Monday, December 14, 2009

Return to Ethiopia 2010

We've finalized the details for our first 2010 Return to Ethiopia Trip which will take place from June 19th to the 27th. The tour has been arranged through Susan Parr Travel in Port Angeles, WA. The cost will be $2500 per person/double occupancy including round trip travel on nonstop Ethiopian Airlines from Dulles to Addis Ababa. Participants must make individual arrangements to get to Dulles Airport prior to departure and can do that if they wish with Susan Parr Travel. Cost is subject to change with fluctuations in airline prices but participants will be kept informed.

The trip is designed for older adoptees (12 +) and their parents or guardians but others may be considered on a case by case basis (younger children, older children traveling alone, etc.). We think we've organized an exciting week with many educational and relaxing activities including an overnight visit to Nazret's Safari Lodge and Awash National Park. Below is the daily schedule we envision and all transportation to and from activities as well as some meals are included in the package price. AAI staff in Addis will accompany the group during many of the activities. Not included are trip insurance, visas ($20 upon arrival), passports, vaccinations, family visits, and travel to and from the departure point.

Participants may choose their own departure date from Addis, thus acomodating the desires of many to see birth family and visit additional tourist destinations. Where possible, AAI staff will help participants make arrangements for adoptees to see extended family while in country. An add-on excursion is available through Susan Parr Travel to Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibela. It includes airfare, 3 nights, four days including transfers, hotels, guide and transportation to historical sites. The cost is $459.00 per person.

To make a reservation, call Kathy DeBenedette at Susan Parr Travel (1-800-455-7277). A non-refundable deposit of $500 will be due by February 1 to secure your spot. We reserve the right to cancel if we do not have enough participants (minimum 20, maximum 40, a second guide will be added if there are more than 25 participants). The tour guide will be Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development. She has led several volunteer trips to Ethiopia and is an adoptive parent herself. If you have any questions or need clarification, you can e-mail her at

2010 Return To Ethiopia Tour Details

DATES—JUNE 19—27 (includes leave date from Dulles airport)

* lodging/breakfast at mid-range hotel in Addis and Nazret for entire stay
* all transportation for group activities
* some dinners and lunches (other dinners free for participants to explore local restaurants or meet friends)

SATURDAY--Leave from Dulles Airport on Ethiopian Air direct flight to Addis
SUNDAY June 20th arrival in evening on ET Air flight/transport to King's hotel

Breakfast 7-9am
City tour and orientation 10—2 (w/group lunch and visit to university)
2-5 Orphanage visit to deliver donations/compound tour (or return to hotel for rest option if needed)
6-7 pm group dinner with Merrily, Susan Poisson-Dollar and other AAI staff members

Breakfast 8am

9- 12 pm *“Official Day” TBA by Temesgen/Gail---- ½ day program of meeting government officials involved in adoption work, informal reception

2-5pm ½ day volunteer opportunity or visit to a local site of interest

Dinner on own

9am—leave for day of orphanage volunteering at various sites or other TBA volunteer experience

Dinner at Cultural Restaurant for traditional food and dancing

Overnight excursion to Nazret

* visit local sites followed group lunch at local restaurant. Overnight at Safari Lodge Motel with group dinner and opportunity to swim/relax.
Friday morning---Drive to Awash National Park, spend day there, return to Addis late afternoon

Friday evening--- dinner on own at hotel or local restaurant


Volunteer/or Shopping Excursion Day
Farewell party at Layla compound
Group Dinner at informal local restaurant

SUNDAY June 27

Official end to trip after breakfast

(pool at safari lodge)

The Volunteers' Thanksgiving!

We've had a great crew of volunteers at Layla this fall. Of course at this time of year, they get a little homesick for friends and family. But this year they managed to have a "real" Thanksgiving, complete with almost all of the trimmings. Molly Melbom of Oregon contributed the following blog post about the event.


Well, the holiday season is upon us once more! It felt more like the 4th of July than Thanksgiving. Ivy gave all of the volunteers the day off and our day began with sun tanning at the volunteer house in the 75 and sunny weather – now THAT was a first! Originally, we had planned to do Thanksgiving at Ivy’s house with just the volunteers with about 7 people total, but that was in October and by the time November rolled around, our list was up to about 16 people. Our final head count on Thanksgiving Day was 14 adults, 1 Alazar (Ivy’s son), and 1 baby. A visiting adopting mother, whose case recently passed court, was able to spend her first Thanksgiving with her baby girl with us at Ivy’s. It was definitely fun being able to be a part of their first Thanksgiving together.

So Turkey Day 2009 was a combination of Americans and Ethiopians alike and we all enjoyed sharing our holiday with the Ethiopians who had never celebrated the holiday before. The Monday before Thanksgiving, the volunteers and Ivy hit just about every market in Addis to find all the necessary accoutrements. All in all, we were fairly successful – the only things that were MIA on the table last Thursday were French onions for the green bean casserole (which turned into stir-fried beans) and cranberries. Not too shabby, huh?!

