Ethiopia Travel Diary: Day 2, Bantu

The day after we toured several sites in Addis Ababa and met with various U.S. and other government leaders, we headed out to spend the beginning of our second full day on the ground in a rural area named Bantu – the home area of Ethiopian President Girma Wolde Giorgis.

Our delegation arrived to the Buckner Bright Hope School in Bantu to find the 400 school children and many of their families and members of the Bantu community were also there to greet us.  The children were singing “Welcome, welcome,” and clapping when we arrived.

A local Ethiopian Orthodox Church choir performed a traditional and ancient song and dance, and then Senator Landrieu, Ambassador Jacobs, and Gary Newton spoke briefly with community elders.

Then our entire group visited some of the school’s classrooms and watched a few demonstrations of the children’s math and English-speaking skills.

It was very interesting to me to note how the school is now the focal point of the community of Bantu.  The school actually feeds the children who attend two meals a day and provides them stipends for uniforms.  At one point, I asked the Director of Buckner Bright Hope, Getahun Tesema, how many sibling groups attend the school, and he told me that only one child from each family in the community is able to attend because parents are unwilling to send all their children away from their housework.  I then asked Getahun how the school staff choose which child from a family to attend – Did they select the oldest? Youngest? Smartest? He explained to that they choose the weakest and most malnourished child in the family so they are fed the two daily meals the school offers and thus have a better chance of surviving childhood.  It was a humbling reminder to me of the vast needs families in Ethiopia face, that the school would use malnutrition as it’s guiding factor in approaching enrollment.

Ethiopia: Day One

Soon after arriving in Addis Ababa, the delegation met with the Embassy, USAID, and other high level officials involving key stakeholders in the Ethiopian orphan crisis.  CCAI will soon be releasing a full report outlining the goals, activities, and most importantly outcomes of this trip, but below are several highlights of the first days in Ethiopia.

The first morning we toured Buckner Bright Hope Ethiopia which provides services to children and families.  This organization has only been operating for several years, but has already begun transforming the community!  It was incredible to see the highest standards of care and nurturing that these children were receiving through the loving arms of Buckner Bright Hope’s staff.

Ambassador Susan Jacobs finds a loving friend who wants to snuggle during her visit to the Assessment Center.
Senator Landrieu comforts to a little child who is upset as he is about to settle into for a nap.
Jack Gerard, CCAI Board Member, with a young boy at Buckner’s Assessment Center.
Foster families from Buckner Bright Hope’s foster program

As a result of the heart-tugging and inspiring experiences of the day, we then returned to our hotel for a discussion with representatives from the Embassies of France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, as well as UNICEF Ethiopia.  The delegation then moved on to a round table prepared by UNICEF Ethiopia and USAID which brought together panelists from the full continuum of care for orphaned children in Ethiopia – ranging from institutional care, child protection, foster care, domestic adoption, and intercountry adoption.

All of these experiences and conversation are laying the foundation to promote relations between the U.S. and Ethiopia in an effort to protect orphans and vulnerable children and promote sound adoption practices.

CCAI heads to the UK to tackle orphan issues globally

As part of CCAI’s 20/20 Vision Program, I had the privilege of coordinating a congressional delegation to the United Kingdom and Ethiopia during the August recess here on Capitol Hill.  Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) led the official Congressional delegation and was joined by Ambassador Susan Jacobs, the recently appointed Special Advisor to the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues (reporting directly to Secretary Clinton), as well as Mr. Gary Newton, USAID’s Special Advisor for Orphans and Children.

CCAI is honored to be a part of what we believe is essential to moving Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) policy forward in the world by bringing the government sectors together along with the private sectors and faith-based groups.  Toward that end, CCAI and Senator Landrieu’s delegation coordinated with the Legatum Institute of London and Buckner Bright Hope of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Buckner International of Dallas Texas to create an incredible itinerary to raise awareness of the children around the globe in need of permanent, loving families.

The delegation’s visit to London was graciously hosted by Dr. Jean Geran and Natalie Gonnella at the Legatum Institute, who also launched the fabulous EACH Campaign in March, 2010.  Legatum Institute arranged for Senator Landrieu to meet with two Members of Parliament – Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick and Mr. Nick Smith – to discuss the issues surrounding orphans and vulnerable children and the legislative work of the U.S. members of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption toward finding permanency for these children.   The meeting was followed by a larger program with a panel of presenters from the United Kingdom and United States, including Secretary Andrew Mitchell, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for International Development.

The delegation then concluded their short visit to London with a tour of the Foundling Museum, which tells the story of London’s first home for abandoned children – the Foundling Hospital.  The Foundling Hospital’s work was supported by philanthropist Thomas Coram and his friends: artist William Hogarth whose beautiful pieces grace the walls of many rooms in the museum, as well as the renowned composer George Frideric Handel who regularly played his Messiah at benefit concerts for the Hospital.  The Hospital’s care for abandoned, parentless children was cutting edge in 1739, and the historical lessons the delegation heard were quite amazing.  How far we have come since that time, but how much work still remains!

