Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2009 Holiday Project Kickoff!

Hi Everyone,

We are officially kicking off the 2009 Holiday Project this week. Our fearless volunteer Mandie Doak has stepped up to the plate for the 4th year in a row to organize a wonderful celebration for all of the children we care for in Ethiopia and Ghana. We will also use a sizeable portion of the total collected to provide food aid in partnership with Hope Enterprises in Ethiopia and to several small orphanages we are assisting in Ghana.

Our Holiday Project is a great opportunity to do double duty shopping for those people on your list who "have everything." For each $30 donation (this year's minimum), we will send a special holiday photo card to a grandparent, teacher, or someone special who would appreciate receiving this kind of gift in their honor. Donations can be made online at this link and you can enter in the "in honor of" name and address in the space provided or mail it to me separately.

For more details about the holiday project, visit Mandie's great blog at She's also creating beautiful jewelry with material from Ethiopia and Ghana to benefit this year's Holiday Project and you can shop for these items at this link.

Thank you so much and we look forward to another successful Holiday Project. As the Holiday Project gets underway, we will put up periodic updates on the way to our goal. We have set an ambitious goal of $21, 630 and will nearly double the humanitarian assistance portion from last year. Please give generously!

Susan Poisson-Dollar
Director of Development

Monday, September 28, 2009

Layla House Teachers vs. Kids Soccer Game

This blog post was submitted by Garret VanSwearingen, a current volunteer at Layla House.

I didn’t really believe the altitude here in Addis made that much of a difference until the New Years Eve Teachers vs. Kids soccer match last Friday.

The lunch table that day was buzzing with the children’s excitement. They had put in their final hours of schooling for the year that morning, and were anticipating the well-earned afternoon entertainment. These kids live for soccer, with dreams of the premier league and the juggling skills of American high school stars, there was no doubt that the teachers were in for a long afternoon. That’s when I started hearing it over and over again…
“Garr-et which team you playing for? Teachers or kids?”

My friend Colin and I had taken a liking to playing scrimmage on the walled concrete field with the older boys…after all, getting worked by 14 year old kids with C. Ronaldo style dribbling skills can make for a pretty good time. I hadn’t really thought about which team we would be on yet though. The children begged for us to play on their team, but we’re not exactly 14 anymore and our roles as “volunteers” have some very teacher-esk qualities. Darn…instead of taking the easy road of letting the kids do all the work, it looked like we’d have to defend against these miniature Ronaldinho’s.

With our relaxed afternoon plans gone, we figured if we were going to help the underdog teachers it would be an all out effort. I inhaled my lunch of injera, lentils and shiro and went in search of a proper uniform. One of the rising Layla futbol stars, Bogali, ushered me into his room, excited to get me proper socks and a jersey. With my new kit on, I headed to the concrete field and met up with the rest of the teachers warming up.

The kids loved seeing all the teachers ditch their dress pants and button up shirts for shorts that were clearly too small (thanks stockroom) and matching red soccer jerseys (donated by Alemeyehu Bates – Arizona). Only the older boys would be playing in our 6 on 6 format, but that didn’t seem to matter to the growing crowd of children all clearly having a fantastic time singing and chanting on the overlooking steps. Many of them had even managed to find drums and other instruments.

It was almost time for the match to begin so our band of teachers had a pre game pow-wow to discuss strategy. The kids love to dribble and showcase their extensive sets of moves, but aren’t particularly great at passing, so we decided that marking the stars heavily would be our best bet. The young teachers (aka great footballers), Colin, and myself each took a dangerous kid to mark and we were set. Go time.

