Sembete: Connecting with Her Ethiopian Birth Family

Traveling Back to Ethiopia Helps Strengthen Identities for Adopted Children

Sembete, 12, was adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage when she was 3. Now, as a pre-teen living in the United States, “Semi” is curious about almost everything—including where she came from. That’s why Megan and Steve, Semi’s adoptive parents, made the decision to travel back to Ethiopia so Semi could meet with her birth family and learn more about who she is.

That decision was a long time in the making. For years, Megan and Steve kept in touch with Semi’s birth family through Zimdina, Wide Horizon For Children’s post-adoption program that gives adoptive families meaningful ways to stay in contact with their child’s birth family. Zimdina is the Amharic word for a network of people connected in their love for a child.

Megan and Steve would send letters and photos to Semi’s birth family, and they would regularly respond back inquiring about how she was doing. “They wanted us to come visit,” says Megan. “We had already met the mother and several siblings when we travelled to get [Semi]. Through video, we got to know their home and their fields. It reinforced what we already knew.”

Megan and Steve had always planned to return to Ethiopia with Semi when she was emotionally ready. Originally, they were going to go to her birth family’s village. But because of political unrest, Wide Horizons For Children needed to quickly react and arranged to bring the birth family to the hotel where Megan, Steve, Owen and Semi were staying.

“I had been nervous about this for years in terms of how her family would react to who she is and how we raised her,” says Steve. “They were incredibly gracious and welcoming. It was as good as we could have imagined in terms of how they responded to us. There were big smiles.”

For two hours, the two families—adoptive and birth—shared stories and formed new memories. The children, including Semi’s three birth siblings, bonded while playing mini-golf and basketball. Megan and Steve say the time they spent together helped Semi better understand her birth family, so she could learn more about who she is.

“I think the trip helped her feel more connected to the country,” explains Steve. “She talks more about her two families. And, she is exploring what it is to be an African-American. Semi is taking steps to know where she is connected. Which, I think is great.”

Megan and Steve say they can see how important Semi’s birth family is to her and how life-changing it was to return to Ethiopia. In fact, they are already talking about when they can go back!

They were incredibly gracious and welcoming. It was as good as we could have imagined in terms of how they responded to us. There were big smiles.
father to Sembete, on visiting his adopted daughter’s birth family in Ethiopia

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