Monday, October 26, 2009

A Roof Over Her Head...

.....thanks to our AAI Facebook Friends!

When Brooke Cole, our tireless AAI Sponsorship Coordinator, found out that one of our sponsorship children in Addis, was living alone at age 16 and that the roof on her tiny house had collapsed due to the recent rains, she made it a "Facebook Cause", and enough money was raised to repair Aster's roof. Brooke's report to the donors and sponsors is below:

Aster in the sponsorship office

Aster is a very independent young lady who has been in our sponsorship program since March of 2005. She lives alone and has no family support system, but manages to overcome her challenges as best she can.

This past summer we raised funds on Facebook to help repair the roof of her home to protect her from the torrential downpours of the rainy season in Ethiopia. We managed to raise $440 through the generosity of folks like you! Her home has now been repaired, and Aster is in deep gratitude for all our efforts to help ensure her comfort and safety. It enables her to continue to thrive and focus on her education without distractions. In an email that I received from one of our social workers, Elsa Moges, she stated how excited Aster was and that she passed her gratitude to all of us for our efforts to make this happen. Her neighbors and others in her community are also grateful for the work AAI has done to assist Aster. It is always such a joy for me to hear such news and know that our hard work is paying off. I thank each and every one of you for your dedication and support of our Sponsorship Programs.

Let’s continue to work together to give back to our communities, both locally and globally, to ensure a brighter tomorrow for all children.

With much gratitude as always,

Brooke Cole
Sponsorship Coordinator

Read our latest sponsorship newsletter at this link.

The roof completely repaired!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gail Gorfe's reflections on "the AAI difference"

Gail Gorfe, a Dutch-Canadian married to an Ethiopian and mother of four, has worked with AAI's Ethiopian program since its inception over 10 years ago. When I was in Ethiopia recently, we discussed the program's evolution and the changes that have come to Ethiopian adoption during the past decade. Gail contributed the following blog post after our conversations. She rarely sits still long enough for a photo so I only have one of her. Gail has promised me a future blog post with lots of family pictures and personal history.

Susan Poisson-Dollar
Director of Development


AAI’s Open Door Policy for Layla House

Over the past few months Layla house has admitted many new children. Children enter Layla house almost every day as they do at most orphanages and adoption centers across the country. There are differences in how this process happens, what the orphanages and centers look like, and have to offer. I am proud to be part of what I call “the AAI difference.” That can be summed up in just three words--- “we take anyone”.

This would not be considered a wise policy in most organizations. Even in the world of orphan care, this statement is very uncommon. Most orphanages or child centers in Ethiopia will not take just any child. This has nothing to do with finances, or space or even the personal interest of the administration. It is most often an unspoken and written policy that has made most orphanages very selective about what “kinds” of children are considered acceptable and ultimately, adoptable.

Many years ago Ethiopia had orphanages scattered across the country, run mostly by churches. Those orphanages opened their doors to take anyone who was in need. Children of all ages, backgrounds and needs were welcomed. They were given a home, the basics to survive (often very basic) and a community. These kids grew up together and eventually left the orphanage together and built their own families. Money was always short, space was not necessarily available, but every child was welcomed.

Today there are few orphanages like this in Ethiopia. The ones from many years ago are still around, operating almost as they did then, but now they are just a small handful of the orphanages in the country. The new orphanages, on the other hand, have more money, invest in programs in the community but will admit only a few select children into their homes. Taking any child (even any orphan) is not a consideration. There are age limits, space limits, and health requirements. Even if all the documents required by law for a child are available, that child is not guaranteed a space in most orphanages. The youngest, healthiest children, the bulk of those admitted, stay only a short time at the orphanage before leaving for a new adoptive homes.

Over the past few months AAI has started working with more private orphanages and we've re-established our relationships with some government orphanages. We are not specifically looking for them, but they find us. They find us because we offer to take any children that they would like to place with us. Like the three deaf children (ages 5-8) who came two months ago, the four year old boy with missing toes who came two weeks ago, or the two year old girl with Down Syndrome and mild CP who came last week, even the three brothers (3,6,10) who came last week. These children aren’t necessarily too old for adoption, they aren’t necessarily too “unhealthy or imperfect” for adoption either, but unlike the doors to AAI’s Layla house, not all orphanage doors are open to them now.

I am proud to be part of AAI, where I can take a phone call about a child and say “yes, we will take that child,” and “yes, we will open a file for that child,” why not? Why lock the door to that child before it is even opened? That doesn’t mean we can find a home for every single one of them, but we do our best to give that child the possibility of a brighter future. Documents must be in order before a child is admitted of course, but it is often at this first step that the rejection from other orphanages takes place.

At the same time, AAI must grapple with the implications of this “open door” policy. Not everyone who enters Layla house, or has an active file with us, will be adopted. This is something that every agency and orphanage needs to be prepared to handle, but the reality is that they don’t and prefer to limit the children they accept to those they can easily place. Our “open door” policy, on the other hand, requires dedication to the problem, creative ideas and of course the funds to reach out and find families for children who are more difficult to place. AHOPE and Kidane Mihret, are two other orphanages with a similar philosophy and they also take all children in need. We work together to find homes for the children in our care and sometimes within one AAI family, there are children from Layla, Kidane Mihret and AHOPE, or any combination thereof.

I am glad that, as an adoption agency whose motto is “finding families for children,” AAI is open to taking many different kinds of special needs and difficult-to-place children. We work hard in the U.S. to assist and advise families adopting these children, and we are open to working with all kinds of families to help them succeed. That is not a common policy among agencies here either and it is this combination of factors that allows me, and my colleagues here to be proud of the work that we do every day on behalf of orphaned children.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Do you know a Layla House Volunteer??

(written by Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development)

Sorry for the lag in blog posts here but I've just returned from a week in Ethiopia to work on planning the AAI Return to Ethiopia 2010 trip (more on that later but save the dates of June 20-27 and plan to come along). I had the privilege of staying in our volunteer house and getting to know the current and absolutely fabulous group of young people working with our kids. Not only are they "doing good" but they are also having a wonderful time so it's a win-win situation! Our volunteers participate in every aspect of life at Layla House from tutoring students, teaching classes, cuddling babies, assisting with field trips, embassy visits, helping adoptive families, etc. etc. Not to mention playing lots and lots of soccer! They are the chief reason why many of our older children surprise their new parents with the amount of English they speak and understand. Volunteering at Layla is truly a life-changing experience.

Below are some photos of the volunteers. If you would like to learn more about the program, visit this link or contact Brooke Cole, AAI's volunteer coordinator. Although all of the current volunteers are college-age, we accept volunteers of any age and can tailor opportunities and experiences for those with specific skills.

(left to right--Patrick, Amanda, Molly, Alex and Jessica, our current
volunteers extroardinaire)

(Jessica and Alex helping me prepare to escort these two cuties to the USA)

(you can always find Patrick mobbed by a gang of kids. By the way, he's also an "AAI uncle" to two boys recently adopted by his sister)

From a volunteer's recent journal entry:
.........without this first-hand experience, and the bonding brought on by time, one can never fully understand the beauty of these children after everything they have gone through. Truthfully, this knowledge is what keeps me afloat and has blown apart all of my expectations, while leaving my doubts in the dust. Even with only about a quarter of my trip over, I know I will never forget the children and the lessons they never knew they taught me.