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New family extends ties to Ethiopia

Doctors adopt clinic in daughters' birthplace

By Chantal Mendes
Globe Correspondent / February 12, 2009
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When Nick Semine and Drucilla Roberts returned to the United States from the town of Adwa in Ethiopia, where they had gone to meet the two little girls they adopted in 2004, they came back with a new family and a new connection to their daughters' birthplace.

Since then, they have become increasingly involved in efforts to bring aid to one of the poorest regions of Africa. Through Wide Horizons for Children, the Waltham-based adoption agency they used, they have participated in the funding of a medical clinic in Adwa, in northern Ethiopia.

Throughout their journey from hopeful parents to dedicated humanitarians, their accomplishments would not have been possible without the help and support of friends and their community, they say. One teenager, the daughter of a friend, has helped raise $500 through her school in Framingham.

Semine and Roberts, both doctors from Holliston, didn't really expect to be parents. But when they finally considered having children, they immediately thought of adoption.

"If you want to be a parent, there are a lot of kids that need parents," said Roberts. During a visit to Africa with her niece, Roberts was profoundly affected by the poverty she witnessed there, she said, and decided that if she and her husband were going to adopt, "we're going to do it through Africa."

Working through Wide Horizons, the only agency the couple could find at the time that offered adoptions from an African country, Semine and Roberts flew to Adwa, where they met sisters Simret and Simenesh, who are now 12 and 10.

After the girls had become part of the family and they all started settling into their Holliston home, Semine and Roberts decided it was time to expand on their involvement with Ethiopia. Although they had been sponsoring children there through a Wide Horizons program, they decided it wasn't enough.

"I went and called the adoption agency and said my husband and I have the resources, we'd like to do something more," said Roberts, 53, a pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "They were thinking about this clinic. They just needed start-up money and someone to push them to do it."

The only hospital in the Adwa area is around 80 years old with no X-ray machine, laundry services, or even reliable electricity, Roberts said. Women often give birth in hallways, and doctors regularly see upwards of 300 patients a day.

A fully functioning medical clinic would make healthcare roughly 70 percent more accessible to around a million men, women, and children, organizers say.

Wide Horizons needed about $250,000 to get the project off the ground. Roberts and Semine initially contributed around $25,000, a figure that has quickly been supplemented through the generosity of friends.

Kenneth Kaplan, a family friend who teaches in New York, ended up raising more than $1,500 from his school community.

Pat Mangan, a close friend of Roberts, and her daughter Siobhan were motivated to help too.

"When she found out about this, she said, 'I don't have the money to help, but I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas. Let me get the schools involved in this,' " said Roberts.

Siobhan immediately suggested fund-raising ideas for the clinic to her outreach group at Marian High School in Framingham. Sibohan said that although it was "awkward and kind of difficult at first" to propose yet another thing to a committee already inundated with projects, her classmates enthusiastically hopped on board.

"They knew that it was something really close to me . . . close to my heart," she said. The Marian students raised around $500 for the clinic, a huge accomplishment for something that began with one student and spread to the rest of the Catholic school's community.

Jack Langerman is another young student who was so inspired by the clinic project that he wanted to contribute his own skills to the cause. A junior at the Meeting School in Rindge, N.H., Langerman knows the family through his mother, a college friend of Roberts. After hearing about the project, he volunteered to create and maintain a website for them.

"It's nice to be able to do something that I really love doing and have it be productive and for a good cause," said Langerman, who estimated that he has put well over 50 hours into the website.

All the fund-raising efforts have made a difference. Construction started in July and the clinic is taking shape, said Semine, 52, a radiologist at Norwood Hospital. It is expected to be finished by the summer, according to Wide Horizons.

Semine visited Adwa in September and was excited to see progress. The clinic is being built by local contractors, with the aid of local residents, who have promised to finance 10 percent of the project with free labor and materials. The local health bureau has committed to providing physicians to staff the clinic, and Wide Horizons remains the chief financial backer.

Semine's excitement is tempered with realism.

"We have had to adjust our expectations," he said, as he described the struggle to establish a functioning health clinic while working with the basic, often inadequate, resources in the area. "That's the challenge."

Semine and Roberts are still seeking support for their efforts to obtain equipment and provide for the new clinic's maintenance. More information is available at the project's website, www.adwaclinic.info.

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