Reflections from Ethiopia

When I tell people that our visit to the United Kingdom and Ethiopia was only 10 days in total, many ask why I would go all the way around the world for such a short period of time.  Why not stay longer? I always laugh and tell them that for Members of Congress and government officials, 10 days is a very long time to be away!

Obviously, part of the nature of such official delegations is to pack as much into an itinerary as possible because you’ve flown so far and have such a short amount of time.  From the perspective of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program, we’re thrilled that in such a short time Members of Congress and other individuals influencing U.S. policy toward orphans and vulnerable children are able to see for themselves the needs and challenges these precious children face.  Once they encounter the need face to face, they immediately begin to consider what best practices they can match with these needs to best serve children and help them realize their right to a family.  But from my personal perspective, I wished we could stay longer at each of the wonderful places we visited.  My mind was spinning as to what resources we might bring to bear to assist the many organizations and individuals working so diligently to serve the children of Ethiopia amidst many challenges.

One example was our delegation’s last site visit on our last morning in Ethiopia, when we visited the Missionaries of Charity Orphanage in Addis Ababa.  The Missionaries of Charity are the order of nuns that Mother Theresa began years ago.  The nuns of this order in Addis Ababa – thirteen women in total – support not only 250 orphaned and abandoned children, but also dozens of young mothers with their infants who have no homes, in addition to many terminally sick individuals of all ages.  They shared with us that every morning the street outside their property is filled to overflowing with people waiting and hoping to come inside.  I asked how they select the women and children they take in, and was told that they look for the weakest, sickest individuals and bring them in as they have openings.  These thirteen ladies serve so humbly and ably – but face such challenging circumstances by the sheer numbers of people they are trying to help.  Our visit to their property reminded me that there are so many individuals who are doing their best – but they need our support.

Becky Weichhand, CCAI's Director of Policy with an Ethiopian nun

And then there are some biases that we still need to work to change, which is nearly impossible to do in such a short trip.  As I mentioned earlier, almost every single meeting our delegation participated in with Ethiopian officials and NGOs was met with an incredible spirit of cooperation and open dialogue.  It was most certain that there was a shared goal of serving and supporting Ethiopian children in and through families – first in Ethiopia, and – if no other alternatives remained – then through intercountry adoption.  Yet we did encounter one very hostile individual who was not even willing to speak to the needs of a group of children facing gravel physical and emotional needs because of her opposition to the idea of intercountry adoption.

One of the things CCAI feels very strongly about is that it is incredibly important to bring individuals and organizations that come from differing perspectives on how to best serve orphans and vulnerable children together into the same room and foster dialogue.  We believe that there is much common ground to discover in these environments when hearts are open to listening, sharing, and finding solutions to the great challenges children without families face.  I’m willing to bet that if we could have sat down together, that individual whose hostility we encountered at the orphanage would have come to a place of understanding – if not agreement – with us as to ways Ethiopians and Americans, governments and NGOs, can work together to serve the children of Ethiopia.

Toward that end, CCAI is honored to have participated in this important delegation to the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, and will continue to work through our 20/20 Vision Program to facilitate future delegations and bring great partners to the table to work together on these crucial issues.

Becky with an Ethiopian Orphan

We are incredibly pleased that the delegation’s visit to Ethiopia strengthened old relationships and opened new doors among the Ethiopian and U.S. Governments and the non-governmental organizations working in the country.  We are also pleased to learn that our discussions of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption encouraged the Ethiopian government to take steps toward requiring all adoption service providers from foreign countries to be Hague-accredited in order to process adoptions of Ethiopian children and to also move toward ratifying the Hague Convention and implementing it in Ethiopia.  In addition, due to the elevated awareness created by our delegation’s visit to Ethiopia to focus solely on children’s issues, USAID will soon be coordinating a United States Government Task-Force on Children’s Issues in Ethiopia.

All incredible outcomes from a wonderful delegation to a beautiful country.