Gail Gorfe's reflections on "the AAI difference"

Date: 2009-10-21
Source: AAI Blog

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gail Gorfe's reflections on "the AAI difference"
Gail Gorfe, a Dutch-Canadian married to an Ethiopian and mother of four, has worked with AAI's Ethiopian program since its inception over 10 years ago. When I was in Ethiopia recently, we discussed the program's evolution and the changes that have come to Ethiopian adoption during the past decade. Gail contributed the following blog post after our conversations. She rarely sits still long enough for a photo so I only have one of her. Gail has promised me a future blog post with lots of family pictures and personal history.

Susan Poisson-Dollar
Director of Development

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AAI’s Open Door Policy for Layla House

Over the past few months Layla house has admitted many new children. Children enter Layla house almost every day as they do at most orphanages and adoption centers across the country. There are differences in how this process happens, what the orphanages and centers look like, and have to offer. I am proud to be part of what I call “the AAI difference.” That can be summed up in just three words--- “we take anyone”.

This would not be considered a wise policy in most organizations. Even in the world of orphan care, this statement is very uncommon. Most orphanages or child centers in Ethiopia will not take just any child. This has nothing to do with finances, or space or even the personal interest of the administration. It is most often an unspoken and written policy that has made most orphanages very selective about what “kinds” of children are considered acceptable and ultimately, adoptable.

Many years ago Ethiopia had orphanages scattered across the country, run mostly by churches. Those orphanages opened their doors to take anyone who was in need. Children of all ages, backgrounds and needs were welcomed. They were given a home, the basics to survive (often very basic) and a community. These kids grew up together and eventually left the orphanage together and built their own families. Money was always short, space was not necessarily available, but every child was welcomed.

Today there are few orphanages like this in Ethiopia. The ones from many years ago are still around, operating almost as they did then, but now they are just a small handful of the orphanages in the country. The new orphanages, on the other hand, have more money, invest in programs in the community but will admit only a few select children into their homes. Taking any child (even any orphan) is not a consideration. There are age limits, space limits, and health requirements. Even if all the documents required by law for a child are available, that child is not guaranteed a space in most orphanages. The youngest, healthiest children, the bulk of those admitted, stay only a short time at the orphanage before leaving for a new adoptive homes.

Over the past few months AAI has started working with more private orphanages and we've re-established our relationships with some government orphanages. We are not specifically looking for them, but they find us. They find us because we offer to take any children that they would like to place with us. Like the three deaf children (ages 5-8) who came two months ago, the four year old boy with missing toes who came two weeks ago, or the two year old girl with Down Syndrome and mild CP who came last week, even the three brothers (3,6,10) who came last week. These children aren’t necessarily too old for adoption, they aren’t necessarily too “unhealthy or imperfect” for adoption either, but unlike the doors to AAI’s Layla house, not all orphanage doors are open to them now.

I am proud to be part of AAI, where I can take a phone call about a child and say “yes, we will take that child,” and “yes, we will open a file for that child,” why not? Why lock the door to that child before it is even opened? That doesn’t mean we can find a home for every single one of them, but we do our best to give that child the possibility of a brighter future. Documents must be in order before a child is admitted of course, but it is often at this first step that the rejection from other orphanages takes place.

At the same time, AAI must grapple with the implications of this “open door” policy. Not everyone who enters Layla house, or has an active file with us, will be adopted. This is something that every agency and orphanage needs to be prepared to handle, but the reality is that they don’t and prefer to limit the children they accept to those they can easily place. Our “open door” policy, on the other hand, requires dedication to the problem, creative ideas and of course the funds to reach out and find families for children who are more difficult to place. AHOPE and Kidane Mihret, are two other orphanages with a similar philosophy and they also take all children in need. We work together to find homes for the children in our care and sometimes within one AAI family, there are children from Layla, Kidane Mihret and AHOPE, or any combination thereof.

I am glad that, as an adoption agency whose motto is “finding families for children,” AAI is open to taking many different kinds of special needs and difficult-to-place children. We work hard in the U.S. to assist and advise families adopting these children, and we are open to working with all kinds of families to help them succeed. That is not a common policy among agencies here either and it is this combination of factors that allows me, and my colleagues here to be proud of the work that we do every day on behalf of orphaned children.

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