Sunday, May 15, 2016

This is the video I created that highlights this year's Ethiopia trip. Enjoy!




Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Toes are Still Pink

It's been almost two weeks since our group returned to the U.S. We all went our separate ways and have settled back into routines. The jet lag is finally done, and I'm feeling productive at work again. My first day back was brutal. I had a 9am meeting, and I was not tracking the discussion very well and I'm sure said some things that made my colleagues wonder about the state of my brain.

We've also been busy wrapping up loose ends from the trip. Candy wants to make sure that each sponsor gets photos of their child opening the care package. I've been organizing those photos and finally got the memory card mailed to her on Saturday. Our wonderfully supportive church hosted "Sponsorship Sunday" last week, with at least six kids pledged to be sponsored and another child pledged today. I've been sending photos to our friends who helped with donations and care packages so they can see for themselves the impact they're having.

And the family life continues as well. Our kids are in the midst of spring sports, so we have lacrosse, soccer, and tennis practices and games. School committee meetings have started, with the final stages of next year's budget being finalized and union negotiations continuing. We also have a puppy, Mia, who is all of three months old, as cute as anything, but needing constant monitoring to make sure she goes to the bathroom where she's supposed to, and is not chewing on things that shouldn't be in her mouth. Allison is in her last week of her first year of school, so has started moving stuff back home for the summer. The kids have homework, and we are starting to plan for summer activities.

And yet...

Last week, I went over to the gym to change so I could run. It was actually nice outside, and I wanted to take complete advantage of the beautiful weather. I ran on the track all winter, and running in circles is not very much fun. I'd much rather be outside. Glen and I ran outside a couple of times in Ethiopia, which was challenging. In Addis, we were not only battling traffic, exhaust, and animal waste, but I was unaccustomed to the elevation and just a twenty minute run felt like an eternity. I started out strong, but half way through it seemed like my leg muscles were going to catch on fire they burned so much. The elevation in Kombolcha was easier on us, but the traffic, exhaust, and dust was not very pleasant.

So I was changing clothes to get ready for my run, and removed my work socks. And there they were. My pink toe nails.

On the last day in Kombolcha, we have a big feast for the kids. Before that, Rob talks about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and then we wash the feet of the kids. They in turn wash our feet, which is very sweet. As they finish, there are two stations set up - one for nail painting and the other for face painting. This year, one of the girls asked to paint my nails. She wanted to paint my fingernails. I agreed to have one (my pinky) painted. Then, she wanted to paint my feet. I offered one foot's toe nails, which she painted bright pink.

The polish on the pinky is long gone. However, two weeks later, my toe nails are still bright pink.

I pause and remember every time I see those toe nails. While we're back in our comfortable homes and our comfortable jobs and our comfortable lives, those kids are still there. They are looked after and loved, but they still need our help. I can't forget about them. I won't forget about them. They still need love. They still need food. They still need medical care. They still need basic necessities. Their struggles continue. I must not forget that.

Eventually, the toe nail polish will fade away. However, my commitment to those 265 children will not. It most not. After all, I will do my best and work my hardest to serve them. I will wash their feet every day by honoring them and the commitments I've made to them and their families, by remembering them and thinking about them every day, and by working to help them succeed so that when the day comes that they have children of their own, they can paint each others' nails in the comfort of their own homes.

Final Report:

Many people around us were incredibly generous with monetary donations. Every penny that is given to us goes directly to the children. This year some of the money was sent ahead so that purchases could be made in advance. In that case, there was a "wiring fee" to cover Children's Hopechest's costs of getting the money to Kombolcha. Otherwise, 100% is spent directly on the kids. With the donations we received:

* Six kids received medical care, one being the child I mentioned with typhoid. There were infections and head fungus' that were also covered.
* 165 children at Meserete participated in a feast, with enough food so that each child was able to eat until s/he was full.
* The families of the 100 children at CHDA received teff and cooking oil. (Teff is used to make injera, an essential staple of the Ethiopian diet.)
* All of the kids received fruit and bread each day that we visited them. They received bananas, but also received mangos, which are a special treat as they tend to be more expensive.
* There was still several hundred dollars left over, which I have placed into a medical fund for the CHDA kids so if any needs arise, Children's Hopechest can get the kids care.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

The People Around Me

After a day’s journey, an eight hour drive from Kombolcha to Addis, we are all tired today. Who would think that sitting in a van would be so exhausting. That being said, it was a beautiful trip. I’ve taken that trek many times, and each time I see something new or in a different way. I was tired, and my eyes were fighting me to stay open, but I didn’t want to miss a single sight. There were hundreds if not thousands of animals alongside the road, in the fields, in front yards, or laying on the road (not hurt, just hanging out).  There were goats, lamb, donkeys, cattle, and camels by the dozens.

