[DA] You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold.
I think it’s safe to say that listening is hard for a lot of us. It really is. Even those of us, like myself, who are naturally more introverted, more quiet, it can be hard to take the time to truly listen, to slow down and be fully present. I know for myself, when I’m listening to someone share about a struggle they have, I can get so caught up in trying to find a solution that I stop actually listening, and think only of how I would solve this problem. I fail to listen more often than I would care to admit. But I am continuing to learn that when I listen more, I understand more, I empathize more, and I may just realize that someone else knows more than I do.
In the world of international aid, listening is critical. If we stop TELLING people what they need, and start ASKING people what they need, we begin to see that what we thought were simple problems with simple solutions were actually complex problems with complex solutions we could have never imagined. In order to operate for the benefit of others, we must listen and empower OTHERS to do amazing things in ways we would never have dreamed of.
Today we’re welcoming our friend Jacqui Gustafson to talk with us about her experience adopting from Ethiopia, and how listening to people there inspired her to help provide a platform to empower Ethiopian social entrepreneurs and maintain a connection to the birthplace of her sons. So Jacqui, welcome to the podcast!
[JG] Thank you so much. Uh, it is a pleasure to be able to join you today. Uh, we are part of the AGCI family, so we we’re just, um, uh, delighted to be able to be a part of what you all continue to do in the world. And so, yeah. Thanks for having me today.
[DA] Yeah. Well, we’re super excited to have you, um, yeah, maybe, maybe just as a quick introduction, maybe you can kind of, uh, give us all a sense of, um, who you are and the kinds of things that you do.
[JG] Yeah, absolutely. So I am the founder and owner of the ABEBA Collection and also a university dean and professor, something I’ve been doing for about 20 years now. Um, probably consider myself a community advocate, as well. And most importantly, a wife to my husband, Dave, and mama to my two beautiful boys that came into our family through adoption from Ethiopia. Um, we are native to the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I, but we now call Southern California home. So, yeah, that’s a little bit about me.
[DA] As a dean and all of your responsibilities at the university? What, um, what, what all does that entail for you?
[JG] Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s, that’s an interesting question in light of just all of the things that we are currently walking through, um, in our nation and the world. Um, so yeah, as a, as a university Dean, um, I have the pleasure and opportunity of, um, overseeing a large college where we have, um, 13 different programs through, you know, undergraduate majors, all the way through, um, doctoral programs. We have some research centers, we have a community mental health clinic. I have the opportunity to work with a team of about 50 full time faculty and we have about 1300 students, um, in our college. So my, my role is, is fairly, um, administrative just in terms of the development and oversight of our different programs, research centers, our clinic. Uh, and then I also do have the opportunity to teach a little bit. So my background is in psychology, uh, community development and global studies. So I teach sort of across some of those different programs, uh, with a lot of emphasis, like in the area of, um, globalization and community development, uh, social enterprise. So, um, that can be, you know, sometimes, uh, at the undergraduate level and, and leading trips and teams to, you know, different regions of the world to learn and serve, um, also working with our social work students. So really across a lot of different programs. Um, my background is, is sort of, sort of broad and diverse.
[DA] Well, I bet that keeps things interesting.
[JG] Absolutely. I love it.
[DA] I know that you have adopted, um, two boys from Ethiopia, but I’d love to kind of hear your story, uh, from the beginning.
[JG] Yeah, I would be honored to share that with you. So, um, my husband and I, we grew up in the same small town in the Pacific Northwest and, um, we, were dating, we went off to college. We, we got married towards the end of college. Um, so, uh, you know, it’s a beautiful love story. We’re high school sweethearts that that’s, uh, rare these days, right? Um, and then, you know, myself being, uh, sort of in the field of education and pursuing like university, um, uh, work and research and, and desiring to be a university professor, uh, you know, that comes with like being in school for a long time, right? So we, we were married young, but then I spent, like, a lot of years, you know, through, through graduate school and so forth. And so we’d been married for like about seven years, I think when we, um, you know, decided that we wanted to start being serious about, you know, thinking about having a family, we knew that’s something that we always wanted, it just wasn’t, um, like something that we pursued just initially when we were married. And so as we just begin to sort of like dive into conversations around that and what that looked like, um, you know, we had a few, like, families in our community that had adopted, and I think, you know, that’s something that I kind of was always drawn to. And then as we were thinking about having a family, my husband started to, you know, maybe it wasn’t something he had like always thought of necessarily, but like, he was definitely warm to that idea. So, you know, we just began to sort of like dream and, and, and think about that. And, you know, so many of the families that we knew that had adopted a child had, um, biological children and then, you know, maybe a little later had added another child through adoption. And we thought that was a really beautiful story. We love that model, but at the same time, like, as we sort of just evaluated, uh, you know, where we were at and what we felt comfortable with, we liked the idea of sort of like flipping that around, right? To say, like, if we really love the idea of bringing a child into our family through adoption, like, why not pursue that first, right? Why not make that, um, like Plan A, if you will. And so we kind of jumped into it from that perspective, I guess, with the thought that at some time after adopting a child or possibly children that, you know, maybe we would have biological children after that. Maybe we wouldn’t. We, we, you know, we didn’t really know. Um, but that we really wanted to initially grow our family through adoption and… And just, you know, through so many things that I’m sure other adoptive parents share, you know, um, with you as well, you know, the idea of, you know, wanting to provide a home for a child. And so that kind of got us started on the journey, I guess, to investigating adoption, but we didn’t know how that would happen, where it would happen, a certain country, next steps, or things like that at that initial phase.
