Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kind Hearts in Ethiopia makes the news in Minnesota!

A few weeks ago, our local newspaper contacted me to do a story about adoption and the child sponsorship program that is underway at a school in Ethiopia called Kind Hearts. Currently, every child at Kind Hearts is sponsored, but there will be more children enrolling soon - and we are currently developing a sponsorship program for another care-point in Ethiopia. Since the article was published in our local paper, I have gotten several emails and phone calls expressing interest in sponsoring a child. If you are interested in sponsorship, please contact me at

Here is the article that printed on March 28, in our local Wright County Journal Press, written by Ed Dubois.

When little Jayden and Wesley arrived in America after being adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia, they were much different than the lively, thriving boys their new family members now know. They did not speak English, and their world totally changed. Many adjustments were ahead of them. Things like drinking fountains, elevators and escalators were foreign to them.

Jayden, who is now eight years old, used hand signals to indicate he was interested in going to school. Wesley, now three, did not speak. For whatever reason — and the reason might have been horrific; we don’t know — he did not speak at the orphanage and this continued for a while in America.

Karen Wistrom of Buffalo, the boys’ adoptive mother, said they were expressionless for a while. They did not know about hugging. They did not look people in the eye. They were both small for their age because they had been malnourished. But that has all changed over the past year.

He wanted to learn
“A huge value is placed on education in Ethiopia,” Karen said. “We wanted to ease Jayden into school, but he asked about school within days of arriving home. He pointed to our two daughters and their books, and then he pointed to himself. He started school within a week in the first grade.” Jayden’s teacher at Northwinds Elementary School in Buffalo, Tari Waite, eased him in beautifully, Karen said.

Now Jayden is in the second grade class taught by Jill Mills. A bright lad, he has learned English in one year, with the help of an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher, Pattie Gillespie. Karen mentioned his native language is called Amharic. Since Wesley did not speak at all, his first language is English, Karen commented. “Now he’s a chatterbox,” she added. Both boys have been thriving and growing.

Loves waterOne of the most wondrous experiences for Jayden was his first visit at the Gold’s Gym swimming pool. He had this wide-eyed look on his face, Karen recalled. When her daughters, Emmelyn, 13, and Maea, 11, dove into the water, they called to Jayden to come in, as well. “He did this perfect swan dive. We were all surprised because we did not know he could swim. But then he did not come up. The girls grabbed him and pulled him to the surface, where he sputtered and gasped for air,” Karen said. “After seeing the girls dive in, he must have figured he could do the same thing.” She added that Jayden loved the beach in Florida during a family vacation.

Got them thinking
Ironically, adoption had not been a family plan that was years in the making. The idea developed relatively fast when Maea commented that she would like little brothers and sisters. “Maea got us thinking about adoption,” Karen said. A vice president of marketing, she works at the Dura Supreme cabinet manufacturing company in Howard Lake. Her husband, Jay, sold a business he owned 15 years and is now working on a master’s degree in addiction counseling at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies, located on the Center City, Minn. campus of the world-renowned Hazelden addiction treatment center. Karen and Jay moved from Iowa to Buffalo about six years ago. The adoption of Jayden and Wesley began with a research process online.

Millions of orphans“Something about Ethiopia grabbed our hearts,” Karen said. Ethiopia has roughly five million orphans. Famine, AIDS and poverty have all combined to create a huge need for adoption in that African country.

The Wistroms selected an adoption agency called America World Adoption, which is headquartered near Washington, D.C. Karen said this organization makes sure that children being made available for adoption are truly orphans. The organization works in many countries, including China.

The process of being accepted for adoption involved putting together a huge dossier, which Karen described as “documentation about you.” A lengthy list of documentation tasks involved gathering references and being checked by agencies, such as Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Karen mentioned that the dossier was certified by President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Trip to Africa
Six months of documentation was followed by six months of waiting, and then the Wistroms were told about two boys in Ethiopia, ages two and six. They were not siblings, but they were in the same orphanage. The whole family traveled to Ethiopia in December 2008 to meet the boys and complete the adoption. Jay, who took part in sports when he was in school, has enjoyed watching Jayden play soccer and basketball.

There was a period of adjustment for the girls, Karen said. Even though they had talked about having little brothers and sisters, there was a point at which they might have thought, “Okay, can we take them back now?” “All is good today,” Karen said. “We are settled, and everything is normal.”

Other orphansYou might think the story ends here, but memories of the orphanage haunted Karen. She remembered the expressionless faces of Jayden and Wesley, and she recalled that many other orphans had that same look.

Karen returned to Ethiopia last December. She did some research and found an organization, Children’s Hopechest, which conducts a sponsorship program. Those who would like to sponsor a child provide $34 a month, which pays for a sponsored child’s food, clothing, medical care, education, and Christian discipleship. A profile and a picture of each child are sent to the sponsors. Karen serves as a sponsor coordinator for a school called Kind Hearts. Sponsorships were set up for 68 children at the school. Some of the sponsors live in Buffalo.

Tired and weakWhile visiting the children before they were sponsored, Karen noticed they all looked tired, lethargic and weak. She learned the school could only afford to feed them on Wednesdays, and they probably did not get much to eat at home, either.

Besides being hungry, the children craved hugs and attention. “The children would climb up on my lap and then pull my arms around them,” Karen recalled. “They would tell me their names, and then they would come back a little later to see if I remembered their names,” she added. “I now know the names of all 68 of those children.”

The school is on ten acres of land, and work is underway on establishing a well. Once that is running, a kitchen and bathrooms can be provided. There are plans to raise chickens and sell eggs for school funds. A garden could be established, as well.

Another 75 children
Karen said a second school with 75 children is being checked out by Children’s Hopechest, and she could soon begin to seek sponsors for those children. If you would like to learn more about the sponsorship program, you can contact Karen by email at or visit her blog at

She plans to return to Ethiopia this fall and hopes to visit there once or twice a year. She mentioned speaking at her church, Buffalo Evangelical Free Church, and found much interest in the orphans of Ethiopia and the sponsorship program.

Ethiopia’s future
She remembers how Jayden and Wesley changed after being adopted. They were moved out of hopelessness and became lively, thriving boys. Through the work of Children’s Hope Chest, many
other Ethiopian orphans are being provided with a chance to grow, thrive and perhaps one day help make their country better for all its people.


Katie said...

Great article, Karen!! What wonderful publicity for the children who have or need sponsors!

jamullins said...

Love this!!!