Tag Archives: Ethiopian orphans

An update on the deGuzman kids, as their mom prepares to return to Ethiopia

Keri deGuzman will board a plane tomorrow morning bound for Washington, D.C. On Thursday, she will check in at the Ethiopian Airlines counter at Dulles International Airport. On Friday morning, she will arrive in Addis Ababa — her fourth trip to the capital of a resource-rich but infrastructure-poor country where more than four million children have been orphaned by poverty and disease.

Her return to Ethiopia comes nearly a year to the day after the trip she and her husband, Phoenix cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. made last July to complete their family through the adoption of two Ethiopia-born babies.

I was with them on that trip, and memories from the experience linger on the edges of every thought I’ve had since we returned.

This time, Keri is going to Ethiopia by herself. This time, her purpose is not the fulfillment of her lifelong dream to be a mom but the passion she and Brian share for improving the lives of so many other Ethiopian orphans who may never know the experience of having a family.

I visited Keri and the busy, bustling deGuzman household on Saturday. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen all four kids — Jesmina, Musse, Solomon and Tesfanesh — and it was wonderful to have a few hours to reconnect.

Solomon and Jesmina.

The children are thriving. Four-year-old Jesmina, the doting oldest sibling, is growing tall and strong, writing her name and asking a million questions. I could see the wheels turning as she figured out how to piece together a small puzzle I brought from home. Jesmina will be starting school in the fall and is clearly ready. She is smart, insightful, empathetic, observant. You know how seriously she takes her role as eldest when she warns her mom that one of her siblings is doing something they probably shouldn’t.

Mussse.

Charming, affectionate 2-year-old Musse is a solid mass of all-boy, in constant motion and fascinated by trucks. (He has quite an impressive collection of them.) Sometimes all that concentrated energy results in unintended results, like when he accidentally breaks a blue crayon his sister is using to draw a picture. As Jesmina voices her protest, he looks up in wide-eyed innocence. In the next moment, his quieter, tender side is evident as he takes his little brother’s hand and leads him down the hall to play. We hear the boys giggling together — a musical, magical sound.

And then there are the babies. The beautiful, even-tempered babies I first saw in a tiny nursery at the foster home in Addis Ababa a year ago.

Solomon.

Solomon and Tesfanesh are babies no longer. They are full-fledged toddlers, with all the commensurate moments of joy and challenge that presents for their parents. Solomon, in fact, is precociously moving into the “terrible 2s,” his burgeoning sense of self resulting in moments of loud defiance and swift evasion — often accompanied by an engaging, heart-melting grin.

Tesfanesh still wears the all-knowing, “old soul” look I noticed the first time I laid eyes on her. She no doubt comes from a long line of wise, introspective women; their legacy lies deep in her thoughtful, chocolate-brown eyes.

Tesfanesh.

Tesfanesh is starting to say some easily understandable words — most notably “Tessy!” when I held her in my arms and pointed to her picture on the wall. I was touched to see that one of the framed photos was a shot I took when the family was united for the first time upon our arrival back in Washington, D.C.

“That’s my picture!” I said.

“I love that picture,” Keri told me. “It’s the only one we have of the six of us together for the first time.”

I listened to Keri describe her expected itinerary during her week-long visit to Ethiopia. I have been to all the places and projects she will visit: the Acacia Village community in Addis Ababa, where Keri, a pediatric intensive care nurse, will initiate plans for a much-needed medical clinic; the Sheberaber Primary School in a tiny village west of the capital city, where plans for classroom buildings will be discussed and the Wolaitta Village construction site in Soddo, where there will soon be a beautiful, clean home for hundreds of orphaned chidren.

Phoenix architect Jack deBartolo 3 and his wife Tricia will be there, too. Jack will return with a team of ASU graduate architecture students in September, when they will do research to design classroom buildings at the Sheberaber school. (Keri is lobbying for me to go along.) Jack’s first EthiopiaStudio team designed the Wolaitta Village project, so he, too, will be checking on its status.

Keri and Brian have pledged to provide the funding for much of this work. Fundraisers they and others are initiating will provide whatever else is needed. From the moment she and Brian left Ethiopia with baby Jesmina in their arms, they have known this is their calling. “We can’t forget about this place,” they pledged to each other — and to a country nearly 9,000 miles away.

Homecoming, July 17, 2010.

RAK Archives
An Ethiopia Adoption Story.
Sharing an Extraordinary Experience.