[DA] Right. So, what did it look like for you guys to, like, what, what were the first steps for you? Were you looking for an agency right away? Were you looking at different countries that, um, there were children that needed homes? Like what, what was that first step?
[JG] Yeah, a little bit of all of that. And, you know, it’s kind of funny because somewhere in that process, I became acquainted with AGCI and we weren’t necessarily, like, saying, Oh, we’re going to adopt with them. Or even like, finding out like adoption information at that phase. But we got invited to a fundraiser for AGCI that was held in Seattle and, you know, we loved the mission of your organization. So, we thought like, yeah, sure. You know, we’ll go to this fundraiser. Um, so we go to the event that night. You know, wonderful event learned so much about you as an organization, the work that you do, the children that you serve, you know, through adoption, but through your other initiatives as well. And so that was just, you know, that, that kind of stirred our hearts. And then you, um, there was an AGCI social worker that was seated at our table that evening. And, you know, so she just kind of, you know, welcomed us and made friends with us, you know, and got to know a little bit about Dave and I, and our story. We got to talking and, you know, we had shared with her, you know, ‘Hey, we’re, we’re actually thinking about becoming an adoptive family.’ And so she began to share with us about the Ethiopia program that AGCI had just opened as, or I don’t even know if they opened it at that point, but they were beginning to open it as like a pilot program. And then she just sort of boldly said like, um, And you guys are going to be in this pilot program. And, you know, we kind of, we kind of laughed. Um, but I mean, she was right. You know, she was, she was kind of like taking a risk and just speaking that truth that she felt into our life. And so, you know, following that event, we actually connected with AGCI and said, you know, okay. So, tell us about that Ethiopia program. Um, and that was, would have been in like 2007, and then… It was a quick process, right? So, we entered the program, we went through the home study process. Um, and then we adopted our oldest son, um, in 2008. So, that was like under, all of that kind of happened like in a year.
[DA] Wow. So, you guys really didn’t have that kind of, uh, you know, the adoption trope of just waiting and waiting and waiting. Like you didn’t have that experience in your adoption with, um, with your first boy.
[JG] We did not, we did not. That came later for us, but in that first one, that was definitely not the case.
[DA] Maybe you can tell me about the moment that you guys first, first met him in person.
[JG] Hmm. That was a, yes, that was a beautiful and overwhelming moment. And so, um… You know, for us as first time parents, and then also first time adoptive parents, there’s, there’s sort of not knowing like, um, what’s happening right now. Is this about adoption or is this about being a first time parent, and all of that, right? So, imagine, you know, these, um, first time parents. Uh, you know, I was in my twenties, we, we fly, like it’s a really long way to Ethiopia, right? You know, so we, we, you know, we get there, um, we land, we, you know, we haven’t slept for a couple of days here. Right? We go to the hotel, get dropped off. And then, um, you know, we’re, we’re picked up like moments after that and, um, taken to the home where our son was and we met him there. And so it was just sort of this rush of, um, joy and exhilaration and also exhaustion and overwhelming. And, and, you know, I don’t know if it was entirely different from what a first time parent experiences, uh, when they birth a child, right? In, in this one construct, which is like, you’re handed a child, right? So, I’m, I’m holding my son and I’m like, you’re, you’re just gonna let me, like, parent him? Like, I, how is it… You know, am I, am I prepared for that? Yeah.
[DA] Do I need to pass a test or something? Did I get the manual?
[JG] This is it like, okay, here we go, right? And like, we, yes, we educated ourselves about becoming parents and about adoption and all of the things. But until you have that child, I think no matter how they come into your family, like that’s when you sort of hit the ground running and it gets very real. We’re like, okay, we gotta, we gotta figure this out. And so, you know, we, we spent time, you know, with our son there that week. And, um, you know, there were ups and downs and challenges. Um, but really it was, I would say, you know, you didn’t ask me for one word, but if you had, I would just say it was beautiful.
[DA] Yeah. That’s, that’s gotta be such a, uh, uh, powerful cocktail of different emotions and, and all of that all at once. And just trying to figure out, just kind of swimming through it and trying to, trying to make your way through. I bet that’s really overwhelming and beautiful at the same time.
[DA] And so you brought him home and what did, what did it look like trying to establish a new normal?
