Writing  |  Resume  |  Recent Clips  |  Blogs  |  Reporting from Rwanda : Nepal : Peru  |  Contact Info  |  Home

Family circle -
Boulder couple's fourth adoption from Ethiopia will reunite sisters

Rocky Mountain News (CO)
April 16, 2007
Author: Lisa Marshall, Special To The Rocky

The goodbye was so painful to witness that Rick Romeo still tears up when he thinks about it.

Standing in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2005, he watched as Tadu, the teenage girl he'd adopted and was bringing home, offered a baby doll and a parting embrace to a dark-eyed, round-faced little girl. Just days earlier Romeo had learned that Tadu had a little sister named Yenu.

As he left the impoverished, disease-ravaged nation to deliver Tadu to a new life in Boulder, his joy was overshadowed by guilt. "It was a heart-wrenching situation," says Romeo, a Boulder lawyer, recalling the last words Yenu uttered before her older sister walked out the door: "When are you coming back to take me to America?"

Soon, she'll get her answer.

Last fall, Rick and his wife, Karen, began the long, complex process of bringing 10-year-old Yenu to Boulder, where she will complete a family of eight, including their two biological children in their 20s and three other school-age children adopted from Ethiopia.

In the seven years since the Romeos welcomed their first Ethiopian child, Asha, into an elegant home in the shadow of the Flatirons, adoption from Africa has gone from being virtually unheard of to being the stuff of talk shows and blogs, thanks to celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie.

High-profile adoptions from the world's poorest continent also have shed light on the plight of the estimated 18 million African children who have been orphaned by AIDS, and appear to have influenced more adoptive parents-to-be to look to what has long been considered "the forgotten continent."

According to the U.S. State Department, 732 Ethiopian orphans were issued immigrant visas to come to the United States in 2006, up from just 82 a decade ago, making it the fifth-most popular country from which to adopt. Local agencies predict the number will continue to rise.

"Ethiopian adoption is probably one of the most popular adoptions at the moment," says Linda Donovan, international program director for Adoption Alliance of Denver, which has nine families waiting to bring children home from Ethiopia. "Suddenly, it has just taken off."

Rick Romeo, 55, and his wife Karen, 51, already had two teenagers and were beginning to build a nest egg for retirement when, in 1998, they decided to adopt.

"We are absurdly fortunate," says Karen, an accomplished violinist and former director of the Boulder Arts Academy. "If we can give back, we have to give back."

In June 2000, 18-month-old Asha joined the family, followed in October 2003 by 3-year-old Dante, who arrived with a jagged scar on his leg and teeth so decayed they would have to be extracted. In August 2005 came Tadu, a painfully shy teenager whose shaved head and downcast eyes hinted at a life with too much hardship for her 14 years.

This spring, the Romeos completed their paperwork for adopting Yenu, who, like roughly 2 million other children in sub-Saharan Africa, is infected with the HIV virus. They're awaiting approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which must clear the international adoption of an HIV-positive child. They estimate that the adoption will cost them $20,000, and Yenu's medication will run about $5,000 annually.

"We don't know how much her immune system has been compromised, but we do know that her prospects here are much better than any she may face over there," says Karen.

On a recent afternoon at the Romeo house, the three youngest children carried on like typical siblings, bickering and joking as they made cookies in the kitchen and ran around in a backyard littered with bikes and toys.

But for Tadu, a quiet, serious girl who listens only to Ethiopian music and keeps a picture of her little sister by her bed, the longing for something missing is palpable.

When her parents recently informed her that they were going to take her to Ethiopia to get her sister, she quietly wept in disbelief.

"My hope is that Tadu will now feel like the loop has been closed," says Rick. "This has been a huge hole in her heart."


Adoptions catch flak

Rocky Mountain News (CO)
April 16, 2007
Author: Lisa Marshall, Special to the Rocky


The recent surge in African adoptions has not been without controversy. When Madonna brought 18-month-old David Banda home from a Malawi orphanage in October, critics accused her of dismissing local adoption requirements and using her wealth and fame to hasten the process in a nation where international adoption is extremely rare.

The majority of African nations still refuse to allow international adoptions, either because the country is staunchly Muslim and does not approve of it or because as a former British colony it sees adoption - particularly by white parents - as a form of neocolonialism, experts say.

Some child welfare agencies have begun to frown on the idea of foreign adoption as humanitarianism, encouraging people instead to do more to help children stay in their home countries, immersed in their own culture.

"UNICEF is not opposed to international adoption; however, this is only one way in which children who have been orphaned in Africa can be assisted," says Geoffrey Keele, a spokesman on child protection issues for UNICEF, which prefers that children be cared for in their own country whenever possible.

Also, he says, "There is a large market globally for adoption, and in some cases there may be families that can be pressured to give up their child."

Cheryl Carter-Shotts, who founded Indianapolis-based Americans for African Adoptions Inc. in 1985 after adopting a child from Mali, says she has little patience for such arguments and believes fears about child trafficking from Africa to Western countries are overblown.

In reality, she says, adopting children from Africa is often akin to lifting their death sentence, particularly if they are HIV-positive. "Just getting the drug into an HIV-positive child in Africa isn't enough," she says, noting that without good nutrition, even the lucky few who get anti-retroviral drugs in the orphanage can suffer devastating side effects. "It may be prolonged by the medications, but the fate of the child there is probably going to be death."

Thanks to new adoption policies in Ethiopia, Americans have only recently been able to - like the Romeos - adopt HIV-positive children. But it rarely happens, Carter-Shotts says.

"The Romeos are a phenomenal family. I think the world of them."

Writing | Resume | Recent Clips | Blogs | Reporting from Rwanda : Nepal | Contact Info | Home