Monday, December 30, 2013

An Open Letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Parliament

Dear Prime Minister and Members of Parliament,

Regarding the recent reports calling for the closure of international adoption in Ethiopia, I hope we can agree that every child deserves a loving family.  International adoption should be a last resort, but please keep it an option for many other children like our son, Wynray.

We recognize at the root of every adoption is tragedy, brokenness and pain. We recognize the most obvious and necessary place for a child is with their birth parents, and in their birth culture, when possible. We recognize great efforts and resources should be used to reunify families, or to place children in the homes of relatives or community members in order to preserve culture and heritage. We recognize international adoption should be a LAST option, but we fervently believe international adoption should remain an option to children who have no existing or capable family, whose resources have been exhausted, and whose futures will be limited to a childhood of institutionalized care*, or worse.  Adoption is not the answer, but it is ONE ANSWER that has the opportunity to reap long-term benefits for all involved.

We recognize there has been abuse and corruption that tarnish all sides of the adoption process. There are devastating stories, and this is not an attempt to gloss over the pain some adoptees, birth and adoptive families have endured. We live in a world where the velocity, volume and weight of negative stories is much greater than positive stories. We also recognize while the negative stories should not be forgotten, and adoption reform is a necessity, let us not forget that out of brokenness beauty and healing are possible.

This is my son, Wynray. Wynray is from Gambella. His birth mother passed away when he was three months old. His birth father, Amino, is a day laborer who commutes to a distant part of Gambella for work, and returns to the family home to check in on Wynray's aging, partially blind and mostly immobile great grandmother, Ajulu. If Wynray had not been adopted, he would have been left in the care of Ajulu. I am not sure if he would have survived. There are many dangers an active little boy would have faced. Their home is remote, there is little food and clean water, there are wild animals, and disease is prevalent.

I know because I've been there. 

In October, 2013 I travelled to Gambella to meet Wynray's birth family. I needed to see and understand where my son was born. I needed to connect to his roots and pay homage to his motherland. I needed to meet his great grandmother and let his birth father know Wynray is happy and thriving. I needed his birth family to know we honor them and will teach Wynray to be proud of his heritage. I also needed to understand first hand if his birth father wanted to have a relationship with us, and if so, to begin the process of building a relationship with him. We now have regular contact with Wynray's birth family, we have made plans to Skype with his birth father, and someday when Wynray is old enough, we will all travel to Gambella to meet our Ethiopian family.

Wynray's birth father, Amino
I spent two days with Wynray's family showing them pictures of Wynray's life in the United States. There was tremendous joy, love and laughter shared in those two days as well as tears of understanding and gratitude from everyone, especially me. I was told I'm now part of their family, and I accept that honor most graciously and also with responsibility. When I asked if Wynray's great grandmother needed anything, she replied the only thing she wanted from me was to raise Wynray to be a good man. She said she could die in peace knowing Wynray is being loved by our family.

Wynray's great grandmother, Ajulu

While every adoption is different, in our case, Ethiopia remains an ever present part of our daily lives from the art on our walls to the food we eat. We adopted from Ethiopia not out of pity, but because we simply love the richness of Ethiopian culture, and we knew we would be happy to open our lives to Ethiopia's beauty and share it with our son.  Like our family, we know MANY Ethiopian adoptive families who frequently eat at Ethiopian restaurants, cook Ethiopian food, listen and dance to Ethiopian music at home, celebrate Ethiopian holidays, and go to Ethiopian music concerts. All these families in our community constantly seek opportunities for their adoptive children to learn more about and connect to their Ethiopian heritage. Many of these children adopted from Ethiopia are now Wynray's friends.

Furthermore, some families we've had the pleasure of knowing, make it their lives' work to invest time and money into communities where their adopted children were born, or communities in great need like Korah, by setting up sponsorship programs, supporting orphanages, raising money to buy goats or cows for families, and kick-starting initiatives for creating self-sustaining businesses, and countless other ways of supporting Ethiopian individuals and communities. We hope and trust this collaboration between our people is as valuable to Ethiopia as it is to the families that pour so much passion into this work.

Had it not been for adopting Wynray, we would have never taken a trip to Awassa and fallen in love with the beauty of Awassa and the people there. We would have never gotten involved with Project Hopeful Awassa and sponsored a child. We would have never visited the Ajuuja orphanage and raised almost $2000 for infant formula, or purchased goats, or given our American families a Christmas gift that sponsored a woman's business in Awassa. If it had not been for our adoption, I would have never felt the need to visit my sponsored child's family and shower them with love and some necessary items.

With my sponsored child in Awassa

Loving on my sponsored child's sweet mother in Awassa. I was honored to give her some much needed shoes, blankets  and clothes for the children, school supplies and food staples.

Adoption, in many cases like our own, creates connected societies, connected families and mutual respect. It is our belief, when there are no other options for a child, that adoption CAN create a significant benefit to children, their birth families, adoptive families AND Ethiopia. While these children won't be raised by Ethiopians, they will be raised as educated, compassionate global citizens who will love and respect their homeland. And if appropriate, children like our son, will be able to stay connected to their birth families and give back to Ethiopia as they get older.

Wynray is happy and thriving in our home.  He is loved and adored by our entire family and community. He has been a blessing to our family in more ways words can express. We will continue to be in contact with Wynray's birth family as we consider them an extended part of our own family. We do not take our commitment to Wynray, his birth family, or Ethiopia lightly.

Members of Parliament and Mr. Prime Minister, adoption reform is necessary. Let us work together to improve the climate of international adoption, but PLEASE don't shut us out. There are many families like our own who would be blessed to be the last option and forever family for a child like Wynray. 

With the greatest respect,
Allison Waddell and family

*Studies suggest lack of one-on-one relationships with primary care givers is detrimental to a child's growth and development. Evidence also indicates that infants who are placed in institutional are will suffer harm to their develop if they are not moved to family-based care by the age of 6 months.
Rebecca Johnson, Kevin Browne, Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, "Young Children in Institutional Care at Risk of Harm" Trauma, Violence and Abuse, Sage Journals 2008


  1. thank you for sharing. I spent several weeks living and working in Awasa. I fell in love with the people and culture. from Salisbury, NC

  2. Thanks so much for sharing!! We are in the midst of waiting for a referral from Ethiopia, 27 months and counting. from Lexington, NC

  3. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. Keep the faith.

  4. Hi my name is Keely Steyne and I will be going to Gambela this year! I would love to connect. I just friend requested you but my Facebook name is mamaEli Steyne. We too are in the process of adopting.

  5. Estimated Allison,

    are a family of Spain embarked on a process of international adoption in Ethiopia, our agency we just signed an agreement with the orphanage ethio-berlin Gambella. We have read your precious baby was in that orphanage and that you have recently traveled to Ethiopia to visit the biological family of your son. We wanted to ask you if you had had the opportunity to visit the orphanage in Gambella and to tell us how it is and how children are there.

    We send warm greetings to you and to precious family. Thanks for your time,
    Alejandro and Laura

  6. Dear Allison
    I found your blog for my friends Alejandro and Laura,we are spanish too. We have adopted a gambella baby, my son is Eneko Lelisa, we meet him past year and I can confirm this year has been the most important in our life, thanks for your blog.

  7. Sorry I forgot commet that my baby stayed in the Ethio Berlin orphanage as yours.

  8. Hi my name is Vincent and I will be going to Gambela this year! I would love to serve among the community. I need your feedback!