Ethiopia is building a railroad from Djibouti to Addis, and the line will run alongside the highway, so we were able to see that work in motion. People are walking everywhere, even in areas that seem too remote for humans. There has been lots of rain, so rivers that were dry on previous trips are running rapidly, with people taking advantage of the conditions by washing clothes or themselves in the fast flowing water. Large fields that were dry are a lush green with vast ponds. We drive through bustling small towns with even more people and animals and the signature blue and white three-wheel taxis. We drive by traditional round mud huts with thatched straw roofs, children playing in the front or near the road. We climb up into the mountains and see the vegetation changing, getting thicker and greener. Right before we pass through the last tunnel before we start our descent, we see a pack of monkeys hanging out on the side of the road. I have video of a group of them, with one baring his teeth at me.

On the other side of the tunnel, thick fog quickly develops. The fog is so thick that our driver (finally) slows down to a decent speed as the fog is too thick to even see the car directly in front of us. Unfortunately, the thick fog meant that we could not stop to see the baboons that hang out on one of the hill sides, and that I could not buy Daniel the baboon hat he wanted.

Finally, we’re through the fog and eventually arrive in Addis Ababa, the same bustling, crowded city we’d left five days prior, and our quickly overwhelmed by the smell of diesel exhaust, dust, people, and animals that are the signature aroma of this city. We survive traffic and arrive at the guest house without incident.

After dinner (which was most excellent, by the way), four of us venture over to the corner store to purchase tea. Our translators had left, so we were determined to figure it out ourselves. Benjamin and I had attempted this last year, and even though we were ultimately successful, it was still challenging. This year, I made sure to learn the Amharic word for tea (chai), and ten (arat), as I needed ten boxes. And, I was successful in getting what I needed! Of course, I have to give partial credit to the little girl also in the store who helped explain to the storekeeper what I needed. Although I knew the words, I still have my American accent, which makes it hard to be understood. (Think of people from other countries who you’ve listened to but couldn’t understand because of their accent. They have the words right, but they’re unintelligible. That was me.)

Today was also a busy day. The agenda was to attend church, buy coffee, go to a museum, go to the square to get macchiato, return to the guest house so the ones leaving tonight could pack, go to dinner, and for those of us staying, return to the guest house.

We attended the same church we do on every trip. It’s an International Evangelical Church and has an English speaking service at 8:30. It’s a contemporary service, so lots of great singing and a good message about how different people think about their faith and how we should be thinking about it. It was odd to see so many other people from the United States in the congregation as well as leading the service.

Next came coffee time. I’d been instructed to purchase thirty bags (we sell it to help raise funds for the next year’s feast), so stayed back in line to make sure everyone else got theirs. When it came my time, there wasn’t enough on the shelf, so the workers had to go upstairs to get more and came down with a huge crate filled with coffee bags. The van smelled like coffee in no time!

Next we went shopping at what is known as the “post office” because it is located near that facility. Shopping here is overwhelming. There are eight to ten small stores with open fronts lined up on the street. Immediately when we get out, beggars are asking for money, or trying to sell us belts, gum, maps, and other trinkets. Others are asking us to give them food. Because it’s Sunday, the normal presence of a police officer to give us some protection is missing.

As we walk by stores, storekeepers are asking us to come inside to look at their wares. “I give you good deal” is a common refrain. We have translators with us, so as we make our selections, Fikre and Zelalem negotiate prices. As is the case when you’re buying a car, you always have to be willing to walk away, which we do on occasion. Oddly enough, as soon as we walk out the door, the shopkeeper runs after us telling us we can have the item for the price we wanted.

