Travel Day 5: The Orphanage … and Going Home

Thursday was our departure day, but we were all given the option of visiting an orphanage that many of our children came from before entering Hannah’s Hope.

Everyone ended up taking the opportunity to go, so we crammed 23 little people and big people into the van and puttered our way across town. It’s amazing how your safety standards change in a different country – babies on laps, no seatbelts, adults sitting on the floor and chaotic driving.

We finally pulled through the gate and unfolded ourselves from the vehicle. We ducked under rows of drying laundry and entered a playroom full of children waiting patiently at tables for their lunch. They covered a broad span of ages, from around two up to eight or nine years old.

The kids were shy at first, until we started shaking hands, giving hugs, and taking pictures. Many longed for hugs and eye contact, and would take your hand and not let go.

While the orphanage was smaller than Hannah’s Hope, it had its own feeling of care for children who needed help. However, you could tell that the children here were earlier on in their lives as orphans. Many had recently come to the orphanage, and some from very desperate circumstances.

They took small groups at a time up to the children’s rooms because there were so many of us. While we were waiting our turn, I stood in a patio area and tried to picture what this place would be like for Abby, coming from a village area – or for older children that had a better sense that their life had significantly changed.

A young man passed by, later I would find out he worked in the office there. He shook my hand and asked if I was an adoptive parent. He then thanked me, and thanked all of us, for our willingness to come here to help these children, who so desperately needed homes.

I then came to meet the director of the orphanage. He seemed to be the male counterpart of Almaz. As the families came up to meet him, he remembered each child’s name and their circumstances. He hugged each of us, and asked God’s blessing on us.

This was an amazing man. He was a former marketing executive who felt called by God to serve orphaned children. And while he ached for them in their need, he had the joy of a person who was doing what he should be doing, not for money but because it is the right thing to do.

When Kristi came over, he took Abby in his arms and remarked at how well she looked. He said he hardly recognized her, from the state she was in when she arrived at the orphanage. This was hard for us to hear. We didn’t realize that she was in such bad shape, and to hear Almaz call her the “miracle baby,” then the orphanage director say he was amazed to see she was in such good health now, it made us realize the extent our little girl suffered in her journey to us.

I went up to the rooms, but Kristi stayed behind. They were smaller than those at Hannah’s Hope, but had the same beautifully painted walls with flowers and inspirational quotes and verses. They told us that Julie from All God’s Children came and painted the rooms, and we found that Hannah’s Hope often provides resources to help improve service to the children there.

The director had just taken a trip with Almaz to the southern regions of Ethiopia, to visit the government-run orphanages that first receive the children. Hannah’s Hope works closely with this orphanage to transport the children to Addis Ababa for better care. The orphanage also works with other US-based adoption agencies, including Adoption Associates, based in our hometown.

It was a bitter-sweet visit, and we all felt a little heavy seeing so many orphaned children there. One of the other dads asked the director what the orphanage’s biggest need was, and he mentioned a washer and dryer set. Currently they were using the sinks in the kitchen to clean clothes, but an industrial washer and dryer would cost upwards of 5,000 US dollars.

Just before we got on the bus, we collected money from anyone willing to chip in. Many of us had extra Birr that we would have to convert, and just threw it all in for the cause. In about five minutes, we collected nearly $900, and while the bus idled, a couple of us ran back in to present it to the director. In his quiet office, we prayed for him and the children at the orphanage.


The remainder of the day was packing, saying goodbye, and getting our children ready for the long trip home. A few couples would leave in the next day or two, but several of us were on the same plane out of Addis. It would be the first flight heading to Europe since the volcano, and many on the flight had been stuck in Ethiopia for nearly a week.

We waited in long lines at the airport, and everyone was quiet, tired, ready to go home.

Abby did great on the flight, better than me in fact. The traveler’s flu finally caught up with me and I suffered through the first flight, and half way through the second before another couple offered a medicine that knocked me out, and began to knock the sickness out too.


There was one last bright spot to wrap up the trip. That morning, Almaz and our friends from Colorado decided they would pull their daughter from the hospital and take her home that night as originally scheduled. She was still on oxygen, but could bring a tank along on the plane in case she needed it.

We were all very relieved, as the alternative would’ve been very rough on our friends. One parent would have to leave the other one behind, and hope for a quick recovery. However, tickets out would’ve been nearly impossible to secure.

Almaz the day running all over the city to get the permissions to make this happen, and our friends were rushing around to get everything ready to make the flight. They were on a different airline than us, but Kristi saw them through a glass window as we went to our gate. They held up a bright-eyed girl, and pointed to a nurse who would be on the flight with them. They were all smiles. Their child was going home now.


We rolled into Grand Rapids tired and excited. A huge crowd waited for us, including our kids, who all seemed a little bit older. They had decorated shirts with the African continent outlined, and Abby’s name written on them.

There were balloons and flowers and hugs and kisses, just like we imagined. The first group of friends and family got to meet Abby before we went home to begin our “cocooning” process. Another group of neighbors met us outside our house with a handmade sign.

At long last, our journey to adoption was now complete. We were home. She was home. Now a new journey is beginning.

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