[JG] Um, it’s hard to remember. Right? You know, when you’re, when your kids are little, it’s like, um, uh, you know, the, the days and nights are long, but the years go by so fast. And so, I mean, I just have sweet memories, I think from those years, I mean, there’s, there’s definitely challenges. Um, I was still, uh, finishing my doctoral program at that time. So, life was really busy and full, right? You know, so we’re, we’re both working full time. I’m writing a dissertation, we have a baby, you know, so yeah, like it was hard and it was a lot. Um, but I mean, our son, he was just, he brought so much joy to our family and, like, to our, like nuclear family, but even extended family. So like, um, like he was the first grandchild on both sides, you know? So, just the way, like, um, we had that just rich, beautiful experience of like family and friends, just like coming around us in that time. Um, yeah, just really sweet memories.
[DA] How old was he when he came home?
[JG] Uh, six months. Just, just almost seven months.
[DA] Oh, wow. So, you really did get, like, the full infant stage and everything.
[JG] We did, we did. It was like we watched him go through almost all of the firsts, just really fast, right? So, like he came home and then like started crawling a week later and then started walking early, like at nine, nine months. So, like a couple months later. So, like, we kind of went through all of the phases, just like, sort of like in superdrive.
[DA] Do you think part of that was, you know, I’ve, I’ve heard a lot of stories about when adoptive kids come home and they are, you know, maybe receiving different levels of nutrition and they’re receiving certainly different levels of attention. Like, do, do you feel like that accelerated that process for him or it was just, he was just ready for it anyway.
[JG] Um, I would say it’s both of those things, right? So, like we, he’s 12 years old, almost 13 now. So, like, we have all those years with him that I can look back on now and say like, he is just that kid that just goes fast and does things and like tackles things. And, you know, even when, like we, um, we picked him up in Ethiopia, and at the transitional home, like the caretakers there would tell us these stories about the kids, you know, and, and, and our babies that we were adopting. And one of the stories that I remember about our son was, there was these little, um, like, um, walker sort of, um, things, toys that they would, like, put them in that had toys on that they could play with. And they weren’t really supposed to like, be able to move with them, but our son, his feet… He’s kind of like a taller kid. His feet were, you know, could touch the ground. And so he would, like, walk and sort of like, you know, escape from the group. And they would always have to, like, run after him to, like, bring him in his little, um, uh, walker, like, back to the group. Right, so, I thought, like, even just stories like that, that was, um, just sort of like speak to his personality. He’s always like out there, um, sort of ahead of the pack and looking for the next thing. So, I think there’s that personality piece for him. Um, but you know, to your question, I would say that that’s absolutely true. Um, we, when, before we moved to Southern California, uh, we lived in Seattle and we had a wonderful pediatrician there. That was part of the, um, adoption clinic at the University of Washington. And he would talk about this idea of like the love factor, love quotient related to adoption. Right, and that like, yes, it’s nutrition and medicine and, and all of those things like biologically that, um, serve to help babies thrive and grow, but that there’s this factor that can’t be accounted for without looking at, like, the significance of, um, a family and love and like a dedicated caretaker. Like if you, if you remove that from it, like, it, it, you can’t biologically explain some of the strides that you see, uh, when kids make these transitions.
[DA] Yeah. That’s so amazing. And so you brought him home when he was six months old, and then, you know, how much longer were you working on your, uh, your dissertation and like when, when did things, did things ever kind of find a, like a, a more stable point for you guys with, uh, just like life slowing down a little bit?
[JG] Yes. I think I was done when he was about two. So there was like that first 18 months, um, while I was still finishing that up. Um, but then, you know, life is busy with a two year old also. So, when you, when you finish one stage, you enter another,
[DA] Oh yeah. There’s no, it’s just a freight train of stages. So, um, I know that you guys adopted a second son. Um, how, how long after your initial adoption did you guys even consider going for number two?
[JG] Yeah, so, um, you know, it had been a couple of years and we knew that we wanted, um, like, more than one child. And I guess, initially, you know, as I was sharing earlier, initially, as we were building a family, we weren’t quite sure like what that construction would look like. Um, but after we adopted our first son, um, we were definitely committed to the idea that we would adopt another child. And we were… In time, we also became fairly committed to the hope and the desire that that would be from Ethiopia. Um, we didn’t know much about Ethiopia, like, you know, on, before all of this, right? Um, but after bringing our oldest, um, into our family, the idea of, like, just integrating and treasuring his culture and heritage became really important to us. And so like at that point we had kind of already integrated that into, like, our family composition, right? So, the idea of adding an additional child, not just to grow our family, but also to like, extend that part of our, sort of our family make-up was important to us. And the idea of having children that maybe could relate to one another with a shared heritage, um, you know, and when they’re little, maybe that’s in simple ways around having someone that looks like you. Um, and then as they develop, you know, that becomes a little bit more nuanced. Um, you know, they definitely have their individual stories, but like I said, that shared heritage. And so we began, um, the process. I don’t remember exactly how old my oldest was, um, like three, three or four in there when we actually started that process.
[DA] You must have felt comfortable enough with AGCI to, to adopt with them a second time. Was there kind of a factor that you just felt a real connection there?
