From the moment they adopted their daughters from Ethiopia, one local couple made sure a connection to African heritage was lovingly maintained.
In 2008, Rekor Atkinson and Tam Mickel adopted twin girls from Ethiopia. Mickel has always been drawn to the continent having studies African history and politics in university and travelling to East Africa.
“We felt it would be important to have a love of our children’s birth culture to be able to share with them,” said Mickel.
Addis and Semegn were almost six-years-old and relocating to a new country and culture was a monumental change. That year, Mickel started a camp with other families who adopted transracially as part of a broader effort to fuel a love of Africa – from half way around the world.
“We do incorporate Ethiopian holidays, food, music and language into our lives here in Nelson and travel back to Ethiopia as often as we can, but our girls are the only Ethiopian children in Nelson and one of the relatively few people of African heritage.
Mehaber is an Amharic word meaning “gathering of family and friends” and the name given to the annual camp that’s grown as fast as Atkinson and Mickel’s daughters who are now almost 11-years-old.
It started out with four families meeting at a provincial park in the East Kootenay in 2009. Now, in its fifth year, it includes over 20 families coming together on the August long weekend from all over the West Kootenay, East Kootenay and even the Okanagan.
Mickel says it’s a chance for Addis and Semegn to spend time with other kids that have been adopted transracially or who share their African heritage.
“It’s important to us and our kids because being a visible minority and having parents that don’t look like you can be challenging,” says Mickel. “In the small towns that most of these kids are from, they may be the only children of colour and with that comes a lot of attention, good and otherwise. At camp they get to ‘fit in’ and talk with other kids who ‘get it.’”
Held at the Watshan Lake Retreat in Fauquier, BC, families become immersed in camp life. They bring a craft or activity to do with the kids. They ride bikes, swim, and the kids usually put on a talent show at the end. They also hold a silent auction every year with proceeds going to Vulnerable Children’s Society (www.vulnerablechildren.ca) that supports children and their families in Ethiopia.
Just back from a weekend at Mehaber, Mickel feels everyone, especially the 39 kids attending, had a fantastic time.
“It’s become something that we all look forward too every year and the kids never want to leave after the four days,” says Mickel. “One little guy (3-years-old) told his parents that he never wanted to leave because he had so many friends there.”
“This is what we consistently hear back from the kids, including our own. They love that they’re just like everyone else and their families “match” too,” says Mickel.
Adoptive Families Association of BC and the Nelson and District Credit Union support the Mehaber camp.