Kids who are the product of divorced couples talk about having two Christmases as a silver lining for their less than ideal family situation.
Adopted children have it better. They get to celebrate two birthdays. Well, one is a birthday, and the other is often referred to as "Gotcha Day" to celebrate the day the child became a part of your family.
Today is Dawit's eighth gotcha day. He has officially lived in America twice as long as he lived in Ethiopia.
There aren't many more stories like his from Ethiopia. The government there shut down international adoption because they were afraid that these children were losing their Ethiopian nationality and culture. The new law passed in 2018 was written from a standpoint of national pride. Regardless of how bad the conditions are for these children, the government would rather they stay Ethiopians than have opportunities in Australia, Europe or the United States.
The country boasts a system of orphanages that can support thousands of children. Unfortunately, there are more than 4.5 million orphans in the country of only 90 million people.
International adoption was never a great solution to the problem. There would never be enough families to house all of the orphans in the country. One reason is that Ethiopia is far from the only country that has an orphan problem. UNICEF says there are more than 153 million orphans across the globe. That is about two percent of the world's population. The organization defines an orphan as a child under 18 who has lost at least one parent. More than 15 million children have lost both parents.
Dawit never knew his father. His mother relinquished him when his body was racked with pneumonia so badly that we were told he would never run and play like a normal child and malnourishment was slowing his development to the point that medical staff worried his growth might always be stunted. Eight years later, he is a soccer and basketball player whose growth was anything but stunted.
His mother didn't want to give him up. She had done her best as an orphan herself to care for him. There was no help from the government and when private charities ran out of money, she had no choice.
Dawit was days from death when she decided to make the incredible sacrifice to allow an orphanage to provide the care she couldn't. At least he would be fed and have some medical attention.
Dawit's journey went from that northeastern Ethiopian orphanage as a three-year-old to a foster care center in Addis Ababa about 10 hours away by bus. He would move from one home to another four more times in the year before we finally took custody.
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He spoke a toddler's version of Tigrinyan. The people in Addis Ababa speak Amharic or English and some of the kids in the homes with him spoke an Oromo dialect.
That was a lost year for Dawit. As the oldest in a toddler's facility, he was moved to an older children's home where he was the youngest of 27 children in a three-bedroom home where children slept in rooms with three sets of triple bunk beds. He was at the bottom of the pecking order and he couldn't communicate with anyone.
I can't imagine how scared he was.
Then we entered the picture. In a less than picture-perfect scenario, he was brought to us on June 25, 2011. The director asked him if he wanted to stay with us and he was quick to shake his head "no."
Luckily, we had brought along a Teddy bear and some Ritz Bits. After he got those, he decided he would give us a chance.
He immediately bonded with my wife and our first son. He had never had an adult male in his life so he wasn't quite sure why I was there. I get that a lot.
I'm not here to tell you that international adoption is always easy. I'm telling you it is always worth it.
I'm not saying it is the best answer or the ultimate solution to the orphan crisis in the world. I will tell you it seems to have been beneficial for Dawit and thousands more like him.
Adoption isn't for everyone. There are hundreds of groups trying to provide for orphans in America and across the world. Maybe you would rather help by sending a check to one of them when you can.
But Gotcha Day is something special. Adoption changes the child's life for the better, but the blessing isn't reserved for the child. The entire family gets to share it.