Of about 90 million people in the country of Ethiopia, there are an estimated 4.3 million orphans (numbers from 2017). In 2010, there were 2,511 Ethiopian orphans adopted by American families (many others by European, Canadian, and families from other foreign countries). In 2016, that number had dropped to 133. In January, 2018, Ethiopian parliament officially banned foreign adoption.
It is a tough place to grow up if you are a person without resources…such as a parent with an income, a network of relatives and friends, opportunity for education, a direction for your life.
The political climate today in Ethiopia is very hopeful and on the move. New Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to have made many positive moves toward peace and progress. 2018 has been a remarkable year of achieving near gender parity in government, with the appointment of Sahle-Work Zewde (a well-respected, well-educated woman) as president, and female appointees to head both the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence agency now called the Ministry of Peace. Locals we have spoken with in Addis Ababa are filled with hope that the political conflicts of the last few years are resolving. But the orphan crisis doesn’t have a reasonable solution yet. Domestic adoption is being promoted and is on the rise, but it will only have a very small impact on the number of children here in need of families.
Our agency and orphanage closed down around 2013, and the property that housed the children eventually changed hands to another organization, Sele Enat. We visited the property last week as a family. It looked just the same as it did when Alex, Melkam and Ellie lived there. It seemed much smaller, of course, to Alex in particular, but it even seemed smaller to me. We visited the various outside spaces and rooms and reminisced about where they slept, where the ate, where they had school.
Our first Christmas card as a family of five had a photo of us taken right on these steps at the orphanage…so we recreated it (now six)!
There is only one nanny who works on the property who was there when our kids lived at Layla House, her name is Bizuayehu (you can call her Boozay for short!). She took one look at Ellie and said “I know your face!” and she really did. She hugged Ellie and held her face in her hands and they both cried. It was so wonderful for Ellie to be remembered, and to know that there were lovely, caring nannies who took care of her when she was a baby.
I often marvel at how our family was built. Eight or nine years of wrestling with God about whether or not we were destined to be a childless couple, then the options: Fertility treatment, domestic adoption, foreign adoption. Our choice to adopt internationally felt right from the beginning, and our pursuit of Ethiopia was a surprise to us both. Then the long process and paperwork and all of it, and one day, they sent us the photo of baby Ellie (then named Tarike) and we realized she couldn’t be coming home alone. How God brought our family together is like a complicated, orchestrated miracle to me.
Here’s Ellie in the baby room where she spent a lot of her early life. It is so tiny, and when we first met her, we sat for hours on the floor and just hung out with her and the other babies.
I think I have the most wonderful kids in the world, and being here this week reminds me of how incredible it is that I get to be their Mom. They lost everything, everything, and they also gained the world. It’s truly an incredible story.
What is difficult now is to see that the number of orphans is still so high, and that almost all of them have no chance of having a family of their own. I hope they change the law, and shore up the process so that the issues of corruption are reduced, because every child deserves a family who loves them.