Friday, November 26, 2010

Coffee Tickets (Encore Performance!)

Due to the great response we received last year, we picked up another coffee pot and three more bags of fresh roasted Ethiopian coffee beans when we were visiting earlier this month. We got to watch the beans being sorted (by hand) and bagged. The aroma was wonderful. I'm not a coffee drinker, but having had so much coffee in Ethiopia, I'm starting to get hooked! 

You can have one entry for five dollars, three entries for ten dollars, or ten entries for twenty dollars. All proceeds will help us fund our adoption. Email me ( or Lori ( to let me know how many entries you want.

BONUS: If you share our coffee giveaway on your Facebook page or on your blog, you'll receive five extra entries with your order!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Visit to Kind Hearts Care Center (more sponsors needed!)

Imagine having 90 laughing, giggling, yelling children running towards you as fast as they can, with beaming faces and arms widespread. Prepare to be overwhelmed by them, as they reach for you to give you hugs, wrapping those arms tight around you in hugs so genuine and heartfelt, that you can't help getting caught up in their joy. A few weeks ago, our new friends the Davidsons from Missouri joined us on a visit to Kind Hearts Care Center, a small drop in center for children, located in beautiful countryside south of Addis Ababa. For me, it renewed my commitment for these kids, most of whom I'd met last year on a mission trip organized by Tom Davis and Children's Hopechest. For the others, they were able to experience the beauty, joy, and exhileration of spending a few hours with a group of children who will soak up as much love they can get.

Planning for our visit had started several months prior, when we made a call to our friends and family to send us donations to take with us. We were excited as we received dental products, first aid supplies, food, toys, and cash. Lori put together 75 bags to give to each of the kids, each of which contained treats and toys. (We purposely avoided putting toothpaste in the bags, as last year the kids at one of the orphanages didn't know about toothpaste, and so started eating it like candy.) As we got closer to our travel date, more and more stuff was given to us, which meant going through each of the bags many times to add the latest treat. The 75 bags were each loaded in a large tote and hauled to the airport (it weighed in JUST under 50 pounds!).

We also received quite a bit of cash to take to Kind Hearts. The Davidson's also had some cash for Kind Hearts. My new experience for this trip was going into a local bank to exchange U.S. dollars into birr. The exchange rate is 16:1, so the $300 I had translated into almost 5000 birr. Needless to say, I received a bit of scrutiny from the bank officials, and a lot of stares from the other customers lined up in the bank. I had to give the teller my name and address, and hand over my driver's license while he did the transaction. Fortunately, the teller spoke a little English, so I wasn't completely lost. It was still a bit intimidating!

The birr bought quite a bit. We stopped by a corner store and purchased fruit and powdered milk. Fikre, our Children's Hopechest rep. suggested we send the driver to purchase two lamb. As I mentioned in my other post, we were quite surprised when he showed up with the lamb tied to the roof of the van, quite alive. The Kind Hearts staff wanted to honor us by slaughtering the lamb in front of us. Despite some mild curiosity by some of us on how this was done, we politely suggested that since they wouldn't be eating the lamb until the next day, they should wait to do this bit of preparation! The money was also used to purchase injera, wood for cooking, spices, and soda. I'm disappointed we missed this great feast. I'm sure it was a wonderful treat for the kids. Feeding that many kids for $300 was pretty impressive. It truly doesn't take much money to do a lot of good.

Yes, they're alive.
When Karen Wistrom and I agreed to coordinate the Kind Hearts Care Center sponsorships and projects last year, we both knew that the directors had big plans. In addition to being able to provide better care for the 60-odd kids they already had enrolled, they wanted to expand their care to 100 kids, and had grand plans to become self-sustaining so that all the income they needed to care for the children could come from their own income. They had already made a significant investment so that they would have electricity. With the electricity, they would be able to rent out a barn to local workers doing carpentry and metal work. Next they plan on installing a new water system (thanks to the fundraising efforts of a school in Missouri), a chicken coop, and other capital projects.

