This is written by a colleague and Founder of The Table Initiative, Caleb David. Collaboration has been key throughout the years in supporting the staff of the Emmanuel House in the reunification efforts of hundreds of displaced children throughout Ethiopia.
It could have been my own daughter. My daughter turns nine in just a few weeks and I cannot imagine what I would feel or do, if she was taken from me and then went missing for over 2 years. My baby. My first-born. I guess this is why I’ve taken so long to process what I witnessed with my own eyes just over a week ago. I knew going into this rare experience that I wanted to share the experience to raise awareness. But once my eyes met the eyes of Adanu, I knew that the stories and videos I’d seen as a board member of No Ordinary Love Ministries, was about to be humanized in a way I could never have imagined. She could have been my daughter. I pray you read her story as if she was your daughter and sit with me in this experience and find a way to give voice to hundreds of more girls (and boys) like Adanu.
We pulled up in our van to the gates of Emmanuel House in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A line of children are saying “goodbye” to a 12 year old girl.
She is from Teji, an Oromo town just over an hour outside the capital city, Addis Ababa. Adanu was brought from the country-side by her half-sister, her father’s first wife’s adult daughter. Against Adanu’s mother’s wishes, the half-sister was granted her wish to take her to the city, under the guise of a job and that Adanu would receive an education.
As too common, the story did not work out as promised as her half-sister within just a few days became abusive to Adanu and began to beat her for making mistakes. She was only eight or nine years old. Adanu quickly had enough and she escaped from her half-sister and fled imagining the streets would treat her better. Her parents didn’t find out for a few months that this incident had occurred. As Adanu tells the story, she was found by local police and quickly put into a government orphanage for girls where she lived for 2 years with over 300 other girls. If she had ended up on the streets, we don’t even want to imagine what could have happened to her.
On January 10, 2016, Adanu was referred to No Ordinary Love’s, Emmanuel Home. What a gift of Providence! At Emmanuel Home, she received a health exam, counseling, food, clothing and the social workers began the search for her family.
Adanu walks to our van with her few personal possessions and as she climbs into the van, we introduce ourselves to offer some pathetic semblance of comfort. Her face belies her trepidation combined with excitement. She’s received counseling in preparation for her return, but she has been betrayed before. So, it comes as a kick to the gut when I realize that she very likely does not trust what she has been told. She’s received incredible care, and all her needs met during this transitional time, but her hopes have been dashed before, why should this time be any different? Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Yet, she remains strong, somber and resolute.
As we reach the outskirts of the village of Teji, the realization that this could have been my own daughter hits me again so profoundly that I knew I was never going to be prepared for what my eyes and heart were about to experience down this dusty road.
We pulled off the main road, past several small homes and then to a stop at the last home on the edge of a field. Horse drawn carts go by and as Adanu stepped out bravely to greet her family, time morphed into a bizarre blend of slow motion and warp speed.
I cannot describe the sounds of triumphant sobbing mixed with kisses and wails. Those of us who had been granted this honor to watch this unfold felt hot tears streaming down our faces. It was the ultimate picture of redemption and hope…and all I kept thinking was “God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us.”
In addition to the reunifications, No Ordinary Love Ministries also provides education to these communities of the dangers of working with brokers (some of whom are family members) that use these children for personal gain under the cloak of selflessness. Call it what you will, but this is human trafficking.
One by one, family members, neighbors, friends and even the man who led the social workers to the family came in to welcome Adanu home and to lend support to her family. As chickens darted in and out to assess the activity, Adanu’s three younger siblings clung to her as if their next breaths depended on her touch. The family shared a meal with all of us and they shared how they looked for her and in an act of desperation, even consulted a witch doctor, but to no avail. They thought she was dead and that hope had been lost, now here she was reunited with her siblings, her mother and her father. The only words that came to mind while we experienced the intense emotions bouncing off the mud and straw walls, was simply, “This is holy.”
What No Ordinary Love Ministries and Emmanuel Home provides is a very unique solution to poverty and injustice to the most vulnerable in Ethiopia. They work closely with the Justice Department to restore children into their families when it is a safe living environment. Last year alone, 153 children that were lost, trafficked, placed into forced servitude and/or sexually abused were successfully reunited back to their families.
What if Adanu was your daughter? What lengths would you go to get her back? How hard would you fight for her justice? How much would you spend? Would you cry until all the tears dried up and gave way to despair and hopeless resolve?
Since the time I left Ethiopia just over a week ago, 5 more children have been reunified and more will be brought to fill those vacancies at Emmanuel Home.
*Since this was written in 2016 Emmanuel House has closed due to lack of consistent funding. Working within the nonprofit sector of the developing world is very challenging yet we at Begin With One are grateful for our years of partnership and the outstanding work of child reunification. More than anything we are thankful that much awareness was raised about the dangers of child trafficking within Ethiopia and we know many children were returned home to spread the word and educate others.
For more stories like Adanu’s and for ways you can partner in the fight for justice please visit here.