Coming to America The tale of Kiber and Zelalem

“Will you always be my mom?” Kiber, age six, often asks his newly adopted mother, Tammi Baden of Westerville, Ohio. Nine-year-old Zelalem, Kiber’s brother, inquires similarly of his father, Mark: “Will you always be my dad?”

“We will always be your parents,” Tammi and Mark tell their Ethiopian boys, assuring them as well that they will always have a home. “They want to know what will happen to them if something should happen to us,” Mark said. “We tell them they would have a home with my brother, James, and his wife, Robin, Tammi’s sister.”

It was through James and Robin Baden, who adopted three children from Ethiopia, that Tammi and Mark became interested in adoption. After viewing a video from Adoption Advocates International, Mark and Tammi considered the adoption of a child from Layla House, a Christian orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The orphans in the video touched both Tammi and Mark’s hearts, but they knew they had to consider their own children. They talked about adoption with John, age 11, and Anna, age six. “They were excited about it,” says Tammi.

God’s will

The couple also discussed it with their pastor. “We wanted to know if it was God’s will for us to adopt,” Tammi recalls. “He assured us that if it was God’s will, everything would work out, but if not, there would be many obstacles.”

The family prayed about it. Everything seemed to tell the couple they should adopt the boys. “We didn’t suddenly realize it; it was a slow realization,” Tammi relates. “Later we learned that both of our thoughts were on the brothers, Zelalem and Kiber.”

The Badens were determined to go ahead with the adoption. By May 17, 2003, the necessary paperwork was sent to Adoption Advocates International. In August, there was a home study at the Baden’s, and in late September they were told it would go before the judge. “Everything went smoothly, and we were more convinced that this was God’s will.” Tammi said.

During the waiting period, the Badens sent letters, family photos and gifts to Kiber and Zelalem. The orphanage sent the Badens photos of the boys. Zelalem answered with letters thanking his parents for their gifts, saying he and his brother were looking forward to coming to their new home. By January all the paperwork was completed, notarized and sent to the immigration department in Cincinnati.

The boys were to arrive in Chicago in February, but the day they were to leave Ethiopia, their plane was overbooked and their journey was postponed. No one lost faith. They were convinced the adoption was still God’s plan. Zelalem wrote, telling his parents not to worry because they “will arrive in God’s time.”

“Everything went smoothly, and we were more convinced that this was God’s will,” Tammi said.

“Zelalem is very wise for his age,” says Tammi. At age six, he had the responsibility of caring for his dying mother and looking after his little brother, who was three. All the details aren‘t known, but his father wasn’t in the home. Shortly after their mother died, their father also died. Kiber and Zelalem were put into the care of an uncle who later took them to the orphanage.

After waiting anxiously, the Badens received word the boys were to arrive in Chicago on March 2, 2004. “We were excited about the arrival of our boys and drove to Chicago to meet them,” Tammi said. The boys had experienced a 23-hour plane trip, were exhausted and slept all the way home to Ohio.

John and Anna have accepted their new brothers into the family, and the children from different cultures have blended together beautifully. Language has not been a barrier because the boys had two and a half years of English in the orphanage. If Kiber doesn’t understand, Zelalem translates for him.

The brothers will keep their Ethiopian names, but have been given American middle names. Zelalem’s middle name is Samuel, and Kiber’s is Alexander. “Kiber fought for the middle name of Superman, but he lost,” Tammi jokes.

Today, Tammi and Mark are convinced it was God’s will for them to adopt the boys from Ethiopia. “Children are children, no matter what part of the world they’re from,” says Mark.

After seeing the children on the video from Layla House, Tammi wrote the following in her journal: How could we have chosen not to adopt? Once the plight of these children is known, and once you meet these children first hand and have beautiful, hopeful faces to put on the tragedy of the AIDS orphans of Africa, there is a compelling need to do something.

For more information on adoption in Ethiopia and elsewhere, contact Adoption Advocates International, 401 East Front St., Port Angeles, Washington 98362, or call (360) 452-4777, or visit

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About the author

Carol Kehlmeier

Carol Kehlmeier is a freelance writer from Westerville, Ohio.