African Cradle and the Ethiopian Heritage Camp

Did you know that picnics can grow, the same as planted seeds can?  Fifteen years ago, one particular picnic sprouted into what is now the Ethiopian Heritage Camp, started by Executive Director Amber Stime via her non-profit organization African Cradle.

Stime’s concept for the organization’s name stems from Ethiopia being “the cradle of civilization.”  Chef Samuelsson’s story exists in this same vein, due in part to the African Diaspora.  Based in Santa Cruz, California, it provides support to adopted Ethiopians, domestically and internationally, providing a community and consistent connection to Ethiopian culture.

“It’s good for children to start learning this at a young age, instead of in their 20’s, and we try to make it as authentic as possible,” says Stime.  “It’s mainly for the children, to let them know there’s no need for them to forge away on their own.”

The camp rose over years of borrowing backyards.  Families would fly in and participate in sharing culture, and other parents who were interested in adoption would share their question about the process. This eventually led to a hub where you could truly celebrate being Ethiopian. Stime says, “We wanted the children to stay connected to their birth culture—to understand where you come from and where you’re going.  It’s easy to come to the U.S. and assimilate, where we don’t want to have an accent and we want to dress and look like everyone else.  Here, seeing other kids talking like they do, retaining their language and having an interest in their food makes them feel proud to recall what they know and who they are.”

A healthy growth and development in a child starts from the beginning,  the root.  The camp takes in children who are as young as 15-months-old.  For many kids however, this is the first time that they are away from their family. But this is also where reinforcement and self-assurance comes into play.  It’s very easy, through adoption, for someone to be uprooted from their beginnings. But with these kids who attend the camp, it’s almost impossible, especially if they’ve been there since young.

They have different themes to keep the attendees busy.  This year, the topic is food. Stime can recall countless times before the last evening’s banquet dinner where they dress in full Ethiopian garb, like coffee dresses and suits, and the children wait—impatiently—for a menu that wafts through doors.

“You should see!” says Stime, “This is the moment that they wait for.  Sometimes I have to guard the door!” For the older ones, the anxiousness doesn’t seem to stop there.  They’ll have their fill earlier, but come later that night when bitten by the midnight snack bug. Yet, Stime wouldn’t trade these moments for two Earths, and one can tell by the passion she speaks with.  The children love their time at the camp, and she, who holds a Master’s degree in social work, enjoys it just as much, if not more.

The biggest reward for the kids is that they have a director who’s been in their shoes before.  At 50 years old, Ms. Stime was born in Ethiopia, adopted at eight, then relocated to Minnesota.  “I didn’t have Ethiopian food for years at a time, unless I had a visitor who could concoct some of the dishes, but my parents did their job of helping me retain my Ethiopian heritage.”  It’s easy to see that this is a message she is passing on to the rest of the world, and has been doing so consistently for a long time.

This year, the camp will run from August 9th to August 12th  and for Stime her goal is to have a place for adopted Ethiopians where they can “know someone who’s going through the same thing, and walking a walk that they are walking.”  For more information about Amber Stime, African Cradle and the Ethiopian Heritage camp, click here.

Photos Courtesy of Amber Stime and the African Cradle Organization.