Also on their list is a plan to build a bridge for the kids to get to the center. The property borders the worst smelling river you can imagine. Last year I wrote about this river, full of pollutants from a distillery and tannery, both upstream. The smell is so overwhelming that you're only able to stand by the river for a few seconds before having to turn away. During the dry season, the kids are able to cross the river on rocks. However, when the river is high, the kids have to wade through the water, sometimes up to their waist. It'll truly be a blessing when that bridge is built.

Water shouldn't be this color, and it had a really strong odor.
Our big surprise was that Kind Hearts has already increased the number of kids that use their facility. The demand was so great, the needs so immense, that there are now 98 kids at Kind Hearts. Fikre and the other staff are working on profiles for additional sponsors. (Interested? It costs $34 a month, and is so incredibly appreciated by the kids.) Fortunately, we had enough stuff to give each of the kids several granola bars, sugar free gum, and toys (cars, balloons, inflatable balls, play-doh, and more). They also each received assorted snacks.

Sara, our 17-year-old, made the observation after we left, that not one of the kids complained or made a fuss about the treat they were given. Michael, who is 10, had noticed a couple of kids trade treats, but it was obvious they were appreciative for what they had.

I could go on for much longer about what we experienced at Kind Hearts. It was an amazing visit, and we're looking forward to returning next year. Some of our friends have told us they'd like to go on a mission trip with us, and possibly take their own kids. We can't wait!

Co-coordinator, Kind Hearts Care Center

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My trip to Ethiopia by Michael Laughner age 10

 Kids Care Orphanage (where Daniel spent time)
 Huts that we saw.
 Our Traditional Ethiopian Dinner.

 Our sponsor child at Kind Hearts.
Aunt Shirley and Uncle Tim's sponsor child.

I woke up and ate my disgusting breakfast. We had fake eggs, burnt toast, and ok yogurt. We went on the bumpy roads dodging cars. There are no rules for the road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We went to meet my sister "T" for the first time. She loves us, hugs, dolls, and balloons. Also at the transition home I played soccer with all the boys. On the way home I saw straw huts, people sitting on the side of the road begging, and lots of markets.
When we woke up we went shopping in the morning. I bought a cool white Ethiopia hat. Everyone was hungry and most were homeless. It was very sad that kids had to give shoeshines to afford food and drinks. As you walk by the shops all of the owners beg you to come into their shops. The shops are very small and the main items were Bob Marley t shirts and wood carvings. It was kind of scary when people would grab you  and ask for food or money. After that we had lunch at Makush a restaurant and art gallery. I had tortellini. A lot of the restaurants are Italian. After lunch we went back to the transition house to see "T". She was so happy to see us. After playing with her, we went to dinner. That night we had to go to the traditional Ethiopian dinner. I took tons of pictures of the food and dancers. Up on stage there were dancers moving like no one has ever seen before. We had some kind of mushed up sauce, and beef wrapped in a bread called injera. Personally, I did not really like it.
In the morning we went to Kind Hearts a drop in center. Kids parents drop them off in the morning and pick them up late at night. It was amazing when 89 kids came running out of a small building at the same time. They all wanted attention and just to be held. We have a sponsored kid named Yilbetal. He is 12 years old and likes to play soccer (football). After an amazing hour we went to an American Pizza Place called Island Breeze. It is one of the best pizza places that I have ever been to. After that we went back to the transition house to spend time with "T". When we left she started to cry. You get attached and then you have to leave : (
When we woke up we went to a coffee tour. We saw how the Ethiopians make coffee. There was mountains of coffee beans. After that we stepped into a big court house. After an upsetting "Not Yet" because our final papers had not come in. Next we went back to the transition house. We spent a good 2hours there. We walked down the road to where "T" sleeps  and put family pictures on the wall next to her bed. Again going home I saw their football/soccer fields. It is cement, and their shoes have holes or they play barefoot. Next we had dinner, and I tried to sleep but there was really loud music down the road. Then after a while it was good night!
In the morning we got a quick breakfast and headed for KVI.(an orphanage). It was disgusting. It had 6 babies in a crib with no mattresses.They  had no food. After I saw the sick babies and I ran outside to the big kids, and got in trouble for going in the garden (which was only the grass). Next we went to Kids Care orphanage. We did not stay long because the kids were in school. We went to lunch at an Italian Restaurant called Blue Tops. After that we went to the transition house. It was hard saying bye, but my mom will pick her up in December. All the nannies pulled her off of us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brthday wishes, well wishes, and puzzle pieces! Can you help?

