Ethiopia is Ending International Adoptions: Today’s State Department Conference Call

Image result for Ethiopian map

National Adoption Awareness Month can be triggering for many adoptees, but it can also feel like a month of urgency to get involved and talk about adoption in a critical and transparent way. Today, I and other adoption community members, majority of them being adoptive parents (no shock there), engaged in a conference call held by the Department of State to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.

While the conversation was enlightening, I couldn’t help but notice how so much of the conversations and questions was centered around advocacy efforts to push back against the Ethiopian government and to advocate on behalf of prospective adoptive parents. One person on the call even thanked the embassy for advocating for families. And for a moment, I caught myself gasping, because I thought to myself, yes adoption is a viable option for some, but shouldn’t we think about the impact it has on birth families and adoptees?

Why do adoptive parents continue to see themselves as victims when Ethiopia is pushing back on intercountry adoptions?

The State Department gave back instructions in April asking agencies not to make referrals for new adoptions, citing reasons for adoption coming to a halt due to corruption, the welfare of adopted children, and the lack of post placement reports. I would add another reason as an adoptee: the erosion of biological families, who are often left out of the conversation. However, prospective adoptive parents continue to hold a sense of entitlement and a sense of ethnocentrism which conveys that children are better off with them, and give no acknowledgment that Ethiopia’s efforts to end adoption might be positive.

Hopefully the Ethiopian government will work to reunify families and invest in family preservation efforts. As the call came to an end today, I decided to ask a question, based on the tone of the conversation, hoping that it would allow those fierce advocates for adoption to pause. My question was “Why does the State Department think Ethiopia has decided to end intercountry adoptions?” Their response walked a fine and diplomatic line, citing issues of severing cultural ties, welfare of children, and lack of post adoption reports.  I honestly asked this question to see how critical their response back would be. Again, it wasn’t surprising. While they acknowledged corruption, they didn’t cite possible trafficking, the murdering of adopted children, rehoming or displacement, because their job isn’t to critically educate people invested in adoption. It is to continue to push for adoption as a viable solution despite ethical dilemmas. Many of you might read this and ask me what side I’m on, why am I so anti adoption. I’m not.  Adoption has touched and impacted me in positive ways, but I and many adoptees have also been the victims of unethical practices that benefited many adoptive parents and caused birth parents pain and heartache that will last a lifetime and impact generations to come.

So my sense of advocacy comes from being a privileged adoptee who’s had the opportunity to reunite with my Ethiopian family and get answers regarding my relinquishment, but who also has spent hours on the phone with adoptees who have been harmed and paralyzed by the injustice of adoption. While I don’t know the intentions of the Ethiopia government, I hope that ending intercountry adoptions means providing services for families separated by poverty and for adoptees to have access to their birth records or any information. I’m no longer looking for the United States government to make a structural difference, despite having heard from numerous adoptees. I am sure that adoptees and their Ethiopian families need to be the ones to bring about long overdue change.

Being Black in White Liberal Seattle

I’ve often wondered about the experiences of black adoptees raised in an all white environment, where they had very little contact with people of color. Moving from DC area to Seattle has made clear to me how exhausting, isolating, and alienating life can be as a black person in a sea of white liberalism.

About 8 months ago, my daughter and I flew out of Reagan National and landed at SeaTac. Settling into Seattle, WA, the 5th whitest city in America, has been a huge cultural shock in more ways than one. I was raised in a diverse community with people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, which I believe in many ways gave me an extremely balanced perspective on the black experience and a strong black identity. Even so, I don’t think anyone could’ve ever prepared my daughter and me for the challenges and complexities of living amongst well-intended progressive white liberals.

As an outsider, before moving here, I was somewhat blinded and misled by the utopian rhetoric of Seattle and its racial progressiveness. That veneer can at times undermine and silence the injustices that many blacks feel in Seattle. My curiosity began to kick in after I’d been here a while, and I searched the web for black voices in Seattle. I’d hoped they would give me better insight about the experiences of black people in Seattle, but that in itself became challenging: there weren’t many resources out here. I felt deprived and alienated.

