Monday, December 14, 2009

Return to Ethiopia 2010

We've finalized the details for our first 2010 Return to Ethiopia Trip which will take place from June 19th to the 27th. The tour has been arranged through Susan Parr Travel in Port Angeles, WA. The cost will be $2500 per person/double occupancy including round trip travel on nonstop Ethiopian Airlines from Dulles to Addis Ababa. Participants must make individual arrangements to get to Dulles Airport prior to departure and can do that if they wish with Susan Parr Travel. Cost is subject to change with fluctuations in airline prices but participants will be kept informed.

The trip is designed for older adoptees (12 +) and their parents or guardians but others may be considered on a case by case basis (younger children, older children traveling alone, etc.). We think we've organized an exciting week with many educational and relaxing activities including an overnight visit to Nazret's Safari Lodge and Awash National Park. Below is the daily schedule we envision and all transportation to and from activities as well as some meals are included in the package price. AAI staff in Addis will accompany the group during many of the activities. Not included are trip insurance, visas ($20 upon arrival), passports, vaccinations, family visits, and travel to and from the departure point.

Participants may choose their own departure date from Addis, thus acomodating the desires of many to see birth family and visit additional tourist destinations. Where possible, AAI staff will help participants make arrangements for adoptees to see extended family while in country. An add-on excursion is available through Susan Parr Travel to Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibela. It includes airfare, 3 nights, four days including transfers, hotels, guide and transportation to historical sites. The cost is $459.00 per person.

To make a reservation, call Kathy DeBenedette at Susan Parr Travel (1-800-455-7277). A non-refundable deposit of $500 will be due by February 1 to secure your spot. We reserve the right to cancel if we do not have enough participants (minimum 20, maximum 40, a second guide will be added if there are more than 25 participants). The tour guide will be Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development. She has led several volunteer trips to Ethiopia and is an adoptive parent herself. If you have any questions or need clarification, you can e-mail her at

2010 Return To Ethiopia Tour Details

DATES—JUNE 19—27 (includes leave date from Dulles airport)

* lodging/breakfast at mid-range hotel in Addis and Nazret for entire stay
* all transportation for group activities
* some dinners and lunches (other dinners free for participants to explore local restaurants or meet friends)

SATURDAY--Leave from Dulles Airport on Ethiopian Air direct flight to Addis
SUNDAY June 20th arrival in evening on ET Air flight/transport to King's hotel

Breakfast 7-9am
City tour and orientation 10—2 (w/group lunch and visit to university)
2-5 Orphanage visit to deliver donations/compound tour (or return to hotel for rest option if needed)
6-7 pm group dinner with Merrily, Susan Poisson-Dollar and other AAI staff members

Breakfast 8am

9- 12 pm *“Official Day” TBA by Temesgen/Gail---- ½ day program of meeting government officials involved in adoption work, informal reception

2-5pm ½ day volunteer opportunity or visit to a local site of interest

Dinner on own

9am—leave for day of orphanage volunteering at various sites or other TBA volunteer experience

Dinner at Cultural Restaurant for traditional food and dancing

Overnight excursion to Nazret

* visit local sites followed group lunch at local restaurant. Overnight at Safari Lodge Motel with group dinner and opportunity to swim/relax.
Friday morning---Drive to Awash National Park, spend day there, return to Addis late afternoon

Friday evening--- dinner on own at hotel or local restaurant


Volunteer/or Shopping Excursion Day
Farewell party at Layla compound
Group Dinner at informal local restaurant

SUNDAY June 27

Official end to trip after breakfast

(pool at safari lodge)

The Volunteers' Thanksgiving!

We've had a great crew of volunteers at Layla this fall. Of course at this time of year, they get a little homesick for friends and family. But this year they managed to have a "real" Thanksgiving, complete with almost all of the trimmings. Molly Melbom of Oregon contributed the following blog post about the event.


