Since my entry into the adoptee world, thanks to my fellow Ethiopian adoptee and good friend Aselefech Evans, I’ve been wanting to connect with more Ethiopian adoptees. In fact, Aselefech and I often discuss the absence of Ethiopian adoptees in adoptee circles.
My initial thought was that most Ethiopian adoptees are probably much younger than us since adoption from Ethiopia became more popular toward the end of the 90s and early 2000s, which might help explain why there is less participation in adoptee advocacy.
However, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a French-speaking Ethiopian adoptee Facebook group with over 350 members called “Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie (The Ethiopian Adoptees).” This was a delightful discovery because I hadn’t known that there is a whole community of adult adoptees in Europe from Ethiopia.
Most of them hail from France, but there are some from Belgium and Switzerland as well. Some were adopted from Ethiopia as early as 1979, others in the 1980s like me, then others in the 1990s and 2000s. Most were adopted through religious missions, French-run orphanages, or French adoption agencies.
Eager to be part of the group, I started posting links in English on the page about adoptee issues in Canada and the U.S., and initiatives like Gazillion Voices, because I realized that many of the adoptees in Europe are probably unfamiliar with our adoptee communities and vice versa. For example, most adoptees living in Canada and the U.S. are probably not aware of French adoptee initiatives, such as La Voix des Adoptés (The Voice of Adoptees).
This non-profit organization was founded in 2005 by two Peruvian-French adoptees who realized that there was a need to create a space for adoptees to speak for themselves. La Voix des Adoptés offers various activities and support services for adoptees (both children and adults) and is often called upon by adoptive parents and even local and federal politicians for knowledge and advice. It also has partnerships with a couple of adoptive parent groups, where it participates in conferences, talks, and debates on adoption.
La Voix des Adoptés is headquartered in Paris but has five satellite offices throughout France. What I find equally interesting is that it is run by a very diverse group of adoptee volunteers from France, Ethiopia, Brazil, India, Haiti, Madagascar, and many other countries.
Discovering the existence of Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie and La Voix des Adoptés has made me realize the importance of reaching out to adoptee communities across the globe, not only to support each other but also to learn from each other despite language barriers.
My constant littering of comments and links to Les Adoptés d’Éthiopie has been pretty successful; I have spent the last few weekends barricaded in my apartment talking on Skype (despite the six-hour time difference) and responding to numerous messages. It’s been wonderful.
Through my conversations with fellow Ethiopian adoptees, I’ve been amazed to find so many similarities between our experiences and even personalities. Many of us were adopted with missing or false information about our birth parents and have gone through what appears to be quick but sometimes very difficult adjustments to our new environment, navigating potentially complicated relationships with our families and siblings. And despite being successful in our lives, many of us have struggled privately without others knowing.
All the adoptees that I spoke with agreed that traveling back to Ethiopia was or will likely be a healing experience. Everyone had either returned to Ethiopia or are planning to return. Some have found their birth families, others went to explore Ethiopia’s rich culture and cuisine, while others want to start businesses and help improve the socio-economic landscape of Ethiopia for future generations. But whatever their interests and motivations, there is a keen desire to learn about the country’s history, art, and culture and immense pride in being Ethiopian.
In spite of all these similarities, there are differences. One thing that was repeated to me during conversations is that talking about your adoption or more specifically about how bad your adoption situation is or was, is taboo even among other Ethiopian adoptees. This really struck me because it challenged my perception of relationships between adoptees. I always imagined that being close friends with another adoptee meant being open about our adoption experiences, whether they are positive, negative, or somewhere in between.
At the same time, I understand why adoptees may not want to share their experiences; they are very personal, sometimes painful, and also ongoing, lifelong experiences. It can be easier to talk about past experiences than ongoing ones.
As I noted the similarities and differences between us Ethiopian adoptees residing on different continents, I realized that our circumstances and Ethiopian adoption, in general, can only begin to improve when we start voicing our thoughts and feelings on adoption. Shared experience can lead to unity, and unity can lead to change.
That adoptees in Canada, France, and the U.S. have had similar experiences where, for example, parents were usually unaware of the complexity of parenting adopted children and did not have access to post-adoption services is evidence that adoption policies and programs in many “receiving” countries need to be revised. Our narratives are strong indicators of what needs to be changed in adoption at both national and international levels.
Building international adoptee networks gives us the opportunity to exchange organizing strategies/techniques and to collaborate on artistic or academic projects that can reach a broader public. And more importantly, it creates a larger platform for adoptees to articulate their needs and visions for adoption policies centered on the well-being of adoptees rather than adopters.
Continued dialogue and evolution is not only healing and empowering, but it also gives others the courage to come forth as well. It’s only when we articulate our needs and visions for the future that we will be able to improve the situation for younger adoptees and future adoptees, which highlights why communities are so very important.