To anyone else, it may not have been a big deal. But for Rebeka Knight it was very serious.
When the five-year-old noticed that the Ethiopian flag was missing from the outer walls of Bradley Hall on the University of Kentucky campus, she wanted to know why. See, Rebeka is a native of Ethiopia, adopted by College of Education faculty member Victoria Knight and her husband, Robert, and she was very proud that her native flag had been flying on campus. But her dad had no answer to explain its absence.
Rebeka Knight and her parents, Victoria and Robert Knight, pose with the flag of Ethiopia outside Bradley Hall on the University of Kentucky campus. Victoria is an assistant professor in the UK College of Education Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling.
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Riding by Bradley Hall every morning on the way to school at the College’s Early Childhood Laboratory, Rebeka continued to ask why her flag was gone. Finally, Robert decided to find out. The pair went into the building, not really knowing whom to ask. They went from office to office until they found Laura Anschel.
“Rebeka walked right up to within two feet of me,” said Anschel, administrative accountant in the UK Office of International Affairs. “She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘What happened to the flag from Ethiopia?’ Then she looked shyly down at the floor. It was sweet. I admired her courage all the more because there was a sense of reticence and shyness about her.”
Anschel explained to Rebeka and her dad the process for displaying the flags on Bradley Hall but offered to place her flag back outside for a while. Anschel let Rebeka assist in finding the flag and picking out the window outside of which the flag would fly. All the while, Anschel learned Rebeka’s story: her adoption by the Knights, her journey to the United States and her acclimation into a new culture.
Victoria and Robert Knight wanted a child. There was no denying that, but nature simply wasn’t playing along. As a result, the couple decided that adoption would be a viable option and investigated the process of adopting a child from another country. The indications they received were that due to government stability, ease and other conditions, the best places to go were South Korea or Ethiopia.
However, things did not go their way at first. The process dragged on until finally they weren’t sure it would ever happen.
“Several months went by and we thought it just wasn’t meant to be,” Victoria said. “But then I got an email with a photo of Rebeka that said, ‘Is this your daughter?’ I started bawling and sent the photo to Rob. We had been through so much emotionally and thought it was over, but I asked him, ‘Is this our daughter?’ And he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
For the Knights, however, the emotional rollercoaster wasn’t at the end of the track. The process required two visits to Ethiopia: one to meet and visit with Rebeka and the second to bring her back to the United States. Just before that first visit, they were told that the government of Ethiopia wanted to rein in the process and cut adoptions by 90 percent. The Knights thought, once again, that their quest to become parents might be over.
Despite this, they decided to fly to Ethiopia and take their chances. Luckily for them they were able to meet Rebeka and were able to stay with her for a week. Because she was almost four, she was talking, though she didn’t know English.
“But it didn’t make a difference,” Victoria said. “We were so happy to be with her and Rebeka seemed happy to be with us.”
“At the end of that first trip, we asked her if she wanted us to be her mommy and daddy,” Robert said. “And she said yes.”
Although the second visit still wasn’t a guarantee, Robert flew back to Ethiopia to officially bring their daughter into the family. Other trials and tribulations popped up, but in the end, the trip was a success and the Knights became parents.
Since her arrival in Lexington and the College of Education, Rebeka has become a bit of an unofficial representative for the College. In September 2011 during UK President Eli Capilouto’s visit she presented a gift to him on behalf of the College, and in April 2012, Rebeka was on hand at the annual Teachers Who Made a Difference program to present 2012 Spokesperson Matthew Mitchell with the Friend of the College Award.
With all of that, Victoria and Robert make sure Rebeka continues to learn about her native country and her Ethiopian family. They also stay in touch with Rebeka’s father, who put her up for adoption because he was unable to care for her after her mother’s death. And they taught her how to recognize her native country’s flag – the same flag that went missing from Bradley Hall.
“As we talked, I learned she is a curious, eager, intelligent child ready to explore the world around her,” Anschel said. “She is comfortable with people and engages them. She asks questions, and more importantly, she listens to the answers. To me, Ethiopia is where she is from, and it is a part of her, but what makes her special is who she is as a human being – beyond borders.”
“I couldn’t have picked out a child that matched our family better than Rebeka does,” Victoria said. “It’s hard to describe to people. There’s never been a moment when we thought she didn’t belong.”
And she certainly fits the role of the College of Education’s Youngest Ambassador.