Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Have You Ever?

* had to identify and explain to a nine-year-old child the concept of a toothbrush?

* been overwhelmed by dozens of kids running at you, wanting to be held, hugged, and touched?

* seen a young boy's face covered with knife scars, a permanent reminder of what it took for him to survive on the streets?

* smelled a river with a stench so strong that you want to vomit, and then found out that a group of kids have to walk through this river to get to school during the rainy season?

* given a child a hug, and felt only skin and bones beneath their dirty, tattered clothes?

Until this month, I hadn't either. But now, after a week-long trip to Ethiopia, I will never be able to forget the hundreds of kids we visited in orphanages and drop in centers around the country. Thanks to the generosity of our friends, family, and community, we were able to provide clothes, medicine, toys, and most importantly, food to these kids. And they were extremely grateful.

But the problem is that what we left behind won't last long. Some of these kids still live on the streets, some of them have lost both of their parents and live in the homes of other relatives only because of a sense of obligation and are not well cared for. Others live permanently in orphanages, growing up without the day to day adult contact that is so important for normal development.

How can you help?

The best way to help is to sponsor a child at one of the orphanages/drop in centers. I am working with Kind Heart, a drop-in center for young kids who have lost one or both of their parents (primarily to HIV) or live below the poverty line (less than $1.00/month). $35/month, which goes to the drop in center, is enough to provide food to a child for a month. One of the other folks who traveled with us observed that $35 is less than the cost of one meal for a family at a restaurant. Children's Hopechest facilitates the donations, and will also put you in contact with one of the children at Kind Heart.

If you would like to help, let me know. We will be formalizing the sponsorships in January. If you let me know you are going to sponsor a child, I will send you a bound photo book of some of the pictures I took of the incredible landscape, the city of Addis Ababa, and other interesting things I saw during my trip. (You can see them at


Tuesday, December 29, 2009



Below is a link to the photos I took on my recent trip to Ethiopia. There are over 700 of them. Although I took out a few of the duds, you'll find some are much better than others.

Thanks to those of you who have agreed to sponsor a child at the Kind Heart Drop-In Center. If you're interested in helping with a child, let me know.

Ethiopia Vision Trip 2009 - Tom


Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm back from Ethiopia. What's next?

I hope you've enjoyed reading my reports from Ethiopia. I made it back safely, and am finally able to put the jet lag behind me.

When I set out to do this vision trip, my thought was that I would wait until after Christmas to take the next step for sponsorship. However, as Tom Davis (founder of Children's Hopechest) so ably stated while we were in Ethiopia, "there are children starving over here." Even though this message may get lost in the hub bub of Christmas, I don't want to wait.

Each member of our team selected an orphanage to sponsor. Two of us selected Kind Heart as the orphanage where we will focus our energy. Kind Heart was the drop in center where the kids have to walk through a polluted river to get to the school. They are between four and six years old, and are provided one meal a week by the school.

Sponsorship works on two fronts. First, any of you interested in helping the orphanage sponsor a child. You agree to $35/month for that child. The money is managed by Children's Hopechest and goes directly to the orphanage for its needs. Children's Hopechest has a team in Ethiopia that provides oversight to make sure it is being spent on the kids. If you're interested in sponsoring a child, let me know and I'll send you the information to get started. As part of the sponsorship, you're also encouraged to create a personal relationship with the child, writing your child letters, sending pictures, and also getting letters in return. These kids will love receiving letters from people, as their home situations are often not ideal, so the love and attention will be treasured.

In addition, as part of creating personal relationships with these kids, we are asked to visit the orphanage at least once a year. If you've never been to a third world country, you are in for an experience. While we are there, we will spend time playing with the kids, and/or helping with any needs. For example, we might paint the classrooms, or maybe build a playground for the kids. Children's Hopechest will work with the drop in center to determine what the needs are and work with us on the logistics. If you think you might be interested in going on such a trip, let me know and as the details begin to come into focus, I'll keep you informed.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers while I was on the trip. Thank you all for the donations you sent. They were much appreciated.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday and Monday

Sunday was truly a day of rest. Most of us attended a church service and then split into several groups. I decided to stay at the hotel, kick up my feet, and relax.

