Friday, August 23, 2013

Social media leads family to adoption - By Elizabeth Richards

What began as a desire to help some women she’d been following on Twitter get to Ethiopia for a humanitarian trip ended in adoption for the Hatch family of Windham. Originally, Megin Hatch hadn’t even intended to go on the 2010 trip. Yet she did go, and two years later, she and husband Rob adopted Sitota, a young girl whom Megin met while there.

 “The purpose of the trip had nothing to do with adoption. We knew adoption might someday be part of our story, but I was not looking for a child,” said Megin. During the trip, she said, she fell in love with many children, but Sitota stuck with her. “When I started unpacking that trip emotionally, and what had happened, she was still there. That’s when we started inquiring to find out if she was even available for adoption,” Megin said.

When Megin returned from Africa, Rob said, she brought with her a passion for continuing to help orphans there. The Hatches three children, Aidan, Clay and Lucy, also wanted to be involved with the efforts. Clay, in particular, found a unique and interesting way to raise money. He had a great interest in origami, and he learned to make paper crane ornaments out of origami paper. With his mother’s help, he said, he launched a website to sell the cranes in order to raise money for orphans. When it became clear that his family would be adopting Sitota, his effort shifted from supporting all orphans to wanting to bring his sister home, said Rob. He ended up raising approximately $1,500, more than enough to buy the ticket to bring her home.

When word got out about Clay’s efforts to raise money, people responded immediately. Two people, including his oldest cousin, hired Clay to make favors for their weddings. At his cousins wedding, the cranes were displayed on a table with pictures of Sitota and Clay. “They had just a lovely tribute to Clay and to our story, and then they made a generous donation to buy the cranes from Clay,” said Megin.

Other people began to show interest in the cranes, hearing the story through Facebook and in the community. “I think they wanted one of Clay’s beautiful creations as well as they wanted kind of a piece of the story,” said Megin.

Megin said Clay’s efforts weren’t always easy. Origami dragons, which he learned to make at a camp, take about half an hour, he said, while the cranes take 10 minutes apiece to make. A large order was a serious investment of his time. “He was a normal 10-year-old boy with a lot of varied interests, but he buckled down and got it all done,” said Megin. “He met every time commitment, he met every promise that he made to people and fulfilled those. I think people really loved to get them. They’re all so different.”

Clay said a neighbor had given him charms and materials for the cranes, and he tried to tailor the origami to each person who ordered. “They’d tell me what they liked, and I would make it,” he said.

Sitota has been home with the Hatch family since November 2, 2012. While there have been adjustments and challenges typical of any expanding family, one of the hardest parts was the wait between the first court visit, where Sitota was declared by the Ethiopian government to be the Hatches daughter, and the US Embassy date, when they could bring her home. “We left not knowing when we would come back,” said Megin. “It probably was the longest almost three months that I’ve lived through in my entire life,” she added.

Maintaining balance was also tricky. Both Megin and Rob had to go on both trips, and needed a lot of support from family and friends to make sure life stayed as close to the same as possible for their other three children. “We never wanted to ask. Clay’s was the most deliberate ask that was made because when you decide, you feel like it’s your responsibility to do this,” Rob said. There came a point, however, when they realized that when people learned more about the story, they wanted to be a part of it. “They wanted to help out, and so we really had to find different ways to accept that help and say yes to that. Saying yes was amazing. It was a real blessing and a great process,” he said.

Sitota is a vibrant, energetic addition to the Hatch family. The connections the family has built with a community in Southern Maine and New Hampshire built around Ethiopian adoption have helped make the transition smoother. “I don’t know how I would have made it through the process without being able to connect with other people who knew exactly what I was going through,” said Megin.

Another connection they have made is with a mother in Texas who adopted a little boy who had grown up in the same orphanage as Sitota. Megin connected with the mother before their court date via email. They ended up in Ethiopia for court at the same time, and connected there. Incredibly, they also were back for their Embassy date at the same time, and once they got home, kept in contact via Skype, sharing pictures, videos and stories. Recently, the boy and his mother came to stay with the Hatches for a week. The Hatches are committed to visiting annually with the other family, said Megin, to keep the kids connected.

Maintaining a connection to Sitota’s country is also important to them, said Rob. “We’re dreaming about the day when we can visit again and take our whole family. We want our other children to be able to see where their sister was born and experience that, because it’s an amazing place,” he said.

The Hatches continue to tell their story after the fact, through blogging and social media, because people still want to hear it, said Rob. “What’s remarkable to me is that the whole story started with her [Megin] following some moms on twitter, and it continues with her sharing the story and garnering support and connection with people,” he said.

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