Ethiopian siblings seek new life in Denver |

Ethiopian siblings seek new life in Denver

Veronica Whitney
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In the photo, his underfed body leaning on a bamboo cane, 13-year-old Bedre din Mohammed flashes a happy smile – in spite of having a paralyzed arm, being an orphan in one of the world’s poorest countries and not been able to go to school.

Bedre din’s story of hunger, illness and loss is harrowing. But in his country, an average 5 million people need daily food assistance, a situation that has occurred year after year over the last decade, even when drought conditions have been lessened, reports the Addis Tribune in Ethiopia.

In two weeks, however – and if everything goes as planned – Bedre din and his 12-year-old sister Mitfah Mohammed Ali, will be in the United States probably eating Big Macs, learning English, going to school and maybe even learning how to ski.

On March 15, the two Ethiopians are expected to arrive in Denver to live with their aunt, Fatouma Ahmed, an Ethiopian refugee who has lived in the United States since 1985.

“We feel it’s important to give back to humanity and this is a small contribution,” says Don Lemon, an Eagle-Vail immigration attorney who has volunteered hundreds of hours to make the Ethiopians’ adoption and immigration possible. “The governments can do more to help, but we can do as well with individual contributions.”

In a three-year span, Bedre din – who suffered a head injury that left his left arm paralyzed – and Mitfah lost their parents and two sisters to illnesses related to starvation. The death of their parents prevented them from attending school. The two children, who now live with help hired by Ahmed, have been mostly surviving on some money that their aunt has sent over the past years from the United States.

“They’re looking forward to come to the United States,” Lemon says.

Tricky business

It’s Thursday morning and Lemon and Eric Goldman, who works with him at his law practice in Eagle-Vail, are getting ready to begin their pilgrimage to the village of Bati in Ethiopia, where Bedre din and Mitfah live. First, the two men and Ahmed are stopping in Washington D.C. to gather support from some U.S. Congressmen to make sure they’ll come back with the two siblings.

“This adoption is complex because under the Islamic law, Ethiopians don’t recognize adoption,” Lemon says. “They believe it’s the responsibility of the family to take care of the kids. Which in this case is what will happens because Fatouma is their aunt.”

To make the adoption happen, and get the kids out of Ethiopia, Lemon got a humanitarian parole.

“We’re bringing them for medical reasons,” he says. Once in the United States, Lemon expects the state of Colorado to grant a kinship adoption making it possible for the two orphans to stay with their aunt in Denver. But Lemon says he expects some problems before the five board the plane back to the United States.

“We’re working with the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa to make sure things go OK. But you’re still in a third-world country,” he said. “Anything can go wrong and it could take a lot of lobbying to get this done.”

Goldman has also logged many miles traveling to Washington to deal with U.S. immigration authorities and seven pent his own money on the case. “This has to be done,” he said. “By bringing these children over we can show the plight of the other children who can’t come.”

Faiths cooperate

From Washington, a flight that costs $2,900 per person will take Lemon, Goldman and Fatouma Ahmed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. From there, they’ll have another 14 hours by car to Bati.

And there certainly is no hotel in this African village, population 700. Lemon said he expects almost no electricity, not much food and bathing in the local pond of mud.

“I’ve slept on grass before,” says Lemon, who has done some relief work in Bangladesh in the past. “And I don’t expect much food. There is a huge drought there now.”

What makes this project special, Lemon says, is that it involves a Muslim family, Catholic Charities in Denver, the Lutheran Refugee Services and Jewish support – Goldman is Jewish.

“All faiths working together to solve a problem, that represents the diversity we have in America,” Lemon says.

Lemon’s efforts in Ethiopia won’t stop with the adoption of the siblings.

In June he plans to travel there with his daughter, Kelly, 16 and son J.D., 19, to do more relief work and do some infrastructure development in Bati.

“It’s good for my kids to know what poverty is like,” Lemon says. “In the U.S. we have a false impression of what the real world is like.

“If we can raise the awareness of problems in Africa, maybe more can be done,” he added. “These children may become poster children for what is a critical need in the region.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at

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