The church service was a unique experience. There were more than 600 people in attendance, and were they happy to be there. The first hour of the service was all singing. I didn’t understand a word of the songs, but there was lots of clapping, very loud singing, bouncing up and down, and in addition to the clapping at the end of a song, a chanting, high octave “loo, loo, loo, loo, loo…”. I have goose bumps now just thinking about it.

One of the members of our travel group did the sermon, with a translator. Jeremy interwove some of our experiences over this week into the sermon. It was inspiring. Periodically, the congregation would respond with a boisterous “Ah-men” after he had said something.

The sermon was followed by another 30 minutes of singing. It was a two hour service, but time really flew. A memorable experience.

Today, we visited a “drop-in center” about an hour south of Addis Ababa. The facility serves as a place for “double-orphans” (both parents have died, and the kids are living with relatives or family friends), “single-orphans” (one parent, usually the father, has died), or living in severe poverty (families making less than $1.00 a day). There are fifty-six kids between the ages of five and six receiving their schooling.

These children are at the drop-in center, receiving schooling, between 8:30am and 3:30pm. The center is able to gather funds (through donations from the teachers) to provide the kids a meal once a week. The meal is usually injera (think of a puffy, spongy tortilla). While some of the kids bring their own meal on the other days, most of the kids do not get food during the day, and some have not had food prior to school.

In order to get to school from the village, the kids cross a river. The river is downstream from two factories. The director walked us over to the river. Actually, to call it a river is a misnomer. This “river” emitted the worst smell I’ve ever experienced. The water was a dark brown with a green tint. The smell was overpowering, such that a few people had to quickly walk away. Unfortunately, once we’d experienced it, we were able to smell it even when we walked back up the hill to the center.

Right now, because it’s the dry season, the river is shallow and the kids can step on rocks to get across. In the rainy season, though, the water can get quite deep and the kids have no choice but to walk straight through.

Of all the kids we saw this week, these were in the worst health. They were nothing but skin and bones. They had sores on their faces and heads. Some of them had bad teeth. One of the girls had pus running out of her ear. As usual, these kids just wanted touched and hugged. I was pushing a couple of the kids on the swing, and others kept on coming to me saying “Agate, agate” (pronounced ah-gah-tay), which means “play with me”.

We had a great time playing with the kids, but were sad to know there is no immediate solution to the conditions in which these kids live.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 5

While not nearly as emotional as yesterday, it was still an event filled, and touching day. Lots of kids, lots of needs.

Our first visit was to an orphanage in Woliso, two hours south of Addis Ababa. It was founded by a man named Job, who became inspired after meeting two small children in a church whose mother could not care for them. He petitioned the government for some land, and has accumulated funding over the years to build a primary building consisting of a kitchen, dining room, and dormitories, a church, an office/library, a bathroom facility, a water tank, and several other smaller structures. The dormitories have multiple bunk beds, each with a mosquito net to protect the kids from malaria. Unfortunately, many of the nets are torn, providing little protection. The church is open to the community, and is called Emmanuel Baptist Church. Job is very resourceful, and although the orphanage does not have a steady income, he has managed to continue to provide a refuge for these children who have lost both of their parents. The staff is paid only when money comes in, and the local pharmacy runs a tab for him for any medicine the kids need.

While the orphanage is at capacity, and has had to turn children away, in recent months, three infants have been abandoned at his orphanage. At least one of them was left outside the gate to his compound. Since they typically don’t have the resources to care for infants, Job had to scramble to provide the care for these babies. They don’t have formula, didn’t have cribs, and needed to hire someone to specifically care for them.

The highlight of the visit was hearing the kids sing several songs for us. I recorded them, so will try to upload the video when I get back to the U.S. We also had fun playing volleyball and soccer with the kids. (The three boys I was kicking the ball with had some amazing moves!)

As has been done with the other orphanages, our group pooled almost $900 for food. Children’s Hopechest will purchase the food and deliver it later.

The second visit was to a school geared towards helping kids who have lost at least one of their parents, or are living in extreme poverty. Currently run completely by volunteers, including a reporter for the local television station and an executive for Ethiopian Airlines, they provide uniforms, school supplies, tuition (even the government schools here have tuition), and tutoring for the kids. During the summer, they train the kids on the computer. Currently these activities are performed in a government school (the classroom we were in did not have working lights, had a rudimentary chalkboard, and was filthy).