I soon started to grapple with the realization of how exhausting it is to be black in a predominately white environment.

The racist incidents here have ranged from small (“What kind of name is that?” “Your hair is nappy.” “Your name is funny.”) to overt, tinged with violence (My daughter was told by a 3rd grade classmate: “My grandfather said he would kill a black person if they ever came to my house.”). I began to see painful parallels between my daughter’s experiences and those of thousands of transracial adoptees who are raised in racial isolation, with no contact with people of color.

The huge difference in her experience is that she has a black mom who can validate those experiences as real and painful. I have found myself engaging in many conversations of self worth and acceptance with my daughter, with the hopes of repairing the damage and preserving the innocence of a compassionate, accepting and loving 9 year old whose world had been turned upside down. I have gone to bat for her at school in handling the racist incidents, and modeled for her how to negotiate a white world that is often shocked to hear about racism in its midst.

The harsh reality of living in a predominately white environment is that your space is violated intentionally and unintentionally more often than you’d like through microagressive comments and other forms of racism. You begin to feel and internalize the weight of racial scrutiny. This is true for my child, and for me, an adult. My world started feeling unfamiliar, more intense, and I began to observe everything that made me different from the people around me: my name, my hair, my blackness. Those differences made me become more conscious than ever of my race and reality. They reminded me that racism is systemic, and that liberal empathy is an insufficient solution.

If I wanted to reclaim my own space and strength, I had to fiercely advocate for my child, and engage and connect with other black people in Seattle, which isn’t easy. Even traditional black spaces are predominately occupied by white people, whether it’s a talk about Blacks in Seattle or panel discussions on Hip Hop as a Form of Activism. The biggest challenge I faced and continue to face is the lack of accountability and recognition of white privilege amongst white liberals, who are undoubtedly misinformed and in denial about racism.

As I continue to find my way in a space that doesn’t quite feel like home, I’m reminded of the strength and resilience of many black people, especially transracial adoptees who manage to remain strong in completely isolated communities. I’m also grateful that my white parents raised me amongst people of color who I can call my best friends, teachers, and mentors. If I had not had that experience, my solidarity with black people wouldn’t feel as validating and powerful and positive as it does. In a racially divided nation, black children’s self worth will be constantly challenged, in the classroom, the neighborhood, the court room, and across social media. What makes those challenges manageable as they grow up is the strong bonds they create with other black people, and the reassurance they gain through meaningful connections and engagement.


Zariyah in Seattle

Ethiopian Adoptees Are Also the Diaspora

When we discuss the Ethiopian Diaspora, people typically think of immigrants, refugees, and Ethiopian Americans. Adoptees often times are not acknowledged as part of the diaspora, not purposefully but because people are not aware of us. We are a wave of immigrants through adoption who have been displaced in many ways. Balancing our multiple identities as Ethiopians, Africans, Blacks, and Immigrants is a constant struggle. We never really feel at home in one place.

Although we share many parallels with Ethiopian immigrants and Ethiopian Americans, we often lack cultural confidence and competence. The huge disconnect for us as adoptees is that we in many ways don’t feel Ethiopian enough. Having been raised by white parents has stripped us of our Ethiopian identities and put us at a cultural disadvantage and isolation. For me, creating a community for Ethiopian adoptees was critical. When I established Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora (EAD) with my co-founder Annette Kassaye, our mission was to create a space for adoptees to feel connected and at home. We’ve only been around for 6 months, and already the support and feedback have been amazingly empowering. Our Facebook fan page is at almost 600 likes. We have been contacted by journalists in Canada, the US, and Europe, and we have done interviews for newspapers and radio shows. We have appeared on TV through our involvement with the #flipthescript campaign, thanks to Lost Daughters. We have also spoken at conferences in Boston, NYC, and St. Louis.

