DISCUSSING the weekend juggle of taking their kids to their various sporting endeavours, ABC sports broadcaster Tim Gavel and his wife Dr Jenny Andrew sound like any other parents of active teenagers.
Eske, 14, will be attending a rowing regatta in Sydney, while her younger brother, Skinny, 12, is competing in a series of swimming events locally.
“We’re heavily involved in our kids’ lives, and we love it,” says Tim. “Everything we do is for them, and we’re always there if they need us. We don’t have any time for socialising, but that’s okay. We’re pretty tired anyway!”
The couple adopted biological siblings Eske and Skinny from Ethiopia in 2004, when they were four and two, and Jenny says watching them grow has been a wonderful experience.
“The teenage years are certainly interesting!” she says. “They can take you to the rooftops and back again in a nanosecond.”
“You do have to let some things go, or you’d have a blue every day,” agrees Tim. “They’re really good kids; and they’ve adapted as you’d expect in a new family and culture.”
Eske and Skinny had been living in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, with their grandparents and several others, in a tin shed with dirt floors when they were put up for adoption, says Jenny.
“Their parents had died, their father in a political uprising and their mother of an illness, but we don’t know exactly what,” she says.
“Their grandparents are loving people, but they couldn’t cope and they wanted to make sure the kids had opportunities they couldn’t offer them.”
Tim and Jenny received photos and information about four-year-old Eske and two-year-old Skinny when the adoption match was made, but one important fact was missing – they had an older sibling, Meron, then 12.
“We only found out about Meron when we arrived to pick them up, and although she was too old for us to adopt, we put her through school and brought her out here as soon as we could,” says Tim.
“Our aim was always to keep the family together, and Meron provides a connection for Eske and Skinny to Ethiopia, their parents and their background.”
Both Eske and Meron have had long-term health issues caused by malnutrition, but generally all three kids are healthy and happy.
Although Tim and Jenny were biologically able to have children, they say they ran out of time.
“We’re very busy with work and travelling, and then when we were both in our forties we didn’t want to take any risks,” says Jenny.
“We started looking into inter-country adoption through seminars held by the ACT Government, and Ethiopia was a good match, although initially we were looking at South America. Tim knew some Ethiopians and knew they were gentle people with inner strength.”
The couple say the two-and-a-half-year process to adopt was emotionally draining with many invasive questions and endless form filling.
“We didn’t enter into this lightly, we worked away at it and although it seemed a long time to wait, we’re not complaining – after we had our kids, the waiting times just exploded,” says Jenny.
“We have seen families who waited up to seven years, and who it never happened for. It’s like a very long pregnancy, waiting year in, year out for a child that never actually arrives.”
Jenny and Tim say that Canberra has proved a wonderful community for adopting from a different culture.
“At the start it was a challenge overcoming the language barrier,” says Jenny. “As the kids get older we would love to take them back to Ethiopia for a visit.”
Meron, now 22, came to Canberra in 2009 and has permanent citizenship and is living in Melbourne. She keeps in touch with their grandparents, who are thrilled to hear about the children’s new lives, and which Tim and Jenny say has been very calming for them.
“It has been a positive experience,” Jenny says.
“Eske is creative, with a wicked sense of humour. She loves sewing and is into healthy eating at the moment – she’ll make her own food if she doesn’t think what we’re having is up to scratch!
“Skinny is very driven, and is a swimmer through and through. He’d love to represent Ethiopia in the Olympics one day if he could.”
“They have great friendship groups at school, and we believe they both have the potential to be anything they want to be,” adds Tim. “We’re preparing them for later in life, but ultimately they are focused, single-minded kids.
“They’re good mates, the classic siblings really – they fight a lot but when one of them is away, they miss each other.”
Tim Gavel and Jenny Andrew will be sharing more of their family’s remarkable journey for Save the Children at the ACT Council’s annual luncheon address, Brassey Hotel, Barton, on Wednesday, November 19. Tickets at $65 via eventbrite.com or to bit.ly/1vPLvya