International adoption: I was stolen from my family
Editor's note: Tarikuwa Lemma, 19, was "adopted" from Ethiopia seven years ago by a U.S. family along with her two younger sisters after being deceived that they were headed to America on a study trip. She now lives in Maine and has just entered college with the goal of becoming a human rights advocate.
(CNN) -- When I was 13, I was sold.
Friends of my father worked for a corrupt adoption agency operating in my homeland of Ethiopia -- friends my father trusted. In 2006 they coerced him into believing he was sending my younger sisters and me to America for an educational program during which we would come home every summer and on school breaks.
Little did my father know that his "friends" were being paid to recruit children for an American adoption agency. In fact, he didn't even know what "adoption" meant. Instead of an educational program, we found ourselves caught up in an international adoption scandal.
We weren't the only ones lied to. The family who adopted us, who lived in the southwestern United States, were told that they were taking into their family three AIDS orphans, the oldest of whom was nine years old. The truth was that our mother had died from complications during childbirth, and our father was alive and well. Instead of nine, I was 13 years old; my sisters were 11 and six.
Our new "parents" changed our names and told us we could no longer speak to each other in our own languages; we were punished if we disobeyed. Eventually, we forgot how to speak our native languages, Amarigna and Wolaytta.
I was so young and na´ve. I actually believed that if I ran away, I could walk back to Ethiopia. I wanted to escape from the people I felt had kidnapped us from our homeland, our culture, and our family. I was angry, hurt and grieving.