Our most exciting venture is our upcoming anthology, Lions Roaring, Far From Home: An Anthology By Ethiopian Adoptees, which aims to tell the stories of Ethiopian adoptees in the diaspora. We have already had submissions from adoptees in Ethiopia, U.S, Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It’s very exciting, and the perspectives of our contributors (as we envisioned) have a lot of variety.

The most impactful moment for me has been the support and feedback we’ve received from various Ethiopian communities. Through our work with EAD, the gap and disconnect between us adoptees and the Ethiopian community could possibly be bridged. Most recently, we connected with Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (EDF),  whose mission is to promote leadership development, public service, creative storytelling, training, and peer-to peer mentorship. They seek to increase cultural identities and to be a catalyst for growth and change in Ethiopia. Currently, EDF and EAD are working together to see how we could be of service to each other. Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship has an amazing program to train Ethiopian Americans in the U.S and then send them to Ethiopia to work and volunteer in Ethiopia. This perfectly ties into what we at EAD hope to do some day. While we are a community working on adoption-related issues, one of our missions is to also go back and give back to Ethiopia. Aligning ourselves with organizations like EDF allows us to build our community worldwide. Although EAD’s following is largely by the adoption community, specifically adoptive parents of Ethiopian children, our hope is to expand our network and connect with Ethiopian immigrants, refugees, and all who are a part of the Ethiopian diaspora community.

Connecting with Rediate,the founder and Executive Director of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship, made me realize the need for educating the Ethiopian community about the adoptee community. Contrary to what others may believe, adoption in Ethiopia is a taboo, often misunderstood ,and its realities are often poorly communicated. Many Ethiopians understand issues regarding adoption, but the need for transparency with the community is very critical. While educating the Ethiopian community about adoption, I hope to make people more aware of the complexities, and to open doors for other possibilities to help families in need. Our next big step at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora is to establish ourselves as a non-profit organization, especially as we move toward establishing a presence in Ethiopia for adoptees who are there to visit, live, work, volunteer, search for their Ethiopian family, or learn about their culture. EAD is rapidly growing. Many thanks to those who continue to support us.

Girl's hands holding globe --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Girl’s hands holding globe — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Écoutez: The Voice of a French Ethiopian Adoptee

From Aselefech:  I am very happy today to share on my blog the story of a fellow Ethiopian adoptee. His name is Yared, and he lives in France. My good friend Annette-Kassaye interviewed him, and the story is below.

While many current Ethiopian adoptees are teenagers or younger, many of us are adults. And while many Ethiopian adoptees were brought to the US, many of us also have been raised in western Europe, Canada, and Australia. We are a unique, vibrant, important part of the African Diaspora. We may have had very different experiences, wherever we grew up. We may speak many different languages, and Amharic may not be one of them. Still, we have important stories to share, and this is a start.

As a global community, Ethiopian adoptees are connecting. We are seeing this at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on Facebook. (If you are an Ethiopian adoptee, anywhere in the world, please join us here.)The common themes are the hope of visiting Ethiopia, the complexity of searching for birth families, the complications of reunions, and the ways to give back to Ethiopia. Some of us are beginning to work on programs to underwrite adoptees’ return trips to Ethiopia, as well as the creation of a “home base” there for adoptees only. We envision this as a place where adoptees could find support, information, and resources while in Ethiopia.

Sharing our stories is one way of beginning this work. I want to thank Annette-Kassaye (adopted to Canada) and Yared (adopted to France) for working together to share Yared’s story here. Annette-Kassaye and Yared have never met in person, but have talked together, in French, several times. Please note that the French version is below the English. Many thanks, merci beaucoup, to Yared, for being willing to tell his story.

Making French Connections

By Annette-Kassaye

 About a month ago, I stumbled on a Facebook group called Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie (The Adoptees of Ethiopia) with over 350 members. This was a pleasant surprise! I had no idea that such a large community of French-speaking adult Ethiopian adoptees exists in Europe, especially in France. As an Ethiopian-Canadian who learned French and English as a child, I quickly started participating in the discussions. I posted links to American adoptee initiatives like Gazillion Voices and Lost Daughters, two adoptee-led groups in which I participate.