Well, the holiday season is upon us once more! It felt more like the 4th of July than Thanksgiving. Ivy gave all of the volunteers the day off and our day began with sun tanning at the volunteer house in the 75 and sunny weather – now THAT was a first! Originally, we had planned to do Thanksgiving at Ivy’s house with just the volunteers with about 7 people total, but that was in October and by the time November rolled around, our list was up to about 16 people. Our final head count on Thanksgiving Day was 14 adults, 1 Alazar (Ivy’s son), and 1 baby. A visiting adopting mother, whose case recently passed court, was able to spend her first Thanksgiving with her baby girl with us at Ivy’s. It was definitely fun being able to be a part of their first Thanksgiving together.

So Turkey Day 2009 was a combination of Americans and Ethiopians alike and we all enjoyed sharing our holiday with the Ethiopians who had never celebrated the holiday before. The Monday before Thanksgiving, the volunteers and Ivy hit just about every market in Addis to find all the necessary accoutrements. All in all, we were fairly successful – the only things that were MIA on the table last Thursday were French onions for the green bean casserole (which turned into stir-fried beans) and cranberries. Not too shabby, huh?!

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we held on tightly to the hope that we would stumble upon a turkey, and just when we had just about given up, our good friend Russ called in a favor and lo and behold, a 17-pound Kenyan turkey landed right on our table (figuratively speaking of course) ! Originally we had heard that buying a turkey in Addis would cost around 9,000 Birr, or around $90, so we were definitely very thankful that Russ was able to get us a turkey! Ivy and Andrea (volunteer) had the honor of basting and cooking the bird, which by the way, was amazing! Additionally, Patrick made the stir-fried green beans; Alex made her mom’s famous rolls from scratch; Amanda made the yams and deviled eggs; and Jessica and I were in charge of the mashed potatoes. Alemzot, a friend of Ivy’s, made amazing pumpkin soup and of course, pumpkin pie that was absolutely delicious. We ended up having so much food that I think Ivy will have leftovers through Christmas! Thanksgiving 2009 was a memorable one for all of the volunteers as we enjoyed our first ever Ethiopian Thanksgiving complete with a Kenyan turkey – now how about that!?

Since Thanksgiving, the volunteers have been getting ready for Christmas by listening to festive music, making paper snowflakes, and decorating the volunteer house the best we can given our limited materials. Some volunteers will be here for Christmas and some will be leaving around Christmas. Andrea left for Uganda the Sunday after Thanksgiving; Patrick, or “Shaggy”, just left to go back home this past Thursday. However we just got another new male volunteer--Henry. Amanda and I will be leaving next week with two more volunteers coming a few days later. So the holiday season and the approaching New Year is signaling the start of a mostly new group of volunteers at Layla!
The volunteers wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season! Ciao!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AAI Annual Holiday Letter

The holidays are upon us. It is heartwarming to see the cards arriving with smiling faces and we think fondly of the families we have worked with over the years. It has been a year of many accomplishments at AAI.

There will be nearly 300 children in new families this holiday, primarily from Ethiopia. Ghana, Thailand, China and domestically from Washington State. However so many children still wait. On my desk is a photo of five little orphan brothers, the oldest about seven. We don’t have space for all of them at Layla House at the moment, so they are in a small orphanage near Addis Ababa. They will join us as soon as we identify a family for them.

We are finding that the governments of the countries where we work are expecting us to do ever more to help children who will remain without being adopted. We have begun thinking of AAI as a humanitarian organization as well as an adoption agency. Our largest project was completed this year, the Dessie School, which was built in a poor area in northern Ethiopia. With help from AAI friends 1200 children are now able to attend school, and over half of the students are girls.

AAI provides sponsorship for over 500 orphans in Ethiopia and Ghana. These are children who can remain with extended family with some financial assistance. We call this “family preservation” and believe that with older children especially, it is best to have them remain in their birth country if their needs can be met there.

