Friday, March 26, 2010

The Impact of Education on Children's Lives in Ethiopia

This blog post by Getinet Leweyehu - Education Advisor, Concern Worldwide in Ethiopia - appeared today in The Huffington Post:

Constructing schools closer to children's homes in rural Ethiopia

Nine-year-old Aster Arba lives in the remote village of Duguna Fango, about 450 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Before Concern Worldwide intervened, Aster and her friends had to walk eight kilometers every day back and forth to school.
In fact, they walked barefoot in extreme heat and risked being raped, abducted or attacked by wild animals. When I first saw the area, I was humbled by how difficult it was for a young child to travel to school in this extremely hot climate over such long distances.
In response to these difficulties, Concern and our partner organization WRDA began constructing basic education schools in villages that didn't have any. Today, Aster and her friends attend school within a short walking distance from their homes.
During our regular monitoring visits to these schools, I met with the children who are now learning better and are far happier with their new situation. When I spoke with one of their teachers, Zinash, she explained that the closer proximity of the school gives children a sense of freedom and allows them to attend classes regularly, which in turn has contributed to a marked improvement in their performance at school.

Vulnerable children benefit from basic education in Addis Ababa

Often in Ethiopia, children, especially girls, migrate to urban areas in search of better lives and educational opportunities. In most cases, these children are either entirely uneducated or drop out of school after one or two years. Children who aren't in school are forced to work as housemaids and can be easily fall prone to child labor and sexual exploitation.
Others have to support their families by running small businesses and wind up on the streets as petty traders. In these cases, there is no money or time for them to attend formal schools. Others are orphaned by HIV and AIDS, and do not have the opportunity to go to school. When I meet and speak to these children, I see that Concern's support has given them hope. They have purpose and clearly feel accepted. Without help, I know that many of the girls would face a future of prostitution and the boys would become delinquents.
Concern has responded to their needs by collaborating with three local organizations in Addis Ababa to run schools with a flexible schedule, which allows very poor children, who have to work, to attend classes at times appropriate for them. The lessons are designed to streamline children back into formal education within three years, which enables them to complete the first education cycle of Ethiopia's formal education system. To meet that goal, Concern provides free education materials, books and school uniforms and pays the teachers' salaries. As a teacher myself, I am happy to work with Concern to reach these children and their teachers.
Experience has shown that the children thrive, not just because they are receiving an education, but because they feel a sense of acceptance and receive recognition from their teachers and peers. In the last nine years (2002-2010), Concern and six partner organizations in three different regions of Ethiopia have established 22 schools where more than 15,000 vulnerable children (50 percent of them girls), who were not able to go to formal schools, have attended the first education cycle, the basis for continuing in Ethiopia's formal schooling system.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


This is just sickening:

SALT LAKE CITY, March 24 (UPI) -- The co-founder of a Utah center to aid and adopt Ethiopian children has been charged with multiple counts of sex abuse and child pornography, authorities said.Lon Harvey Kennard, Sr., 68, of Heber, Utah, is charged with sexually abusing two of his adopted daughters who are now adults, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday.

He also faces 24 counts of first-degree aggravated sex abuse of a child, 21 counts of sexual exploitation of a child and a charge of witness tampering, the newspaper said.

Kennard and his wife, DeAnna, adopted six Ethiopian children in the early 1990s. The couple also has six biological children. All are now adults.

Court documents allege the sexual abuse occurred from 1995 to 2002.

The Kennards, with a partner, established the Village of Hope orphanage in Kersa Illala, 200 miles south of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, in 1994.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adoption Tax Credit Increase

Love it or hate it, the health care reform bill is now the law of the land. President Obama signed it today. So, what does it mean for adopting families? According to CNN, the adoption tax credit and assistance exclusion will increase by $1,000. The bill makes the credit refundable and extends it through 2011. That's a good chunk of change.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ethiopian Government Involved in Censorship?