After a short but quite full day in London, the delegation was off to Heathrow Airport to catch our overnight flights to Addis Ababa where we had four more days of meetings.

-Becky Weichhand, Director of Policy

Russia and Guatemala: a legislative update

Guatemala

In May 2010, a large number of families representing the Guatemala 900, an advocacy network for families whose cases still await processing, came to Washington, D.C. and held a briefing for Members of Congress. During this briefing, adoptive families laid out reasons why these cases continue to be delayed as well as ways Members of Congress might act on their behalf. Motivated by the passion and commitment of these families, several members including Senators Boxer (D-CA), Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Feingold (D-WI) have been actively engaged in efforts to unite these families with their children. In late June, 76 Members signed a letter to President Colom and three other high ranking officials asking for them to take immediate action to resolve these cases.

Russia

Over the past several months, the U.S. State Department has been involved in negotiations with officials in Russia . These negotiations have been focused on coming to a memorandum of understanding between the two countries on additional safeguards that can be put in place to better protect adopted children and their families. For the most part, the dialogue between the two countries, has been positive and it is hoped a final agreement can be reached and signed soon. The events leading up to the current situation in Russia, most notably the case of the 8 year old returned to Russia by his adoptive mom, has prompted Members of Congress to introduce legislation to strengthen pre- and post-adoption support services for American adoptive families. The Supporting Adoptive Families Act (introduced by Senators Landrieu (D-LA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Brownback (R-KY) and Johnson (D-SD) would develop and expand training and resources for families adopting domestically or internationally, ensuring that both parents and children have the assistance and care they need to remain together. The bill would also address the current shortage of adoption services available to families prior to and following adoptions.

Immigration, Accreditation, and Intercountry Adoption

In continuing with our series of legislative updates on international adoption, read below to learn about immigration and accreditation:

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has been working on passing a piece of legislation entitled the “International Adoption Simplification Act” (S. 1376). Under current law, children adopted from non-Hague countries are able to waive certain immigration-related immunization requirements. Also, children adopted from non-Hague countries who are between the ages of 16 and 18 are eligible for an orphan visa so long as they are being adopted as part of a sibling group. Under Klobuchar’s bill, adoptees adopted from Hague countries would be afforded these same protections. S. 1376 passed the Senate on July 26, 2010 and has been sent to the House for its consideration.  On June 21st, 2010, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the “International Adoption Harmonization Act” which allows an adopted child to legally immigrate so long as the adoption is completed and the petition is filed before the child turns 18.  This bill would also allow children adopted from Hague countries to be exempted from certain immigration related vaccination requirements. This bill passed the House of Representatives on July 20th, 2010 and is awaiting Senate consideration.

Over the last year, several Members of Congress, most notably Senators Lugar (R-IN), Landrieu (D-LA) and Inhofe (R-OK) and Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ) have been studying the issue of fraud and abuse within intercountry adoption. In an effort to better understand this issue, these members have held several meetings and community-wide discussions about the degree to which corruption is a part of the current system and ways that federal law might be used as a shield against such abuses. As a result of these efforts, Congressman Albio Spires has announced his intent to sponsor legislation that would require all adoption agencies, regardless of whether they work in a Hague or Non-Hague country, to be accredited by the U.S. State Department. Often referred to as “universal accreditation,” such a proposal would do away with the dualtrack system currently in place in the United States and replace it with a universal system of standards.

Adoption documentaries premier 8/31

POV is launching a series of adoption documentaries to air August 31st, September 7th, and September 14th on PBS.  (Be sure to check your local listing or click here).  The first film, Wo Ai Ni (I love You) Mommy by Stephanie Wang-Breal follows a Long Island Jewish family as they travel to China to adopt an 8 year old orphan.  The film shows the struggles Sui Yong faces as she leaves her Chinese foster family and adjusts to life in America.  Through her eyes, we witness what it feels like to be adopted by a loving, yet foreign American family and culture.

Be sure to read the filmmaker’s interview to learn about her inspiration for the film and her experience coming to know this family.  Stephanie shares, “Adoption is complicated. In this case, Faith gains a new family, but she loses a very loving foster family. She gains a new language, a new home, a new sister and brother, but she loses her birth language and access to her culture. As we see her blossom, we also see her shed something that we all want her to hold dear. I hope that people realize that, although it’s great that she’s developing into this new human being, her journey is also very complicated. There are all these losses at the same time, for everyone, even for [the adoptive parents].”

Synopsis:

What is it like to be torn from your Chinese foster family, put on a plane with strangers and wake up in a new country, family and culture? Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy is the story of Fang Sui Yong, an 8-year-old orphan, and the Sadowskys, the Long Island Jewish family that travels to China to adopt her. Sui Yong is one of 70,000 Chinese children now being raised in the United States. Through her eyes, we witness her struggle with a new identity as she transforms from a timid child into someone that no one — neither her new family nor she — could have imagined. Click here to read more.