AAI has continued to develop Opportunity House where orphan children with serious disabilities can live and receive services to help them reach their potential. Currently 22 youngsters reside at Opportunity House and a number of neighborhood families with special needs youngsters also benefit from the services we offer there.

In Ghana our program moved to new and larger facilities. This year the program has grown with children coming from many parts of the country. AAI is providing support for two orphanages that were financially able to provide only very basic care for the children. We have initiated family preservation sponsorships as well.

AAI continues to place only children with special needs from Thailand and many of the children we place from China have special needs as well. It often takes months of searching to find just the right family for these children but we continue to be committed to giving these kids an opportunity for a family.

The commitment to children who are HIV+ continues and we support programs caring for children with AIDS in Ethiopia and Ghana. The wonderful thing is that we are now placing many children who are HIV+ and getting medication that allows them a nearly normal life. HIV+ children have been placed from Ghana, Thailand, and China as well as from Ethiopia, and it is expected that nearly 50 HIV+ children will join families this year. This is amazing when you realize that just 10 years ago we were raising money to develop a hospice home to care for orphans with AIDS.

We have always had a goal of keeping adoption fees as low as possible to make adoption affordable to as many families as possible. Therefore we are dependent on donations to cover much of AAI’s humanitarian work. I ask that you think carefully about what you can do financially this year to help AAI help children without families. Many lives are being touched in a positive way by our efforts and we are so grateful for your support in the past.

All of us at AAI consider it a privilege to do this work and to get to know the families and children that we serve. We want to wish you peace and happiness this season and through the coming year.

Merrily, Ted and the AAI Staff

Monday, December 7, 2009

New photos from Opportunity House

Opportunity House, AAI's facility for developmentally-delayed children, has recently hired a physical therapist who comes daily to help the children. We have also just purchased some specialized equipment with donations and he trains the staff to work with the children. Enjoy the photos below! There are so few services for special needs children in Ethiopia that this program is something we are especially proud of. We hope to expand it in the future since it also serves families in the Layla House neighborhood and helps them keep their children at home with them, one of the main goals of all of AAI's Humanitarian Programs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merrily and Ted Ripley in the news!

Last week a newspaper on the Olympic Peninsula did a profile of Merrily Ripley, AAI's founder. You can read about her and the history of AAI at this link:

(cut and paste this link into your browser---or Google "Aberdeen World" and click on "Profile" at that site.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who's "missing" from your table this Thanksgiving?

This post was submitted by Kathy Olsen, former director of AHOPE, and adoptive mom of 4 children, two of whom were adopted as teens from Bulgaria through AAI. Kathy is a passionate advocate for the adoption of older children and sent us this reflection and beautiful collage of family pictures created by her daughter Karen, depicted in the photo's top left corner .

This is the season of gatherings where we give thanks for all our blessings. We are grateful for family, for friends, for the bounty that is ours. But a child who has no family is missing out. Holidays may be celebrated in an orphanage, but it is not the same as the gathering around of people who love each other for better or for worse, for who they are, for ever and ever.

The older children are quite aware that something is missing from their lives. If they have had a family, they miss family. If they have never had a family, they miss what they imagine might have been and, saddest of all, may be resigned to the fact that what they miss will probably never happen for them. They have seen their friends leave for new families. They wonder why no one wants them.

My definition of older child is one who is now a teen. Adoption of these children is relatively rare. But they need families, too. Yes, they come with a history, but they also come with a track record. If a child is well liked and trusted by the other children and the caregivers, you have a winner. If a child is kind to the younger children, you have a winner. Layla House has winners who need a chance, who need a family. AHOPE Ethiopia's older kid’s home has winners too who need a chance, who need a family.

I speak from experience. Two of our children arrived as teens— one at 15 (a so-called last chance kid) and one at 14. Unlike the Layla and AHOPE children, they were not prepared for adoption and spoke not a single word of English. Despite many challenges, our son Stuart is a graduate of the University of Washington now employed by NOAA, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. Our daughter Karen is working on her Master’s Degree in Education, teaches preschool, and has a true gift for engaging with children challenged by autism. Both are very much part of the family, very attached to their other siblings, their mom and dad, and truly a blessing to all of us, forever and ever.