I've done freelance work for Voice of America, and VOA is a legit news service. I found this troubling, and hope it isn't a sign of more friction to come:

The U.S. State Department has strongly criticized efforts by Ethiopia's prime minister to jam VOA broadcasts in Amharic, the country's main official language.
State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a release Friday that the decision by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi contradicts his country's commitments to a free press, even if he disagrees with the broadcasts.
The prime minister said Thursday he would authorize blocking the broadcasts, saying VOA's Amharic service practiced a disregard for the ethics of journalism.
Duguid condemned Mr. Meles' comparison of VOA material to the hate media that incited the 1994 Rwandan genocide, including Radio Mille Collines.
The State Department spokesman also called the accusation baseless and inflammatory, and asked the Ethiopian government to protect the fundamental right of freedom and expression.
VOA listeners of Amharic language programming have been hearing interference to the programs since February 22. Mr. Meles says listeners may have been experiencing the testing of jamming equipment.
Voice of America Director Danforth Austin issued a statement Thursday saying, "any comparison of VOA programming to the genocidal broadcasts of Rwanda's Radio Mille Collines is incorrect and unfortunate."
He added, "the VOA deplores jamming as a form of media censorship wherever it may occur."
His statement also said VOA's Amharic Service is required by law to provide accurate, objective and comprehensive news and abide by the highest journalistic standards.
Austin noted that "while VOA is always ready to address responsible complaints about programming, the government of Ethiopia has not initiated any official communication in more than two years."
VOA language service broadcasts to Ethiopia have been jammed in the past around election times. The next election for parliament is just over two months away. But in past cases, the government denied being responsible for the jamming.
Monitors say the recent jamming has only been aimed at Amharic broadcasts, and has not affected VOA's Afan Oromo and Tigrinya language service programs to Ethiopia.
The Voice of America is a multi-media international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government. VOA broadcasts more than 1,500 hours of news and other programming every week in 45 languages to an audience of more than 125 million people.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Adapting to Foreign Adoptions

This is an interesting op-ed piece that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor:

The plight of orphans after a tragedy in a poor nation can evoke an ardent desire in people from rich countries to give them a home. Yet the arrest in Haiti of a group of Americans trying to whisk 33 orphans out of that country just days after the Jan. 12 earthquake shows how that desire to adopt requires safe and legal channels. (See related Monitor story by clicking here.)

A need for safeguards became obvious soon after intercountry adoption became popular six decades ago, when Henry and Bertha Holt started a flow of orphans from war-torn Korea to the United States. Steadily over the years, rules have been put in place, most notably with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Simply confirming that a child is orphaned or abandoned, for example, can’t be left to those with a stake in an adoption. And the process needs to be free of profitmaking influence.

Still, that 1993 treaty is accepted by fewer than half of the world’s countries. Fortunately the US – which is by far the largest recipient of foreign adoptees – joined the pact in 2008. This dominant role forces it to accept extra responsibility to enforce the rules – as it recently did after eyeing shady adoptions in Vietnam.

That’s why the State Department needs to have its adoption-watchdog abilities beefed up. A bill in Congress would do just that.

A rush to adopt orphans after a tragedy like the Haitian earthquake or the 2004 Asian tsunami requires the US to respond quickly. (The first rule should always be to find a home for orphans in their own country.)

Vigilance and transparency are also needed as the sources for adoptees change. Places that were once popular, such as China, Russia, and Guatemala, have curbed foreign adoptions for various reasons. Ethiopia and Ukraine are now popular.

Adoption should be made easier – and less costly. But most of all, it needs to put a child’s interests first.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Year of The Phantom Line and Other Stuff

I haven't posted in a while because life has been getting in the way. My sister-in-law, her husband, and their two munchkins stayed with us for five days. My niece is six and quite the tomboy. She skis mogels, has held a snake, and LOVES our dog Bodhi, even though he is bigger than she is. My nephew is almost three, and has the largest blue eyes I've ever seen.

A few days ago we moved back to our townhouse. It's wonderful to be home. So calm and peaceful here. We've set aside the old office to be the baby's room.

That's another thing. There seems to be quite a few hurdles thrown in our path to adopting from Ethiopia. First, there's the new US State Department rules, which I wrote about in my previous blog post. There are also some changes going on with the Ethiopian government, but I'm forbidden by Holt to talk about them. As soon as someone else leaks this to the media I'll post it.

