Black Expat: How An Adoptee Is Helping Others In Her Shoes In Ethiopia
By Parker Diakite
Lea Wright was born in Ethiopia, about 12 hours away from the capital city of Addis Ababa. She was adopted by White Americans who were serving as missionaries.
Her parents were not able to have children at the time and applied to adopt two girls from Ethiopia. Lea was the first child and a year later, her sister was adopted.
In an interview with The Black Expat, Wright said she and her family stayed in Ethiopia until she was five before moving to Denver where her father took a position as a pastor.
It was in the United States where Lea faced racism for the first time.
“No one seemed interested that I was Ethiopian,” she told The Black Expat. “They could just see that I was black.”
She continued, “ I was just this funny black kid […] everyone’s token black friend, I represented diversity in almost every situation.”
Once in college, Wright said she “garnered a reputation as this insane force” where she assumed an image that everyone perceived a black person to be.
“I can’t tell you how many times people would say to me, ‘I’ve never had a black friend before,’” she said. “I was trying to fit a mold of what they thought, just because I wanted to fit in.”
After a year of social pressure at school, Wright said she dropped out of school because the environment was toxic. Taking a page from her parents’ book, she decided to embark on mission trips to Africa to help others.
Travel Noire caught up with Lea to discuss how she landed in Ethiopia:
Travel Noire: Can you just tell our audience what brought you to Ethiopia?
It was a bit of a homecoming rather than like a brand-new journey.
I spent my whole life in the states from when I was five, up until, when I was 21, the first time I came back [to Ethiopia]. I was invited to participate in a family that was coming to adopt here. It was just a really beautiful a full-circle moment.
While I was here with that family, I got connected to the NGO that I now am on staff for, and the founder, really just pursued me as an individual, and really pushed for me to dive into what life here in Ethiopia could potentially look like. I took him up on the challenge and have been here for what? Two years now.
Travel Noire: How are you adjusting how has life been since you’ve embarked on this homecoming?
It’s been really beautiful and really hard in a lot of ways.
You know, we always think we know our limit. I came up with the idea of ‘I know my limit’ and it’s going to be hard, but I didn’t know just how far I could be pushed in work and in personal relationships. Life here is constantly stimulating
Travel Noire: You talked in your previous interview how in Colorado, people didn’t see you pass a Black American. Now that you’re in Ethiopia, do people see you as one of them, or do they see you as a Black American? Has it been a similar situation in America in Ethiopia?
No, not at all. The people here have been so wonderful and so accepting and I think that has played into the kind of the sense of homecoming is, in a way and I’m being embraced as a daughter of Ethiopia. It’s been more about ‘How can we help you?’ or ‘Let’s talk about language and cultural things’ and even ‘can we go shopping with you and how can we help you to just embrace this side of you?’
People are incredibly just warm and accepting and once they hear me talk, they’re like, ‘Oh, we gotta help this girl!’
Travel Noire: Tell us more about the NGO Hope for the Fatherless and how you all are helping orphans?
The primary thing that we have just kind of stood up and said is we believe children belong in families, but you can’t just say ‘okay there’s a child on the road, I need to take the child of out of its context and put it into my idea of a family.’
So much of what we’re doing is just connecting and networking with other organizations and looking at how we can alleviate poverty and how do we stop the problem at its root? How do we keep families together, how to strengthen communities? We’re trying to raise awareness around these kids who have been identified as an orphan.
There’s a huge movement that’s growing in, in terms of domestic adoption and foster care.
We provide support for kids living in our community. We have a training center and a computer lab […] resources to give children access to things like reading materials to the kids in our community and being a consistent adult in a child’s life.
I think that’s probably my favorite part of being here. Just getting to be a consistent adult, that is active in my place of work, in my neighborhood, church, or wherever: getting to show up for kids.