[JG] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think just the, the, the process of the first time, you know, definitely supported that. Um, also like when you’re a parent that goes through the process of adoption, you’re, you’re also going through the journey of learning about adoption, right? And so on the front end, you know, with my background, like in psychology, and, you know, the helping professions, I had some familiarity, but not on that personal level. And so, there’s just, there’s significant differences between paths of adoption and adoption agencies. Right? And I don’t even state that, like from a values judgment perspective, there’s just, they’re different, right? And so one of the things that, um, we’ve learned about AGCI that we became really committed to was the idea of, um, working with, um, an agency that was committed to the best interest of children. And that sometimes that was about adoption because that was, um, a good or the best option for that child in their particular circumstances. But that at other times, that’s about orphan prevention or about community development or about family preservation, right? And we thought, you know, working with an agency that’s really committed to those values first is an agency that we felt that we could then trust with other parts of the journey.
[DA] Yeah. I, when I, when I first started, working with AGCI, um, that was kind of a continuing comment that I would get as I would put together videos and stories was… making sure that everything is child-centered, that we are . . . We don’t find, we don’t find children for families, we find families for children. So, we start from their perspective and what is going to be the best, the best for them. And I think once I really started to wrap my head around that, I was just, just kind of blown away that it seems like a, such a simple perspective change, but it makes a world of difference for the child.
[JG] Yeah, absolutely.
[DA] Um, what, what did Ethiopia look like with adoption at that, at that stage? Was it similar to your previous experience?
[JG] No. So, it was a . . . it was a much harder journey, um, the second time. One that, you know, it, we don’t, we don’t want to go through the difficult things we go through when we’re in the midst of them. Um, but in retrospect, I can also see some of the ways that brought to fruition, um, opportunities that we’re pursuing at this time. And so, yeah, like it was a, it was a much harder journey than I think that we could have ever imagined on the front end. I mean, the landscape of adoption globally had changed and most certainly Ethiopia was part of that shift as well. So what we believed would maybe be like an 18-month process, you know, we knew it wouldn’t be as quick as our, our oldest son, but we thought, you know, maybe something like 18 months turned into something that was more like five years. And so in that time, um, we moved from Seattle to Southern California. Um, in that time I think that we, we eventually got to a process of grieving that we likely would not add another child to our family through adoption and, and everything that, that meant just related to, you know, maybe our son not having a sibling that shared his heritage, which is something that was in our heart, but we just weren’t seeing come to fruition. So it’s hard when, when you believe something’s truly placed on your heart, but then you come to believe that’s out of reach or not going to happen, you, then you sort of wonder why that burden is there. Um, or just that our son longed for a sibling, you know? Um, so, you know, and, and I mean, we had to do our home study like a lot of times, right? Over and over that many years and then with the move and all of that. And so that even just becomes like draining in terms of like logistics and finances and things like that. So, um, it was a long, hard journey. Um, but, uh, you know, we, we finally did have an opportunity to, uh, welcome another child through adoption and, and it turns out it was, you know, Ethiopia. And so, uh, you know, we, we finally traveled, uh, for the adoption of our youngest son, um, late in 2015. Um, he actually joined our family in Ethiopia on Christmas day. Um, and so that was a big deal to us. He’d never experienced a Christmas before. And so I don’t know, that probably had different meaning for him than for us, but, um, that was significant. Um, we took our oldest with us. So we went as a family of three and came home as a family of four. Um, the other thing that was unique, uh, and, and that we never would have planned, or I guess dreamed of, um, is, you know, our youngest, we adopted at six months old. And so that’s the idea that we always had in our mind for our second child is that we would adopt another baby. Um, and I really think that’s something that we also grieved because as we saw our son get older and older, you know, he was three, then four, then five, and all of a sudden he’s like eight, right? Um, he wanted a brother and, or, or even a sister, he wanted a sibling really. And he wanted someone he could play with. And that would, that would be his buddy, right? And so the idea as each year went by that they weren’t going to be close, right? They were going to be years apart and they’d never, you know, be on the same soccer team or whatever the dreams were. Um, but then when we were like, finally, you know, um, approached in, um, like with, with the referral of a child, um, he was an older child. And so our, our boys are actually 11 months apart.
[DA] Oh my goodness.
[JG] Right? So we, we went to Ethiopia as a family of three with an eight year old, you know, and came back with an eight year old and a seven year old. Um, and so, like, that burden of adopting another child of Ethiopia, like came to fruition, but also like those visions we had for the future of like, uh, siblings, right? That were close in age and, and, and going through like life together that we thought that opportunity had, like that door had closed. It sort of opened again, but just in the way that we couldn’t have imagined.
[DA] Yeah. What was that like for you? I mean, if, if you kind of had an a, even if it was an unspoken expectation, but you, you, you figured that you would probably be placed with a younger child to have to shift your mindset to thinking about, Oh, wow, we’re, we’re going to be placed with a seven year old. Like, what was that shift like for you guys?
