Tag Archives: Soddo

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.


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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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.

Ethiopia – the “in-country” orphanage

A member of the Aerie Africa orphanage staff with one of the 53 children living there on a permanent basis.

Adoption is not always the answer for a child who has been orphaned or abandoned. The Ethiopian government establishes strict criteria dictating conditions under which a child is eligible for adoption. Independent adoption agencies have their own criteria. And then there is the very human element: making tough decisions about individual children.

To be eligible for adoption, a child must be a full orphan (both parents are dead), a “half” orphan (one parent, typically the mother, is dead and the father and/or extended family is unable or unwilling to care for the child) or abandoned — meaning, in many cases, that finding the blood relatives legally empowered to relinquish the child to adoption is challenging at best and impossible at worst.

Even once those criteria have been met, there are difficult decisions to make. Some are related to medical triage: Children age 5 and younger have lower survival rates and are the first to be placed in orphanages to await adoption — when space is available. Children age 6 and older, who have survived that vulnerable, early developmental period, are by their very resilience at lower odds of being adopted by prospective families, many of which are specifically seeking babies or are daunted by the challenge of raising a child with years of trying history. Some of these older children are placed into “in-country orphanages” where they are raised, educated and supported as they transition to productive adult lives within their communities.

The hillside behind the Aerie Africa orphanage.

The Aerie Africa orphanage that I visited with Paradise Valley couple Brian and Keri deGuzman (the parents of four children adopted from Ethiopia), is an example of one such in-country orphanage. On the day we visited, the orphanage had 53 children in residence on a Soddo hillside overlooking the lush Rift Valley. Eleven more (older teens) were living in a transition home in the village.

Noah Frank. (Photo by Brian deGuzman.)

“We’re really rethinking the whole [adoption-oriented] orphanage thing and focusing on raising these children,” said Noah Frank, a recent college graduate from the U.S. who works at the in-country orphanage. “We’re willing to go into new territory to save more children.”

The program is set up, as many in Africa are, so that individuals and families from around the world (mostly the U.S. and Europe) can “sponsor” a child, providing $800 a year to cover basic needs and education. The goal is to help these children pass the national test that is required of all Ethiopian children before they can advance “to university.” The staff hopes to place those who fail in vocational training or jobs.

Playing soccer on the playground in front of the orphanage. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

The day we visited, there were children playing on a neatly kept playground with primary-colored climbing equipment. Some were playing soccer.

We approached a classroom building and spent some time watching a group of children practicing their English. Most of the curriculum is taught in both English and Amharic, the national language; the goal is to have English-only instruction after they reach seventh grade.

English class.

The next room was a kitchen, where meals were prepared, in the traditional Ethiopian way, over a wood fire.

The kitchen, where meals are cooked over a wood fire. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Out back, a group of older children was practicing martial arts. Shyly, but with obvious delight, they demonstrated some of their moves for us in a setting befitting an epic movie, with sweeping views of the rich lands of the Rift Valley, where much of the nation’s coffee is grown, just behind them.

As we walked back toward the orphanage, we saw some men working in a garden, from which food will be cultivated to feed the children. A huge avocado tree hung heavy with fruit. A shelter is being prepared for 15 to 20 cows and sheep that will graze on the grassy hillside during the day, providing the basis for a revenue-generating business. The children will help tend the livestock.

We visited another classroom, where teacher Felelee Garri (nickname “Chu Chu”) was conducting lessons in a room decorated with colorful cut-outs amplifying aspects of the curriculum (“MATH,” “PLANETS”) and educational priorities: “BOOKS,” “STUDY,” “WORK.”

We walked back outside, where I learned that the orphanage has its own well to provide fresh, clean water. It is a something, believe me, that is not common in this area. It helps immensely in keeping disease (and dirt) at bay.

The day before we visited, the orphanage installed its first modern toilet (what the staff referred to jokingly as a “ferengi” toilet, “ferengi” being the term for a white person from the U.S. or Europe). The new challenge? Teaching the children how to use it. Compared to other challenges facing these children, and this hardworking staff, that one sounded like a piece of cake.

Chu Chu shows Keri deGuzman around his classroom. Photo by Brian deGuzman.

Chu Chu's classroom. Note the bank of donated Macintosh computers in the background. The challenge now is finding someone to load software, service them and teach the students and staff how to use them.

Martial arts lessons in a grassy field behind the school

Working in the garden behind the school.

Two cribs, draped in mosquito netting, in a group bedroom for some of the younger children.

Ethiopia – a new model for the long-term care of orphans

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine converted to a new website platform. Find this post here.

Ethiopia – the children who opened my eyes

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine converted to a new website platform. Find this post here.

Ethiopia – “We have a surprise for you”

In May 2012, RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine converted to a new website platform. Find this post here.