Friday, December 4, 2009
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 One boy in particular, who had been withdrawn up to that point, lit up when the songs started playing.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.