[JG] You know, I think because of the, excuse me, the process was so long, there’s, there’s so much time for like adjustment and adaptation in the process, right? Like, where, if that had been quick, I think that would have been like, okay, wow, can we do that? And what does that mean? But over like a four or five year period, um, you start to wonder about what all of the possibilities are, you know, in, in, in terms of what the adoption or just building your family might look like. And so I guess by the time that referral came, it, there was maybe a piece of it that was unexpected, but a piece of it that just seemed natural and fit and felt right. Um, we certainly knew we were, um, you know, needing to prepare ourselves in a different way in terms of that child’s experience and transition. So there was, you know, there was definitely an awareness around that. I think there’s also that, um, loss of, you know, just as a parent or as a mom, being able to parent or mother that child and, and like having missed those years. But, like, on that topic, I would say, you know, with, with my youngest, that’s really prominent because it was seven years, right? With my youngest, it was six months. So, those are really different amounts of time, but that narrative is actually the same. Like it’s not so much about time, right? Like for, as an adoptive parent, like for both of my children, I’m, I think I’m fairly insistent on this, this idea that, um, to really honor their story, we have to acknowledge that their story doesn’t start with us, right? So whether it was six months or seven years, they both had a family before they were in our family. They both had a culture before they were a part of this culture. Uh, for my seven year old, he had a language, he had friends, he had, like, there are, there is a whole piece of their story, a chapter of their life, or many chapters of their life, um, before we became a part of that. And so I think that’s just such an important thing to talk about as adoptive families that like
their life, their journey, their story does not begin with us. We just have the honor and privilege of coming into that story at some point, right? But to, really like, honor them, I feel like we need to acknowledge that whole story.
Was it kind of during, during the trip, uh, going to get your second boy, was that, uh, where you started to kind of develop a love for Ethiopia on a different level? Was that kind of where, where maybe the beginnings of, um, ABEBA started?
[JG] Yes. So, you know, with our youngest, it was a fast trip to Ethiopia. It was one trip, you know, with our, um, with our youngest, we went on a one way ticket because the process was super unknown. And so, we did not know what it would look like when we got there or when we were to return or how long anything would take. And so, you know, we were actually there for a good amount of time and, um, you know, as our, as our youngest joined our family, that, you know, that was amazing and joyous. And at the same time, you know, there were some challenges related to that. And, and he had some, um, health needs that we were working to address. And, um, you know, we found ourselves, um, at the guest house there in Ethiopia, you know, for a couple of weeks working through these things. And so that was a wonderful time. And also, you know, one of the hardest times that we’ve been through and something that sort of happened concurrently during that time is, um, I think God just began to plant some seeds for things that we couldn’t see in the future, uh, which included, you know, it provided us an opportunity to spend that time in that country and just experience Ethiopia and the culture. And we also built some really amazing and beautiful friendships, um, with, um, Ethiopians that we had met, you know, through the guest house and, you know, through some other opportunities in Ethiopia. Um, and, you know, then, t
hen my background is in community development. And so while I’m there as like mom, right, adoptive mom, I’m also, you know, whenever I travel, I’m looking at things from a community development lens. And so just the opportunity to spend that time in-country and to, you know, we began to meet are now friends there, right? Which sort of became like the early seeds for the ABEBA Collection.
Um, like I said, we didn’t know that at the time. And then, you know, we finally made our way home and that first year was, you know, fairly heavy, uh, just consumed with addressing our son’s needs. And like now he is very healthy and thriving. And so, you know, I want to just share that, that victory and that praise. Um, but you know, that first season was rough. Um, I would say as we began to emerge out of that, though, those memories of the relationships built, uh, around some things happening in terms of community development and social enterprise in Ethiopia, um, began to sort of reemerge for me I had, like, a little bit more cognitive space, right? Um, so at that point I started reconnecting with some of our friends and just pursuing conversations with them related to how we might be able to support them. Uh, you know, maybe that was just, you know, connecting them to different opportunities or resources, um, just, you know, helping them where maybe they were encountering some barriers and just how, how we could basically be a friend in order to help them, um, be successful in the work that we really saw great potential and really believed in. So, you know, that was sort of like the very early, early seeds that were planted for the ABEBA Collection. And, you know, so over, over the next couple of years after that, some of those relationships just started to develop. And then, um, you know, I, I, about a year and a half ago, um, I finally made the jump to, you know, go ahead and go back to Ethiopia and spend time with, um, who are now our partners for the ABEBA Collection, with each of them, and just spend time with them there and really work through, um, an assessment of what their needs were and how we could best support them. Uh, I didn’t necessarily have like, um, an idea or an agenda of like what that was going to look like for certain, but wanted to just spend time with them and, uh, with their businesses and, uh, just a time of exploration. And so that was, that was kind of how it all got started.
[DA] What, what were some of the, what were some of those needs that they expressed and, and, and to, to pair with that, how do you, um, how do you, get involved with something like that without it becoming a dependency thing or without it becoming, uh, like a white savior kind of thing? Like how, how do we kind of balance those, those two ends of that spectrum?
