Ethiopia – a new model for the long-term care of orphans

    Seventy adoption agencies are authorized to operate in Ethiopia. The one I am most familiar with, Christian World Adoption, was among the first U.S. agencies authorized and accredited to have an Ethiopia adoption program. It was the agency chosen by Paradise Valley couple Brian deGuzman, a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, and his wife Keri, who is trained as pediatric intensive care nurse. The deGuzmans have adopted four children from Ethiopia through CWA.

    Each year, more than 200 children from Ethiopia are placed with adoptive families, according to the agency’s website.

    A young mother waits for her share of corn distributed to 250 people in Wolayta.

    Compare that to the number of children in the country who have been orphaned or abandoned — children whose parents are dead or too ill, too poor or simply unable (for a myriad of other reasons) to care adequately for another child.

    Depending on which resource you consult, the number of Ethiopian children facing this situation ranges from four to six million. Two hundred a year — even if you use that estimate times 70 placement agencies — is 14,000 children a year. A drop in the bucket of endless need. And more babies are being born every day. (My most haunting memory from food distribution day was seeing pregnant and breastfeeding women who were themselves near starvation.)

    The Ethiopian government wisely requires a complete separation of operations between adoption agencies and the orphanages that accept and house children. It is one of many measures in place to protect children and families and avoid concerns about possible child trafficking.

    During our recent visit to Ethiopia, the deGuzmans and I saw how some of these non-profit, non-governmental organizations are beginning to respond to the gaping hole of need.

    While in Soddo, we toured a facility that  has been set up specifically for children ages 4 to 17 whose families cannot care for them but who are not elegible for adoption. At the Aerie Africa orphanage, administered by Children’s Cross Connection, these children are provided with a home, education, nutritious meals, medical care, structure and supervision to help them become self-sufficient, productive members of the community.

    “The idea is to raise these children to be the future leaders of Ethiopia,” I was told by Stephne Bowers, who runs a separate CCC-affiliated orphanage in Soddo for children awaiting adoption.

    Stephne is a frequent visitor to this in-country orphanage (“in-country” being the term used for children who will remain in Ethiopia). Within a few minutes of our arrival, she all but disappeared in a pile of children who gathered around her for a hug.

    Next: touring the Aerie Africa orphanage and meeting the people who run it.

    Stephne, who visits the school often, gets a warm welcome from some of the children.