I stumbled into the first great adventure of my life and it looks like I’ve stumbled into the next one.
About a year ago, we ran a contest to choose a cover mom for the May edition of Raising Arizona Kids magazine. More than 130 moms submitted photos and essays about motherhood. We read many heartfelt stories; choosing just one mom for the cover was tough. But once we’d narrowed the field to 20, I sent around a memo asking everyone on my team and everyone at Vestar (which provided prizes for the contest through Desert Ridge Marketplace and Tempe Marketplace) to pick their favorite. By then, the winner was obvious.
Keri deGuzman waited a long time to be a mom. So long, she wrote, that whenever she heard the word “mamma” from her 14-month-old son or “I love you mommy” from her 26-month-old daughter, it brought a profound sense of joy.
Both of Keri’s children were adopted from Ethiopia. She and her husband, Brian, a cardiac surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, traveled 8,935 miles to become parents — not once, but twice.
Jesmina was born on Nov. 22, 2006 and placed in their arms on July 2, 2007. Musse was born on Nov. 22, 2007 and placed in their arms on April 26, 2008. “Yes, you read it correctly,” she wrote. “Both were born on the same day, one year apart to the day. Truly a miracle and what a blessing!”
I rarely accompany my creative team when they are out on a photo shoot. I trust them implicitly and figure they don’t need the boss lurking about while they do their work. But this time I asked to go along. I justified it by saying I could pick up some “color” — the word we in the print media use to describe interesting details for a story. Honestly, I was just curious.
What compels a couple to make that kind of journey to build a family? What kinds of challenges did they face along the way? What is involved — legally, logistically, emotionally and spiritually — in the process of international adoption?
When we first arrived at McCormick Stillman Railroad Park for an early morning photo shoot, photographer Daniel Friedman and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams were busy setting up the shot, so I took advantage of the moment to strike up a conversation with Keri and ask some of my questions. I found her captivating — spilling over with happiness, boundlessly enthusiastic about being a mom, completely open about her experience and passionately articulate about the plight of orphaned children in Ethiopia.
After the photos were taken, Jesmina and Musse needed to burn off some energy on the play equipment so Brian supervised the kids while I resumed my conversation with Keri. I learned that she and Brian had become involved in raising money to build Acacia Village, an ambitious project situated on 10,000 square meters of land west of Addis Ababa. The biggest undertaking yet by Christian World Foundation (a non-profit organization established to support humanitarian projects around the world and, in part, Christian World Adoption, through which the deGuzmans adopted their children) Acacia Village will encompass a variety of buildings, including housing for orphans, classrooms and a healthcare clinic for women and children.
When they adopted Jesmina, “we truly thought we would go get our baby, make a donation [to the foundation] and walk away,” Keri confided. But witnessing the hardships faced by children in this desperately poor and underdeveloped nation rocked their world. So much so that Keri now spends nearly every spare moment volunteering her time, her energy and her family’s resources to make sure Acacia Village becomes a reality.
Before we left the park, Keri told me that she and Brian had decided to adopt two more children from Ethiopia. My recollection of what followed is murky. I must have said something about wishing I could visit Africa some day or what an amazing experience it would be to see them welcome these two new children into their family.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Keri said. I could tell she really meant it.
And I really meant it when I said I would. So now I wait, as they are waiting, for word that it is time to travel to Ethiopia. — Karen
On Jan. 2 of this new decade, I launched a project called “1,000 People to Thank Before I Die.” It is my version of a “bucket list” — an attempt to acknowledge the people who have guided and influenced my life before I lose the opportunity to do so — and was inspired by the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die.