[JG] Yeah. Oh, I love those questions. So I, you know, I it’s, my answer is going to be super simple here, right, obviously oversimplified, but I think listening is so key, right? So it can be really easy, um, you know, maybe especially so if our backgrounds in community development, right? To say, I have these amazing solutions and, you know, I’m going to show up and implement these and you guys are all going to be, you know, so grateful I’m here and everybody’s going to be on board, right? Um, definitely not, not an approach, um, that we want to take, okay? So instead, really what we saw was, you know, I mentioned these three partners, so these three, um, amazing, skilled, full of passion and ingenuity, social entrepreneurs that, um, we’re, we’re changing the world and their communities, right? And their, their product, their actual craft was amazing. It was beautiful. I knew I wanted it. And I knew that others in the global market would want this as well. Um, but I also loved the way that each of them, even within the same city in Ethiopia, they each had nuanced approaches because they were each working in different parts of the city addressing different populations and different needs. I thought like these are brilliant, young social entrepreneurs that are doing exactly what their community needs. They don’t need me, but how can I come alongside them and help them to be successful in the work that they’re doing. And through that conversation, which was really, like, a several year conversation and sort of culminated when I took that trip to Ethiopia, what I heard from each of them over and over was, you know, there were, there was little, small nuanced ways in which they, they asked for my support, but the overarching theme was really about needing a partner to come alongside them that would help them to bring their products to market, right? So it wasn’t about, it wasn’t about the community development aspect there, or about, um, their team or their employees or the training or the product, the skill, the artisanry, and all of that, just saying, you know, we, we have the model, we have the product, but then they had a very limited capacity to bring that product to market in a way that was scalable. Um, so that is sort of where the vision for the ABEBA Collection began because we, we just, as a group began to evaluate, you know, well, what would it look like if we actually launched a brand, right, and we became sort of the global market platform to be able to bring, um, these products, you know, to here in the U.S. but really, even around the world. So like, e-commerce is not a thing in Ethiopia. And these groups were highly dependent upon, um, groups or individuals traveling to Ethiopia, primarily the adoption community, which by this point, adoption was closed in Ethiopia, right? And so that market, that they had been, um, sort of dependent upon had . . . was, was really sort of dry at that point. And it wasn’t scalable from the beginning. So that is, um, that’s kind of how that happened. That’s our model. Um, definitely along the way I, you know, going back to your questions, like, that’s always at the forefront of my mind as I, as I think about the values of our organization and, you know, even as we go on return trips, uh, to work with our partners, that I always want them to be front and center with their artisans, right? That their artisans are looking to their fellow Ethiopians as leaders within their community. We are just in the background, right? So like on the, on the U.S. side, that might not be obvious, but we want that to always be, um, the way that plays out, like actually on the ground in Ethiopia.
[DA] Yeah. I think that’s so, that’s so encouraging, uh, to me as I, you know… I, I feel like for me, it’s been maybe the last 14, 15 years as, as I’ve, uh, is kind of this journey into understanding what, you know… There’s kind of that modern colonization that happens when good intentioned white people go into community and they, you know, they just want to be helpful. And so they, they put these programs together and because the people on the receiving end want to save face and they don’t want to be disrespectful, then they just kind of accept it. And it becomes this really bizarre, ingrown relationship that’s not healthy really for the people who should be receiving aid in this particular instance. Um, for me, it was like the very first instance that I really began to understand that our intentions without listening are kind of worthless was, um, I was on a trip. I was in, uh, in Kenya in 2006 with my sister. And we were just sitting at a table with some people we had just met. And the one girl had been working for the government in Canada, I believe. And she was telling us this story about how, you know, these, these people came into a community, um, a rural community in, I dunno if it was Kenya or some other East African country, but they, they came in, uh, to provide clean water, which is great. And that’s, that’s absolutely necessary in our world. Um, and so they, they drilled a well, and then the women who had normally been walking two hours, one way to get their clean water, could all of a sudden get it right in their own community. But what they had failed to understand was, that was the, the women’s, like, favorite part of the day was walking with their friends, uh, for a couple of hours and just chatting and gossiping and, and hanging out. And, and, and that was kind of taken away from them. Not, not, not to say that like clean water or good intentions are bad, but like to truly understand something holistically just takes so much time and effort. And, and to know that the, the solutions that maybe you can help with, um, are not always the right ones. And and, and the solutions that you should help with are often the ones that, um, are maybe not as sexy or out front, but are actually the ones that are going to be healthier for that community in the long run.
[JG] Oh, a hundred percent. I, you know, I think too, it’s this, this idea that we,
we must be willing to, um, sort of push past this notion that service is an unquestioned good, right?
