Imagine our delight when we received the following report of such a return visit! Dagmawi Dougherty is now 20 years old and he and his younger sister were adopted from Layla House in 2002. With two additional siblings, he and his family live in Massachusetts. Dagmawi's ambition is to study business in college and to create an enterprise someday that "connects Ethiopia and the United States on some level." Dagmawi did his return trip as part of a high school senior project and sent the report and photos below to Merrily.
Going Back Home
When I first heard about senior projects, I thought they were like internships or future jobs for kids to try out while they are in high school and see if they want to do it as a profession later on in their life. After I heard that anyone can propose an idea for a project and if the committee approves it, it can be done. That’s when the idea of going back to Ethiopia popped in my head. At first I just wanted to go back and see family but later on I figured out that it had to have a purpose so I thought of the idea of working at the orphanage that I lived in for a year. Then I asked my friend Drell if he would like to join and he agreed.
Going back home for the first time in seven years since I have been here made me a little nervous and just left me wondering how the country had changed and how my family would remember me. The only thing in my mind I knew that wouldn’t change much is the orphanage. Although I now have a whole new different perspective on being in the orphanage and being adopted, I wondered how the kids there see it and if I saw it the same when I was there. With all these thoughts and feelings going through my mind, we departed on this long trip in May 2009.
Once we got there, my Ethiopian family received us at the airport. It had been 8 years since I had last seen them. We all gave each other hugs and I introduced them to Drell, his mom, and my mom, although one of my aunts had already met my mom 7 ½ years ago when she came to see us while we were in the orphanage. We were very tired so we went straight to the hotel and crashed. The next day all four of us went over to the orphanage and when I saw the kids, that was the first time that it hit me I was once like them and now they’re looking at me like an American and wondering if I even speak their language. One thing I remember is walking into the crowd of kids and having one of the kids shout out B for Biruk pointing at my Boston Red Sox hat. It was clear that his name was Biruk and what was funny was that he didn’t even ask what the B stood for; he already had made up his mind it stood for Biruk. He asked to wear it and walked around showing other kids that the B on a Boston Red Sox hat apparently stood for Biruk.
Later on that night we had a huge dinner party at the Hilton with all of my existing family members. Some of them even came from over 60 miles away. We all sat around a table and I was assigned to sit next to my 70-year-old grandmother who was crying continuously at the airport the night before. She was very glad that I had returned and kept asking me where my sister was. I told everyone that I am a senior and that next year I will be going to college and Kal still has one more year left. We had a great time at dinner and I went around the table catching up with everyone in the family. I told them that I was there on a project and that I couldn’t spend all my time with them. I told them Drell and I were volunteering at the orphanage and they were very supportive of it.
That next Monday we started going to the orphanage at 9 in the morning till 6 at night. Throughout those five days, everything I knew about Ethiopia and the orphanage came back to me. It felt like I hadn’t even left the country. We played with the kids, taught them classes about America, and told them how America is in our own eyes. We listed every sport we could think of and told them how, where, and when it’s played. I even broke down the events in Track and Field and told them which ones I do and how many events there are. Also during our time there, I realized how much of a fool I was to stop playing soccer. Every single one of those kids reminded me of myself and how much I loved soccer. During every gym class they had, all they wanted to do was play soccer. We tried to teach them baseball but after about 10 minutes, they wanted to change the game and we asked them what they wanted to play and they all shouted soccer.
That Thursday, Drell and I got a chance to go and see AHOPE, an orphanage that is affiliated with Layla House and houses HIV+ kids. After learning from the book I read for this project, There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene, I knew that HIV+ kids could also be adopted but that it is a little more difficult. It killed me to know that some of them have brothers and sisters that are negative at the other orphanages. One of the orphanages now for HIV+ kids is the same facility as the one where I was as an orphan. It was very personal and emotional for me to see the exact same place I lived for a year and now seven years later looking at it and not only seeing the place but seeing it filled with HIV+ kids. I think that was the most touching thing that happened to me during this trip.
It was nice to see family members and people that I haven’t for a long time but to be at this place alone without Drell or anyone I knew and just to take it all in and to see what I turned out to be 7 years later, really hit me and I appreciated that moment. I don’t think I will ever forget how it made me feel. Overall I learned a lot from this trip and I got to see and help kids that were once like me. It was also very nice to see family and friends. It made me realize how lucky I am to be adopted and to be living in America. Hopefully, from the slide show presentation I created, others will realize that life in America is heaven compared to how kids in other places in the word live and that it is sometimes good to go out and discover for yourself and experience it firsthand.