Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More photos from the Holiday Project in Ethiopia!

Thanks to AAI parent and volunteer extraordinaire Mandie Doak for these photos.  Mandie traveled to Ethiopia and organized the holiday celebrations for Layla House and our partner orphanages.  We couldn't do it without her dedicated efforts!

All the older children received a new toy and a traditional outfit as gifts from Santa.
New fancy cars for the KG boys were very popular items!

 Mary, Joseph and Jesus coming "on stage" for the annual Christmas pageant.

 The drama "chorus"
 Kindergartners enjoying their new clothes and toys
 Here comes Santa!

 The little girls loved their new dolls!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

and...Holiday Project in Ethiopia!

Post submitted by Rita Radostitz, AAI parent of Hanna and Sabella.  They were visiting Ethiopia and helped out with the Holiday Project celebration at Layla House last week.   The pictures are small because they were sent from Ethiopia---hopefully we'll have bigger ones soon!  Suffice to say though, our 2010 Holiday Project was a great success and will benefit our humanitarian projects all through 2011.  We are deeply grateful to all who donated this year. 

Thursday -- Christmas Eve -- in Addis

Just like on Christmas at home, my twin daughters got up early with no prompting (an unusual event for teenagers!) so that we could get to Layla House and help set up for the Christmas activities.  We slammed down the pancakes that the cook at the Ritmo prepared for us and grabbed our bags and headed out.  (Christmas is celebrated a day early at Layla so that the staff can participate and then are able to spend Christmas day with their families.)
We arrived at Layla to find the kids excited about the morning activities -- though the excitement ranged from full on anticipation to wariness -- depending on whether the child had been at Layla for Christmas before.  Since Ethiopian Christmas is mostly about going to church (and in Orthodox churches, the service lasts 3 to 4 hours…) and eating with relatives, for children new to Layla, the idea of Santa Claus and presents is not entirely clear.  But they did know, from the other children, that it would be fun.

The children had been working on their version of the Christmas play for weeks.  Teacher (as the beloved head teacher is known by) was dressed in a beautiful suit and scuttling around getting the actors into their costumes and rehearsing their lines one more time.  The older kids moved the Christmas tree from the dining room to the play yard where the activities would be held, and spruced up the decorations.
 Mary and Joseph eat while babies and toddlers look on

As with most things in Ethiopia, the planned 9:30 start was delayed…the cakes weren’t quite ready, and Mandie had to run up to Churchill street to get two more traditional outfits for children who hadn’t been on the original list.  But by 10, the process of gathering all the children into the play area had begun.  And a process it was -- first, all the babies were brought out -- and I mean ALL the babies…from the tiniest child to 18 month old Mikias, they were carried one by one by the volunteers and the staff and laid out on mattresses set out in the play yard. 

Once all the babies were settled, the toddlers came out -- two or three at a time, holding hands with a volunteer and settled onto the steps.  Then the KG kids, then the older children all gathered and settled on the steps.  As they waited for the actors to put the final touches onto setting the scene and pinning up costumes, they sang Christmas songs in Amharic and listened to a Christmas mix album that Addis, the wonderful AAI accountant and full time Christmas fan, had put together (rumor has it that Addis has been playing Christmas music while he works since mid-November J)

And then, the play began.  Although there was no curtain to raise, the audience did settle (though Opportunity House child Yohannes thought that the chairs set up for the scene were set there just for him and he ran out to sit in one before a quick staff member corralled him and got him settled back on the steps.)

The angel announced, Herod was ferocious, the donkeys brayed on cue, lines were remembered and forgotten, and scenes changed fluidly.  The children did a fabulous job telling (in English!) the story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus.  The kings brought their gifts of gold, myrrh and Frankenstein. (yes, that is a difficult word for even a native English speaker!)  And in the end, the real live baby who played baby Jesus was held high by the priest and we all were awed by the miracle of Christmas.

After a few more songs, cake and soda was served and then the children were again seated in the play area, waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.  One of the guards, Mesfin, played Santa this year, and he was fabulously jolly.  The children did recognize him, and some tried to pull off his beard, and poke his big belly -- just as you would expect.