Affirmation — and a challenge — from colleagues in the press

Last night, the Arizona Press Club honored journalists from statewide publications large and small with awards for exceptional work in reporting, writing, photography and design. Raising Arizona Kids was among the publications honored.

Mary L. Holden. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Writer Mary L.Holden was recognized in the Non-Metro Writing/Social Issues Reporting category for her April 2010 story, “Casting a Light on the Shadow of Abuse.”

Mary put a lot of heart and soul into this project, which involved interviews with researchers and medical professionals who work the front lines in child abuse prevention and treatment. She listened to horrific stories about the unimaginable ways some children are mistreated by adults who typically lack the tools or knowledge to deal productively with the stresses and emotional damage in their own lives. She put a personal face on the issue by sharing the story of a Surprise family whose daughter was abused by a caregiver. She provided insights into the longterm damage of abuse and how it can manifest in adulthood.

James Motz of Surprise and his daughter Lilian, who was brutally shaken by a caregiver. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

The judge, Suki Dardarian, managing editor at The Seattle Times, described her entry as “a well-crafted story about the medical and emotional toll of child abuse. While it is a well-covered story, this reporter used strong cases and compelling writing to draw the reader through her story.”

Taylor Batten, editorial page editor of The Charlotte Observer, judged entries in the Best of Arizona/Features Blog category, to which I had submitted several of the blog posts I wrote about my experience in Ethiopia last summer, when I accompanied Paradise Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman on their journey to welcome two orphaned babies into their family.

Observing a distribution of food to starving families in Soddo, Ethiopia. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

“Barr produces memorable storytelling from an emotional and at times dangerous trip,” Batten wrote. “She is a powerful writer who captures the emotion of her subject while also revealing a bit about herself in an authentic way. Fantastic photos.”

It’s weird to be typing those words about yourself. As an editor it is my job to make other writers look good. I have attended many Arizona Press Club Awards events in the past 21 years to joyfully support my writers as they accepted awards. But in 35 years of writing and editing (give or take a few lost to graduate school or raising small children), I never once received an award.

What I’ve decided is this: It’s great to have a piece of paper that gives you membership in a small cadre of professional journalists whose work is deemed by peers to go above and beyond. It’s even better to hear the specific feedback, which envelopes your fragile writer’s ego like a soothing, restorative  balm.

But the very best part is the spark it ignites that grabs your imagination, rekindles your hope and challenges you to go out and do something even better.

An Ethiopian adoption story – a chance to hear it told

July 2010: Keri and Solomon.

I’ve heard her tell it dozens of times but I never tire of the story. When Keri deGuzman tells people about the remarkable journey she and her husband, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D., took to adopt their four Ethiopia-born children, she is transformed.

Any pre-event jitters evaporate as soon as she begins to talk. There is no place for discomfort she may feel about public speaking. This isn’t about her. It’s not even about the four beautiful children that she and Brian are raising, though the children are the underpinning for her amazing and still-evolving story.

When Keri speaks, it’s about the millions of other children. The ones who don’t have clean homes and nutritious foods and the chance for meaningful education or productive lives. The orphans of Ethiopia.

Keri will share her Ethiopia adoption story at 10:30am tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library. I’ll be with her, adding what I can about my experience traveling with her and Brian to Ethiopia last summer, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Solomon and Tesfanesh, into their family.

Keri’s four Ethiopia-born children are happy, healthy, thriving — and cherished. The story about how they came into her life is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Hearing it will be a perfect kickoff to the Easter weekend.

After flying all night from Addis Ababa, Keri and Brian unite their family at Washington's Dulles International Airport. The two older children, Jesmina and Musse, stayed with Brian's parents, who live in the Washington, D.C. area., while we were in Ethiopia.

Memories of Japan

I have a standing appointment each Tuesday morning at 9. Afterward, I typically stop by a nearby coffee shop to get a coffee and a bottle of water. Then I pull out my laptop and get to work. Though the location offers free wi-fi, I try to avoid using it. Internet connectivity breeds distractions. This is my editing time and I need to focus.

Like clockwork, four other people show up at the same coffee shop at the same time. First, an elderly couple shuffles slowly through the door with someone who appears to be their daughter. A bit later, a younger woman, probably a granddaughter, arrives. They order drinks. The man helps his wife remove her sweater. She starts coughing and he slowly, ever-so-lovingly rises from his chair to pat her gently on the back.

