He had only four months in the United States, but what Abayneh Adefris took back to Ethiopia with him on Monday will likely last him a lifetime.
Tears trickled down the 14-year-old’s face as he gave goodbye hugs to his foster mother, Traci Grant, and her daughter, Carly, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
“We’re going to pray for you everyday,” promised Grant, of Mill Creek, who has been instrumental in Abayneh’s transformation from dependent amputee to independent teenager.
Abayneh arrived in October weighing only 60 pounds and carrying little more than the clothing he wore. He’s returning home 20 pounds heavier, loaded with 142 pounds of luggage (including clothing for his brothers), an iPod, a bike, and most important, a prosthetic arm and the skills to use it. Those skills will make it possible for him to have an independent life â€” even at home in Ethiopia, say those who have cared for him during his stay.
Abayneh was brought to the U.S. by the regional chapter of Healing the Children, which is headquartered in Mukilteo. The nonprofit matches children needing medical care with agencies, doctors and hospitals willing to donate it.
Abayneh lost his arms three years ago in a train accident, and afterward his mother was unable to work outside the home because she had to do everything for him â€” from helping him bathe to feeding him, said Deanne Gillock, one of the missionaries who found him in Ethiopia. Abayneh was unable to go to school because there were no programs for disabled students.
Gillock and her husband, Gene, of Portland, were working as missionaries for Blessing the Children (no relationship to Healing the Children) and began teaching Abayneh to read and write by using his feet. Deanne Gillock began looking for an agency that could provide Abayneh with prosthetic arms and eventually found Healing the Children. It in turn brought Abayneh to Everett’s Cornerstone Prosthetics, which made him a prosthetic arm for free.
Gene Gillock is returning to Ethiopia with Abayneh and plans to meet with his family to encourage them to let the boy do as much as possible for himself.
“Gene is best at the tough-love approach,” Deanne Gillock said. “We want the family to understand he has to keep doing the things he’s been doing here.”
Abayneh returns to a one-room home, without running water or plumbing, in a small village. His father works in a coffee shop and walks miles to work every day. But things will be better for Abayneh nonetheless. Now he will be able to return to school.
“Do you think people will stare at me?” he asked Gene Gillock.
“Yeah, people will look and then get back to their own lives,” he was told.
As the final minutes ticked past, a crowd of Abayneh’s American friends gathered to say goodbye.
“He’s such an unusual boy,” said Grant’s mother, Sharan Courounes. “You’d think he would have arrived here dependent and clingy after all he’d been through, but he’s just an everyday 14-year-old boy with opinions.”
While he was in the U.S., Abayneh loved pizza, riding bikes and driving the golf carts around the Mill Creek Country Club course as a reward for working hard in his physical therapy.
“The pro said the next time he comes to America he’ll rig up a club and teach him to golf,” Courounes said.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or email@example.com