Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our Visit to Kind Hearts Care Center (more sponsors needed!)

Imagine having 90 laughing, giggling, yelling children running towards you as fast as they can, with beaming faces and arms widespread. Prepare to be overwhelmed by them, as they reach for you to give you hugs, wrapping those arms tight around you in hugs so genuine and heartfelt, that you can't help getting caught up in their joy. A few weeks ago, our new friends the Davidsons from Missouri joined us on a visit to Kind Hearts Care Center, a small drop in center for children, located in beautiful countryside south of Addis Ababa. For me, it renewed my commitment for these kids, most of whom I'd met last year on a mission trip organized by Tom Davis and Children's Hopechest. For the others, they were able to experience the beauty, joy, and exhileration of spending a few hours with a group of children who will soak up as much love they can get.

Planning for our visit had started several months prior, when we made a call to our friends and family to send us donations to take with us. We were excited as we received dental products, first aid supplies, food, toys, and cash. Lori put together 75 bags to give to each of the kids, each of which contained treats and toys. (We purposely avoided putting toothpaste in the bags, as last year the kids at one of the orphanages didn't know about toothpaste, and so started eating it like candy.) As we got closer to our travel date, more and more stuff was given to us, which meant going through each of the bags many times to add the latest treat. The 75 bags were each loaded in a large tote and hauled to the airport (it weighed in JUST under 50 pounds!).

We also received quite a bit of cash to take to Kind Hearts. The Davidson's also had some cash for Kind Hearts. My new experience for this trip was going into a local bank to exchange U.S. dollars into birr. The exchange rate is 16:1, so the $300 I had translated into almost 5000 birr. Needless to say, I received a bit of scrutiny from the bank officials, and a lot of stares from the other customers lined up in the bank. I had to give the teller my name and address, and hand over my driver's license while he did the transaction. Fortunately, the teller spoke a little English, so I wasn't completely lost. It was still a bit intimidating!

The birr bought quite a bit. We stopped by a corner store and purchased fruit and powdered milk. Fikre, our Children's Hopechest rep. suggested we send the driver to purchase two lamb. As I mentioned in my other post, we were quite surprised when he showed up with the lamb tied to the roof of the van, quite alive. The Kind Hearts staff wanted to honor us by slaughtering the lamb in front of us. Despite some mild curiosity by some of us on how this was done, we politely suggested that since they wouldn't be eating the lamb until the next day, they should wait to do this bit of preparation! The money was also used to purchase injera, wood for cooking, spices, and soda. I'm disappointed we missed this great feast. I'm sure it was a wonderful treat for the kids. Feeding that many kids for $300 was pretty impressive. It truly doesn't take much money to do a lot of good.

Yes, they're alive.
When Karen Wistrom and I agreed to coordinate the Kind Hearts Care Center sponsorships and projects last year, we both knew that the directors had big plans. In addition to being able to provide better care for the 60-odd kids they already had enrolled, they wanted to expand their care to 100 kids, and had grand plans to become self-sustaining so that all the income they needed to care for the children could come from their own income. They had already made a significant investment so that they would have electricity. With the electricity, they would be able to rent out a barn to local workers doing carpentry and metal work. Next they plan on installing a new water system (thanks to the fundraising efforts of a school in Missouri), a chicken coop, and other capital projects.

Also on their list is a plan to build a bridge for the kids to get to the center. The property borders the worst smelling river you can imagine. Last year I wrote about this river, full of pollutants from a distillery and tannery, both upstream. The smell is so overwhelming that you're only able to stand by the river for a few seconds before having to turn away. During the dry season, the kids are able to cross the river on rocks. However, when the river is high, the kids have to wade through the water, sometimes up to their waist. It'll truly be a blessing when that bridge is built.

Water shouldn't be this color, and it had a really strong odor.
Our big surprise was that Kind Hearts has already increased the number of kids that use their facility. The demand was so great, the needs so immense, that there are now 98 kids at Kind Hearts. Fikre and the other staff are working on profiles for additional sponsors. (Interested? It costs $34 a month, and is so incredibly appreciated by the kids.) Fortunately, we had enough stuff to give each of the kids several granola bars, sugar free gum, and toys (cars, balloons, inflatable balls, play-doh, and more). They also each received assorted snacks.

Sara, our 17-year-old, made the observation after we left, that not one of the kids complained or made a fuss about the treat they were given. Michael, who is 10, had noticed a couple of kids trade treats, but it was obvious they were appreciative for what they had.

I could go on for much longer about what we experienced at Kind Hearts. It was an amazing visit, and we're looking forward to returning next year. Some of our friends have told us they'd like to go on a mission trip with us, and possibly take their own kids. We can't wait!

Co-coordinator, Kind Hearts Care Center

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