Like, um, well, at least I’m trying to help, or I’m doing something or I, you know, you can’t question me because you’re not even doing anything. And separate the idea that, you know, a heart, the heart of a servant, or the heart to serve could be an unquestioned good, right? But the actual service we do, we must call that into question. We must evaluate that. We must be willing to say, um, I got that wrong. I was trying to help, but that, that actually hurts, right? Like we have to be willing to question it. Um, and I think that that can be really painful individually, but even collectively for communities, right? Like churches and organizations and different groups get really committed to the projects that they do. And it can be a difficult process to evaluate the, you know, the actual merit of it.
[DA] Right. Yeah. Who’s the beneficiary of that is, is it the people that we think are on the receiving end or is it just us so that we, we feel like we’re doing something?
Um, I know that some of the, uh, some of the women that are, Oh, I actually, I don’t know, is it women and men that are the artisans for, for, um, your product line?
[JG] It is. It is. Yeah. So, you know, our, our focus is, um, primarily on women and there’s some strategic reasons, you know, behind that decision. Uh, but yes, we absolutely partner with, um, employers and artisan groups that employ both men and women.
[DA] When, you know, I… I’ve met a couple of the, um, the people who are connected with ABEBA and, um, uh, in, in my mind, Fray is kind of a really great example of, uh… I guess, what I really love is that it’s not just, it’s not simply, uh, creating a product to provide a profit so that someone can have a way to live. It’s like, well, maybe I’ll have you tell more about the kinds of things that she does, but it’s, it really is like what you had said earlier about the social entrepreneurship, where it’s, there’s, there’s a deeper level than simply creating something to give someone a job to do.
[JG] I mean, we’re, we’re talking about these two things, right? We’re talking about my family’s story and adoption, and then our journey to, you know, develop and launch the ABEBA Collection. And I think this question really comes to the intersection of those two things for me, right? So, like, we are so grateful for our boys and the way that God built our family through adoption. And at the same time, like, I hold that tension that, um, I would not want any child and certainly not my own children to endure the loss of a first family or culture or language or all of that. And so really this is where it becomes about like empowerment and family preservation. And that connects to like the social enterprise mission of these organizations with, you know, with the notion that like, through, through poverty alleviation and family support, we can champion things like orphan prevention. Um, you know, you asked me the question about employing, like both, both women and men, and, um, certainly we want to provide opportunities for all in the community where that would be helpful. Um, you know, specifically to employing women, you know, there’s, there’s good, there’s good data. And there’s good research that specifically supports the notion that when you empower a woman in the developing world with economic mobility, that she did not previously have access to, you’re impacting a whole community because that woman typically goes back to invest a vast majority of that earning, um, like not only into her individual family to help them survive and even thrive, uh, but into her greater community, as well. So entire communities can rise when we provide like dignified work opportunities for, for women and for people in general. Um, and, and, you know, we work in Ethiopia, you know, but that’s true in regions around the world as well.
[DA] Yeah, I love that. And I also love how, um, uh, like, some of the artisans that you’re working with, are, they’re supporting their community in kind of creative ways as well. Um, you know, like with, with Fray and some of the, some of the textile stuff that she’s doing and her, like almost that, Toms Shoes kind of model of you buy one product, and then you, you, um, send one to someone else. Can you, can you maybe fill me in a little bit more on that? I know it peripherally, but I’d love to hear your take on it.
[JG] Absolutely. And this is, like I mentioned before too, like each of our partners sort of has a different model, which we love that because it’s so responsive to like both their product and what makes sense in their product line, but also like, the specific demographic they’re serving, um, with their artisans. And so like for Fray, she leads, um, our, our artisan partnership for our cotton woven textiles. And so they weave like blankets and, and like table linens and pillows and all sorts of amazing things. And so Fray has a model where for every three, like products produced, um, and a fourth one, um, is donated to someone in need and Ethiopia. And so, um, like what’s even better if I can say that about her give-back model than so many that we see is the products that she’s producing are made in Ethiopia, and the products that are given back are also produced in Ethiopia. So there’s like a double return in, in terms of the economic impact within the region. So she produces, you know, three blankets, for example, that are then, you know, exported and, and sold through our collection. And then she partners with a factory in Ethiopia that produces a different kind of product that is a very thick and durable, uh, product that is, makes more sense for those that she’s trying to serve through blanket distribution. And I know if you, you know, many people haven’t been to Ethiopia, right? And so the idea of, of folks getting cold and needing a blanket and Ethiopia maybe is something we haven’t thought of, right? Cause we think that’s a very warm part of the world, but they have a very cold and rainy season, as well. And there are, you know, individuals and families, um, living at a certain level of, of poverty where they, they lack for warmth, right? And so she actually has partnered with the government and, um, you know, collects her, her, her blankets as she sells throughout the year. And then she does the one give-back, is able to provide, you know, um, income to this factory that she buys from. That’s also employing individuals in Ethiopia and then partnering with the government to go and do some pretty widespread distributions a couple of times a year.
