need to re-adjust our priorities and our funding to eliminating the reasons children end up in institutions: poverty, lack of education, lack of decent or any health care, job training, child care.

Speaking of priorities, however, here is my take on the Children in Family Security Act. Don’t even begin working on that until the Adoptee Citizenship Act is passed, and all international adoptees have citizenship. All of them. Some don’t even know they are not American citizens. Bring the deported adoptees back home; some of them are in their 40’s and 50’s. Some have died by suicide; some have been killed. Congress: Prevent more deportations; prevent more families from being torn apart.

Then we can all turn to the CFS Act and other legislation.

First, though, if you’re going to promote international adoption, grant citizenship to all international adoptees.

https://www.blunt.senate.gov/news/press-releases/blunt-klobuchar-introduce-children-in-family-security-act

The Complexity of Visiting Korea, By a Korean Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 28 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees..

I am fascinated by other languages, and especially by the difficult-to-translate meanings of some words. For example, I love the word “fernweh,” German for “farsickness,” or a longing for place you’ve never been to and can never go to. Another favorite is “hiraeth,” a Welsh word that roughly translates to a longing for a place that was never yours, a place to which you can’t return. Both have some relevance to adoption.

Leslie Maes, a Korean adoptee raised in Belgium, has written an article published in The Korea Times about “han” and “jeong” for adoptees. Maes notes that “han” is a Korean word “that could be described as an ‘internalized feeling of deep sorrow, grief, regret and anger.'”  “Jeong,” he writes, “can be described as ‘a feeling of loyalty and of strong emotional connection to people and places.’ ” 

Maes would like to see the Korean adoptee community take on the embodiment of ‘jeong.’ “This emotion is the true gift we get from adoption, and one of the things I am really grateful for.

When looking at the difficult lives some adoptees have had, and how poor adoptee support systems are, it is comforting and reassuring to see how supportive and organized Korean adoptees are, globally. Sure there’s a lot of politics going on within groups and between community leaders, as in any kind of community.

But with a difficult start in life, often no support from Korea, nor from the receiving countries, adoptees are doing a great job in creating and connecting. Most adoptees are doing this work for free and in their free time.”

I’ve known many international and transracial adoptees who do not feel “Korean enough,” or Chinese enough,” or “Black enough,” or “Colombian enough.” One of the frequent losses in international adoption is the loss of one’s original language. Some adoptees of course learn (or re-learn) their original languages; perhaps others incorporate the bits of language that bring comfort to them. Maybe it’s a way of filling in missing pieces.

This article, printed in The Korea Times, is, according to an Editor’s Note, “the 24th in a series about Koreans adopted abroad. Apparently, many Koreans never expected that the children it had sent away via adoption would return as adults with questions demanding to be answered. However, thousands of adoptees visit Korea each year. Once they rediscover this country, it becomes a turning point in their lives. We should embrace the dialogue with adoptees to discover the path to recovering our collective humanity. ― ED.

Intercountry adoption in many ways began with Korean adoptees after the Korean War, and they are the largest group of intercountry adoptees to the U.S., if not globally. I am not aware of any other “sending” country that has offered to promote the viewpoint of adoptees this way. Wouldn’t it be great if other countries followed this example, and amplified, or at least encouraged, the voices of adult adoptees?

“Found” Documentary, About Chinese Adoptees: NAAM

This is for day 27 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees, posted on day 28.

“Found” is a new documentary on Netflix about Sadie, Chloe, and Lily, three adoptees from China raised in the United States. They connected via DNA testing because they turned out to be cousins, and then went to China together, along with their adoptive families, to see if they could make deeper connections.

I always worry a bit about documentaries like this that feature adopted minors going through a complicated part of life. My understanding is that these young women were teens when the film was made. According to a Newsweek article, Lily is a senior in college now, and Sadie and Chloe are high school seniors. That’s pretty young for exposure like this. Chloe is the niece of the film’s producer, Amanda Lipitz.

The three girls are wonderful—insightful, funny, bright, empathetic. They clearly have a tight bond; traveling together and sharing the bond of being adopted was vital. It’s poignant to watch them with their families—the scene where Sadie’s adoptive mom is showing her old family photos is powerful. Equally poignant and powerful is the Chinese genealogist, Liu Hao, who aims to help the girls find their birth families by posting their photos in websites, responding to leads, getting DNA samples, traveling to rural areas, and showing remarkable empathy.

And the nannies who cared for the girls when they were babies in the orphanage: in “Found,” these women are shown to be loving and deeply connected to the children in their care. That is of course not always the case in orphanages around the world,

Also poignant are the scenes of the Chinese families who are not matched with their never-forgotten daughters via Liu Hao’s efforts. Reading the English subtitles is important, but the looks on their faces are stunningly revealing.

There is no tidy resolution to the film, which will not surprise anyone who has been involved in adoption and in birth parent searches. China is especially difficult that way, as baby girls are abandoned and few records are available. There are some “successful” matches, and that is just the beginning of a complicated journey.

I am struck by the film’s title: “Found.” The opposite of Lost, but who was found? Who remains lost? Who cannot be found, and yet remains present?

The documentary is both emotional and pragmatic. I wish Sadie, Chloe, and Lily all the best.

Finnish Adoptees Call For Investigation of Fraud: NAAM

This is for day 25 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees, posted on day 27.

A group of international adoptees in Finland has called for an investigation of fraudulent adoption practices in their adoptive country. The adoptees (from Ethiopia, China, India, Colombia, Taiwan, Austria, South Korea, Thailand, and Bangladesh) are calling upon the government of Finland to look into historic “irregularities” in adoption practices.