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we held on tightly to the hope that we would stumble upon a turkey, and just when we had just about given up, our good friend Russ called in a favor and lo and behold, a 17-pound Kenyan turkey landed right on our table (figuratively speaking of course) ! Originally we had heard that buying a turkey in Addis would cost around 9,000 Birr, or around $90, so we were definitely very thankful that Russ was able to get us a turkey! Ivy and Andrea (volunteer) had the honor of basting and cooking the bird, which by the way, was amazing! Additionally, Patrick made the stir-fried green beans; Alex made her mom’s famous rolls from scratch; Amanda made the yams and deviled eggs; and Jessica and I were in charge of the mashed potatoes. Alemzot, a friend of Ivy’s, made amazing pumpkin soup and of course, pumpkin pie that was absolutely delicious. We ended up having so much food that I think Ivy will have leftovers through Christmas! Thanksgiving 2009 was a memorable one for all of the volunteers as we enjoyed our first ever Ethiopian Thanksgiving complete with a Kenyan turkey – now how about that!?

Since Thanksgiving, the volunteers have been getting ready for Christmas by listening to festive music, making paper snowflakes, and decorating the volunteer house the best we can given our limited materials. Some volunteers will be here for Christmas and some will be leaving around Christmas. Andrea left for Uganda the Sunday after Thanksgiving; Patrick, or “Shaggy”, just left to go back home this past Thursday. However we just got another new male volunteer--Henry. Amanda and I will be leaving next week with two more volunteers coming a few days later. So the holiday season and the approaching New Year is signaling the start of a mostly new group of volunteers at Layla!
The volunteers wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season! Ciao!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

AAI Annual Holiday Letter

The holidays are upon us. It is heartwarming to see the cards arriving with smiling faces and we think fondly of the families we have worked with over the years. It has been a year of many accomplishments at AAI.

There will be nearly 300 children in new families this holiday, primarily from Ethiopia. Ghana, Thailand, China and domestically from Washington State. However so many children still wait. On my desk is a photo of five little orphan brothers, the oldest about seven. We don’t have space for all of them at Layla House at the moment, so they are in a small orphanage near Addis Ababa. They will join us as soon as we identify a family for them.

We are finding that the governments of the countries where we work are expecting us to do ever more to help children who will remain without being adopted. We have begun thinking of AAI as a humanitarian organization as well as an adoption agency. Our largest project was completed this year, the Dessie School, which was built in a poor area in northern Ethiopia. With help from AAI friends 1200 children are now able to attend school, and over half of the students are girls.

AAI provides sponsorship for over 500 orphans in Ethiopia and Ghana. These are children who can remain with extended family with some financial assistance. We call this “family preservation” and believe that with older children especially, it is best to have them remain in their birth country if their needs can be met there.

AAI has continued to develop Opportunity House where orphan children with serious disabilities can live and receive services to help them reach their potential. Currently 22 youngsters reside at Opportunity House and a number of neighborhood families with special needs youngsters also benefit from the services we offer there.

In Ghana our program moved to new and larger facilities. This year the program has grown with children coming from many parts of the country. AAI is providing support for two orphanages that were financially able to provide only very basic care for the children. We have initiated family preservation sponsorships as well.

AAI continues to place only children with special needs from Thailand and many of the children we place from China have special needs as well. It often takes months of searching to find just the right family for these children but we continue to be committed to giving these kids an opportunity for a family.

The commitment to children who are HIV+ continues and we support programs caring for children with AIDS in Ethiopia and Ghana. The wonderful thing is that we are now placing many children who are HIV+ and getting medication that allows them a nearly normal life. HIV+ children have been placed from Ghana, Thailand, and China as well as from Ethiopia, and it is expected that nearly 50 HIV+ children will join families this year. This is amazing when you realize that just 10 years ago we were raising money to develop a hospice home to care for orphans with AIDS.

We have always had a goal of keeping adoption fees as low as possible to make adoption affordable to as many families as possible. Therefore we are dependent on donations to cover much of AAI’s humanitarian work. I ask that you think carefully about what you can do financially this year to help AAI help children without families. Many lives are being touched in a positive way by our efforts and we are so grateful for your support in the past.

All of us at AAI consider it a privilege to do this work and to get to know the families and children that we serve. We want to wish you peace and happiness this season and through the coming year.

Merrily, Ted and the AAI Staff

Monday, December 7, 2009

New photos from Opportunity House

Opportunity House, AAI's facility for developmentally-delayed children, has recently hired a physical therapist who comes daily to help the children. We have also just purchased some specialized equipment with donations and he trains the staff to work with the children. Enjoy the photos below! There are so few services for special needs children in Ethiopia that this program is something we are especially proud of. We hope to expand it in the future since it also serves families in the Layla House neighborhood and helps them keep their children at home with them, one of the main goals of all of AAI's Humanitarian Programs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merrily and Ted Ripley in the news!

Last week a newspaper on the Olympic Peninsula did a profile of Merrily Ripley, AAI's founder. You can read about her and the history of AAI at this link:

(cut and paste this link into your browser---or Google "Aberdeen World" and click on "Profile" at that site.