They sit at their table for about an hour, laughing and talking and sharing stories. They seem very happy to be together. I look up at them periodically and smile. It’s a nice thing to witness — three generations enjoying each other’s company.

The gentleman has started acknowledging me, typically starting a conversation about my laptop. As in, “I just can’t figure those things” or “How do you like that model?” Today, as I was packing my laptop and getting ready to leave, he said, “Was that made in Japan? Because I understand that there won’t be any more computers coming from Japan for awhile. Cars either.”

I nodded, solemnly acknowledging the momentous disaster in Japan. “It’s terrible, isn’t it? Hard to even imagine.”

“You know I lived there for awhile,” he said. “During the war. I’ve been to a lot of those cities. I still have friends there. I wonder if they are alive.”

He told me what it was like to be a young member of the U.S. armed forces in Japan at that time. How he was initially hesitant to communicate with the Japanese people. How he started out “hating them” because they were the enemy. “But, you know?” he said. “Once I lived there for a while and got to know them as human beings, I liked them very much.”

His companions started their own preparations to leave. The granddaughter gave me a look. You know, the one that says, “Thanks for indulging him. For being nice and listening to him.”

I was only too happy to do so, thinking as I did about the many times when I was younger and didn’t get it. When I’d listen impatiently, half-heartedly, to the stories of elders in my own family tree. Stories that will be lost to history because I couldn’t be bothered to give them my full attention or, better yet, to write them down.

—————————————–

Musse, Brian, Tesfanesh, Jesmina (standing), Keri and Solomon deGuzman with Judge Owens.

TOMORROW: “An Ethiopia Adoption Story,” the sequel

A full eight months after they first held two small babies in their arms, Brian and Keri deGuzman appeared at Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Mesa today to hear The Honorable Bernard C. Owens finalize the adoptions of Tesfanesh and Mintesnot-Solomon Brian deGuzman. Owens is the same judge who granted adoption petitions for older siblings Jesmina (4) and Musse (2).

I was in the courtroom to follow up on my December story about my journey to Ethiopia with the deGuzmans. Look for more photos and my update (including an amazing “small world” story) tomorrow.

Ethiopia: The other side of the waiting

Laundry hangs out to dry at a foster home in Addis Ababa.

Two days after welcoming two beautiful babies into their family, Brian and Keri deGuzman returned to the foster home in Addis Ababa where their children had been living after the family’s adoption referral was made.

They had gifts and donations for the staff and children, and a visit to make with a small boy who had a history of seizures. While Brian (a cardiovascular surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix) and Keri (a pediatric intensive care nurse) met the child and talked to the nurse, one of the foster home staff members showed me around the compound.

It was good to be back to record my observations. The first time I was there was extremely emotional, and focused completely on the deGuzmans’ first few moments with babies Tesfanesh and Solomon.

Clothing, and even a freshly washed teddy bear (upper left corner) dry in the tentative sunshine.

It was laundry day. Though it was the rainy season, the sun was out for a few hours and that opportunity would not be neglected. Hand-washed shirts and shorts, blankets and socks were spread everywhere — on the railing leading up the stairs to the house and spread across straw mats on the lawn and driveway.

I was not allowed to photograph any of the children, which makes telling the visual side of this story difficult. I can show their clothes hanging on the railing and their shoes leaned against the walls of the compound, which had rolls of barbed wire across the top, looking like a prickly Slinky had been unfurled.

Shoes lined up against the wall of the foster home compound.

I can tell you that there were toys and books, clean spaces to play and eat and loving caregivers who were both happy and heartbroken as each charge left their care to join new families.

Shelves full of stuffed animals await children who are napping.

At one point, I was invited to enter a bedroom shared by some of the older children. I saw their shoes lined up outside the doorway, so I removed my own before stepping into the large room lined with bunk beds. The children greeted me enthusiastically, laughing and shouting and urging me to come near. It was all I could do to avoid running to each one and hugging them hard. But I knew they weren’t quite sure who I was and I didn’t want to confuse them.

So I smiled and waved, quickly ducking back into the hallway. A little girl started wailing hysterically, inconsolably. Distressed, I looked at the staff member who had invited me to look in. “She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’ll stop crying soon.”

