Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Music Camp at Layla House

This blog post and accompanying photos come to us courtesy of Julie Hehn, Director of Layla House School
There were some exciting happenings at Layla School this summer. For two weeks schedules were changed, guest presenters were a plenty and the compound was full of a variety of different musical sounds. Music camp took over Layla School!

It was rainy season, our summer time, but not so in Addis Ababa. This is a time when cold comes, inside activities replace soccer, running outside only happens after the downpours, until the next one occurs. With the every other day of “on and off” electricity, it makes for a pretty boring time for the 100 plus population of students.

One Monday morning the children gathered in the dining room to learn all about their new schedule for the next two weeks. Each morning and again at the end of their day they met to learn new songs and celebrate with music. There were scheduled times throughout each day for groups to meet with the music teacher and do special activities. Each group continued to have English and Math and some of their regular academic classes but many of the classes were replaced with special music classes and presentations.

We had guest speakers from around the community sharing their music and knowledge throughout our camp time. There were a number of local musicians who talked with the children about music history and their own study of music. We even had a number of dancers share their talents with the school. Rasta Mikey, who is an American university graduate in dance and lives and teaches dance in Ethiopia, came with an assistant to present. He was dynamic in his approach and the students were mesmerized. He demonstrated some Goragy Tribal dancing and then showed its connection to Hip Hop dancing. He brought out a number of the students to learn some steps and the dining room was energized with his music and moves!

Another day we had the honor of having the group “Celebration” from Atlanta, Georgia come in and perform for us. They were headliners for the Sheraton and took time out of their busy schedule to come and sing. It was a magical time at Layla. The dining room was packed with children and adults alike. During their performance, staff from around the compound were stopping by and peering in the windows to see our famous guests. At one point the group began to sing “Amazing Grace”. To their surprise the students all joined in. The looks on their faces, hearing our children singing to them, were touching. The gifts our children gave back to these guests were certainly tenfold. It was evident by their tears.

We ended our camp with a presentation of songs that we learned during camp, some wonderful solos from students, and from this teacher’s view a stronger understanding of music and the importance of it in our daily life. I have a few favorites of the week such as the “Deep in the Jungle” song that the entire student body performed with homemade musical instruments and puppets and the “Act Naturally” song with the teaching staff line dancing during the instrumental part - Cowboy hats and all! I can honestly say that teachers and students alike had an amazing time! The dining room was full of songs and laughter and we teachers are all looking forward to next year’s camp with a new group of students, as these beautiful ones will be in their homes in America with you all soon!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Warm Beach memories......

Many thanks to Ryan Gettler, former Layla House volunteer for most of these photos. That's him, second from right in the photo below.

Lots of reunited friends from Layla House

Ivy and Temesgen!

Biruk, former teacher at Layla House greets old friends

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Supplies for Layla House!

Many of our waiting parents keep themselves busy by conducting supply drives for the children of AAI's Layla House in Ethiopia or Eban House in Ghana. These kinds of projects are a great way of helping to raise awareness in their communities and they also give people a practical way to help orphaned children.

Donovan and Julie Witmer of PA (photos above) collected some 300 pairs of shoes, many socks, and enough money to pay the extra baggage allowance for carrying them all over when they travel to Ethiopioa to pick up their baby. With over 150 children at Layla House and a number of partner orphanages, you can imagine what our need for sturdy shoes on an ongoing basis is!

The Santana family of FL also conducted a supply drive and collected some 600 pounds of needed items---school supplies, backpacks, toiletries, etc. for the children of Layla House. They will be traveling soon to pick up their new 11 year old daughter Letarik and delivering their bounty.

We are so grateful to the many families who choose to "give back" in this way.....and it is certainly a good strategy for surviving the wait until your new child comes home. For more information on what is needed and tips on conducting your own supply drive for either Layla House in Ethiopia or Eban House in Ghana, contact Susan Poisson-Dollar at

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some memories from Merrily

Sarah was the first child adopted into our family. Today she turns 40. This special event has caused me to reflect a bit on how much adoption has changed over the years. We had three birth children and applied through the local welfare department to adopt a baby of any race and we were open to “handicapping conditions” as they were known in those days. Sarah was a bi-racial baby and at that time it was very unusual for a Caucasian family to be offered a black child. She had minor and correctable issues with her feet, certainly not what we considered a “handicap.”

I would describe the reaction of friends and relatives as “speechless” regarding our decision to adopt across racial lines, rather than disapproving. At that time no one could say that they knew someone who had done it and it hadn’t worked out at all, because there were very few who had “done it.”

Sarah quickly won friends wherever she went. She smiled and cooed and was generally charming. Our other children adored her and before long we decided to apply to adopt internationally, from Korea. Again, our application stated that we were very open; we just wanted a child who needed a family.

Soon thereafter we received a passport sized photo of a nine-year-old girl who had a Korean mother and a black GI father. The agency said that they had many children in the orphanage with mixed parentage but had never placed a Black-Korean child,. They asked if we would be open to accepting her because we already had one bi-racial child. We accepted immediately.

Without knowing it, we became “pioneers” in trans-racial adoption. Many more children joined our family over the years, from a variety of racial backgrounds. We didn’t set out to do anything different or special; it just happened. Families today have dozens of books and other materials to help them with the issues presented by transracial adoption. There are email groups, seminars and trainings available. Now parents have an opportunity to make a much more educated decision when considering adopting across racial lines. For our family, it was simply a matter of being a family available for a child that needed one.

Sarah has traveled many times to escort children from Taiwan and Ethiopia. She lives in Burlington, WA and works for Costco. There are many adoptive families in that area and many have met Sarah. She can always find a tactful way to ask racially unmatched families if they have adopted through AAI!

Ripley Family Photo from the 70's

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A good time was had by all...

and old friends were reunited at our AAI Summer Gathering last weekend at Warm Beach Camp in Stanwood, WA. I'll post more pictures soon but here are a few from my own camera. It was just wonderful to see families and children re-connecting with old friends and making new ones. For me, it was particularly gratifying to see all of the wonderful teenagers, many of whom spent time together at Layla House. It's so valuable for them all to share experiences and I'm glad it seems like so many of them are staying in touch here in the U.S.

Susan Poisson-Dollar
Director of Development

Everyone loved the cultural drumming and dance sessions.....

Just a few of our older Ethiopian teens and an American friend too...

Future supermodels in the fashion show....

The Little and Hehn girls' hair-braiding sessions were also a huge hit.

and not just with Ethiopian kids...