Jennifer Armstrong in the news

The Saratoga Springs children’s author was among a group of people (organized by Emma Dodge Hanson and including Jane Haugh) who traveled to Africa to give gifts to orphans, including books.

Click more for the story from Times Union staff writer Leigh Hornbeck.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — For every child adopted out of Ethiopia, tens of thousands of orphans remain, most robbed of their parents by AIDS.

Last month, three local women traveled to the destitute country with gifts for the orphans — 900 pounds of luggage containing books, pajamas, toys and crafts for orphans.

Two of the women have plans to adopt Ethiopian children. The third, Saratoga Springs photographer Emma Dodge Hanson, already has.

The director of Adoption Advocates International asked Hanson to photograph the staff and children at its orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. The agency helped Hanson and her husband, Marc Woodworth, adopt their daughter, Calla Belitt Sara Woodworth, 3.

Hanson invited friends Jennifer Armstrong, a children’s book author from Saratoga Springs; and Jane Haugh, a writer from Keene, Essex County. It was their first trip to Africa.

“My favorite day was my day without my camera,” said Hanson, 37.

The women spent a day with little hands on their scalps as the children braided their hair. “The kids just want to be near you … it was such a lesson in how little you need to be happy,” Hanson said.

But all three women describe emotional ups and downs during their week in Addis Ababa. They observed an abundantly polite, affectionate culture — even heterosexual men hold hands in the street — against a backdrop of extreme poverty. Hanson’s pictures show homes on the edge of the street made from tin, tarps and scrap, similar to a refugee camp.

The day the women arrived at the orphanage, a child died of an upper-respiratory illness. The day they left, they took with them a little girl traveling to meet a new family in the U.S. During the week, they witnessed a child receive her first letter from her adoptive parents, tenderly explained and translated for her by the orphanage accountant. Always, as the children politely welcomed the women, they asked with words or the looks on their faces — are you a mother?

Armstrong, 45, said the experience has been hard to explain to friends, especially because the women returned home to the commercialized frenzy of Christmas shopping.

“Most people have no clue what life is like in a very poor place,” she said.

In preparation for the trip, Armstrong collected children’s books and looked for stories about life in the U.S. The children take an “America class” and learn about shopping and sending mail at the post office as part of their studies.

Haugh, 44, raised $1,700 through the parishioners at the Keene Valley Congregational Church and used it to buy a playground slide for the orphanage. It would be an ordinary thing to American children, Hanson and Armstrong said, but it was a joy to behold for the Ethiopian children, who lined up in a perfect row to wait their turn to use it.

“I came home thinking our culture is really cold and we don’t hold each other enough,” Haugh said.

The 200 children at the orphanage are divided into two wings. The Wanna House is home to infants and children up to age 4; older children live in the Layla House. A kitchen connects the two houses. Staff members work through the night to chop vegetables and prepares food on simple propane stoves during the day, including injera, a crepe-like bread Ethiopians use instead of cutlery to scoop up stews and salads for eating.

In addition to visiting the Adoptions Advocates orphanage, the women went to see Haregewoin Teferra, who started taking in HIV-positive children and kids orphaned by AIDS in the 1990s when people with “the slim disease” were still being ostracized in Ethiopia. Teferra’s biography, “There is No Me Without You” by journalist Melissa Fay Green inspired Hanson and Woodworth to adopt from the country.

Hanson’s photographs show grinning children clowning for the camera, but she also captured the tears of a child leaving the orphanage to join her American family. Before a child leaves the orphanage, the staff invites whatever remains of the orphan’s family — sometimes just the neighbors who raised the child after the parents died — to say goodbye. Hanson cried into her camera lens as she watched the adults hold the 6-year-old girl’s face and wish her luck.

“They gave her a passport-sized picture of her father. It was all they had left of him,” Hanson said.

Learn moreFor information about Adoption Advocates International, go to

The GRACE Fund, within AAI, helps families adopt that could otherwise not afford it. For more about Haregewoin Teferra and the story that inspired Emma Dodge Hanson and Marc Woodworth to adopt their daughter from Ethiopia, go to


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