Some of the French adoptees appreciated my keen interest in their group and private messaged me; with others, I had lengthy Skype chats. Through our conversations, I was surprised to find many similarities between our experiences as adoptees. In many instances, our adoptive parents were not well prepared to deal with the complexity of adoption and with us. We adoptees have had to struggle to find our way and to make sense of our situation, usually by ourselves.

Interestingly, some of the adoptees in the French group knew each other from having lived in the same orphanage or had been adopted through the same agency. Still, many of them informed me that talking about their adoption in anything but a positive light is taboo—even with other adoptees. At the same time, many, including me, believe that adoption will only improve if adoptees start sharing their views and experiences.

This is the beginning of what I hope and believe will be part of a larger project in which Ethiopian adult adoptees, not children, tell their stories.

Meet Yared…

 As told to Annette-Kassaye

 Strength, courage and resilience: not words we usually associate with six year olds. When he was probably less than six years old, Yared says he was abandoned by his father after having had a fight. Yared lived on the streets of Addis Ababa, surviving by polishing shoes, carrying luggage and selling snack food to earn money for food. He became very ill at one point, and was taken to a doctor by two women. They advised him not to return to the streets, deciding to take him to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage. Not long afterwards, he was adopted by a French family.


In Dijon, Yared learned French extremely fast, and was a good student. He excelled in sports and had a lot of friends. Yared says that he wanted to fit in so much that he even asked for his name to be changed to “François” changed. His parents finally decided to modify his name to Yared-François. Even so, growing up as an Ethiopian adoptee in France was not always easy. His parents were always there for him, Yared acknowledges, though their relationship has not always been smooth.

While on the surface, Yared was a well-adapted adopted child, he says he often felt pulled between two worlds, two very different worlds. Although Yared doesn’t have many positive memories of Ethiopia, he says that he was very sad to leave…because it was his home. When you are adopted, Yared says, you don’t decide that. Someone decides for you, usually someone unknown to you. Even after 13 years away from Ethiopia, twice as long as he lived there, he remains very attached to his homeland.

While his French life provided him with many material comforts, Yared is clear that his years living on the street ultimately prepared him for the challenge of growing up as a French-Ethiopian adoptee. His advice for young adoptees is “de ne jamais baisser les bras,” which translates into never put your hands down, or never give up. While Yared recognizes that being adopted has given him many opportunities, he firmly believes that the best way to help Ethiopian children is to make sure they get an education, and to create sustainable employment opportunities so that parents can provide for their families and not be forced to relinquish their children.

Yared’s childhood years in Ethiopia shaped his life profoundly, and he attributes both the struggles and the triumphs to his life there. In the future, he hopes to give back to Ethiopia. This past spring, Yared successfully obtained his French Baccaleauréat and plans to attend university next year. In just a few weeks, Yared will be returning to Ethiopia for the first time in 13 years. We wish him safe travels, and look forward to hearing about his journey.



Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai découvert le groupe Facebook appelé Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie, qui compte plus de 350 membres. Quelle surprise! Je ne savais pas qu’il y avait autant d’adoptés éthiopiens francophones en Europe! Heureuse de découvrir des gens parlant la même langue que moi, j’ai commencé à participer aux discussions… Peut-être un peu trop, même! J’ai pris l’initiative de publier plusieurs liens sur des projets menés par des adoptés, tels que Gazillion Voices et Lost Daughters, des groupes desquels je suis membre.

Certains ont appréciés mon enthousiasme et m’ont envoyé des messages en privé. J’ai aussi eu de nombreuses conversations sur Skype et Google Hangout. J’étais éblouie par les similitudes de nos expériences, même si nous vivons dans des pays et cultures différentes. Dans la plupart des cas, nos parents adoptifs n’étaient pas préparés à affronter les défis liés à l’adoption. Ils n’avaient pas envisagé que l’adoption était un processus aussi complexe et compliqué. Nous, les adoptés, avons dû trouver nos propres chemins et trouver un sens à notre situation, et ce souvent, par nous-même.

