WASHINGTON CITY — When 15-year-old Kai from Ethiopia got word that he was going to be coming to America to live with the Brandon and Darci Burke family, the first question he asked was, “can I call you mom and dad?”
For Kai Burke, growing up without a family in an orphanage in Ethiopia was a little bit of hell, he said. But Kai held onto hope that one day he would make it out and that God would not forget him, said Darci Burke of her new son.
Now, after a months-long paperwork process, Kai was finally able to join his new family in America. He was given a heartwarming welcome July 17 from neighbors and friends upon his arrival home.
A heart for Africa
Though he didn’t know it at the time, Kai’s journey out of hell began two years ago when Darci Burke took her first trip to Ethiopia with a humanitarian organization called Ordinary Hero.
According to the organization’s website:
Ordinary Hero is an advocacy organization that partners with impoverished communities, advocates for the vulnerable, and empowers ordinary people to change the life of a child.
Impoverished communities like Korah, Ethiopia, known as the trash dump community where 10,000 people rely on the dump for food and where they scavenge for plastic bottles to sell for money, Darci Burke said.
Darci Burke heard about the organization from friend and fellow Southern Utah resident, Deborah Schone who is a team leader for several of the Ordinary Hero trips to Ethiopia.
While in Ethiopia, the group does humanitarian work in the most impoverished areas of the country including visiting orphanages that Ordinary Hero partners with, Darci Burke said.
Darci Burke’s first trip was in July of 2014 and, though she met Kai at the orphanage where he had lived for 7 years, she didn’t know then that two years later she would be welcoming him into her family.
That first trip to Ethiopia was fueled by her dual passion for travel and humanitarian work, Darci Burke said, but she soon fell in love with the people of Ethiopia, especially the kids.
“I immediately fell in love with the Ethiopian people and with the kids out there and just what Ordinary Hero– what their mission was – and I couldn’t wait to go back,” Darci Burke said.
Darci Burke returned to Ethiopia in January of 2015, and by then, a part of her heart belonged to Africa, she said. Darci Burke wears a gold necklace in the shape of Africa that sits directly over her heart.
After her second trip to Ethiopia, she was approached by Schone about the possibility of adopting Kai.
A few years ago, Schone adopted a young man named Anwar from the same orphanage as Kai. The boys were close friends, Darci Burke said, and Schone knew of Kai’s desire to come to America, go to school and find a family. Schone couldn’t shake the feeling, Darci Burke said of her friend, that that family was the Burke family.
While one might expect to react with shock or disbelief at being approached with such a life changing decision, Darci Burke said she felt peace and excitement.
“I just felt really good about it,” Darci Burke said. “I always felt like there was more purpose to me having such a strong desire to go back (to Ethiopia), so for me it just kind of put everything together.”
On faith and family
Both Darci Burke and her husband, Brandon Burke, said they had a good feeling about bringing Kai to their home. That is not to say that the decision was made without some trepidation.
The Burke’s already had four children of their own, ranging in age from 5-13, and they were comfortable with their family unit, Brandon Burke said. The idea of inviting a new person into the mix was scary.
But that good feeling was stronger than the fear and powered by the desire to bless Kai’s life.
“We’ve been blessed and we wanted to do something to bless somebody else, to help somebody else that really, really needed it,” Brandon Burke said.
The couple, along with their two oldest children, traveled to Ethiopia in May where Brandon Burke met Kai for the first time.
The couple has a strong faith in God and attributes many miracles in the process of bringing Kai to America to their faith in and prayers to God, Darci Burke said.
For most of his life, Kai had been praying too, Darci Burke said. Praying that someday he would find a family.
In his 15 years of life, Kai Burke has never celebrated his birthday. In fact, Darci Burke said, until they started the paperwork process to bring him to America, Kai was not even sure when his birthday was.
Kai’s mother lives six hours away from the orphanage where he grew up. She could not provide for him. Kai never knew his father. The only family he knew were the other kids in the orphanage.
Though Kai spent seven years in the orphanage, he was not typical, he said. Most children are only allowed to stay for three years, Kai said. If they don’t find a family, they return to the streets where they will try to shine shoes or scavenge for plastic bottles to sell in order to survive. School, which is considered a privilege, would be out of the question.
For Kai, finding a family has made him “big happy,” he said. It is a feeling mutually shared by the Burke family, Brandon Burke said. Darci Burke added that their other children have not left Kai’s side.
And what of Kai’s future?
Kai will start his sophomore year at Pine View High School in August. His favorite subject is math, he said, adding that he dreams of becoming a doctor so he can one day travel back and forth to Ethiopia and help the people. Currently in his home country there is one doctor per every 37,000 people, Kai said.
Brandon Burke has more intrinsic hopes for his new son:
I think we just want him to be happy. Whether or not he becomes a garbage man or a janitor or a doctor … we just want him to feel loved and to be happy. We believe, even though admittedly we are still getting to know him very much so, we already see so many talents and really special traits he has that need to be cultivated and need to be able to be developed. And so that is one of the things I am really excited about is to help him become his best self. He is already an amazing person.
Kai’s birthday is Oct. 7 and the family plans to have a huge party for him.
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- Learn more about the Burke family’s trip to Ethiopia and how you can help Ordinary Hero advocate for children here
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