The principle, Berhanu, led the coin flip--advantage going to the teachers who decided to kick off first. After a brief period of possession, the kids got a hold of the ball and quickly knocked off 3 or 4 goals. This was looking harder than even I had expected. Time to step the game up. We substituted a few players and with 3 of the big dogs in, a weak side shooting strategy, and the intensity cranked up we came back with some serious momentum. In our pre game huddle we had decided to celebrate to a laughably exuberant level and everyone was loving it. The rivalry escalated, and each time the kids would score a wave of screaming children swept onto the field. I was quickly figuring out that as soon as the ball landed at the kids’ feet we had to be there defending. Letting them get more than one touch to settle the ball was a bad idea, but applying swift pressure worked
like a charm…after all, no dribbling tricks when they haven’t yet gained control.

Our keeper was making some incredible saves considering the close and trick-laden style the kids used to get to our goal. The brother combo on our team of Galeta – an Ethiopian volunteer, and his brother Gutu – the music and “family” teacher were also racking up some hefty scoring totals. All told, we were holding our own. Barely. Unfortunately we had to keep doing so for a full 90 minute game, and the burning in my lungs wasn’t going away any time soon (remember that little bit about the altitude? Oh yeah…). All of a sudden I looked down and saw my left wrist covered in blood. Shoot, this really wasn’t a good time. I pretended not to notice so I could stay in, but Berhanu’s sharp eyes as ref caught it and he sent me off to get myself fixed. That in addition with the substitution of some of our less… youthful… players left us in a bit of hole at the end of the half. Chickarellum (no problem) everyone was having fun.

The second half story was pretty much the same as the first half – 45 minutes of the teachers barely holding onto to the rising goal tally of the children. By the end of the period everyone was clearly feeling the exhaustion. Berhanu made a point of sounding the final whistle while the score was tied (17 to 17), a smart move so neither side has taunting power over the other.
All told it was amazing to see how much excitement and joy a simple soccer match brought to all the children of Layla. As a westerner it was a little weird to celebrate two New Years in one year (especially 2002 occurring in September) but I’ll never forget the burning lungs, screams of excitement, and smiling faces that the 2002 New Years Eve soccer match provided.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


AAI's Director Merrily Ripley recently attended a gala retirement celebration for Kathy Olsen, AHOPE's longtime Executive Director and close personal friend. Below are excerpts from Merrily's tribute to Kathy at the dinner. They tell the story of AAI and AHOPE's close ties from the very beginning. Everyone at AAI congratulates Kathy on her retirement and extends gratitude for her many years of service on behalf of AHOPE's mission to serve HIV+ children in Ethiopia. Congratulations as well to AHOPE's new director--Tom Starko, pictured at bottom--and we look forward to continued collaboration with AHOPE under his leadership.

(l-r--Kathy Olsen, Sidisse Buli, and Merrily Ripley at the gala in Seattle, June '09)

I first met Kathy Olsen in the early 1970s. Ted and I had adopted three children from Korea when Anne, also from Korea, joined the Olsen family. I met Kathy at a potluck for adoptive families. We had much in common and especially enjoyed talking about our families which consisted of both bio and adopted children.

In 1976 I established an adoption agency and became professionally involved in this issue which so influenced our family as well as Kathy’s.

In 1980 the Olsen family moved to Taiwan to live for a year. John was starting a business there and the family welcomed the adventure of a year of international living experience. The family had barely settled when she began to research adoption possibilities and she learned that almost no orphan children were being sent abroad for adoption. Kathy established relationships with a couple of organizations caring for orphan children and helped them to begin adoption programs. She urged me to come to Taipei and we began identifying adoptable children. Kathy and I shared a concern for children with physical disabilities and at first the Chinese refused to accept the fact that we could find adoptive families for them. But of course we could and did, and gradually, babies who otherwise would have been left to die because of the prejudice against their disabilities were being referred to us for adoption. I could tell you many stories of successful placements of children with missing limbs, cleft lip and palate, heart defects, deafness, and blind ness. Kathy sent us information on the children offered to us and we placed nearly all of them.

