Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leadership Project in Dire Dawa

AAI-Ethiopia recently sponsored a leadership training program for 40 of  our sponsorship children, all promising students, in the town of Dire Dawa where we are initiating several programs to benefit orphaned and vulnerable children.  Often our sponsorship students have poor self-esteem both because of poverty and also frequently because of the stigma of perhaps having AIDS in their family.  This program is designed to help boost their self-confidence at school and in the community.  The children meet one Saturday a month for the workshops on different topics. 

The facilitator said that the workshops covered how to be a good leader, decision-making strategies, and overcoming obstacles.  The children and staff were very appreciative and looking forward to the next session.   Here are some nice photos of the event.  We were so pleased to see so many girls participating as well.

We are expanding our sponsorship program in this very poor community and could use your help!  Please contact Brooke Cole, our Sponsorship Coordinator if you would like to sponsor students in this program.  A monthly donation of $25-30 will help keep several children in school and part of the leadership training program. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ethiopian Bright Futures Fund

AAI has recently created the Ethiopian Bright Futures Fund to provide for the children whom we have cared for but have been unable to place for adoption.  Recently seven girls who had lived at Layla House for several years were determined to be above the age eligible for a visa to the United States.  We are committed to ensuring that they have a “bright future” ---a good education and the ability to live independently—in the country of their birth.  The girls are all now attending a good boarding school outside of Addis that will help them re-integrate into Ethiopian society.  We expect to be placing several other children in this or similar situations over the coming year.  This is a group sponsorship program and donors will receive a periodic newsletter about the children's progress.  We welcome one-time as well as recurring donations to this Fund.  Please contact Brooke Cole for more information.  

Read more about these girls in this previous blog post

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Save the date!...2011 AAI Reunion..July 1-4, Wenatchee, WA

We hope many of our families can join us at this relaxed, casual reunion next summer.  Organizer Chris Little promises lots of fun and opportunities to connect with other AAI families.  Stay tuned for more information as plans develop.

July 4th weekend, Friday, July 1 - Monday, July 4th (ending before lunch)
Wenatchee Confluence State Park, Wenatchee, Washington

Group camping and hotel options, making it very affordable
Lots of free time with some planned activities including a barbecue

Easy 2 1/2 hour drive from Seattle/Tacoma airport
North Central Washington has warm and dry weather
More information about Wenatchee here and about the park here.   It's a beautiful area with hiking, water sports including river rafting, Bavarian town of Leavenworth nearby

Port Townsend, WA---Cleanest Cars in the USA

 Thanks to Brooke  Little and her family, the town of Port Townsend, WA has the cleanest cars around----and over $2000 was raised for the children of Ethiopia in the process.  Last weekend, the whole town turned out to support the Little's car wash in a big way.  In addition to Brooke who was adopted with her sister Marta 10 years ago, the Little's have four other Ethiopian children adopted through AAI.   The local paper did a nice story on their fundraising project and you can read it here.  

 Mom Chris had this to say about the day! 

Recipe for a car wash:

Take one great cause.

Add a committed Layla House alumni.

Stir in a beautiful, sunny fall day.

Mix in many helpful volunteers.

Cover with people with dirty cars and open wallets.

Bake with lots of enthusiasm.

Remove from oven after 5 hours and enjoy sending over $2,000 to kids in Ethiopia.

Last spring parents Bob and Chris Little brought five of their six  Ethiopian children back to Ethiopia to see the country and visit birth family. Read the post about their visit here.   In just two weeks Brooke and her mom will return and Brooke will remain as a Layla House volunteer for four months!   We are sure it will be a wonderful experience for her as well as for the children at Layla.

Monday, October 18, 2010

We are so proud of Erin Henderson!