I did learn one lesson when negotiating. I was trying to negotiate a price on an item. I wanted a lower price in part because I wasn’t sure I had enough money left.  The shopkeeper, however, was being insistent on the price, even though I told him I didn’t have enough. I even pulled out my money, counted it with him so he could see I didn’t have enough (I had even less than the price I was trying to get him to sell me for), and got up to start walking away. As I reached the door, he relented and sold me the item for the lower price. I finally got all but one of the items on my list, we all got into the van, and left. It’s a very overwhelming, stressful experience. I love the things that are sold in the stores, but don’t like having to deal with all of the noise that comes with it.

Next, we went to the derg museum. Derg refers to a period in Ethiopian history when the country was ruled by communists. The emperor was overthrown in the early 70s without any kind of plan to fill the vacuum left behind (sound familiar to some of the things going on in the world today?). The military filled that vacuum and called themselves communists, even though they didn’t have the sophistication or even the literacy to make it truly communist. Their first action was to have all of the top administrators of the emperor executed, so there was even less knowledge about how to run a country. When citizens started to protest the way the country was run, the government responded with mass executions. There’s a square in the middle of the city where the kids now play soccer. More than 1200 people were executed in that square on a single day. Thousands were held prisoner, tortured, and executed. Truck loads were driven in trucks to cliffs, where they were thrown off. Others were hauled off into the wild, shot, and left to be scavenged by hyenas, vultures, and other wild animals. Of the thousands that were buried in mass graves, only 11 have ever been identified, as DNA testing is so expensive. In 1991, the government changed, but the ruler at the time was able to continue his rule. However, dozens of top officials were put on trial and sentenced to long prison terms or life sentences. Some were given death sentences. Several religious groups appealed for forgiveness so all sentences were reduced to prison terms. Then, the previous prime minister, three years ago, declared that all of those prisoners were to be released and given full amnesty. Most, even the one most responsible for the holocaust here, lives in Addis and is given full protection. The derg was a terrible time in Ethiopia’s history, one from which the country is still trying to recover.

It was a sobering tour, given by a man who it turns out was himself tortured while being held prisoner during the derg. He is understandably upset that all of these evil people are now free.

After the tour, we decided not to go for macchiatos, so instead made a quick stop for more coffee and berbere (a zingy spice) and returned to the guest house.

The good news is that I was able to get all of my purchases packed into suitcases. I’m hoping though that this isn’t the one time that they decide to check my bags when I enter the United States. Will they be suspicious and question why I’m bringing in thirty bags of coffee? And it won’t be easy to hide it, as the aroma is wafting around it. I may be up all night tonight just because of the coffee I’m absorbing through the smell!)

After a brief rest, we head to a local hamburger restaurant. It was very good and filling. Even though we’re not supposed to, I braved it and put a tomato on my burger. So far, I’m not feeling any ill effects, so hopefully won’t suffer the consequences of eating something I’m not supposed to. After dinner, we said good bye to the group heading to the airport, and walk over for ice cream (which doesn’t taste anything like our own ice cream, but is still good nonetheless). Then, back to the guest house for our final evening.

Tomorrow is our last day here. We’ll head out for another tour, will stop by a place that sells scarves made and sold by women so they can get off of the streets, have our final dinner at the guest house and head to the airport for the trip home.

It’s been an amazing week, and I am happy to have met the people on this team. I will miss them.

A personal note:

I don’t know if I would call my family growing up dysfunctional, but I don’t know that I would call it functional either. My father, being raised in a foster home with lots of other kids, didn’t have a role model so he could develop in a healthy way. Both of my parents were pretty self-centered, and as I reached 6th grade, their marriage started to fall apart. We moved a lot too, so the sense of security one should receive in those important years never fully formed. My sister and I were pretty close, so despite the issues going on in our home, we had each other. They weren’t bad parents. They provided the essential things we needed (clothes, food, roof), but weren’t really around for the kinds of conversation a kids need.

I’m not complaining. Many kids don’t even get the essentials, so we had it pretty good. Looking back, though, I believe that I was lacking in certain needs that one needs to be successful; a sense of self-awareness, an understanding of how to get along with others, an overall awareness of the world and its connections.

I first became aware of what I lacked during my junior year of high school when I went to a Quaker high school in Pennsylvania because my parents had moved to Saudi Arabia for my father’s job. The others around me opened up a whole new world to me, questioning my assumptions and challenging my world views. These were smart people who, at least from the outside, possessed a confidence and awareness that I knew I lacked.