Adoption from Taiwan continued for about 10 years with Kathy acting as AAI’s coordinator. Then rules changed and it became much harder to get U.S. visas for the adopted children. When the Iron Curtain fell however, AAI began placing children from Bulgaria. Kathy was right there to help, again as a volunteer but a very experienced one. AAI established the first foreign adoption program in Bulgaria and she traveled there, going from orphanage to orphanage identifying adoptable children—mostly children with special needs and those who were older, AAI’s main focus. Kathy organized and managed the sponsorship program which established an account for certain Bulgarian orphans with special abilities and no family ties so that they could be provided with the extra things they needed.

(Sidisse presenting Kathy with a gift from AHOPE-Ethiopia)

AAI began working in Ethiopia in the late 1990’s and again Kathy established a sponsorship program, mostly for siblings of children who were being adopted but were too old to join new families themselves. She traveled there to meet the sponsored children and assist with AAI’s work. Kathy and I had often talked about the many children who referred to AAI for adoption but were found to be HIV+. AAI was sending them to an overcrowded and unappealing orphanages, the only facilities that would accept them. We made plans began fundraising to establish AHOPE, a facility for HIV+ children where they could live the best life we could give them while they waited to die.

Kathy found sponsors for these children and arranged many extras for them. For example, because birthdays are rarely known or celebrated in Ethiopia, she set up a King or Queen for the Day program where each child would have a special day to wear a crown and cape and be honored with a cake.

(Merrily giving the tribute to Kathy at the gala)

In 2002 Kathy mentioned that she had time on her hands and was open to working on an additional project. AAI had been getting pressure to remove itself from the AHOPE project because the government saw it as a conflict for AAI to both arrange adoptions and to manage a long term care facility. We decided to turn the AHOPE home in Ethiopia over to the manager there and Kathy began to serve as Executive Director of the now separate AHOPE-USA, fundraising from her home on Vashon Island while overseeing the work in Ethiopia.

Kathy gradually realized that the person in charge of the facility in Ethiopia was not being fiscally responsible and the Ethiopian government stepped in to have him removed and to establish a new board of directors to supervise the work in Ethiopia. They then hired Sidisse Buli, an exemplary young administrator, who has proven to been the perfect person to direct AHOPE's work in Ethiopia. On the U.S. side, a Board of Directors was established under Kathy’s leadership. Kathy continued to find donors and sponsors for the children, and to speak tirelessly about the needs of AHOPE and the children. She wrote hundreds, perhaps thousands of thank you notes and inspired others to commit to helping HIV+ children.

As the pediatric anti-retroviral drugs became available in Ethiopia and adoption became an option for AHOPE’s children, AAI worked with AHOPE to find adoptive families for children who only a short time before we had no future. To date, we have placed over 100 HIV+ children for adoption and more are somewhere in the process. The scope of AHOPE’s mission has greatly expanded in the last several years to include education and community based services and the organization looks forward to a promising future.
(Kathy Olson, outgoing AHOPE Executive Director with Tom Starko, incoming Executive Director)
To learn more about AHOPE, visit their website at this link.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Year's at AHOPE

Gail Gorfe attended the New Year's festivities at AHOPE last week and submitted the blog post below. AHOPE is one of the orphanages in Addis devoted to caring for HIV+ children and AAI now places many of these children for adoption with American families. They have two compounds--one for older children and one for younger---and both are located near Layla House. I will devote some upcoming blog posts to all the changes happening in the AHOPE organization to further the cause of caring for HIV+ children in Ethiopia.

Susan Poisson-Dollar
AAI Director of Development
(and former board member of AHOPE, current sponsor of 2 children there)

Thursday night was New Years' Eve in Ethiopia and part of the tradition here is to have a bonfire. I was at AHOPE this year for the New Years' Eve bonfire with my husband Yonas, and two of my children, Zack and Zoya.

We got to AHOPE around 6:00pm to find all the kids at the main compound, dressed totally in white traditional outfits. All the boys had Ethiopian scarves on as well. They were walking around with colored drawings of flowers and were giving them out to the adults, in the hopes of getting candy or money. A few of the foreign adults were receiving these drawings without realizing what the kids wanted, and so the kids would stand around them waiting for something. When they finally found out, some gave some money, or gave the drawings back with an apology of no money to give.