When you gather for the Thanksgiving feast, look around and see if it seems that someone is missing. Consider adopting an older child. He or she is waiting.
If you start now, maybe by next Thanksgiving, you will have yet another reason to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!! Kathy Olsen

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holiday Project Update!

Hi friends,

We still have a way to go to reach our 2009 Holiday Project goal. To read more about the project and to contribute online, go to this link:

Below is an update from Mandie Doak, our Holiday Project coordinator:
Hi Everyone!

Its that time again...

This week we raised $1640, bringing our total raised so far
to $9131. We still need to raise $12,499, to meet our goal. We still have a long
to go, but its coming along!

This week I have a challenge for you...

Last year, my then nearly 6 year old son, Leyton, searched every nook and cranny
of our home and cars, and came up with a little over $130 in coins that HE
dontated to the project. A few coins doesn't seem like much... until you add it
to the pot. I couldn't believe that he found that much laying around our house!

My challenge is to donate what you can.

Scrounge the couch cushions, empty the ashtray in your car... Turn in that extra
propane tank that's left over from summer... Can you go without your fancy coffee
for a day or two? How bout' a week? Can you pack your lunch this week? What
about having dinner 'in' this Friday, and watching a DVD from your collection
instead of the $15 movie at the theatre? Can you donate what you are doing
without this week, to the project? You'll be surprised how much you save, and
how much good it can do!

This is more than just a few gifts under a wilting Christmas tree on the soccer
field at Layla house... Help me to change lives forever...

Here is the weekly tally, and the updated #'s!

The breakdown is below...

Layla/Wanna/Opportunity House Kids
Goal $5700
Have $3570
Need $2130

L/W/O Caregivers/Staff
Goal $6570
Have $1400
Need $5170

Goal $4200
Have $1091
NEED $3109

Nazret Party
Goal $1000
Have $380
NEED $620

Goal $400
Have $280
NEED $120

Sele Enat
Goal $750
Have $390
NEED $360

Kidane Mihret
Goal $1000
Have $700
NEED $300

Goal $2010
Have $1320
NEED $690

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween Happenings at Layla House

There was a grand celebration of Halloween last week at Layla House. Our hard-working volunteer crew spent weeks preparing and supplied us with the pictures below. The text is by Molly Mellbom, a student at Oregon State University. If you are traveling soon, please express your thanks to this great group of young people who are teaching our kids so much!


Halloween at Layla is so much more than just candy and costumes on the 31st of October. For us volunteers, the planning, brainstorming, and organizing began the first week of October and lasted until around 11 p.m. on the night of the 31st. Planning for a holiday such as Halloween at Layla House is not, as I discovered, for the faint of heart. Think about this: How does one go about preparing and costuming over 100 children? Think about that again: How does one go about preparing and costuming over 100 children in Ethiopia? In America, you could just hop in your car and head over to any one of the millions of Wal-marts or DollarTrees around and you’ve got yourself a nice little Halloween party. Here, our main resources were the storage room, the craft room, and the volunteer office at Layla.

We decided that all of the little boys in groups 2B and lower would be bugs with wings, antennas, and bug masks and all of the little girls in these groups would be fairies, complete with wings, tiaras, and magic fairy wands. We fashioned the wings out of notebook folders and poster paper and everything else out of millions upon millions of pipe cleaners (to those of you reading this who have generously donated things like this, thank you SO much!). In addition to costumes, every single child in groups KG through 5 made a “trick-or-treat” bag for candy.