It was during my two years at Westtown that I realized that I wanted to learn as much as I could from and about other people. I wanted to find the qualities that I admired and take them for my own. I saw qualities that I didn’t like, and made sure I didn’t adopt them.

Looking back, I know I made mistakes. I was quick to judge and too na├»ve to really understand what was going on around me. There were classmates that I know I could have learned from, but didn’t. But I’ve continued to observe people in order to always try to become a better person.

So what does this have to do with Ethiopia?

I am ending my seventh trip to Ethiopia. Each time, I have been surrounded by great people who possess qualities that I’ve come to admire. This team has been no different. I listen to people and hear how they interact not only with other teammates but with the kids. I watch what people do for each other, not out of a sense of obligation, but out of love and respect. The people around me on these trips become part of me. There are some who I will never see again, but they have left an indelible mark on me. I am a better person because of them.


Thank you.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Photos!

We are back in Addis and so I am finally able to post some photos. I have lots more, and will post them as I sort through them.  These photos aren't in any particular order. Here we go!

This is the little boy who had been diagnosed with a disease that if left
untreated can be fatal. Thanks to a generous donation, he received 
the shots and is now cured.
One of our teammates, Heather, with an admirer at CHDA.
"Mama Suze" Howe with kids at CHDA. Most of them are unsponsored. 
Kids at CHDA receiving mangos, thanks to donations from our friends and family.

All of the families of kids at CHDA received teff (in the white sacks) and
cooking oil. A special donation was made to purchase these essential supplies. Once
the care point gets 50% of its kids sponsored, all of the families will receive supplies
every month.
Bags of teff waiting for families to pick up at CHDA.

The entire team, Meserete staff, translators, and Fikre and Zalalem.
All of the kids with the team and staff at Meserte.
"Mama Sue", Lor, and Heather serving food at the feast. 
Kids enjoying the feast.
Ranni getting ready to enjoy her feast. 
Les, Sarah, and Glen having their feet washed by the kids. 
Heather and Les washing feet. 
This year's team in front of the Sunny Side Hotel. 
Me with some of the kids. 
Fikre showing the injera that has been
prepared for the feast.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chaotic Happiness

It’s Friday night, 11:00pm. We leave here tomorrow morning at 7am for our eight hour van ride back to Addis. After months and months of planning, the week is done. It is the day for good-byes.

My first thought when I woke up this morning was that this was going to be a very long, emotional day. We were to go to Meserete first for foot washing and the feast, then to CHDA to see the food being distributed to the families of the children, and then back to Meserete for a dinner with the church leadership.

Our day always starts with breakfast, followed by a devotion, written by a member of Rob’s church (thank you Susan Dunn!). She does a really nice job writing them, and today’s in particular really seemed to be appropriate for what was to follow. Today’s theme related to assuring us that we should “not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

It’s an appropriate lesson for today because although it’s been a rewarding week, we are all very tired. While we long for our own beds, and a shower with actual water pressure (or even hot water), we start to wonder if it’s all worth it. These kids have so many needs, and we come for a week and then leave. Is there a lasting impact on the kids here? Is the time and money well spent?

We talked about how we are starting to see the impact of our work, how sick some of these kids were when we first met them. Now, they are going off to college, starting businesses, breaking the cycle of poverty. We also know that there are people here who will continue to be with them, who have the hardest jobs of keeping these kids on the right track. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The kids in Meserete are on the right track, even as new children come into the program. We are at the very early stages of our work at CHDA, and the needs there are overwhelming. But, over time, and on God’s timeline, it will get better.

So we head off to Meserete. The kids are waiting for us, and I search out the faces with which I am most familiar. Kerima, Abobew, Selama, Nuredin, Hanook, Ranni, Nathnael, Kalkidan, Kebaye, Abel, Habib, to name just a few. There are others with whom I’ve spent time, but do not know their names.

As Rob goes about telling the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, we go about setting up the stations so we can wash the feet of the children. This is an optional activity for the kids. Some of the girls are not comfortable with this, and some of the moslem kids will not participate.
The kids sit down at one of seven stations, and one by one we take turns washing their feet. Some giggle because they’re ticklish, some giggle because they’re typical kids, and some just watch us soap their feet, rinse them off, and then dry them. There are some kids we feel a special connection to, so will relieve the person at that station so we can wash his or her feet. All the while, the church staff are giving us clean water and dry cloths. After the last of the kids are done, they start asking to wash our feet. I think some of them are doing it for fun, but some of them take it as seriously as we did. One of the boys started crying while he was washing my feet. It was quite touching.