Other kids, mostly the girls, were also singing for the adults with the hope of getting some money. There were many adults on the compound that I did not recognize---foreign visitors and AHOPE volunteers as well as many board members. It was a nice crowd.

All the kids were running around together waiting for the fire to be started. When the staff was ready, they had the children stand in a circle around the bundles of sticks and the fire was lit. The kids sang and danced around the edges, some more outgoing than others. There was a lot of clapping and cheering as the flames caught and went high into the air. It didn't take long for the fire to die down. At this stage older kids were walking around carrying Ethiopia dabo (bread) for everyone to eat, while staff members were organizing all the kids in a row along the wall, handing out candies and sodas for everyone. Little kids walked around with big hunks of bread and older kids were talking to the adults and carrying little ones around. It was a festive mood for all.

Around 7:30 the evening started to wind down and the older kids were sent to find a place in one of the cars to get a ride back to big AHOPE. I had a family with me in town for their AHOPE adoption this week. Their two boys enjoyed the evening and were excited to show off some of the things in their new backpacks, brought by their adoptive parents.

It was a nice way to end 2001 and welcome in the New Year (which in Ethiopian time started at 7pm that night—it’s 2002 now here!).

Gail Gorfe

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Year's Sheep Delivery!

In the past two weeks, many generous parents have contributed to our "sheep fund"---to purchase sheep for the holiday celebrations at Layla House and several of our "partner" orphanages. Gail Gorfe sent this post about the arrival and distribution of the sheep.

Yesterday, September 8, two of our staff, Sintayehu and Mebrate, headed out in a rented truck to buy 8 sheep from one of the many sheep “vendors” standing along the roadsides in Addis Ababa during this holiday season.

Around 12 noon, they pulled into the driveway of Layla house, where I was waiting with Ivy and all the current AAI volunteers (as we were just about to head out for our volunteer meeting). The sheep were all tied together in the back of the truck and the process of getting them unloaded started right away. The volunteers all took turns at helping out, holding onto the horns of the sheep lest they run away. However Sintayehu said that this was not necessary, so they happily let them go!

With all the sheep off the truck, Sintayehu lifted one by his front leg (as is the norm here) and walked him down to the lower part of the Layla house compound, where they would spend the next few hours. I followed along behind with the other sheep, Ivy, and the volunteers. When we crossed the soccer field the kids let out a shout of excitement, some running up to the sheep, others running away. Everyone came by to look at them during the lunch break.

After lunch, our volunteer Carolyn in an AAI car (the one used by Nate Ripley), took the first sheep over to Sele Enat orphanage. She came back with a one year old girl (being moved to Layla house). After that three of the volunteers went to Kebebe Tsehaye to deliver two sheep, though by accident they took only one. The second sheep was taken over this afternoon, with Garrit and Collin making the trip. At Kebebe Tsehaye the kids came out to play with the sheep and visit with the volunteers.
This morning another volunteer Patrick, went along to deliver 2 sheep to AHOPE. At little AHOPE the kids came running out to see what was being unloaded. When they saw the sheep though, they all ran away in fear. Patrick and the AAI staff brought back a child from AHOPE who had a medical appointment. Then they loaded another 3 sheep into the same car (which by now was very smelly) and went to Kidane Mihret. The sheep were unloaded into the driveway and the workers sent them up to the main compound. This evening Sister Carmella from Kidane Mihret called me with many thanks for the sheep. She could not stop laughing; she thought that the whole thing had been so interesting. They were very thankful though and the kids will have a wonderful feast on Saturday.

Because New Years’ Day is on a Friday this year, which is a day of fasting, all of the orphanages, including Layla house, will have their main holiday meal on Saturday. The slaughtering of the sheep will happen on Friday, at each compound, with dozens of children watching the process.
Many thanks to our wonderful parents for the contributions used to purchase the sheep; they were much appreciated by everyone.