 A scrap book for our Sweet "T"....
We have a 300 piece puzzle and we are selling puzzle pieces. For $5.00 you can purchase a puzzle piece. What does this mean? It means that when you donate $5.00 to help bring T home, we will put our name on the back of a puzzle piece and you get to send a special message or well wish to go in this special book for T. She will have this special gift that shows all of the family and friends that helped bring her home!

  We have sold 34 pieces and have some wonderful well wishes in her book!

 We have wishes from family and friends from 3 different states at this point. Will your family or state be represented?
 Today is T's birthday, her last birthday as an orphan.
Would you like to purchase a puzzle piece and leave her a birthday message?
 We would like to thank all of the family and friends who have sent special messages!
 Please keep the messages coming!

 Our 300 piece puzzle....
Is your name on the back of a piece?
Once the puzzle is done we will glue it and hang it. We will then be able to show T all the names on the back of the puzzle!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Donations!!! Thanks for your help!

This is what our pile of luggage looked like, before we walked out the door! We divided everything up between the Transition Home where our daughter is, 2 orphanages Kids Care and KVI, and a drop in care center called Kind Hearts!
We took a large duffel bag of items to the Transition Home and donated $100 towards supplies. We took one large duffel bag to Kid's Care (the orphanage that Daniel spent time at) and donated $100 towards supplies. We gave a large duffel bag of general supplies, plus one large duffel bag of emergency needed items to KVI. This bag included 8 mattress pad covers, 10 crib sheets, blankets, 70+ cloth diapers, 40 plastic diaper covers, and things like this. We were also able to donate $280 for supplies to be purchased. We took a large duffel bag of supplies including school supplies to Kind Hearts and a large tote of care package items to share with all of the kids, and we stopped and purchased green-oranges, bananas, powder-milk, onions, fire wood, and two lambs.
We want to thank everyone that made these donations possible! They are truly needed! If you would like to donate anything else before our second trip please let me know!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pictures from Ethiopia

Here is the link for most of the photos we took in Ethiopia last week. Since we haven't yet passed court, we can't post photos of T.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 5 (Friday)

Day 5 (Friday)

Is it possible that the week is over? Do we really need to say good-bye to T today? Do I really need to sit on a plane for 17 hours?

The day started with two of the orphanages in Addis Ababa from which our agency receives children for adoption. We had received reports last week that this orphanage was in bad shape, with no mattresses for the kids, and a shortage of diapers. The group before us bought mattresses, and we were asked to bring diapers (cloth), and something to protect the mattresses. We also dropped off toothbrushes, toothpaste, medical supplies, clothes, and food that had been given to us. We had already committed money from friends and family yo help where they felt a need. 

Of all the orphanages I visited last year, this one was the filthiest, dreariest, depressing place I had been. The compound looks pleasant enough at first. It is a gated house, with a driveway, a small grass yard with a swing set, and a modest house and secondary building. The small ones (two and younger) were in the main house. There were at least twenty-five of these young children cramped in two rooms. The babies were in one room, three to a crib. The older group was in another room, crammed into a filthy, dark room. I sat down on the floor to play legos with one boy and couldn't believe how much dirt there was.

The older kids were in the other building. At least thirty of them came running out of a small room,  They came pouring out, and poring out, and pouring out. There must have been 30 kids squeezed into this small room. It reminded me of the pictures you see of a dozen people packed into a telephone booth.

A little boy and I started playing catch on the lawn. Several minutes passed when one of the workers told me that I was playing in the garden and I could not stay there. I pointed at the swing set and asked if I could play there. She told me no, that I could only play on the driveway. Go figure...