By the time I was done, six different kids had washed my feet. The last boy was the most thorough, even washing between my toes. He also insisted on putting my shoes and socks back on, which was good since I suspect I had the cleanest feet on the planet at this point, so it was a good signal to the others that I was done. The kids who really wanted to wash had already found me at that point.

As feet were washed, there were several activities. The kids could have their nails or face painted, or play outside. Several of our team started painting nails, but by the end everyone was painting everyone’s nails. Yes, I’m the proud recipient of a pink pinkie nail, and five pink toe nails. Glen was rocking Duke blue nails on one hand and Carolina blue nails on the other.

As the morning progressed, someone started playing songs on the keyboard so there was singing (loud singing) and dancing. There were people everywhere. It was loud, it was boisterous, it was, as Martha Jo described it, chaotic happiness. It was fantastic.

Next came the feast. A lot of people in our community, as well as family and other friends, donate money for the feast. A friend’s grandson donated his cash. The local girl scouts troop donated money. One-hundred sixty-five children were given a meal of injera, carrots and potatoes, bread, bananas, and soda (a special treat), and depending on their religion, a spicy sauce that either had meat or, if the child was Greek Orthodox, didn’t have meat. (Easter in Ethiopia is in May, so the Greek Orthodox are in their fasting season.) The moslems can eat meat, but it must be done a certain way, so there was a table especially for them. The Christian children had no restrictions on their diets, so could eat regular meat. Interestingly, one of the families, comprised of a brother and sister, headed to different tables. The older sister received her meal from the moslem table. Her younger brother got his meal from the table with the meal for Christians. Someone guessed that he did not have the high scruples of his sister, so went for the table with the shorter line.

After the feast, we gathered for a photo and said our good-byes. Yes, there were tears (both from the team and the kids). Yes, it took a very long time. Yes, Kerima was hanging on to me, sobbing. And yes, the older kids started out by laughing at the kids who were crying, but by the end some of them were crying too.

We then gathered inside for a photo with our team and the Meserete staff, packed everything up, and said our good-byes. And surprise, surprise, the kids were still outside when we went to leave, including Kerima. We loaded into the van and headed off the CHDA.

One of the many things I like about working with Children’s Hopechest is how they look after all the needs of the kids in their program. The sponsorship money doesn’t just go to supporting the child. When a care point reaches 50% sponsorship, each family receives a monthly portion of teff (used to make injera, a staple here) and cooking oil. Because we haven’t reached that point yet (half way there), the families aren’t receiving regular food rations through the program (some independent fund raisers have been done to provide the $500 it takes to purchase the supplies for roughly 100 families). Enough money was raised this year to purchase another supply, so we went to CHDA to see the families receive their supplies. We arrived a bit late, so everything had been distributed, but we were still able to see the families with their teff and cooking oil. The adults were very grateful and thanked us repeatedly.

We passed out mangoes, took care of several care packages that hadn’t been distributed on Tuesday, and spent some time playing with the kids. It wasn’t nearly enough time, but given the long day, we came back to the hotel to rest for a bit before moving on to our next activity.

The boy with the typhoid diagnosis was at CHDA today. He looks great! He was all smiles and giggles. I loved seeing him. His mother was very grateful. I have a photo of the two of them that I will post if I can get decent Internet (it may need to wait until tomorrow night when we’re back in Addis).

After a brief interlude at the hotel, we headed back to Meserete for dinner with the church staff and elders. Rob preached a short sermon, the children’s choir sang (these were members of the church and but for one, were not in the program), and we were each presented with certificates and small gifts. The women received either a head scarf except for Jayde and Theresa who received a scarf like piece that is to be wrapped around their waists. The men received Ethiopian shirts.

