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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Book Review: Students collaborate to support, tell stories of Ethopian AIDS orphans

"The goal is for people to understand the amazing journey the kids have gone through," Beisswenger said.

"An Unlikely Family" is a collaborative effort with Meron Foster, who attends college in England; Christopher Beisswenger and Margaret Eldred, first year students at the University of Virginia; and Carolynne Krusi, a former dean at the College. The book draws from the authors' experiences with the Selamta Family Project.

Selamta, which is funded by the Human Capital Foundation, seeks to help Ethiopian orphans, especially those who have lost their parents to the AIDS pandemic. Children receive clothing, food, medical attention and school tuition at the Selamta Children's Center before joining one of seven families, each of which hosts about eight children brought together by the organization.

"The goal is to find community-based solutions, not just adoption," says Annemarie Linnehan, the foundation's program director, who manages the daily operations of the Upper Valley headquarters.

Linnehan works closely with volunteers to ensure that service trips that occur three times each year go off successfully and enrich the lives of volunteers -- who Selamta calls "ambassadors" -- and the children they help.

"It's encouraging in terms of what a few people can do," Linnehan says.

The book serves as excellent proof of just that. For the most part, Carolynne Krusi came up with the idea for "An Unlikely Family" after a three-week trip to the Children's Center two years ago. The book features quotations from interviews with children and ambassadors involved with the project.

"I feel loved when someone shares what is in his heart with me. Whether or not someone lives with me, he shares everything with me. Not material things, but things of the heart," Endriyas, 13, one of the Ethiopian children, says.

These words, included in "An Unlikely Family," show the wisdom that Beisswenger and Dmitrovsky saw in many of the children they met at Selamta.

The project aims not only at delivering these children's message to readers but also to sustain the children's lives.

The proceeds from each book purchased will feed a child in Ethiopia for a month, according to Dmitrovsky.

"An Unlikely Family" is not the only artistic project that has come from the work of ambassadors at Selamta, however. Jessica Chapman, a sophomore at Hampshire College, created an art exhibit after her trip to Ethiopia that recently premiered on the fourth floor of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Chapman, who traveled to Ethiopia from December 2007 to January 2008 as part of a service learning project, transformed linoleum etchings by children at Selamta into prints.

"Through offering the kids support and recognizing their capabilities they are given the opportunity to grow and gain confidence," Chapman says.

The prints represent everyday activities and dress of people in different regions of Ethiopia, reflecting their diverse backgrounds.

To help children transition more easily from these varied circumstances into their new homes, Selamta creates a network of families to welcome all the children who come through the Children's Center rather than simply offering them each an isolated adoptive family.

"In school, when the kids tell about their families they say they have 35 brothers and 46 sisters. They talk about what they used to be and what they are now and what they appreciate," Dmitrovsky explained.

Chapman's prints have allowed these children to bring past and present together, seeing the product of sketches they made in Ethiopia displayed in their new home.

Though the art exhibit at DHMC has ended, Chapman hopes that opportunities to view the children's work will not end there.

"Having an art show travel to communities around the country is a way of supporting the children and acknowledging their individual talent," she said.

Chapman is currently seeking donors to support the original artists, so that the prints will eventually return to Ethiopia.

The Dartmouth Bookstore will host a book launch party for "An Unlikely Family" from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 16th.

The Dickey Center is planning an event to celebrate the book and an exhibit of Chapman's work close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.