Local brings new hope to African orphans | VailDaily.com

Local brings new hope to African orphans

Veronica Whitney

He left his family for three months instead of the two weeks he had planned. He mortgaged his law office in Eagle-Vail. He paid $30,000 of his own money and lost three months worth of business. He exchanged the comforts of his Vail Valley home for three months of hotel hopping in Ethiopia.But Don Lemon says it was all worth it.Lemon, 51, of Eagle-Vail, is a local immigration attorney, the president of the Republican party in Eagle County and now the hero of two Ethiopian orphan brothers, who he might have saved from an illiterate life, malnutrition and illness.On June 7, after three months of dealing with Ethiopian bureaucracy, Lemon arrived at Denver International Airport with 13-year-old Bedre din Mohammed, who has a partially paralyzed arm and leg, and his 12-year-old brother Mitfah Mohammed Ali. The two brothers will live in Denver with their aunt, Fatouma Ahmed, an Ethiopian refugee who has lived in the United States since 1985.”This wouldn’t have happened without (Lemon’s) help,” said Fatouma, who has been working for four years to reunite the family. “The kids were starving and Bedre din was getting worse. He didn’t have hope.”After a 14-hour flight from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, the brothers, who didn’t go to school in Bati where they lived, left behind an uncertain future in Ethiopia, where an average of 5 million people need daily food assistance.”It’s been a bit of a cultural shock for them,” Lemon said. “They still don’t like McDonald’s.”Journey of hopeFatouma Ahmed, Lemon and Eric Goldman, who works with him a at his law office, left the United States for Africa on March 7. They all expected to be back in a couple weeks.But once in Ethiopia, things changed. The siblings were going to come to the United States with a humanitarian parole, but that didn’t work. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security got involved and decided that the case didn’t require immediate action, Lemon said. “We didn’t go with the idea of being there three months,” Lemon said. “But once you’re there you exhaust all options. By the end of April, Fatouma was ready to give up and we were really discouraged.”The U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa then suggested that Lemon complete a local adoption for the two boys. So Ahmed adopted her two nephews in Ethiopia and the embassy provided a medical visa for Bedre din and Mitfah. With Lemon’s help, Ahmed now will have to figure out where to go from there.”The U.S. embassy in Addis was extremely helpful,” Lemon said. “The hurdles were primarily the bureaucracy in Ethiopia. They weren’t very experienced in dealing with their own courts. They want stamps on top of stamps on top of stamps.”New life in the U.S.Since they arrived in Denver, the two brothers have been adjusting to a completely new life with electricity, running water and enough food. The past weekend they visited the Lemons in Eagle-Vail and went to Flight Days in Eagle. “They’re doing O.K. They are a little homesick, but they always dreamed of living all together. They wanted a family,” Ahmed said. In a three-year span, Bedre din – who probably suffered a head injury that left his left arm and leg 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 had been mostly surviving on some money that their aunt has sent over the past years from the United States.”After five days in the U.S., Bedre din’s condition improved,” Lemon said. “We’re hoping to establish a treatment program. From what I have read it’s a condition that can improve.”His condition would have gotten worse and he could have gone into more seizures. He was already having some episodes in March,” Lemon added. “The two brothers have now what they believe is everything at their aunt’s home.” While Bedre din attends English as a Second Language classes, Mitfah plays soccer twice a week. “They have tremendous opportunities to see what life in America is like,” Lemon added. “They complain about the food, they say it isn’t as good as in their country. They use their flat pancake for everything.” To Lemon, what made the project special was that it involved a Muslim family, Catholic Charities in Denver, the Lutheran Refugee Services and Jewish support – Goldman is Jewish. “It was the perfect example of color blind, creed blind and cultural blind,” he said. No matter what the language, Bedre din and Mitfah have a name for Lemon -they call him Angel, Fatouma Ahmed said. “They’re so shocked that he did all that for them,” Ahmed said. “They keep talking about how he stayed in Ethiopia three months and he didn’t give up.” At a glanceMore help neededIf you’d like to contribute to Bedre din Mohammed’s medical expenses fund, send a check payable to Project Ethiopia to Alpine Bank in Avon.======================================SidebarTeaching helpIt cost Don Lemon $30,000 and about $100,000 in lost business to reunite the two Ethiopian orphans with their aunt in Denver. But Lemon said it was an opportunity for him.So far, the only financial help he’s received has been $3,500 from Catholic Charities.Helping others isn’t new for Lemon, who has helped many abroad. The son of two American missionaries, the local immigration attorney lived in Vietnam until he was 18. He has traveled to 62 countries, lived in 15 and worked in 40, including Thailand, China, Bangladesh and Austria.”He impressed absolutely everyone he met here in Vienna with his deeply altruistic attitude to the world and its inhabitants,” said Raj Marwah, who met Lemon when he lived in Vienna, Austria, years ago. “We were all thoroughly impressed by this guy who managed to work 12 hours a day. While helping us with our European business plans, for example, he was using what was left of his personal time to help a poor Vietnamese family he knew from living in Thailand.”To Lemon, an attorney who has studied economics in Chicago, the case of Bedre din and Mitfah was an illustration of what needs to be done in Africa.”From a health and a development standpoint, the two orphans illustrated the ways by which more developed countries can be involved,” he said. “They need to focus more attention on ways these countries can become more self sufficient. There are more possibilities for influence when you come in with a strong economic development program that can improve people’s lives. The economy of a country is critical to having personal freedoms and liberties.”Lemon and his wife, Heather, who is running for the a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, say they have raised their three children with a service mentality.Their daughter, Kelly, 16, has raised $1,000 at Battle Mountain High School for the schools in Ethiopia; and Jamie, 21, is working in a Chinese orphanage for three weeks.”You have to sacrifice something for others sometimes,” said Heather Lemon, who launched her campaign while her husband was in Ethiopia.”It was a family sacrifice. It was tough because of kids events. Kelly had surgery and Jamie graduated from college,” she said, “but the results were so positive.”Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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