The volunteers have a grand vision of renting a house where they can also provide meals to the children (it’s hard to teach kids when they have an empty stomach), expand their tutoring efforts, and provide ongoing computer training.

Finally, we went to watch some children participate in a soccer practice that is part of a mission to help get kids active and off of the streets. It's organized by Ephrem, a friend of Robel our guide last year for the adoption. (We're having breakfast with Robel tomorrow.) Many of the kids playing soccer know Robel. The kids play soccer on an asphalt square in the middle of Addis Ababa. Ephrem is trying to find a grass field for the soccer. It was fun talking to the kids after practice, but a little intimidating as we were on a public square with all of the other citizenry hanging around. One child came up to me and asked me if I was America, and if I like Obama. After I responded that yes, I do like Obama, he pointed to himself and said, “I like Bush!”

Until tomorrow!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 4

Day 4

What a day.

We visited two orphanages. Each was unique, each was an awesome experience, and both were emotionally draining. I’m going to ignore the “keep it to a page” rule. There’s too much to write – I hope you’ll still read it through.

The first visit was to Hope for the Hopeless. Hope for the Hopeless finds children on the streets and offers them a place to stay. In exchange for schooling, a roof over their head, and meals (more on this part later), they agree to accept behavioral parameters. While housed, the staff attempt to reunite them with their families. If this is not possible, after three to six months, they are transferred to a larger orphanage outside Addis Ababa where they will stay until they are adopted, or able to move on.

There were at least thirteen kids at Hope for the Homeless, ages ranging from nine to thirteen. Most of the boys sleep two to a bed. All but two are girls. There is no doubt that they come from the streets. Many of the boys have scarring on their faces where they were slashed by knives, either through fighting other kids, or from being attached by adults. The two girls have histories of abuse (use your most vivid imagination to think about the tragedies these young girls have experienced). They are not healthy children. They have rotten teeth, crusted fingernails, sores, and are very thin. (If kids are tested as being HIV+, they are not permitted to stay because of the extensive and close interaction with the other kids.) While they would smile for a camera, or if they saw you looking at them, they looked sad and lost at other times. I have never seen such sadness in children of this age.

We had fun playing with them. The hit of the day was Pete’s iPod. He had a large group of kids circled around him listening to the music, playing “air” instruments, and rocking to the beat. One boy in particular, who had been withdrawn up to that point, lit up when the songs started playing. While the other boys had fun throwing balls and playing with the balloons, he showed no interest. The music brought him out of his shell. The kids at all of the orphanages love our digital cameras. None of the orphanages we’ve visited have mirrors, so we surmise that the kids may not even know what they look like. They had lots of fun posing, and then having us show them their pictures.

We also dropped off medical supplies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and vitamins. One of the boys, upon having explained to him what he could do with his toothbrush, got a huge smile on his face, running off to tell the other boys about his new treasure.

These kids, too, wanted to be touched, but were tentative about approaching us. At first, they were content with fist bumps and high fives. However, as we were leaving, we pulled them into hugs. A couple of the boys just held on; it was difficult to pull away from them.

The minister of Hope for the Hopeless is an exceptional man. He keeps meticulous records of the children as they pass through, and does extensive follow-ups on the kids once they’re placed in a home (they have problems with girls being adopted as many families are only looking for a servant).

I have a nine year old son who is growing, and developing, and is a very happy child with lots of opportunities. I couldn’t help but thinking about Michael as I saw these kids who are his age. I couldn’t help but thinking about what these kids have experienced in their short lives, things our kids will never have to go through. It is difficult to imagine a future for these young children. “Heartbroken” may be an overused word, but it comes very close to how I felt about these kids.

After lunch we visited Compassion Family International (CFI). These kids are younger, have families or relatives caring for them, but need to have a place to go when their parents are at work. If it weren’t for places like CFI, the children would most likely be left at home on their own, depending on neighbors to look out for them. Considering that many of the poorer housing areas are nothing more than one room shacks, many on busy roads, it is a dangerous situation.

This “drop in center” cares for fifty children. There are twenty-five young children in the morning and early afternoon, and another twenty-five fifteen and sixteen year-olds who come after school. There is no charge to participate. The younger kids have schooling, meals, play time, and nap time. The program is run by Peter Aberra, who also directs the Ethiopian branch of Children’s Hopechest. As we arrived at CFI, we could hear the children chanting “Peter, Peter” inside the compound and then applauding and laughing when they saw him. Unlike the older boys at Hope for the Hopeless, these children were not shy about needing their touching. For the first half hour, I either had two kids in my arms, or four kids hanging onto my hands.