Then we ate a traditional Ethiopian meal, followed by a coffee ceremony. It was quite the spread and very good. Ethiopian coffee is incredible, but it’s not a good idea to give me coffee at 8:00pm. Let’s just say it’s after midnight as I write this and I’m not tired…

Then back to the hotel to wrap up the end of a long day. Tomorrow we leave at 7am for the eight hour drive back to Addis. We are driving instead of flying so that the members of our team for whom this is their first trip will see the beauty and diversity of the Ethiopian geography. If the weather is good, we will stop to see the wild baboons.  Several trips ago, we saw small monkeys jumping from tree to tree along the side of the road. I’ve made this trek many times now, but still will be watching as much as I can because it’s so amazing.

My final observation about Kombolcha:

This town of roughly 150,000 is changing significantly since my first trip here. New factories are opening. A train line is coming through, running from Djibouti to Addis. The train station is built and ready for business. Kombolcha will be a distribution center for goods coming from the gulf through Djibouti to the rest of Ethiopia. With all of this comes jobs. We are told that people are moving here from Addis. Already, the number of cabs (funny looking enclosed blue and white three wheelers, seems to have tripled since last year. Things are looking up for this area. It’d be nice if there was once a day that we weren’t needed here and that all families could earn a living wage (which isn’t much).


But that day is a long away. Children’s Hopechest has two care points here. Compassion International also has a presence, as do others. We are the only organization that comes to visit. The only organization that makes a sustained, holistic investment in the community. Still, there are over 4000 kids on the waiting list to get into a care point. There’s a lot of work yet to be done in this city.

In this morning's devotion, we listened to "God of This City" by Chris Tomlin. Here's an excerpt.

Greater things are yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things are yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done here.

You're the Lord of Creation.
The Creator of all things.
You're the King above all Kings,
You are.

You're the strength in the weakness.
You're the love to the broken.
You're the joy in the sadness.
You are.


We'll be back next year. Greater things are still to be done here.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Small Things Change Lives


First things first. I had a very good night’s sleep. Woohoo!

Another preamble, a pop culture lesson for those of you who didn’t get the Groundhog Day reference from several days ago. The reference is to a movie starting Bill Murray where he is visiting Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day and wakes up every day on the same day for multiple days with same recurring events.

End of Preambles

It was another great day. We spent the entire day at Meserete, the care point with the 165 kids we’ve been with since 2009. The day was split into two parts, the morning for the kids that go to school in the afternoon and the afternoon for the kids who go to school in the morning. In the past, we made sure there was a lot of structure to our time. However, we decided this year that since the kids are older, we would give them the choice about which station(s) they would participate in. (I know you’re not supposed to end a sentence in a preposition, but it’s late and I’m allowing myself to not worry about grammar tonight.)

After the Bible lesson, the kids had a choice of three stations – crafts, dancing, and recreation. Martha Jo and her daughter Sarah helped the kids make bead bracelets. Susan (she prefers Mama Sue), Lori, Jayde, and Bre led the kids in dancing, and Glen, Les, Theresa, and Gary helped with rec. Most of the kids participated in all three stations, but some of the older kids didn’t want to dance (some of the Moslem kids apparently for religious reasons), and some didn’t want to participate in rec. Most, even the boys, made bead bracelets. I was the assigned photographer, documenting the great times everyone is having.

The dance station was especially fun. Mama Sue and Bre led the group in the American standards; the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, and the Electric Slide. (I have video!) The session morphed into games, playing different versions of hot potato. Many of the kids who were making the bead bracelets came over to play after they were done with their project. It was a loud, raucous, fabulous time.

The rec station had all kinds of options. Glen had kids throw bean bags across the yard and try to land them in a hula hoop laying on the ground. Les had marked a wall with squares using masking tape and had kids try to throw balls within the marked area. The ping pong table had been moved outside, so that was going on as well. It was warm (and a bit humid) but not nearly as bad as two days ago.

Preparation for tomorrow's feast is underway. The back area is piled with carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes. The injera is made and is sitting in huge piles in one of the back rooms. The lamb, goat, and cow were delivered yesterday and all but the goat have been slaughtered and were being cut and cooked over an open fire. Staff spent the day cutting vegetables. The aroma of the onions wafted throughout the compound. I am so glad we have this tradition, and am thankful to everyone who helps us raise the money to allow it.

Over the lunch hour, I got to visit Kerima’s home.  Before we visited with Kerima, we visited the home of the Howe’s sponsor daughter, Halima. Kerima and Halima are neighbors so I got to visit both homes.