I realized the one-year anniversary of the start of The Phantom Line came and went without me noticing. Ah, so much has changed in a year.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CBS Report on Ethiopian Adoption Change

(CBS)  Citing "concerns about recent media reports," the U.S. Department of State has made a key change to the process of adopting Ethiopian orphans to the U.S.

The Embassy in Addis Ababa now requires an I-604 or so-called "orphan investigation" into the background and status of every child in the process of getting a visa to come to the US with an adoptive family.

Until now that investigation was at the discretion of consular officers on the ground. The new rule change will likely add several weeks and in some cases months to the adoption process in Ethiopia which takes US families on average about nine months to complete.

Dated March 5, the memo said, “The Department of State shares families’ concerns about recent media reports alleging direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees.”

CBS News reported on February 15th the complaints of several families against Christian World Adoption, a South-Carolina based agency involved in adoptions in Ethiopia. The Bradshaw family, among them, claimed local employees of the agency had been involved in recruiting their children even paying their biological father.

ABC Australia produced an in depth piece on Christian World Adoption and the Bradshaw family that aired March 2. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bridges of Hope in Ethiopia

This is an article that appeared in Parade magazine on Sunday. It gives a good background on how diligent the people of Ethiopia are, and the lengths they are willing to go to better their lives. Here's the link:

Link to Building Bridges of Hope

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Walk Through

     Last night Alex and I had a move-out walk-through with our former tenants and our property managers to look for damage. It was so strange to go back to the townhouse. We moved out almost exactly two years ago to head to Atlanta, and it almost felt like going back in time when we stepped inside.
     Things were not great when we moved out. Alex was still in the ever-shrinking newspaper industry, and I was unemployed and feeling crappy about it. We also had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, and had no idea why things were taking so long (considering my mother and sisters got pregnant very easily, sometimes without even trying).
     Anyhoo, our life together has improved in so many ways. Alex has a job he loves in an industry that's growing, not disappearing. I've found a good amount of freelance writing work that keeps me busy, and which I really enjoy. And finally, we are in the home stretch to becoming parents.
     There is one glaring absence. My mother is gone. But I felt her presence in the townhouse as we visited last night. She loved that house, and visited whenever she could. She would even come down to stay and take care of our dog and cats if we'd go away for the weekend. Mom would go to the 7-11, buy a Starbucks frappacino (sic) in a bottle (even thought there was an actual Starbucks selling real coffee just a block away) and sit on a bench on the boardwalk at the beach. She'd sit there for hours, just people watching and enjoying the smell of the sea. It's why my sisters and I chose to scatter her ashes near that very spot.
     I worried that moving back to the house would bring up painful memories of my mother. But every time she was there, she was happy, and vibrant, and that's how I like to remember her. Moving back will make me feel closer to her, I just know it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My First Ethiopian Meal

     I had Ethiopian food for the first time Saturday night.  Alex and I went to an Ethiopian restaurant called Harar.  We were joined by some good friends and their adorable almost three-year-old son.  We started off with injera, which is the bread with which all the food is eaten.  The injera was filled with spicy butter and vegetables.  Very spicy, so much so that one of our friends asked the restaurant owner to call the fire department.  She laughed, and suggested we drink hot water to cool our mouths.  It worked.
     Our main meal was brought on a large platter.  Different types of stews and vegetables were placed on the platter, and we all dug in, using the injera to scoop up the food.  Each stew tasted different, some a little spicier than others, but each was very flavorful and savory and filling.  It was a very social way of eating, with everyone sharing the same platter, as opposed to each diner have her own plate.  When someone discovered a particularly tasty stew, the rest of the table could then try it.  
     Our friends shared stories of living in Africa.  They were in Malawi for two years, and stressed to us how preferable Ethiopian food is to the American palate than Malawian food.  One particular delicacy in Malawi got our attention.  Apparently, then catch mice, roast them underground until the meat is smoked (the whole thing, fur included) and then serve them on a stick.  Our friends stressed to us that this is not something we would find in Ethiopia.  Phew.