 Erin and Noah, the newest addition to the Henderson clan

Erin Henderson, AAI's HIV+ and Special Needs Adoption Coordinator and mom to 12 kids (!), is about to run her first marathon.  She's the first to admit that a year ago, she never would have believed it herself.  Erin just made a vow to get fit and healthy and she took it from there and discovered that running was her favorite form of exercise.  With her busy family, she's often out in the wee dawn hours in the hills of Wyoming around her house.  A blog about "running moms" recently celebrated her achievements and we want to share the link here:

Erin's kids and husband cheering her on in a recent race

Erin shows the same exceptional drive and determination in her work to help HIV+ and special needs children finding loving families.  Here's what she has to say about her work and her family: 


I started working for Adoption Advocates International officially in January 2008 when I was hired to be the adoption coordinator for HIV+ children. It has been really exciting to watch the HIV+ adoption program grow as rapidly as it has. When we adopted our daughter, Belane, from AHOPE through AAI in 2006, she was one of the very first HIV+ children adopted from Ethiopia. At that time it was extremely rare for HIV+ children to be adopted and many people did not even know it was possible to adopt HIV+ kids internationally.

Four HIV+ kids were placed from Ethiopia through AAI in 2006. As education, awareness and advocacy grew, 13 HIV+ kids were placed through AAI in 2007, and an official program was created at the end of that year. 28 HIV+ children were placed in 2008, 30 were placed in 2009, and 32 children are already home in 2010. For the first time this year we have a waiting list of families wanting to adopt young, HIV+ children, which is a drastic change from earlier years, when otherwise healthy babies frequently waited for months and months to be matched with a family.

There are over 70 HIV+ children currently waiting for families through our program, with the majority of them being over the age of six years old.

In 2010, I also became the coordinator for special needs children in Ethiopia. AAI has approximately 20 children waiting with significant special needs waiting at AAI's Opportunity House or available through orphanages that have asked AAI to help find homes for their hardest to place children. These children range in age from infant to 12 years old and we are always looking for families open to children with long-term health needs. As the mother of a baby who has significant special needs and is from Ethiopia, I have a special place in my heart for these kids.

AAI's commitment to advocating for and finding families for the children who are the most difficult to place and yet are often the most in need of a family is one of the biggest reasons my husband and I chose them as our adoption agency in 2006, and is one of the biggest reasons I am honored to work for them and to advocate for these children.

I work from my home in Wyoming where I live with husband, Josh, and our 12 children. We have three biological sons and we have adopted our other nine children from Vietnam, South Korea, the United States and Ethiopia. You can learn more about my family on my blog where I write about my family, adoption, HIV awareness, advocacy, my running, etc., at

The whole family!

For more information about the HIV+ adoption program or waiting children with special needs in Ethiopia, you can email me at

Monday, October 11, 2010

Adopting Older Children--a great story

As many of  you know, AAI is well-known for adoption of older and special needs children. Recently we received these photos and a the following nice note from parents who adopted these  handsome older boys from Ethiopia several years ago.   


We adopted two older boys 3 years ago from Ethiopia.  Two brother ages 9 and 12.  We brought them home on a Friday,  they started school  five days later and have never looked back.  I kept waiting for some minor meltdown and it never happened.  Our sixteen year old,  Sintayehu is on the honor roll and plays varsity soccer and our 12 year old, Wondemagegn,  is swimming and playing soccer.  

We also went back and adopted their 17 year old brother Daniel.   In the  first year he was here, he started driving, working part time and is attending the community college across the street from us.  He has made friends and adjusted well.   The boys have stayed in touch with many of their friends that live in the Midwest and also as far as California.  We had a group of  them come in for culture camp and then stay a couple of nights here and then with another family that lives close by.   So just a note to let  you know that all three are doing well  and we couldn’t be prouder. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Escort Story---Part 2

Meseret's  and Endris' new parents, Dan and Vicki,  were kind enough to provide us with their account of the childrens' homecoming and some photos of them all in the first few days.  Sounds like they are all off to a very good start! 

