Tag Archives: EthiopiaStudio

Happy times and high stakes

Musse and Jesmina deGuzman blow on kazoos during the pajama parade at "Lyle's Pajama Party," held before Childsplay's Sunday afternoon performance of "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Warm flannel pajamas and cozy slippers on a brisk December afternoon. Pizza and pretzels, cookies and lemonade. Face painters, costumed characters, crafts. The giddy abandon of parading around a place more typically associated with culture and refinement while blowing on kazoos.

A play based on a favorite childhood book. A cast of characters clearly devoted to the excellence of their craft. And the company of two young children who have become very dear to me in the two and a half years I have known their family.

A few blocks away, a group of graduate design students near the end of a semester-long project. As I sit with two wide-eyed children in a darkened theater at Tempe Center for the Arts, these students prepare for a performance of their own. Their final review is Tuesday and the stakes are high. Not just for them, though this project will likely be part of any future career-related discussions and job interviews. More pressing than that are thoughts of a trusting, grateful  community in a remote Ethiopian village where a lot of people are counting on them.

Their task: designing a campus where 2,500 children — some who walk to school each day from up to 10 kilometers away — will be educated. The process has been exhilarating, agonizing, exhausting. The hard work and long hours have been full of frustrating uncertainty, conflicting opinions and the challenges of team dynamics. The determination to persist came from a place of higher accountability than grades or degrees. Unlike most graduate-level design studios, where final plans remain theoretical, these plans will be used to build a school.

A school that the parents of my two young theater companions have pledged to build.

Phoenix architect Jack DeBartolo 3 AIA, an adjunct professor at The Design School at ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, leads a discussion with graduate architecture students at EthiopiaStudio 2.0.

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Now we are 2

A Sesame Street-theme cake for Tesfanesh and Solomon, now 2.

Tesfanesh and Solomon deGuzman — the children I first met as babies in Ethiopia — are 2 years old. They shared a birthday party Saturday with their older brother Musse (who turns 4 this week) at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. Big sister Jesmina (yet another November birthday!) enjoyed her party at a different location the night before.

Musse's party included a Captain America cake and an actual Captain America character.

The train park was filled with families celebrating birthdays Saturday. Balloons were tied to nearly every picnic table; all the ramadas were full. Gifts and pizza and cake covered every surface. Children ran in and out of giant inflatables rented for the occasion. The miniature train ran around its track nonstop, its horn tooting a friendly warning as it reached pedestrian pathways. The passengers’ smiling faces and waving hands added a sense of shared community to the festivities.

It was a day of milestones; none more remarkable to me than the fact that this was the very park in which I first met the deGuzman family more than 2½ years ago. The place where I first started learning about the arduous process of international adoption. The place where I shared a secret yearning to see Africa and Keri deGuzman said, “Come with us!” The place where a story began and a friendship was formed — both of which have changed my life in ways I could never have predicted and continue to discover.

The babies (they will always be “the babies” to me) are happy and thriving. I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but when I do, I thrill to their ready acceptance and recognition. It’s as though they know we are linked in some inextricable way, simply because I was in the room during those first few magical moments they spent in their parents’ arms. The day they became part of a family.

Jesmina had a cowgirl/boy-theme party Friday at Pump It Up in Scottsdale.

Brian and Keri deGuzman have a way of building family around them. With their own closest relatives living in far-flung parts of the U.S. (and abroad), they have created a family around them in Arizona. As four birthdays were celebrated in less than 24 hours, there were smiles and hugs among those of us who have found ourselves pulled into this loving and welcoming circle.

Even in the midst of this joyful flurry of activities, I could see that Keri had other children on her mind. She and Brian remain very much involved in projects to benefit the children in Ethiopia who will never ride a miniature train, never receive a pile of brightly wrapped packages, never taste a birthday cake and never know the security of a true family.

As the party was ending, I heard Keri talking with another mother who expressed interest in helping with fundraising efforts for the construction of Shebraber School in a remote village southwest of Addis Ababa. As they talked, I could picture the graduate architecture students who are part of EthiopiaStudio 2.0 at The Design School at Arizona State University  who were no doubt working that very moment on plans for the school, which Brian and Keri have pledged to build.

