Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Ethiopian Friends

Our daughter will grow up knowing her culture. She will be surrounded by it because it will be part of us. She will also be surrounded by Ethiopian family who will teach her what we cannot. I have been fortunate enough to become friends with two wonderful women who are Ethiopian, Almaz and Messi. Messi just got back from visiting her family in Addis and she invited me to her home on Saturday. I could not have anticipated what I was about to experience. Messi was dressed in a beautiful formal Ethiopian dress which is worn for holidays or church. I met her roommate, Sani, (she has two and her second roommate arrived later) and immediately realized I was going to be treated to much more than a casual get-together. I sat down to watch some of the various DVD's Messi had brought home to show me. They were of Ethiopian musicians singing and dancing with beautiful scenes of Ethiopia in the backdrop. Messi and Sani were both very busy in the kitchen and I suddenly was glad I hadn't eaten lunch yet because I realized they were preparing a lot of food. They served Injera with Doro Wat and Tibs. It was very delicious (and a little comical when I took a bite of a half of jalapeno (I am a complete wimp with spice!)). Next they served what they described as their "popcorn." It was a blend of all sorts of yummy nuts and grains. While eating, we spent time talking about the Ethiopian culture (including their wedding customs (which, by the way, spans 2 weeks and typically includes about 1,500 people at the ceremony). Then they presented me with gifts they had brought back for me from Addis. They were so gracious. And lastly, I got to experience the coffee ceremony. I felt very honored. We sat and chatted for a couple of hours and all I could think of was that our daughter will grow up with a strong connection to her heritage. These friends are so proud of their heritage, and I walked away feeling happy that their arms will be spread wide to receive our daughter.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Many Families Matched With Their Children

There has been a significant increase in the number of referrals through our agency. There were 29 referrals two weeks ago and 21 referrals last week. I think there was about 20 referrals on average per month in the last couple of months so that is a pretty big jump! CHSFS says the uptick is a result of Mussie orphanage in Hosanna (one of two orphanages (and the biggest) they contract with) providing child welfare services in new areas of the Southern region. Hooray to all those families who were matched with their child(ren)! It makes me have hope we might possibly be one of those families by this time next year!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A great article in Vogue

This is a great article written by a CHSFS forum member...
Madonna and Child
When a white Western woman adopts an African baby, everyone has an opinion. By Bess Rattray
A few months ago, when news hit that Madonna was attempting to adopt a second child from Malawi, most American parents of kids born in Africa—including me—groaned out loud. The gossip magazines showed Madonna, outfitted for her African sojourn in black combat boots laced to her knees and jungle-camouflage guerrilla pants, hand in hand with a little girl identified as Mercy.
I would like to think that Madonna had pretty much the same motivation I did when I adopted an eleven-month-old girl named Nettie Tesfanesh from Ethiopia a year ago: She wanted a child, and if that child could come from a place where millions of kids live without safe homes and loving arms, well, all the better. Yes, OK, it’s always to the greater good when a celebrity adoption gets us talking about Africa’s children—so why could the sound of smacked foreheads be heard in multiracial families across America? Because the talk that results when a white Western superstar—sporting an $800 haircut and Parisian safari gear—“rescues” a black child is not usually an enlightening dialogue on AIDS orphans, or how money can best be spent to address poverty. In the hands of the tabloids, it’s more like an outtake from BrĂ¼no.
What these commentators completely miss—and what is so irksome to workaday adoptive parents like me—is the legitimate opportunity to question why Madonna, who adopted a boy named David to much criticism in 2006, decided to adopt another child from a country that doesn’t have an established, transparent adoption system. In reputable adoption countries—which include China, Russia, and South Korea—there are elaborate checks and balances in place to guard against baby-trading and to protect the rights of a child’s birth parents. International adoption suffered a huge black eye, for instance, when it was left to London’s Mail on Sunday to track down David’s purported birth father to inform him that his son had been “spirited away.” Privacy—a child’s right to decide who knows his or her personal story—is often another casualty of celebrity adoptions. Mercy, whose father was likewise exposed by The Sunday Mirror, has already had that decision made for her, too.
(As an aside, and in Madge’s defense, one of the biggest misconceptions constantly harped on by the knee-jerk pop-media critics of foreign adoption is the idea that because a child—Mercy or Zahara or my Nettie—has a living birth parent, he or she should never have been relinquished for adoption. Time for a reality check: A large percentage, perhaps even a majority, of children who enter any adoption system—in the United States, Africa, China, or Russia—aren’t lacking a living parent; they are lacking parenting.)
Extra watchers could be excused if they thought all African adoptions were a Madonna-like mess. But it isn’t necessarily so. As the doors to adoption began to swing shut over the last few years around the globe—in Guatemala, for example, where rampant corruption basically called a halt to the whole operation; and in China, which responded to its overwhelming popularity in the West by imposing stricter restrictions on potential parents—Ethiopia was learning from other nations’ mistakes and is now considered to run one of the most progressive adoption programs in the world. Angelina Jolie, as the whole world surely knows, adopted her daughter Zahara from the country four years ago, and ever since then Ethiopia has unfortunately become known as the “hot new adoption destination.”
Although TV commentators like to say that white Americans—like Angelina, and me, and thousands of other applicants last year—are drawn to Ethiopia because we’ve simplemindedly fallen prey to a fad, the real reasons are probably similar to my own. It was important to me to adopt a baby who might otherwise languish in an institution, scramble to stay alive on the streets—or die. People often ask why I didn’t adopt in the United States, and, boiled down, my answer is that I wanted an infant, I wanted to go where the need was greatest, and I was open to a child born to a mother infected with HIV. In the States, there are families waiting around the block to adopt healthy infants, while in East Africa, formal foster-care and domestic-adoption systems are more or less unheard of. It’s never easy to leap through the flaming hoops of paperwork and bureaucracy, especially as a single parent, but my year-and-a-half journey to motherhood via a remote, coffee-growing hill town called Mudula was relatively smooth, even speedy, in relation to most international adoptions.
In contrast to the Madonna circus, the circumstances of how my daughter came into Ethiopia’s adoption system were, as a matter of course, investigated by the government and by adoption agency social workers. Video was taken of her birthplace; members of her nuclear family were interviewed on tape, standing barefoot in front of their one-room mud-and-thatch home; witnesses were brought to court.
In June of last year, in a small room smelling of roasting beans, with the help of a translator, I met one of Nettie’s birth relatives face to face, to ask questions, and answer questions, and to vow to take precious care of the baby I was about to take away on a jet to New York. Once a year, I am required to file a progress report, complete with photographs, which is then made available to my daughter’s first family. I can also send video, and a personal letter.
In a country that has been blighted by rapid and calamitous deforestation, Nettie’s family were woodcutters and wood carriers. On my visit there last June, I watched women with bathtub-size loads of wood on their backs, walking mile upon mile upon mile along unpaved roads and across open wastelands with hardly a tree left in sight.
Nettie’s family fell victim to both HIV and tuberculosis and Lord knows what else. Within months of my daughter’s arrival in Addis Ababa, in January of 2008, Doctors Without Borders opened an emergency feeding station in her home town in the Southern Nations. Pictures of starving country people—starving neighbors who looked at lot like my girl, with her black curls and her Queen of Sheba lips—appeared on the news wires. Obviously, adoption can’t solve poverty. But it can bring a few thousand of Africa’s suffering children home to adoring parents.
The world has become smaller since I adopted Nettie (who is now healthy as an ox, a giddy, dimpled charmer). I am now bonded to Africa. (And, yes, that means I send money back to Ethiopia to help other children remain in the families of their birth.) Yet, almost every day, I am haunted by what Nettie’s family told me: “Please God, she lives.” The experience of becoming Nettie’s mother showed me that international adoption is an ambiguous, ethically complex thing to do, but I truly believe my decision was unambiguously the right one.
-Bess Rattray Madonna Photo: Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images; Angelina Jolie Photo: James Davaney/WireImage; Other: Courtesy of Bess Rattray