Names were called one by one and the children came up to receive their gift directly from Santa -- and they tore open the wrapping with whoops of joy as they found a traditional outfit (which I think they expected) and then the unexpected - a ball or a car or two (yes, TWO) Barbie dolls.  No matter what the present, the children were thrilled and played with them all day.

Enormous kudos go to Mandie Doak who did an amazing job -- mostly all by herself -- organizing and wrapping the toys for the children and then measuring and shopping for their outfits.  Every child had a gift, every child had an outfit (and one that actually fit!) and the smiles of gratitude were genuine.  The babies looked darling, the older boys handsome -- and she took photos of every child in his or her outfit.

It was a fabulous day and I know that the staff appreciated seeing the joy on the faces of the children and also appreciated the special gifts purchased through the generosity of donors. 

So, as the story goes -- Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Holiday Project in Ghana!

post and photos  submitted by Anita Gillispie, AAI Ghana coordinator

Afishapa!  Merry Christmas, from Ghana!

This year the AAI Holiday Project was able to provide a very merry Christmas for over 75 orphaned or vulnerable children (and their families/caregivers) in Ghana!  Christmas is a major Christian holiday in Ghana, celebrated by church attendance, caroling, feasting, and giving small gifts.  Fruit trees may be decorated with paper ornaments, and the most traditional gift is new clothes for a new year.

Our goal this year was to provide small gifts, new traditional clothing, and a nice Christmas dinner (including goat) to foster homes and orphanages who care for children in our adoption program.  The children and families in our Family Preservation programs also received food for a Christmas meal, as well as other necessities and gifts.

Our Holiday Project donors were so generous this year that we exceeded our fund-raising goal!  Thanks to that generosity, we are able to give a large donation to a group home whose boys' dorm is literally being eaten away by termites.  The donation will assist in rebuilding the dorm with concrete blocks that will withstand the elements in Ghana. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Two Trip Rule---Make it a Real Adventure!

The following blog post and photos were submitted by Dakota and Brent Corey, waiting parents to Ashagre and Elsa.  They turned the news that parents have to travel twice to Ethiopia from disappointment and financial stress into the chance to have the trip of a lifetime to their future children's birthplace.  I had the great fortune to meet this adventurous twosome when I was in Addis during November and made them promise to do something for our AAI blog.  Here are their travel tips for adoptive parents and you can read more about what they did on their great blog The Perfect Space

Thank you Dakota and Brent--I hope you will inspire more parents to get out and see more of Ethiopia.  

I’ll admit, when we first heard about Ethiopia’s new requirement to travel twice during the adoption process, we were bummed.  I quickly started doing the math in my head, calculating how much our total adoption expenses had just gone up.  However, as I read the threads on AAI’s Ethiopian Adoption Yahoo Group about the new two trip rule, my disappointment faded and I quickly embraced a point made by many adoptive parents that had gone before us – What a great opportunity to really TRAVEL and learn more about your child’s birth country before you tackle parenthood!

My husband, Brent, and I are  travelers.  We each separately spent several months backpacking around Western Europe in college.  We have seen 49 of our country’s 50 states and parts of Mexico and Canada.  A cornerstone of our relationship is a 7 month trip we took around Southeast Asia.  Five years ago we put our backpacks in the hall closet.  They haven’t come out much since, except for the occasional trip to the Mid- or Northwest to visit our families.  We traded our wandering, seasonal lifestyle for grad. school and “real jobs” that have allowed us to pursue other dreams, like starting our family through Ethiopian adoption.

As soon as the idea sunk in, I ordered Lonely Planet’s guide to Ethiopia and starting planning possible itineraries.  Choosing a route in a country with so much historical and cultural significance wasn’t easy.  Should we check out the ancient ruins in Gonder? Island monasteries on Lake Tana?  The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela?  Gelada Baboons and unsurpassable beauty of Simien Mountains National Park?  The maze-like streets of Harar?  Or should we head south to learn more about the varied cultures that live there?  The opportunities seemed endless, but our budget wasn’t and our time was even more limiting.