[DA] I also love to, like, I mean, what you were saying about, one’s kind of a thicker blanket, it’s also, uh, it’s less, uh, decorative? Um, as, as another way that says to the recipient, this is not meant to be like a decoration. This is meant to be used. And, and I just I loved her, you know, when I heard her talk about it, just the, the sensitivity that she had to even understanding, like if you make something that’s really beautiful, they’re going to be really proud of it and they’re not gonna want to use it. Um, but having something that’s a little bit more earthy, um, kind of gives them permission to use it for, for what it truly needs to be used for and . . .
[JG] The intended purpose, right?
[DA] Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s just so brilliant and so aware of, of not only the needs in her area, but like how those are going to be received.
[JG] And see like that example right there drives home what we’re talking about, right? Because Frey knows that because this is her community. Like she knows, um, the nuance of that, where, like I could put together a give-back model, but it would have looked different and I would have missed that.
[DA] Yeah. Yeah. It’s so great. I love it. I guess the unifying factor in, in all the things that we’re talking about is God’s, uh, his creativity in the way that he, he puts the right people in, in contact with each other, whether it’s through your adoption or through just meeting some of the gals that worked at the, at the guest house and now are doing their social entrepreneurship. And it’s, it’s, it’s really astounding if you kind of step back and look at it from a, from a 10,000 foot view and just see like all of those interwoven storylines that like, there’s, there’s no way that that could happen any other way, except that God is just kind of smiling to himself as he watches it all unfold. Like that’s, it’s really beautiful.
Uh, what is the best way for our listeners to, um, uh, hear more about ABEBA or to, um, maybe check out some of the product line what’s, what’s the connection there?
[JG] So, um, we have an online boutique, um, so, uh, folks can check us out there. So we’re at abebacollection.com. That’s A-B-E-B-A, abebacollection.com. Um, we’re also on Instagram, so people just sort of want to follow along with what we’re doing. We feature artisans there and, and stories around impact. Um, so some people enjoy connecting with us in that way. Um, we also, um, you know, beyond our online platform, we do, um, like pop-up shops. And, um, if, if individuals are interested in like hosting a in-home party, or right now, those are virtual in-home parties, um, like those are all creative things we can do. We love connecting with other adoptive families. That’s been a way that a lot of, um, different people have gotten involved as well, because this connects sort of to their own story of maybe having a child, um, in their family, um, from Ethiopia and, you know, they sometimes even know some of our partners, so that’s kind of fun. So yeah, like definitely just, you know, shopping with us or connecting with us is, um, you know, the, the way to get involved, I guess. Um, you know, we, we have a saying of, you know, connecting the conscious spirit to the artisan soul. Your purchase with ABEBA Collection is not charity, it’s empowerment. And so, you know, I think that that sort of drives back to our mission. That’s, you know, it’s really about empowering, empowering individuals and women, in particular, to transcend poverty through, you know, skilled and dignified work opportunities, business leadership, um, you know, but what does that actually look like on our side? Um, well, that’s not a handout, right? That, that actually just means, like, buying their beautiful things. Um, and that provides them with an opportunity to then produce more of those things, continue to be employed, and to even bring on additional artisan partners
[DA] It’s beautiful work that they’re doing. It’s a beautiful way to connect to their community. And it’s, it’s really beautiful to kind of see how the Lord has just pulled all these things into, into one, one story that happens to be connected through you and your husband and your, and your family. And, um, yeah, it’s been, it’s been a real privilege to hear more about that and to hear how one storyline that you think is kind of going one direction, then branches out and becomes multiple storylines and, and the impact just goes, goes further and further, but in a way where… You know, for me, I, I, I feel so encouraged that it would be something that I can trust in that it’s not something that is, um, feeding a broken system, but it is creating new systems from the perspective and the viewpoint of, of the people who are, who know the people who are going to be receiving this, who are part of those communities. And that’s, that’s just so great. And I’m just so grateful to hear more about it. And, um, yeah, and I truly do hope that, um, our listeners can, uh, get involved with ABEBA and that they can get involved with, um, AGCI, as well. And, um, yeah, I’m just so grateful for your time today. Thanks for sharing with us.
[JG] Oh, it’s my pleasure. It’s um, this is really, like, a full circle opportunity, right? Because we started our family with AGCI and we completed our family with AGCI and now as we, um, you know, just sort of move into this next chapter, as we’re, as we’re raising our boys, but also, you know, leading this organization, um, to be able to, like, reconnect with you all in this format is, is just a huge blessing. So thankful for the opportunity.
[DA] Yeah. Well, thanks so much. And, um, I’m sure that we’ll talk to you again soon.
[JG] Okay, fantastic. Thank you.
[DA] Alright. Take care.
That was Jacqui Gustafson.
I hope that Jacqui’s story inspires you to listen more and to leverage your strengths and resources to empower others to do good in their communities.
We are so glad to have you listening to our podcast. If you like what you hear, or you have comments, or you want to make a suggestion for a future show, send us an email at together @ allgodschildren.org. We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re all caught up on our podcast, you can head over to YouTube and check out a brand new video we just released with first-hand accounts of what it looks like to wait for a forever family that never comes, and how we can all work together to find families for older kids, sibling groups, and kids living with special needs.
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