To get to Kerima and Halima’s homes, we had to climb what seemed like the side of a mountain. We started along a cobblestone road, and then trekked along a narrow, rocky, uphill path with lots of twists and turns. Finally we reached a clearing with Kerima’s house, and Halima’s house was around the next turn.

Halima’s mother was very gracious, serving us popcorn and tea. It was strong tea, and perhaps the best tea I’ve ever had. (By the way, I’d been served coffee already at Meserte, so had already received a caffeine jolt.) After a nice visit we proceeded to Kerima’s house.

As is typical, Kerima lives in a small one room home with a tin roof and a floor covered with a sheet of linoleum that is directly over the dirt. Thin mats line the walls. A small cupboard stands against the wall near the door. There are no windows and no electricity. The only light in the room comes from the doorway. A small tray had been set up in the middle of the room with coffee cups. Coffee was brewing in the clay pot that lay atop a burning fire. Kerima served us popcorn, and her mother served us coffee (for those of you counting, that’s two cups of coffee and a cup of tea in about two hours).

Kerima and her mother live alone in the home. She has two siblings, both of whom live with their father in another part of Ethiopia (I didn’t ask about the situation as I felt it would be impolite). Kerima had been born in the home. Her mother is a vegetable reseller, buying them from local farmers and selling them at market.

I told her that I always enjoy spending time with Kerima during my visits, that I always look for her. She is very special, and she is raising a wonderful daughter. I also told her that I miss her when I leave, and that both she and Kerima will be in our prayers. Kerima, who was sitting next to me, started tearing up. Kerima always cries on our last day at the care point. Her mother says that Kerima is usually still crying when she gets home (which is a several mile walk) and looks forward to seeing us when she learns we are coming.

Kerima is sponsored by Lori’s Aunt Virginia and Uncle Jim. I explained to Kerima’s mother that they are not able to travel due to their health. Kerima asked how many children Jim and Virginia have, and suggested that since they can’t come, one of their children should visit. Kerima’s mother said she would pray for Jim and Virginia’s health and perhaps they would be well enough to come visit. We ended our visit with a short prayer, followed by hugs and photos.

After trekking back down the hill, we returned to the hotel for a quick bite to eat and set off back to Meserete for the afternoon session. It pretty much went like the morning, except for a) there were double the kids, and b) it started pouring about an hour into the session. Some of the kids (and team members) didn’t let the rain dissuade them from playing outside, but many of the kids came inside and joined the dancing/game group. It was a great time!

Before I knew it, the kids were being instructed to sit down to wrap up the day. We handed out the bread and mangoes and said our good-byes.

By the way, I love the way the kids eat mangoes. The skin is quite durable, so they knead the fruit until the inside is mushy. Then they bite off one end of the fruit and squeeze the soft fruit through the hole.

We then returned to the hotel, ate what is our last dinner at the Sunny Side and have retired for the night. It’s raining again, with rolling thunder adding to the noise of the city. Our room is on the top floor so we can hear the rain hitting the hotel’s roof. It’s comforting, and lulling me to sleep as I sit here typing.

A personal note:


My nerves have been raw this whole trip. While the trip is amazing, it’s still tiring. I think about the impact that has been had on these kids and am so thankful that we got involved with Children’s Hopechest. The model they’ve created to support these kids is so incredible. There is another organization in Kombolcha that sponsors kids but never get visits. One of the staff also works with this other organization, and says that the connection that is created with the kids is so valuable and does so much to help them than just having people send money every month. I think about the support we’ve received from our community, our church, our family, and our friends. I think about how it takes relatively little to do so much. There was a little boy two days ago who couldn’t walk because of his typhoid. Because of a donation, he is able to walk again and is on the road to recovery. Another child had infected sores above his upper lip because he had allergies and wouldn’t stop rubbing the raw areas. He now has medicine for his allergies and the infection. Kids are graduating from school and going to universities. Families are receiving basic food supplies every month. Families are receiving grants to start businesses so they are not reliant on the government or on donations. I say this not to pat myself or anyone else on the back. I mention this because it takes so little to make such a huge difference. Children’s Hopechest is breaking the cycle of poverty and I am so excited to be a part of it. I am so thankful for the people who support us. There have been several times on this trip that I have started to tear up that so much has been accomplished in such a short time. I mean, the boy couldn’t walk.