Certains des adoptés avec qui j’ai parlé se sont connus en Éthiopie: ils étaient dans les mêmes orphelinats ou furent adoptés par les mêmes associations de parents adoptants. Tout de même, parler de leurs réalités d’adoption était parfois douloureux, mais surtout complexe, et souvent mal vu.

Malgré le tabou, beaucoup d’entre nous croyons que le public aura une meilleure idée d’ensemble de l’adoption si les adoptés témoignent de leurs expériences et partagent leurs points de vues sur l’adoption. Nous espérons que cela servira à sensibiliser les gens face aux enjeux liés à l’adoption et à améliorer le sort des enfants et adultes adoptés.

Il s’agit du début d’un projet qui, je l’espère, servira à donner la voix aux adultes adoptés d’Éthiopie et à raconter leurs histoires.

Je vous présente Yared…

 Tel que raconté à Annette-Kassaye

 Force, courage et résistance ne sont pas des caractéristiques souvent évoquées pour décrire un enfant de six ans. Yared dit que lorsqu’il avait à peu près six ans, son père l’a abandonné après une dispute. Yared s’est retrouvé seul dans les rues d’Addis Abéba. Pour payer sa nourriture, il a dû occuper de petits boulots comme cirer de chaussures, vendre des bonbons et transporter des bagages. Après être tombé très malade, Yared fut amené chez un médecin par deux femmes. On lui conseilla de ne pas retourner vivre sur la rue. Les femmes ont décidé de l’amener à l’orphelinat Missionaries of Charity, où bientôt, il fut adopté par un couple français.

À Dijon, Yared a apprit le français rapidement et il était un élève curieux, qui réussissait bien. Il excellait dans les sports et avait un grand cercle d’amis. Yared raconte qu’il voulait tellement s’intégrer qu’il a demandé à ses parents d’avoir un prénom français, soit « François ». Suite à ses demandes persistantes, ses parents ont finalement accepté de l’appeler

« Yared-François ». Cela dit, grandir en France en tant qu’un enfant éthipien adopté n’était pas toujours facile. Yared reconnaît que ses parents étaient toujours présents et soutenant pour lui, bien que sa relation avec eux n’était pas toujours facile.

Même si, d’un point de vue extérieur, Yared était un enfant adopté qui s’adaptait bien à sa nouvelle culture, il dit qu’il se sentait souvent tiraillé entre deux mondes différents. Bien que Yared n’ait pas beaucoup de beaux souvenirs d’Éthiopie, il dit qu’il était très triste de quitter ce pays. « Quand tu es adopté, dit Yared, quelqu’un que tu ne connais pas prend une décision sur ta vie et sur ton bien-être ». Même si ça fait maintenant 13 ans que Yared a quitté l’Éthiopie, il reste très attaché à son pays natal.

Bien que sa vie en France lui ait donné un confort matériel, Yared affirme que sa vie dans les rues d’Addis Abéba l’a préparé aux défis qu’il devait surmonter en tant qu’adopté Franco-Éthiopien. Il conseille aux jeunes adoptés de ne jamais baisser les bras lors des moments difficiles. Yared avoue que l’adoption lui a donné beaucoup d’opportunités, mais il croit que la meilleure façon d’aider les enfants éthiopiens est de s’assurer qu’ils aient accès à l’éducation et de créer des emplois qui aideront les familles à subvenir à leurs besoin pour ne pas être obligé d’abandonner leurs enfants à l’adoption.

Dans le futur, Yared espère accomplir de grandes choses pour son pays de naissance. Son enfance dans les rues d’Addis a profondément marqué sa vie et a fait de lui une personne déterminée et ambitieuse, prête à affronter les difficultés de la vie afin d’accomplir ses projets.