For some reason this afternoon, the kids had a fascination with my hair. When we first brought Daniel home, our kids were constantly rubbing his hair. I told them to stop, as I have some African-American friends who have told me they do not like it when people do this. Today at CFI, I had more kids rubbing my hair than I could count. Seemingly, every time I turned around, another kid had his hands in my hair. I thought it was pretty funny!

After a tour of the facility, our travel group huddled about how we could help CFI. We pooled $750 to buy mattresses, blankets, and food. The look on the kids’ faces when Peter told them was priceless.

We also talked about how we could help Hope for the Hopeless. One member of our group had overheard the director mention the little bit of food they have. We decided to 1) purchase some groceries at a local market and deliver them to the orphanage, and 2) pool our donations to provide funding for food.

The most emotional moment of this trip so far was when we presented the money and food to the director. Each of us put in what we thought was needed, without knowing what others had contributed (our standard practice). It ended up being $980. Tom Davis, of Children’s Hopechest, contributed another $300. Somehow, I was chosen t make the presentation. The person who drafted me told me I had to do it because she would only cry. Well, I made it about a sentence in before I started to lose it. Somehow I stumbled through!

As part of the presentation of the gift, we told the director that this money came from our friends, our families, and our churches. During his acceptance, he told us that in fact they had no food left, and there was no more money for food. If it hadn’t been for our donation, the boys would have gone hungry. The director was overwhelmed by the donation. There were about thirty of us (Children’s Hopechest staff, orphanage staff, kids, and our travel group) standing in the small courtyard of the orphanage, and there wasn’t a dry eye among us. Even now as I write this, my eyes are misting.

We are all deeply touched by our experience here in Ethiopia. Tomorrow we travel south to Woliso (a two hour drive). Thank you for all of your prayers, thoughts, and well wishes. Thank you for your contributions. Your support is having a tremendous impact of hundreds of kids here in Ethiopia.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 3 just in from Tom

Day 3

It’s day three of the trip, and I haven’t posted anything. A combination of computer temper tantrums and restricted Internet access has prevented me from keeping the blog updated.

Someone said today that blog postings should be limited to one page, otherwise no one will read them. So, instead of combining everything into one post, I’m going to concentrate on today. Later I’ll catch everyone up. Here are some “hooks”; eleven hour car rides, mules, camels, road construction, dead batteries, dead cow, and abandoned bus drivers. And that was just yesterday!

Today we visited an orphanage in Kombolcha (look up Kombolcha Ethiopia on Google maps). The orphanage is sponsored by Grace Baptist Church. They offer two programs; a school for the general population, and a drop in center for orphans. These orphans come from families whose parents have both passed away, primarily from HIV. They live with extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents) or friends that have taken them in. Because having another mouth to feed is such a burden on a family, these orphans are typically treated very poorly. They are not cared for as needed, and are often abused. Many obviously have medical issues. Grace Baptist provides a place for them to stay during the day, and when they have the money, provides them a meal.

After arriving in Kombolcha last night, we met the children, introduced ourselves, and played for a bit. Today we spent another three hours there playing the entire time. We all had a great time, and would have stayed longer if it hadn’t been for the long ride back to Addis Ababa. The kids were split into four groups and rotated amongst stations. My group played “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Simon Says.” It was quite the challenge playing Simon Says when the kids only understand Amharic.

I left Grace Baptist deeply moved. The kids had a great time, and it was definitely worth the 21 hours of travel time for the little bit we spent with them. I think the kids, more than anything else, loved being touched. We were all swamped by kids wanting to shake hands, kissing our hands, holding hands, and looking for hugs. One little girl was practically on my lap every chance she got. Three kids were holding my two hands at one point. Even the boys wanted to do fist bumps and weren’t worried about a hug.

It is hard to see children in such poor condition. While I’m glad we were able to bring a little bit of joy to their lives, I’m sad that they don’t get the attention they need on a daily basis. One of the goals of this trip is to find sponsors for these orphanages back in the United States. Children’s Hopechest is hoping that sponsoring organizations are able to develop personal relationships with the kids, including coming to visit. I pray that Grace Baptist is able to find a sponsor.