I've mentioned in previous posts how much these kids yearn for love and attention. The kids at KVI were starving for attention.  One boy wanted me to hold him for the entire  90 minutes we were there. They were constantly approaching me with arms open wide, wanting hugs. Sara became overwhelmed by the filth and clamoring for attention and retreated to the van. She has been wonderful with the kids up to this visit. It all became too much for her. Michael spent the time kicking the soccer ball and throwing a football with the kids.

Our next visit was to Kids Care, the orphanage from which Daniel came. I didn't need to worry about getting kicked off the grass, since there was nothing but a couple of buildings and a paved driveway. Lori asked around to see if any of the nannies remembered Daniel (Fitsum while he was there). Several did, and loved looking at his current pictures. One of the nannies kept kissing his picture as she paged through the photo album that Lori had brought with her.

I wish we had been allowed to have or video equipment out for our time with the kids. Michael played two games with the kids. One was a version of "Duck, duck, goose" except the kids sing a song "who stole the handkerchief?" "not me, not me" while the person who is it runs around the circle with a cloth in his/her hands and drops it behind the person who will do the chasing. If the pursuer is able to hit the person being chased, that person has to sit in the middle of the circle. Since MichEl  doesn't know Amharic, the kids were kind enough to sing his part for him.

The other game the kids played was a version of "Red Rover, Red Rover" except it involves one kid tugging on the kid in the other line in a form of human tug-of-war. 

As was the case with KVI, the babies were lined up two to three to a crib. Sara spent her time loving on a set of infant twins. 

We spent the afternoon loving on T. Knowing it was the last afternoon we would spend with her made the time bittersweet. One thing that became very apparent is the challenge the language barrier is going to create while she is learning English. At one point, she wanted two bags that contained her prize possessions. We didn't understand what she wanted which created an outburst of tears. Fortunately, one of her friends understood what she wanted and brought her the bags. Can we bring her friend with us too?

We said our good-byes and headed to the guest house and then off to the airport. We made some new friends on this trip, friends that we hope to keep in touch with. We learned more about the native country of Daniel and T, knowledge that will help them keep connected with their roots. We spent time loving on kids in search of human contact, hugs and play that will hopefully help them to understand that despite the tough lives they have, there are people out there that can love them. And we created lasting memories and experiences for all of us, including Sara and Michael, who have now broadened their understanding of our big world and what life is like outside the comfortable bubbles in which they live. 

Day 4 (Thursday)

Day 4 (Thursday)

Emotionally, Thursday was the biggest roller coaster of the trip. I got to spend a lot of time by myself with our daughter. We went to court to meet with the judge. And, we met with the grandmother for a lengthy and emotional discussion.

First, an update. We did not get the final approval from the Ethiopian court. The license for the orphanage from which T came is up for renewal. Because that process is not finished, the government agency charged with making a recommendation to the judge had not been submitted to the court. The judge was very pleasant, albeit soft-spoken, and directed a question to Sara and Michael. She asked about if they were okay with the adoption. Both said they were. As soon as the court receives the recommendation letter, the adoption will be final. Lori will travel either in late December or early January to bring T home.    

Earlier in the week, we had received a DVD of an interview with our daughter's grandmother. She was being asked questions about our daughter and her family. It's an important part of our daughter's past and it will be something we can show her later. (by the way, we are not supposed to put our daughter's name on the Internet until we pass court, so I am going to refer to her as "T"). One of the more striking comments made by T's grandmother was that she wants T to grow up to be a good person, to be well educated, and to remember her family. Very touching.

T's grandmother says she is around 40 (birthday's aren't given the same level of importance that we give them). By looking at her, you would guess she was much older. It's obvious that she's had a tough life. Her face is drawn, with deep lines on her forehead and jowls and deep set eyes. She was dressed in traditional garb with a shawl covering her head. We had been told that the grandmother would have to make an appearance at court and that we would have a chance to talk to her later. 