The students, under the guidance of Phoenix architect and ASU adjunct professor Jack DeBartolo 3, AIA, are giving a presentation Wednesday — a trial run, of sorts, for their final presentation in December. Like me, they took a chance, followed a yearning and found themselves drawn into a new level of awareness from which they will never return.

RELATED WRITING

Other blog posts about Ethiopia and the deGuzmans’ adoption story.

Sharing an Extraordinary Experience (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

An Ethiopia Adoption Story (Raising Arizona Kids magazine, December 2010)

Changing by Design (PHOENIX magazine, August 2011)

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.

The gifts of writing

1979: Marbo Caves, Guam.

It has been a lot of years — more than 30 — since I have submitted a freelance article to an editor. The last time I did, as a senior year college student at the University of Guam, my approach was very different.

I typed my story, which was about an education program on the Northern Marianas island of Rota, on a manual typewriter. (I typed it several times, in fact, because I was unwilling to submit it with even a single typo or blot of Wite-Out.) I dropped my finished article in the mail at the campus post office. Several weeks later, when it was published in the Islander magazine section of the Pacific Daily News, I was overcome to see my words, and my name, in print.

For the past 21 years, as the editor of Raising Arizona Kids magazine, I have been on the other side of that experience. I’m the one who creates opportunities for writers, the one who makes decisions about whether something is worthy of pubication, the one who nurtures and encourages writers but also reluctantly wields the power to crush their confidence. So I approached my recent independent freelance assignment — a story about EthiopiaStudio, a design studio for sixth-year architecture students at ASU — with a great deal of reverence and care.

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Reading tea leaves

Like many fans of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, I was glued to the TV Sunday night watching the “60 Minutes” broadcast reporting allegations that parts of Mortensen’s original memoir never happened.

Like many fans who have followed Mortenson’s story, I didn’t want to believe it was true. Even though it was CBS doing the reporting. Even though CBS interviewed Jon Krakauer, a renowned author whose own works of nonfiction are meticulously researched, who donated money to Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and who now believes Mortensen made up some of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes described in his first of two books about his experience building schools in desolate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’ve read The New York Times take on the story, and NPR‘s. I believe these media entities to be reliable vehicles for information that is presented with integrity, caution and care. And still I don’t want to believe it.

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Small world stories – weekend edition

On Friday night, I went to the movies with my cousin’s daughter Andrea, a junior at ASU. We went to see “No Strings Attached” at Harkins Scottsdale Fashion Square. It’s not like I was expecting it to be a great movie (although the characters were very endearing). But I think Natalie Portman is a wonderful actress and I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Ashton Kutcher ever since my sons and I started watching (and laughing hysterically at) “That 70s Show.”

But that’s not why I wanted to see the movie. I wanted to see it because Greta Gerwig, the actress who plays Patrice, best friend to Portman’s character Emma, is a Sacramento, Calif. native who went to school with my son Andy’s girlfriend.

On Saturday afternoon, my husband and I went to my niece Mandy’s soccer game at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee. We’ve followed her Ladybugs club team for the last couple of years, astonished each time by the growing confidence and skills that we see in Mandy and her teammates. The girls won their game handily (3-0) and afterward, we went to lunch with Mandy, my brother Bob, my sister-in-law Judy and my 14-year-old nephew Ben.

Ten-year-old Phoenix dancer Kendall Glover.

While we were waiting for our food to arrive, Mandy told us that Kendall Glover, who is competing in the finals for the CBS Show “Live to Dance” goes to her school. And that Paula Abdul showed up at a school assembly to surprise Kendall with the good news. And that Paula gave Mandy a hug!

On Sunday morning, I saw an email from someone I’ve never met before. Somehow this mom heard about my trip to Ethiopia last summer with adoptive parents Brian and Keri deGuzman. She was writing to ask if I had any pictures of the Soddo orphanage we visited.

“My daughter was in that orphanage last year and I was hoping that you would have pictures that I could get,” she wrote. “I know you can’t show pictures of the kids but was wondering if you have any of just the orphanage itself?”

I was happy to send her the link to a post I wrote on July 30, which shows several pictures of the orphanage. The children are no longer living in this facility; they’ve been relocated to a temporary building pending construction of a new orphanage at Wolaitta Village. A project that was designed by graduate students of the EthiopiaStudio project at ASU’s School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture.

Small world indeed.