Five Ethiopian orphans dive into American culture: Maryland families host the East African children
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Hmm, "a international orphan hosting program?"
Five Ethiopian orphans dive into American culture
Maryland families host the East African children
Photo: Carrie Bourne (right) helps Ethiopian orphan, "Isaac" with making a basket at Greater Community Church in Kingsville. She and her family have been hosting him in their home. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / May 9, 2011)
By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun
May 15, 2011
Marni loves her sparkly pink flip-flops and the daily school lessons with her host family. Soon after he arrived on a flight from Ethiopia, Sammy switched his dress shoes for a pair of trendy Nikes that he wears everywhere. Isaac has accessorized with cool sunglasses and is teaching his hosts dance moves. After dental and eye check-ups, Betty is sporting a brighter smile and a new pair of glasses.
Five young children, ages 6 to 9, are the first visitors to participate in Welcoming Angels, a new international orphan hosting program, organized by America World Adoption to assist Ethiopian children. The faith-based adoption agency, established 15 years ago, is dedicated to connecting orphaned children around the world to American families willing to give them a home.
"Our idea is to step up care for orphans everywhere," said Melissa Corkum, a volunteer with the adoption association. "Our faith mandates we care for these children, but it is not our role to proselytize. Our commitment comes out of a genuine care for these children."
Welcoming Angels is designed to raise awareness of the plight of older orphaned children, who are frequently overlooked for adoption.
America World Adoption paid the transportation costs and the children left their homeland in East Africa on April 18 for a one-month visit to Maryland. Three different orphanages in Addis Ababa, the nation's capital, chose adaptable children who were willing to make the trip, and also provided a chaperone for the children during the visit, Corkum said. Volunteers here provided a translator, who has been available to families throughout the visit.
"These children are all well-adjusted, resilient and really wanted to come here," Corkum said. "After the first week, they all knew basic English phrases. This really is like a vacation for them."
The Ethiopian government has required the host families to guard the children's identities, and organizers requested that the visitors be referred to using only anglicized names.
The children speak Amharic, but their five Maryland families say they are easily overcoming language barriers. Sammy, 9, has already taught the four boys in his host family several Amharic words. On his left wrist, he wears a woven bracelet with the colors of his homeland and on his left, he shows off the numerous red, white and blue "silly bands" that he said "my mom bought for me."
"They are all learning to share space and their things," said Tracy Smith of Bel Air of her sons and Sammy. "We don't speak the same language, but we are learning to communicate. Sammy loves gadgets. As soon as he gets a camera or an iPod in hand, he figures out how to use it."
Stephen Smith, 13, is sharing his room with his guest.
"I know 'rabish' means hungry," Stephen said. "Sammy really likes peanut butter and jelly, my computer and my scooter."
During their stay, the children have gone on outings, like to the Maryland Zoo, and participated in child-oriented activities, including their first Easter egg hunt, picnic and birthday party — Ethiopia does not mark birthdays with the fanfare of Americans.
Guenet Meshesha, the Amharic interpreter, has readily assisted with language, but admitted she was not always needed.
"Children don't take long to learn a language, especially in a home where there is love," Meshesha said.
The children came with one change of clothing, but the host families, their home churches and neighbors have given them clothing and toys. Each child will return with two suitcases, one filled with their own items and the other packed with formula, diapers and clothing for other children at the orphanages.
Some host families have scheduled eye and dental appointments.
"Our Betty had to have a few teeth pulled," said Tracey Sutkaytis of Taneytown, referring to her 6-year-old guest. "So, then she had her first experience with the tooth fairy."
Grace Community Church in Kingsville organized an art night for the children Monday and filled one room with craft supplies, colorful balloons and a table laden with snacks and sodas. Participants tie-dyed shirts, wove baskets and sampled American fare.
The children leave for Addis Ababa on Monday. Once they have returned, families here who are willing can pursue adoption options, organizers said.
When Betty found Sutkaytis teary about the impending departure, she said, "It's OK, Mama" and promised to send letters to her Taneytown family. The Sutkaytises adopted their 10-year-old son from Russia after such a visit.
"It is hard not to welcome these children into your home," she said. "If you have the space and the means, this is an eye-opening experience."