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!