En ce moment, Yared vient de terminer son baccalauréat et rentrera à l’université l’an prochain. Dans quelques semaines, il décollera pour l’Éthiopie pour la première fois en treize ans! Nous lui souhaitons un voyage sécuritaire et nous avons hâte d’avoir des ses nouvelles.

A Tee Shirt Is Just a Tee Shirt, Right?

First of all, I want to acknowledge those parents who continue to be amazing advocates for their young adopted children. I know you love them, as my family loves me. That’s why I am writing this post.

Yesterday, on Facebook, there was a fundraising tee shirt posted for Ethiopian adoptions. There were a lot of comments about it, some in support of the shirt and many criticizing it. The post isn’t there any more. I don’t know why it was deleted.

I would have written my comment on the original post, but since it is gone now, I decided to speak out about it.

The shirt said “Adopt Ethiopia,” and  “Love makes a family…changes a life.”

I find a few things problematic about these tee shirts for Ethiopian adoptions. One is the perception that children need to be saved or rescued. This approach is often used for African adoptions and let me tell you: it sickens me. When white adoptive parents fundraise with these shirts, it unfortunately echoes and perpetuates the white savior complex. This shirt is meant for the adoptive parent to wear. It is difficult when seeing this shirt to avoid the immediate conclusion that prospective parents are romantically reaching out to the farthest corners of the globe to save a desperately lost and innocent child, and should be congratulated.

Adoption does change a lot of lives. Too often, people forget that this also means the first/birth families, who have to lose their child for adoption to happen. Too many “orphans” turn out not to be orphans.

As an adoptee who has been in reunion for seven years with my birth family, I consider my perspective to be representative of my first family. I find this shirt offensive because it dismisses the losses that first families go through when a child is placed for adoption.

Although adoption is a gain for adoptive families, it’s a loss both for the first families and the children. We need to do a better job of acknowledging that. Believe me, I understand there are children who still need homes, and there is no question that all children deserve safe and loving families. But with all the fraud and corruption that’s going on in Ethiopia, why are parents still willing to do fundraisers for adoption? We actually need to be fundraising for more resources that work to make adoption more transparent and ethical. We also need fundraisers that promote family reunification and preservation, because that would help many more children at a lot less cost.

Last, but not least, the quote on the shirt suggests that love conquers all, which is a huge misconception that far too many families believe, or at least want to believe. It also suggests that first families didn’t love their children enough. It dismisses the rejection many adoptees feel, from their first families and from their country of origin. I also believe this shirt supports the profitable industry of adoption (I’m sure many agencies would love it,).

I’ve been critical in my comment here, and some of you might view it as anti-adoption, or dismiss me as an unhappy, even angry adoptee. I hope you will view it as pro-ethical standards. I love my adoptive family, and I love my Ethiopian family. The adoption community needs to be more compassionate about first families, which include not just birth parents but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and more. Please educate yourselves. Talk to other adult adoptees, especially those who have searched and/or reunited with their first families. Many adoptive parents active in Facebook groups have young children, but I hope you reach out to adult adoptees that have walked the walk—and lived the talk.


Back Home to Ethiopia, and a Movie in the Future

For many years, I’ve openly discussed my adoption journey. It has been both therapeutic and liberating. In August of 2014, I returned to Ethiopia for my second reunion since my adoption in 1994. With the permission of my (Ethiopian) first family, I captured some powerful moments. The trip was incredible. I learned so much about my mother, my late father, my siblings, and also myself.

One of the amazing results of the trip is a partnership with Gazillion Strong to create a film about my journey. I’m thrilled to be working with them (and with loads of still photos and video clips, thanks to the talented Jemal Countess) to share my story of being adopted from Ethiopia, and my reunion with my Ethiopian family.

My partners at Gazillion Strong have already created this short clip, a glimpse into the story which I hope to tell that honors both my birth and adoptive families. Thank you!

My mother and I, in Ethiopia August 2014