Ethiopia surpasses China as source of most local adoptions through Bethany Christian Services

Micah Rogers 2 with mother Sheri
Micah Rogers, 2, munches a slice of watermelon with his mother, Sheri, while attending a picnic celebrating families that have adopted children from Ethiopia. Sheri's husband, Neil, and their daughter, Kylea, 4, also enjoyed the festivities at the Bethany Christian Services conference center.

GRAND RAPIDS — Speaking to a crowd of white adults, Ali Siraj, who is black and from Ethiopia, thanked the gathered families for adopting the cause of caring for disadvantaged Ethiopian children.

“You are not only Americans, but are part of Ethiopia,” he said through an interpreter. “Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries. There are so many children abandoned.

“The priority is not adoption. The priority is community-based child care (in Ethiopia). We can only do so much.”

Siraj, the director general of Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Agency, was in Grand Rapids on Sunday for a reception with families who have adopted Ethiopian children through Bethany Christian Services.

Ethiopia this year will surpass China as the country from which the Grand Rapids-based agency coordinates the most adoptions.

It’s part of a national trend that has seen the share of U.S. adoptions from Ethiopia rise from 2 percent in 2005 to 18 percent last year. The number of U.S. adoptions from China has declined 62 percent during that time.

The number is growing both due to the needs of Ethiopian children and that country’s relatively lenient adoption standards, Bethany officials said.

Neil and Sheri Rogers originally planned to adopt from China, but the wait was long.

Then Bethany started a program in Ethiopia. Now, in addition to their 4-year-old biological daughter, the couple has 2-year-old Micah, and they are in the process of adopting another Ethiopian child.

Bethany coordinated 14 adoptions from Ethiopia in 2008, 57 last year and 95 so far this year.

BY THE NUMBERS

The growing number of U.S. adoptions from Ethiopia

2005: 442
2006: 731
2007: 1,254
2008: 1,724
2009: 2,277

Countries of origin for adoptions to the United States

2009 — China (3,001), Ethiopia (2,277), Russia (1,586), South Korea (1,080), Guatemala (756). Worldwide: 12,753

2008 — Guatemala (4,122), China (3,911), Russia (1,857), Ethiopia (1,724), South Korea (1,065). Worldwide: 17,475

2007 — China (5,453), Guatemala (4,727), Russia (2,303), Ethiopia (1,254), South Korea (938). Worldwide: 19,609

2006 — China (6,492), Guatemala (4,135), Russia (3,702), South Korea (1,373), Ethiopia (731). Worldwide: 20,680

2005 — China (7,903), Russia (4,631), Guatemala (3,783), South Korea (1,628), Ukraine (824). Worldwide: 22,734

Source: U.S. Department of State

Ethiopia has an estimated 5 million orphans, about one-fifth of them affected by AIDS.

“We felt there was a greater need there,” said Sheri Rogers, 33, of Grand Rapids. “The infrastructure isn’t there (in Ethiopia) to care for them.”

Siraj plans to be here through Tuesday to observe how U.S. adoption agencies are licensed and how they interact with client families. But while Ethiopia wants to find loving international homes for its most vulnerable children, improving domestic support systems also is a goal.

He praised a local family’s efforts to fund a food program for Ethiopian orphans by importing Ethiopian coffee. Paul and Barb Osburn, who in 2008 were the first Bethany clients to adopt Ethiopian children, send proceeds from their¬†Blue Nile Traders venture to a Bethany program for HIV-affected families in Ethiopia.

The biological mother of the Holland couple’s adopted children, Aster, now 14, and Dawit, 12, died of AIDS.

A lot of “value-driven” families motivated by religious faith want to adopt needy Ethiopian children, including HIV-positive kids, said Tendai Masiriri, Bethany’s international services manager.

“(Ethiopia) can’t handle the volume of children that are vulnerable,” he said. “We actually tend to find families for children rather than children for families.”

E-mail the author of this story: localnews@grpress.com

Matt Vande Bunte, The Grand Rapids Press