Meseret and Endris Come Home

We started the morning very early, leaving in the dark for our local airport and knowing that when we came home that evening, we would have our two new children with us.  It felt surreal!  We arrived in Chicago after a short hour-and-a-half flight with plenty of time to get acclimated to O’Hare.  Although we were early, we were eager to settle in at the international terminal to wait for Merrily and our children, Meseret and Endris.   As soon as I saw on the video monitor that their plane had landed, my emotions kicked in, and every time I envisioned their faces approaching the glass entry doors, tears welled up in my eyes. 

As each of the seemingly countless other passengers made their way toward the doors, my heart lept.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Dan said, “Here they come!”  We all spotted each other at about the same time.  While Dan videotaped, I rushed to the kids and hugged them tightly, and they readily accepted my embrace with big smiles and wide eyes.  Such incredible sweetness! 

We quickly made our way to a nearby seating area, and Merrily filled us in on how the trip had gone.  She gave us a brief update on the kids, handed over their passports and other important documents, and gave us their few belongings, including some of their clothing and the gifts we had sent them.   Then, knowing from experience that it’s best not to linger, she said her goodbyes, and Meseret and Endris waved as Merrily rode up the escalator to catch her flight home.  Surprisingly, the sweet smiles never left their faces, although I’m sure they were experiencing a million different thoughts and emotions, and you could see a tinge of concern in their eyes. 

We took the opportunity to distract the kids by giving them the gifts we had brought—the first surprise being ring pops, which were a huge hit.  We could have quit there!  Already, we were awesome parents!  But we also had a doll for Meseret and a set of Matchbox cars for Endris, and they were delighted to play with them for awhile as we all caught our collective breath.  Eventually, we packed up o ur things and made our way back to Terminal 2, where we would depart for home.

After going through security, we headed straight for the children's play area.  The kids were already pros at the security checkpoints by now, readily shedding their shoes and placing them in the bins, as if they had been traveling all of their short lives.  At first we had the play area to ourselves, and the kids loved flying the pretend airplane and helicopter, and exploring the various nooks and crannies with wide eyes and grins.  After a while, we thought they might be hungry, so we made our way to Chili’s for some lunch.  Once we were seated, we gave the kids the travel-sized Magna Doodles we had brought for them, and Meseret immediately started writing out the words “one, two, three,” etc.  Not to be outdone, Endris then wrote down all of the numerals 1 through 10, and Meseret quickly followed suit.  Reveling in our praise, each tried coming up more feats to impress us.  They wrote all the letters in the alphabet, and made good attempts at printing their names.  Meseret also proved herself to be quite an artist.  And they ate surprisingly heartily.  Both Meseret and Endris were amazed that the clear liquid in their glasses was not water, but instead, sweet and bubbly soda! 

After lunch we made our way to the gate for our trip home, and it was apparent the kids were getting tired.  They played with their new toys until we boarded, and then hopped in their seats and buckled up like the veteran travelers they’d already become.  They dozed on the plane, and then again in the car on the way home from the airport.  They needed those cat naps to prepare them for the excited brood waiting for them at home!  The other five kids who still live at home were waiting anxiously at the door when we arrived.  We had no more than set foot in the door when Liam, our five-year-old son, hollered out, “Hey Endris, wanna play the Wii?”  He had been waiting months for this moment!  Finally, a little brother to play with!

When we showed the kids their rooms and their new beds, the exhaustion and emotion overcame Meseret, and she sat down on her bed, crying quietly.  Liana, our seven-year-old daughter, grabbed a book so she could read a story to soothe her new sister, and she ushered us out of the bedroom, saying, “Can we have some privacy, please?”  When Liana came back out of the bedroom, Meseret was fast asleep under her covers.  Both Endris and Meseret slept all through the night, as did we, finally relaxing now that our kids were home with us, safe and sound.

Having Merrily escort the kids home was the perfect option for us.  With five kids already at home, and two adults sons living nearby, life is often hectic, and needs are varied and many.  Merrily made it possible for us to balance out everyone’s needs as much as possible, and to greet the new children and our new life together with the energy and zest required in a large family.  Thank you, Merrily!  We couldn’t have done it without you! 

Dan & Vicki