The group sent a Letter to the Editor of Hufvudstadsbladet, the highest-circulation Swedish-language newspaper in Finland. Here is the letter in English, via Inter Country Adoptive Voices News‘ Facebook page:

Irregularities in international adoptions must be investigated

LETTER TO THE EDITOR 14.11.2021

Swedish Yle reported (29.10) that serious errors in adoptions are examined in Sweden, and that irregularities can also occur in Finland. Patrik Lundberg, one of the journalists behind Dagens Nyheter’s series of articles on Swedish international adoption activities, says that if it is a question of the same adoption countries, there is also great reason for Finland to review its adoptions. This is because the same orphanage has adopted children to several different countries in the western world, and because the same lawyers and corrupt people have been involved. According to Lundberg, control has been particularly poor in countries classified as dictatorships.

With reference to other countries’ investigations of international adoptions, and given that Finland has in many cases used the same adoption contacts as, for example, Sweden, we demand that Finland also appoint its own independent inquiry.

The issue of adoptions that have not gone right is not only limited to Sweden, whose government recently presented directives for an inquiry expected to be completed in the autumn of 2023, or the Netherlands, whose government earlier this year stopped all international adoptions after a comprehensive inquiry showed that children have been stolen or purchased from their biological parents.

We, who signed this submission, demand that the state of Finland investigate the international adoptions that have taken place to date, from all countries of origin from which Finland has adopted children. This also includes adoptions that took place after the Hague Convention was ratified. The inquiry shall be independent and autonomous and no members of the inquiry group may have any connection to the adoption mediation adoption organizations.The inquiry should engage experts and research competencies in the field, such as lawyers, historians and researchers, so that the international adoption activities in Finland can be fully examined. The investigation must be given sufficient resources, both personnel, financially and in terms of time. In addition to adoptions mediated by adoption organizations, the inquiry must also examine independent adoptions (private adoptions) and the role of the Finnish state in international adoption mediation in Finland.

The inquiry shall contain proposals for measures on how to ensure that today’s adoptions take place legally and ethically. The adoption agency must be quality assured and followed up in a comprehensive way. The inquiry must ensure that corruption does not occur in connection with adoptions today.

Finally, the State of Finland should provide sufficient resources to develop and disseminate knowledge about post-adoption services for adoptees. Adoptees must have low-threshold access to free or subsidized therapy services or other necessary psychiatric care for the treatment of adoption-related trauma. Adopted persons should also be able to apply for financial support for, for example, return journeys, in the same way as adoption applicants can apply for adoption allowance for the adoption of a child.

Signed: Muluken Cederborg, adopted from Ethiopia, Sabina Söderlund-Myllyharju, adopted from Taiwan, Patrik Sigmundt, adopted from Austria, Oscar Lehtinen, adopted from Colombia, Maria Kallio, adopted from China, Mirjam Gullstén-Borg, adopted from South Korea (via Sweden), Kati Ekstrand, adopted from Taiwan, Anu-Rohima Mylläri, adopted from Bangladesh, Kerttu Yuan, adopted from China, Conny Wiik, adopted from Taiwan, Khalid Wikström, adopted from Bangladesh, Ada-Emilia Koskinen, adopted from China, Jasmin Lindholm, adopted from China, Jennifer Lönngren, adopted from China, Anton Sundén, adopted from Thailand, Yuli Andrea Paz, adopted from Colombia, Pooja Sandell, adopted from India, Naa Sippola, adopted from Thailand, Janica Palonen, adopted from Taiwan, Mei Monto, adopted from China, Iida Kuukka, adopted from China, Mimosa Torittu, adopted from China, Saba Holm, adopted from Ethiopia, Belinda Söderlund, adopted from Taiwan, Chris Gullmans, adopted from Hong Kong, Oscar Härkönen, adopted from Colombia.

Article from Hufvudstadsbladet, a Swedish-language newspaper in Finland, about adoptees calling for investigation of irregularities in their adoptions.

The original article in Swedish is here.

Netherlands Ordered to Pay Damages to Brazilian Adoptee

The District Court of The Hague on November 24, 2021, ordered The Netherlands to pay compensation (amount not yet determined) to a Brazilian adoptee.

According to Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers, “Patrick Noordoven was illegally adopted from Brazil in 1980. His parentage was thereby misrepresented, by giving him up as the biological child of the Dutch couple who adopted him illegally. Shortly after his illegal adoption, the police conducted an investigation and concluded that Patrick Noordoven and 41 other children had been adopted illegally from Brazil to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, after the investigation, the State did not take measures to enable Patrick Noordoven to know his parentage and the circumstances of his illegal adoption. The Court concluded that by doing so, the State acted in violation of Patrick Noordoven’s right to identity and knowledge of his parentage.”

In 2018, based on Noordoven’s case, The Hague Appeals Court determined that “a child that was illegally adopted has the right to all information about their adoption. This encompasses, among other things, information about how the illegal adoption took place, criminal investigations into the illegal adoption, and press reports about suspicions of child trafficking.” More information is available here: “Illegally adopted persons have the right to obtain all information about their adoption.”

Increasing numbers of international adult adoptees are searching for their origins, and finding that fraud and corruption were involved. Patrick Noordoven spent 20 years tracking down his truth. This appears to be the first time a country, in the case The Netherlands, has been ordered to pay damages to a person adopted internationally from another country.

I am not a lawyer, but I would say this case has global ramifications for illegally adopted people.