Laura Wells '04 sat in her hotel room in Ethiopia's capital city trying to catch her breath. In the last 24 hours, she'd flown out of Logan Airport in Boston, traveled halfway around the world, and survived a wild ride from the airport to downtown Addis Ababa. She felt alone and very far from home, but Wells knew in her heart she would change people's lives here.
Laura Wells '04 travels to Ethiopia to discover what her clients experience when adopting abroad. Along the way, she connects with the children as well.
Her work in Ethiopia last fall is a far cry from Wells' typical day with Wide Horizons For Children, an international adoption agency, where she serves as events and public relations coordinator. Working at the company's central office in Waltham, Mass., the former communications major spends much of her day creating promotional materials, planning events, pitching stories to the press and fielding media requests.
"I wanted to get a better feel for what parents experience when they travel to meet their child for the first time," Wells explains of her trip. Wells spent two weeks "in country" working with families going through the final phases of the adoption process. In addition to serving as a liaison for the families, Wells traveled to rural areas to meet the birth relatives of children being adopted.
"I will always remember that for a country so devastated by poverty, famine and war, the people there are so happy with what they do have," Wells says.
The world of international adoption is constantly changing and the agency must keep track of laws not only in the United States., but in every one of the 11 countries where they work. Wide Horizons places more than 600 children in permanent homes every year, and the vast majority comes from overseas. According to government records from 2006, more children came into the United States from China than any other country. Guatemala ranked second, Russia third, Korea fourth and Ethiopia was fifth.
"When a country first begins an adoption program, the restrictions and laws are pretty flexible," Wells explains. "But as a program takes off, officials realize they can have their pick of adoptive parents, and they become more particular." This may include the age of potential parents, their health, marital status, and whether they have a criminal record.
Back home, Wells supports adoptive families by planning Culture Camps. These day-long events help children to learn about their birth culture and to meet others adopted from the same country. While the children do fun activities based on their culture, parents attend workshops where they talk to other adoptive parents and learn about their child's birth culture. "And they learn how to integrate that culture into their day-to-day life," Wells explains.
Working for a nonprofit, Wells is used to a small staff and minimal budget. "I am the entire PR department," she laughs. "And the events department." While it takes a great deal of juggling and prioritizing, Wells is proud of the customer service Wide Horizons provides to families.
"We're not finding children for parents," she emphasizes. "We're finding parents for children. To be part of that is so meaningful to me. I know I'm making a difference."
by Betty Lynne Leary