Shared Origins: An Adoptive Family’s Journey Back to Ethiopia


Tsehaye, Lory, and Zoe looking out over Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in Ethiopia. Photograph by Elena Rue.

Shared Origins: An Adoptive Family’s Journey Back to Ethiopia

Photographs by Elena Rue

July 19–September 3, 2010
CDS Porch and University Galleries

Reception: Tuesday, August 3, 5-8 p.m.

Elena Rue is a documentary photographer who explores issues associated with international adoption and orphaned children. As a 2006 Hine Fellow, a program of the Center for Documentary Studies, she spent nine months working with a local non-governmental organization in Ethiopia to document the lives of AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa. From 2007 to 2010, she worked for the Literacy Through Photography program at the Center for Documentary Studies, and she is currently pursuing a master’s degree at UNC–Chapel Hill in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Lory Mills is the parent of two children adopted from Ethiopia. She and her partner, Sonya, adopted their first child, Zoe, as an infant, and later they adopted two-year-old Tsehaye. For Lory, the trip to Ethiopia was first about helping Zoe and Tsehaye find a connection with their birth country and culture. Her dream is to find an ongoing connection with Ethiopia for herself and her children.

Together, Lory, Zoe, Tsehaye, and Elena collaborated in documenting the girls’ first trip back to their birth country. In preparation for the trip, they made journals in which they recorded their experiences and reflections. The family visited the orphanage where the girls were cared for before coming to the United States, as well as other personally and culturally significant sites. This exhibition documents their shared experiences.

For more information about this exhibit please visit Now On View at CDS.

Tsehaye shows Ruthie, a newly adopted child, how to use a digital camera for the first time. The New Flower guesthouse in Addis Ababa is a common place for families to stay when they travel to Ethiopia to adopt. The girls created close connections with the children who had recently left their foster homes. Lory’s wisdom and Zoe and Tsehaye’s good example also helped several of the parents as they tried to comfort their newly adopted children.

Tsehaye displays an empty pod shell she discovered on a walk around Lake Tana.

Zoe and Tsehaye wait to board the plane on the way to Bahir Dar and Gondar to explore some of the historic and cultural highlights of the country. Ethiopia has a very rich religious history and is home to some of the world’s most remarkable Christian churches, monuments and monasteries.

On a hill overlooking Bahir Dar, Kassahun, a tour guide for part of our historic tour, takes a photograph of Tsehaye as several curious on-lookers witness the scene.

Zoe traveling to one of the monasteries located on the islands of Lake Tana.

Tsehaye runs through the grounds of Emperor Fasilides Castle in Gondar.

Zoe shares her infant passport picture with Helen.


Zoe walks along a road on Mount Entoto overlooking Addis Ababa.

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    3 Responses to “Shared Origins: An Adoptive Family’s Journey Back to Ethiopia”

    1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Duke Magazine, CDS @ Duke. CDS @ Duke said: "Shared Origins" – an exhibit of photographs by Elena Rue – is now on view in the CDS galleries! […]

    2. Mari Heltne says:

      I’m so proud to know you!

    3. Wow. Wow. Wow. What beautiful beautiful photos of your amazing trip. Thank you Elena, thank you Zoe, thank you Tsehaye, thank you Lori, thank you Sonya, for being the remarkable people you are. Love, Kathleen

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