Suddenly it became painfully, sickeningly clear. To orphaned children who are not babies but in fact old enough to understand that their lives will soon change forever, the mere glimpse of an  American visitor can be upsetting. The appearance of a woman with light skin and blonde hair is not an everyday occurrence. It is understandable that a little girl who yearns for a family might be confused. Could this be my mother? Have I been abandoned again?

From the moment I first met the deGuzmans, in March 2009, I followed each step in the wait to complete their family. Each hurdle. Each delay. The frustrations and the celebrations. Now, for the first time, I considered the other side of the waiting.

Ethiopia: Is the window for adoptions closing?

Shoes lined up in the hallway of an Addis Ababa foster home where children who have been referred for adoptions wait for their families to come.

I have Google alerts set up on the phrases “Ethiopian adoption” and “international adoption.” I did that as soon as I learned I would be traveling to Ethiopia with Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman as they welcomed two Ethiopian babies into their family.

I wanted to keep abreast of what others were writing about adoption in Ethiopia. So every weekend, I get an email summarizing recent posts about these two topics . Typically they link to new blog posts by parents who are waiting for adoptions to be finalized. Sometimes joyous, sometimes twinged with frustration, the posts help me understand the mindset of an adoptive couple facing the long and uncertain wait to bring a child into their home.

Last week, as the world absorbed news of a devastating tsunami in Japan, waves of unsettling change loomed on the other side of the world. I got an email from Keri deGuzman sharing news that the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs had announced its intention to reduce intercountry adoptions by 90 percent, beginning this month. Then my Google alert chimed in with several stories on that decision, including one by Andrea Poe of The Washington Times, who writes that Ethiopian adoptions may be in peril. Because of accusations of child trafficking and fraud, many American adoption agencies that facilitate adoptions are under review by the Ethiopian government. “There’s a danger that the window for adopting from Ethiopia may be closing,” Poe concludes.

Which would leave an estimated 5.5 million orphans — casualties of poverty and illness — in the worst kind of limbo. Domestic adoptions are rare in Ethiopia. And there is little infrastructure to provide ongoing care for so many children.

Allegations of improprieties in the adoption process must be investigated. But to shut down the whole system is an overreaction with severe consequences that impact vulnerable children the most. International adoption is never going to be more than a drop in the bucket of possible solutions (only 2,500 children were placed for adoption in 2010) but what is in its place?

Ethiopia – Winging it with a prayer, and support from some pros

When I traveled with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman to Ethiopia last July, I kept wishing I had eight arms: two for writing notes, two for taking pictures, two for recording audio and two for capturing video.

Juggling the tools of my trade. Photo by Brian deGuzman, M.D..

Without that option, of course, I had to keep making judgment calls about which tools of the trade to pull out to help me remember details from the events and conversations that were so quickly unfolding. I’m not trained as a multimedia journalist, so my first instinct was to forgo the higher-tech audio/video efforts and all the related beginner’s-level fumbling and lack of confidence. My comfort zone is words and pictures; that’s where I tended to focus. But certain events demanded more.

When that happened, I did the best I could to wing it, praying fervently that the audio/video was really recording, that I’d get it transferred onto my laptop properly, that I wouldn’t get home with nothing to show from the extraordinary moments I had witnessed.

I have about half an hour of video footage from the first intimate moments the deGuzmans spent with their new babies in a foster home that provides care for children who have been referred to families through Christian World Adoption in Addis Ababa. The quality of the footage is not that great. I was fighting not just inexperience but small, cramped spaces, inadequate light and restrictions against photographing any of the other children at the foster home. I was also determined not to interfere with a moment that was deeply personal and spiritually powerful.

The events of that Saturday afternoon fulfilled a journey that began more than three years earlier, when the deGuzman’s adopted their daughter Jesmina, now 4, and continued a year later when they adopted their son Musse, now 3. With these two babies, Solomon and Tesfanesh, the deGuzman family is complete.

Four months later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I shut myself off in my home office, determined to learn Final Cut Express so I could edit my video footage from that day into something people might actually watch. Something no more than three or four minutes long.

I did okay with the editing but got completely stuck on some of the technical aspects. So I’m grateful for the support and encouragement of a real multimedia journalist, RAK staff member Vicki Louk Balint, and audio/visual production expert Rob Turchick of yipDog Studios, both of whom spent several hours at my house one day cleaning up my mistakes while I played on the floor with Rob’s youngest son, Tyler.

I am also deeply, humbly grateful to the deGuzmans, who invited me to share this journey with them and trusted me to convey it to others.