Girls playing near a mountain of teff

Ultimately, the choice was easy once we found the right perspective.  We decided to base our travel around the regions of the country our kids were born in – Sidama and Addis Ababa.  In the end, our court trip consisted of the following itinerary:

·         4 days in Addis Ababa solely dedicated to our court date and spending time with our kids
·         4 days in Awasa with daily trips around Sidama - the birthplace of our son
·         5 days horse trekking outside of Bale Mountains National park in Oromia
·         1 night in Wondo Genet to relax and clean up after horse trekking
·         5 more days in Addis sight-seeing, shopping, and trying to learn more about our daughter’s past

Despite the short time frame, it was an epic trip.  Not only did we have adventures equal to those of past trips, but we learned a wealth of information about Ethiopia and its people that we can share with our kids as they grow up in America.

Traditional home in Sidama

Maybe you’ve got some wanderlust too or maybe the idea of traveling in Africa absolutely frightens you, but the opportunity to learn about your child’s birth country seems like an opportunity you can’t pass up.  Either way, I’ve put together this list of “tips” to help you make the most of your own epic journey around Ethiopia.

·         Get a good travel guide.  I am a huge fan of the dry humor of Lonely Planet.
·         Realize that things are changing extremely fast in Ethiopia and your travel guide that was written 2 years ago is already very outdated.  Fortunately, our experience indicates that things have only gotten easier for travelers.
·         Don’t under-estimate how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B.  Ethiopia is still a developing country.  It’s better to add some extra padding into your itinerary and find you have extra time to linger somewhere rather than stress that you won’t be able to fit it all in. 
·         Be realistic about what you can do with your timeframe.  You can always come back.  We have found that our travel experiences are much richer when we take some time to actually experience a place rather than just check it off our “I’ve Been There” list.
·         Don’t forget to take a deep breath, relax, and smile.
·         It might be easier to plan some parts of your trip once you arrive in Ethiopia.
·         When weighing the costs of taking a trip or not taking a trip, consider that it is very inexpensive to travel in Ethiopia outside of Addis.  You’re already paying for the plane ticket to Ethiopia; the extra cost to travel is relatively insignificant.
·         Don’t leave home without travel insurance.  You likely won’t need it, but you don’t want to be without it if you do.
·         Realize that accommodations and food outside of Addis are simple.  See how far you can push your comfort level.  In the end, the experience will far outweigh the discomfort of sleeping in a shabby room without a hot shower or eating food you’re not used to.

Sampling the local Bale Mountain cuisine - kocho - tasty, really!

·         Be flexible with your itinerary.  Time operates differently in Ethiopia.  Consider unexpected changes part of the adventure rather than a setback.
·         Be open to strangers.  Unlike anywhere else we have ever been, we found the people of Ethiopia to be extremely open, warm, and helpful.  I don’t know how many macchiatos we drank with relative strangers that just wanted to learn more about the farangis they spotted walking down the road.  

Impromptu hair braiding session with children from a local village.

·         A great guide or driver can be your best ally – they can serve as a historical/cultural guide, interpreter, and friend.  Ask other adoptive families for suggestions (we can provide several).

One of our amazing guides and now a true friend, Yusuf.

·         Try public transportation at least once; it’s easy to figure out.  Just tell people at the bus station where you’re going and they’ll get you on the right bus.  The ride is cramped, hot, stuffy, and noisy, but it will give you a true feel for Ethiopia.
·         Don’t forget to take a deep breath, relax, and smile.
·         Knowing a little Amharic will get you a long way.  We always found people that spoke English well wherever we were; however, the smiles we were able to elicit when we rambled off the limited Amharic we knew were golden.
·         Don’t get bent out of shape about paying the farangi price.  Bargain with a smile and realize the few extra birr you will inevitably pay for things is very little to you and sizable to the person you are paying.  I consider it just part of being a tourist.
·         Remember you are representing America and adoptive families as you travel.  Ethiopia is blessing us with the opportunity to raise some of its children.  Let’s show them how grateful we are.
·         Putting yourself in such an unfamiliar environment can be frightening.  Remember that Ethiopia is a safe place to travel with very low levels of crime toward tourists.  Don’t let your fear hinder your ability to enjoy yourself and gain as much as you can from your experience.
·         Getting flustered, raising your voice, and demanding things will get you very little.  A smile and flexibility will open doors you didn’t even know existed.

Enjoy the journey of a lifetime.  Think of how fun it will be to share stories of your adventures with your kids down the road!

Reason #1 to see Ethiopia -- our daughter, Elsa.

Equally as important--Reason #2 - our son, Ashagre.