Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 5: Wednesday

Today was care package day, the day when the kids receive packages from their sponsored families. Today was also the day we get to do a home visit.

Allison and Michael really want to visit Kalkidan's home. Since Lori had gone last year, my preference was to go to someone's house sponsored by a family we know. Luckily we were able to do both. But first the care packages.

One lesson we've learned here is that all of the planning in the world doesn't amount to much once the feet
Kalkidan playing the egg game while things were still
under control.
Michael with several of his admirers.
are on the ground. Flexibility is the name of the game. The "plan" was to have all of the kids do rec while waiting for their care packages. Rec would occur in the back room with the dirt floor. Glen and I spent nearly an hour last night planning activities. The "plan" involved splitting the kids into eight groups and having them rotate through the stations. While we were setting up, the kids arrived...with no tranaslator. Needless to say, chaos ensued. The jump ropes we had laid out for a hopscotch game were no longer on the floor. Balls for a hot potato game became projectiles, bouncing off people's faces. A cloud of dust enveloped the whole space.

Note the ever present Abebaw (spondored by
Carey Douglas) in the blue sweatshirt.
As Glen and I were trying to get things under control, I was called by Rob to help with the care packages. We had counted on having half of the kids arrive the the morning and the rest in the afternoon. However, most of the kids arrived in the morning, completely throwing off the system. A big lag was underway and
Each station included a translator and a member
of our team to explain some of the items in the
care package.
things were going very slowly. Two stations were originally set up, but we found that four were really needed. Each station consisted of a child, a translator, and a member of our team to explain the contents of each care package. For example, some of the packages contained wash clothes that are compressed and wrapped in plastic. It was confusing for folks. The chap stick needed to be explained for a copule of the translators. The kids got a kick out of the cards that played music. One card had a recorded message from her sponsor familyr, the Dineens. Her face lit up when she heard their voices.

I had given Emily, the member of our team
Kids anxiously waiting for their turn to
receive a care package.
coordinating the care packages, a list of the kids sponsored by families that we knew. When one of them came out, I took a short break to have my picture taken with him or her. There were a couple of instances when I couldn't break away, so Michael or Allison had their pictures taken. When Kalkidan came out, both Michael and Allison helped her to go through her care package.

At lunch time, a few of us got to go on a home visit. Michael, Allison, and Patty went to visit Kalkidan and Abebaw's home. When Lori went to visit last year, she was surprised that they had electricity and a television. This year, the television was gone. Theirs is a two room home, one for the parents and the other for the kids. Kalkidan and Abebaw sleep on a thin twin mattress. Their older brother, who works, sleeps on another mattress.

While the rest of us waited on the bus, John had started talking about Belete, the boy who had drowned. The girl with him, who I thought was his sponsored daughter, started crying, which made Ginger's sponsored daughter start crying. 

At the next stop, John asked Allison and Michael to join him so they could see another home. He specifically
asked Allison to take pictures. After about 15 minutes, Allison comes rushing into the bus in tears. She sat down next to me and explained that we had visited Belete's mother and aunt, that the girl that was with them was Belete's cousin. John nad brought a care package for Belete's mother. Allison said she held it together until she walked out the door, at which point she started sobbing. She didn't cry for long, but it clearly touched her.

The next stop was to the house of Ginger's sponsored child. Again, Allison went in to take pictures. While we were waiting, Michael handed out rubber band bracelets (given to us by the Vachets and Becky Pobliego) and pens. Lots of kids came running for the pens and bracelets, and an adult asked if she could have one of the bracelets.

Next was our stop. I want to understand as much as possible the lives of the kids sponsored by families we know. This year, I chose to visit Natnael's home, sponsored by David and Linda Gregory.

Natnael is a thirteen year old boy, a head shorter than Michael, but the same age. I had spent time playing with him two years ago. He had been distant at first, but quickly warmed to me. This year, he was quickly by my side, reaching for my hand whenever possible. He was very excited to have me visiting his home.

Natnael's home. He lives here with his mother
and three siblings.
Natnael lives with his sister, two brothers, and mother in a 12' by 15' one room apartment. There is no electricity, nor is there a window. The natural light comes by way of the open door. Natnael's mother is a cleaner, but also cares for her kids. Natnael's older brother goes to school, but his younger siblings are at home. They are extremely malnourished. Natnael's father passed away while his mother was pregnant with her youngest. I didn't ask how but I learned that malaria is the most common reason for death in Kombolcha.

The family has only lived in the apartment for six months, having recently moved there because the
Two of Natnael's siblings and their mother. Their
oldest brother was in school when we visited.
mother decided she needed her kids to be in a nicer and bigger place in a better neighborhood. She was extremely grateful that Natnael was being sponsored and the opportunity it was giving him. She says she would love to have her other kids in the program but the current rule is that only one child per family can participate unless a sponsor steps forward. Last year, Abebaw, Kalkidan's brother, was not in the program until our friend Carey Douglas, who was on the trip, agreed to sponsor him.

We gave the family gifts of cooking oil and coffee and said our good bye. She again tanked us for what we were doing for Natnael.

On the bus, I asked Fikre about one of Natnael's sisters. She had been sitting quietly next to her mother. She had lesions on her face and crusted bumps on the top of her head. He suspected it was a fungus that could be treated with a topical cream. I asked what kind of access to medical care she might have. He replied that because she is not in the program, she cannot be seen a the care point. A doctor plus the medicine she needs would cost about 150 birr. That's the equivalent of about $10. In the U.S., you can't hardly walk into the doctor's office for $10. I gave Fikre the money and he said that the care point staff would take her to get care. (I later got word that they had taken her to the doctor, she had received cream, and it would be cleared up within a week. She has a follow up appointment next week. Once again, it's amazing how little it takes to make such a big difference.

Back at the care point, we continued handing out care packages. It went very smoothly, and the kids were very appreciative. They especially love receiving photos of their sponsor families. Many walk around asking each of us if we know the people in the photos.

When I sat with the Wise's sponsored child, Seada, and the Masse's sponsored child, Hanok, I pulled out my phone. Last spring I had chaperoned a trip to Nature's Classroom at Cape Cod and had taken pictures of Jaden Wise and Colby Masse after they had done their "camouflage" session. I showed them the photos, which got smiles.

Back at the hotel, and after another long dinner, I joined the group outside for sugar cane. Sugar cane grows natively in Ethiopia and is quite the treat. Sugar cane looks like bamboo from the outside, only it is thicker (3-4 inches in diameter). The sugar cane is quartered and you rip off a strip of the fibrous material with your teeth, chew on it to pull out the very sweet juice, and then spit out the remaining pulp. While the taste is not bad, it feels like you're chewing on wood. I have a rule that any food you eat should not require more work than the enjoyment  you get out of said food (For example, buffalo wings are too much work for too little return. Same goes for ribs.)

The day was then done, and it was off to bed. Tomorrow is the last day of the formal VBS before the feast on Friday.
Two other notes:

1. Speaking of the feast, the main course arrived at the care point today. They have the three lambs tied up out back. I tried to take pictures of dinner, but it kept moving.

2. Still no Besrate. Yonas says he is taking national exams at school, but should be here tomorrow.

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