We immediately recognized the grandmother as we entered the court's waiting room. She appeared anxious and tired (she had been driven at least eight hours to make her court appearance). Lori thinks she may have been shown a picture of us at some point, because she kept looking at us. Part of us wanted to go immediately to talk to her but we didn't know if it was appropriate and regardless, we didn't have interpreters. 

After court, we headed to our hotel where we would meet with the grandmother. Lori and I decided to focus our interview questions on things we thought T might want to know about her family when she was older. When we were called to come talk to her, we each approached her to give her a hug. She was very frail and small, but held us tight and said what sounded like a prayer for each of us. She then kissed us on both cheeks and kissed our hand. Sara and Michael also hugged her, received a blessing, the kiss on the cheeks, and the kiss on the hand. Each, in turn, kissed her hand.

We then sat and talked. Lori showed her pictures of our family, our house, and where T would sleep. She gave her a photo book and a coloring page from T. We then asked questions about T's parents and family history. Ethiopia's national language is Amharic, but in reality there are at least a dozen languages. T's grandmother did not speak Amharic, so the interview was conducted with two translators; one to convert her language to Amharic, and another to translate the Amharic to English. Sara recorded the interview so we can show it to T when she is older. One of the more touching moments came when we asked when we asked about T's best qualities. She responded that T is smart and reminded her of her mother.

We could have sat all day asking questions, but the driver was anxious to get back on the road, so we had to end the interview. We told her that we would raise T to be a good person, well educated, and that we should make sure she remembered her family. She blessed us, and we finished with a group picture and another round of hugs and kisses.

We visited T in the afternoon, and I got a chance to spend some one-on-one time with T. I am amazed at her intelligence, her focus, and how much English she already knows. We spent an hour drawing pictures, coloring shapes, and tracing letters and numbers. My favorite moment was when she wrote an "A", drew a circle with a short line coming out of the top and said, "A is for apple." A heart melting moment.

Tomorrow we have to say good bye to T. It will be hard to leave her behind, but we know she is in good hands. She is being well cared for, and knows we will be returning for her.

Until tomorrow. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 3 (Wednesday)

Last December, a group of us made up mostly of families who have adopted or were preparing to adopt from Ethiopia, spent a week here, visiting orphanages throughout the country. It was an eye opening experience. It was the first time most of us had been outside of Addis Ababa and the differences between the capital city and the small towns and villages away from here were staggering.

A year later, those differences are even more staggering. Yesterday, we traveled with our new friends the Davidsons to Kind Hearts, a drop in center about an hour south of Addis. When we were there last year, there were about sixty children. With the help of a load of donations, Lori put together 75 bags of goodies. The bags contained toothbrushes, granola bars, balloons, toys, and lots more. Well, on the way down to Kind Hearts, we learn that there are 98 now kids at Kind Hearts! New strategy: dump out all of the bags and divvy out the goods individually. It was all good, though, as we figured all of that stuff at once would have been overwhelming for the kids. Looks like a lot of kids need sponsorships!

The kids at Kind Hearts are in considerable need. They are very thin. Many have open sores. It seems that they are so used to having flies on them that they don't bother shooing them away. And they were starving for attention. When we pulled up in the vans, you could see the kids hanging out the doors. We have pictures of Michael and Sara being mobbed by them in the yard. Michael said that he didn't know he could hold so many people's hands at the same time.

In addition to the donations given directly to the kids, we gave Kind Hearts toothbrushes, tooth paste, vitamins, medical supplies, clothes and shoes, and school supplies. We also had $300 that had been given to us and the Davidsons. On the way to Kind Hearts, we used the money to buy bananas, oranges (they were actually green, but Sara says the one she bought was very juicy), and powdered milk.

Fikre, our assistant from Children's Hopechest, also suggested we send the driver off to buy two lambs. I never would have expected that the lambs would arrive tied to the top of the van, 100% alive and kicking. The Kind Hearts director offered to butcher the lambs while we were there (we didn't know it at the time, but I guess it's a great honor to have livestock butchered for guests). We suggested that since the lamb would be served the next day, that it was okay to wait to do that part of the preparation closer to meal time. While we were curious about the ritual, some of our group weren't confident in their "constitution" of having an animal killed in front of them.