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cup Feeding vs. Bottle Feeding

I remember being surprised when I first heard our agency's (CHSFS) care center cup fed infants rather than bottle fed. Everything I had always heard pointed to the benefits of promoting sucking. Clearly there had to be a reason because everything our agency does seems to be in the best interest of the children. Here is the story... Dr. Yeshiwas Amsalu a medical doctor working at Children’s Home Society & Family Services (CHSFS) Ethiopia Sipara Mother and Child Health Center in Addis Ababa was awarded for confirming in a research that cup feeding is better than bottle feeding in poor resource settings and childcare centers to reduce the incidence and recurrence of diarrheal illness. Dr. Yeshiwas Amsalu found out that cup feeding reduces complications of a child suffering from diarrheal illness and decreases mortality. According to the research, it is easier to clean a cup thoroughly than a bottle. Bottles were found to be more contaminated as compared to cups. The award was given to Dr. Yeshiwas Amsalu on May 3, 2009 by the Academic Pediatric Association at an annual meeting organized by American Pediatrics Society in Baltimore, Maryland. Over 6000 pediatricians and scientists were in attendance at the meeting held from May 2 to 5, 2009. Dr. Yeshiwas Amsalu conducted his research at CHSFS-Ethiopia Foster Care Center in Addis Ababa. He compared cup feeding with bottle feeding and found out that caregivers provide better attention to children while feeding with cup than with bottle. Babies are also fed faster by a cup than a bottle. The risk of neglecting an infant being under-fed is found to be low in the case of cup feeding. The advantages of cup feeding outweigh that of bottle feeding with superior microbiological safety. After conducting the research on 20 infants with ages ranging from one to three months, Dr. Yeshiwas came to the conclusion that feeding young infants by trained caregivers using graduated cups and the replacement of spillage, adhering to infection prevention practices, is safe for an infant especially in poor resource settings and childcare centers. Cup feeding has been practically implemented and has significantly decreased the occurrence of diarrhea at CHSFS-Ethiopia’s Foster Care Center. Dr. Yeshiwas said, “I was very happy to receive this prestigious award. This is a sign that any Ethiopian can achieve a lot if situations are suitable for him.” He further said, “If we all work hard with integrity and diligence in our respective professions, God will break the yoke of poverty that is suppressing Ethiopia.” Prof. Mirzada Kurbasic, Chair Person of American Academic Pediatric Association Special Interest Group, handed over the award to Dr. Yeshiwas Amsalu. Dr. Yeshiwas presented his finding to the participants of the meeting. CHSFS-Ethiopia is involved in many development activities with a view to improving the lives of many poor Ethiopians. It is focusing particularly on the provision of quality health and education services. It has constructed and opened schools and health centers. It has helped people in remote areas get access to clean water and electric power. The organization plans to construct several schools and health centers in the coming five years.