At the end of the day, our group presented the pastor of the church with $2000 to buy food for the kids. This money came from the donations from the friends, families, and churches of the people on this trip. We also left three large suitcases full of clothes, toys, crafts, and medical supplies. Thank you all for your support in this effort to improve the lives of the children here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This is copied from Peter Kidd's blog

This blog update is coming from my phone while lying under a mosquito net deep in the heart of Ethiopia so please excuse the brevity.

Today was spectacular, comical, heartbreaking, treacherous, educational and humbling all mixed together - a cocktail of emotions, of which words alone can not describe, which left a bitter sweet taste in my mouth and left me wanting more.

The ride to Kombolche was simply crazy - 11 hrs vs 6 with no 'traffic' to speak of - other than the constant threat of a collision with a goat, cow, camel or human (more on that at another time). The 'roads' at times were ridiculous and treacherous but the scenery at all times was absolutely spectacular. We reached as high as 10K feet and the expansive mountainous views were panoramic at times. cont

Blog cont...

We finally got to visit with the kids (120 of them) most of whom appear to be double orphans (mom and dad dead) but you never know and it really doesn,t matter when you are with them face to face - they are dirt poor and they are struggling to survive. They are not at fault - but they are paying the price...

I have much to say about these children but little time here. So let me use a few words to describe them - beautiful, loving, polite (unless toys are being given out - then they can get crazed!), survivors, hopeful, hungry and very dusty

One beautiful little girl, Irache, told me her name and her brothers' and sisters' names four times (at different times) in broken English. She wanted so badly to impress me - she did. Looking forward to seeing her and the rest of the kids tomorrow...

Good night

We're going back tomorrow for a few hours

Day One in Ethiopia

Yesterday, Tom and the others arrived in Ethiopia. It was a long tiring flight but with happy hearts they dumped their bags and headed out to visit the first care point center. From the short e-mail I received last night their is only one computer they are able to post from and a long line and not much time to get to it. I am sharing some photos from the first day taken by Tom Davis. I am also going to share with you what Peter Kidd was able to post to his blog. The team is doing pretty well. One of the team members were pretty sick Tuesday night but was feeling better this morning before they left for their 6 hour drive to Kolmbocha. One other team member this morning was not quite up to par. Please continue to pray for their health and safety.
This is from Peter Kidd
So today was a very good day! We arrived safe in sound in Addis Ababa after about 19 hours door to door (15 hours of flying time). Being six foot one on Ethiopian Airlines is a bit of a liability but overall I got say it was a great flight. The highlight of the flight was an impromptu choir concert that broke out while we were sitting in Rome refueling the plan - it was awesome, the whole plane was into it. Wish I could speak Amharic, because I didn't understand a word that was said. But as a nice woman at the bathroom reminded me, praise is praise.

After a quick lunch with the team (fried chicken??) we headed over to a carepoint/orphanage by the name of Quary (sp?), and spent a few hours with the kids. Some of the kids there are orphans others are just receiving day care so to speak while their mothers go out and work. This facility teaches the mothers a skill/trade (like basket weaving or sewing) so that they can earn money.

We had a blast with the kids. Spent some time playing games with them and just, well, hanging out with them. One of the highlights was a parachute game that we brought, the kind we use to play with in grade school. The kids loved it and laughed the whole time. One little girl 'Milky' took my heart when she gave me a kiss on my cheek (I'm a sucker!) I was ready to scoop her up and take her home with me.

Ultimately, we determined that this facility is not one that Childrens HopeChest will sponsor, due to the fact that many of the kids are still living with their mom (or dad) and the others are adoption eligible. Adoption eligible kids are not a part of the HopeChest model ( for good reasons that I don't have time to discuss now.

Bottom line, we had a blast, the kids had a blast and we are here!

Tomorrow we take a 6.5 hour drive to a city Kombolcha, north of Addis. We're told the situation is pretty dire there so we'll see.

For now it's time for dinner and a much need night of sleep!

Peace out! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

T Shirt

This is a photo of our T-Shirt that we are giving as a thank you with a minimum of a $25 donation. We have small, medium, and large left. Thank you for your support.
Thank you to the Harbaugh family for your generous donation and give away. Check out their blog