We could have stayed all day. We loved playing with the kids. However, we also knew that our daughter awaited. So, after many good-byes (Lori hugged every one of the kids), had an amazing lunch of pizza at a restaurant owned by a man from Seattle, and spent more time loving on our new daughter. We also met with the psychologist and doctor, who told us she is in great health. The psychologist told us she has some attention span problems (something we found to be absolutely false...more on that in Thursday's post).

Our daughter's bond with us continues to strengthen. The look on her face is priceless when she sees us pulling up in the van. The look on her face when we leave her in the evening is enough to break your heart. We can't wait to bring her home. She is a sweetheart, she is incredibly bright, and she is very loving.

Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Days One and Two

Day One

This is my third trip to Ethiopia in as many years. Arriving at the airport last night, and driving around town, I’ve realized that this country is starting to have that familiar feeling, like the country is a part of me as much as I’m a part of the country. I will say, though, that Addis Ababa is a huge city, and while I recognize a lot of it, I still find it hard to get my bearings. Today, we drove by the plaza where last year we watched a bunch of kids playing soccer last year. It reminded me of the great trip we had last year, how much has been accomplished since last December, but how much there still is to do.

We got to meet our new daughter today! She is the sweetest little girl that you can imagine. She recognized us right away, and took to us pretty quickly. Sara is her pal, spending more time with her than any of the rest of us. I sense that she’s going to pick up on her English pretty quickly; she knows her letters and a few words. By the end of the day, she was asking for Lori (“mommy?”). We spent most of today with her, but also spent time loving on the rest of the kids. They love being held and carried, love being hugged, and love to laugh.

We received a DVD with a recording of her grandmother being interviewed. It’ll be nice to have this for her when she is older, but there’s a sad tenor that will likely have an impact on all of us every time we watch it.

Day Two

Financially, bringing the kids with us was a really bad idea. However, it’s been an experience for me to see Ethiopia through their eyes. Yesterday at lunch, Michael started talking to a couple sitting at another table. They were asking him about his impressions of Ethiopia. They asked, “it’s a lot different than what you see on tv, isn’t it?” He agreed. Sara has been affected as well (even though she won’t admit it). She has made small, off the cuff, comments about things she’s seen. Both kids have gotten into helping out with the donations. Both are playing with the kids at the transition home. It’s fun to see Michael playing soccer with boys his age. They can’t understand a word that each other is saying, but “goal” seems to be a universal language, and the smiles and high fives need no translation.

It’s also great that they’re getting to experience a culture other than their own. They’ve seen that just because something is different that it’s not necessarily bad. They’re learning what it feels like to be a minority (something Daniel and his new sister will live with while they’re with us). Tonight we went for a walk through a shopping district with no guide or translator. It was a little intimidating, but it was good for us to be out without that safety net. (Sara was excited to find a “cute” pair of shoes for $12.)

Today, we went shopping. Even though I’ve been to this particular market each of my previous trips, it’s still overwhelming. There are lots of kids asking us to buy things from them (we saw Robel’s soccer kids!). The stores are small, dark, and crowded. However, once you get inside the stores, there are some *really* cool things. Luckily, we set a specific budget for our shopping. We’re buying things from Ethiopia each time we come here to make sure D and T always have part of their heritage around them. Still, it’s hard not to go overboard.

Yesterday, we visited a famous Ethiopian church. I will post pictures once I have better Internet access, but I can say that the pictures I took do not do justice to its beauty.

And, we did spend time with our daughter today. She is bonding with us (especially Sara). She started bawling when we had to leave tonight. While it was heartbreaking, the psychologist told us that it was a good sign that she was growing attached to us.

Sara’s “gem of the day” after taking a picture of the back end of a herd of donkeys strolling down the street. “I want to put that picture on Facebook, with the caption, “I like big butts.”