We wrote down names and groups on everything and kept it all organized, by group, in the volunteer office. Our office looked a little bit like Santa’s workshop with a “Halloween” twist. We also had all of the kids in groups 1A through 2B color pictures of pumpkins, spiders, and candy corn to be used as decorations around Layla. In America class, we taught groups 3 through 5 about the history of Halloween and how it has changed over the generations. On the Thursday and Friday before Halloween, we brought in pumpkins for these groups to carve. Most of the kids were a little hesitant about diving in and touching the pumpkin “guts”, saying things like “gross” or “we eat pumpkins, we don’t cut them” but after a while, they got pretty into it.

T----, K----, and E---- of group 3 carved the most creative pumpkin – a rockstar, complete with a nose and tongue earring. During the week before Halloween, we encouraged the older kids to think of their own costumes and the ongoing theme among the boys seemed to be characters from “Lord of the Rings.” Many of them wanted to be Orks, but we also had a few elves, including both Z-- and B--- as Legolas. On Saturday morning, we volunteers showed up at Layla and found that all the boys had had the girls braid yarn into their hair to make it long and more “authentic-looking”. They had also made swords and bow and arrows out of various materials. Our very own, Patrick, got into the theme too, dressing up as Gandolf the White. All in all, I’d think it’s safe to say that the older boys took the show in terms of costumes and originality.

After spending an entire month planning Halloween for the kids, Saturday morning was our final push to make it the best Halloween Layla had ever seen. On Friday night, all of the volunteers, including Ivy and her son Alazar, spent time at the volunteer house putting our costumes together and making plans for the haunted house. In the end, along with Gandolf the White, Ivy dressed all in green and glued googly eyes all over her face, calling herself an “eyepod” and we turned Alazar into the cutest little Lion Ethiopia has ever seen. Alex fashioned her own ninja costume complete with wooden num-chucks, Jessica made a pretty awesome witch hat and topped it off with her scariest witch cackle, I dressed as a black cat, and Amanda dressed as a “Gumborous” which means someone with a “pot” head or more literally, someone with a big head. So she wore a cooking pot on her head and the kids absolutely loved it. Our newest volunteer, Andrea, arrived on Friday night, but still got into the Halloween spirit by painting her face like a zebra. Big kudos to our local friend Russ, who dressed up as Tarzan and bought most of the trick-or-treating candy AND helped set up the scary music in the haunted house.

We arrived at Layla around noon on Saturday to set up the haunted house in the group 4 and 5 classroom. It was a challenge keeping the kids from sneaking peeks into the classroom, and although some of them saw the inside before it was completed, I think that they were still pretty surprised. Around 5 p.m., we headed back to the volunteer house to put our costumes on and eat some food. We came back to Layla around 6:30 and began handing out costumes and treat bags and commenced with painting faces. I am not quite sure when the trick-or-treating began, but when we finally started, the kids were so excited that Ivy could barely keep them all in the cafeteria. We led them out, by groups, to four different bedrooms where volunteers were waiting with candy, including sugar-free candy for M--, our boy with diabetes.

In the last of the four bedrooms, Alex handed out toothbrushes and floss. Each volunteer was greeted with an enthusiastic “TRICKOTREAT” by all the children and even some teachers and house mothers participated. After getting the kids all sugared up and wild, we headed to the haunted house and Ivy led smaller groups of children, by group number, through the haunted house. Only about 2 or 3 children from the younger groups made it through the entire way. We were even able to scare a few of the older kids by popping out of corners or grabbing ankles from underneath tables. Even the house mothers and guards were bold enough to go through the haunted house. The house was replete with spooky music and noises, ghosts, skeletons, spiders, and icky things to touch, such as cooked pasta. Candy corn awaited those still alive at the exit.

When we finally got all the willing participants through, it was time to clean up! We cleaned up all the decorations, saved a bunch for next year (THANK YOU, SUSAN PD!!), and cleaned up all the smushed spaghetti noodles and candy corn and packed up our tired little selves into Ivy’s van and went home around 11 p.m. Before Halloween, all of us vowed to make it the best Halloween the kids at Layla had ever experienced, and I think we succeeded. I hope all of you had just as wonderful of a Halloween as we did at Layla!