Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Not Quite Groundhog Day, but....

To put it simply, it was a great day.

Okay, that's how I started yesterday's post. No, I didn't accidentally include yesterday's post again. It's just that it was another day that I got to spend with a bunch of incredible kids and an amazing team. Every year, I'm so impressed with how a group of different people, some of them who have never met each other, come together and pull off a Vacation Bible School. In previous years, the VBS was for 165 kids at one drop in center. This year, we're serving 165 kids at one center, and another 100 for the first time at the second care center.

I know that this doesn't just happen. Months of planning and hours and hours of organization go into each of these trips. Candy Tennant is the master organizer, making sure everything is arranged and organized. Lori Laughner is also a master organizer and accepts practically every challenges given to her by Candy. Together, they spend a lot of time working together to make sure every i is dotted and ever t is crossed. Lori likens it to a full time job. I'm sure Candy feels the same way.

And, there work doesn't end when we leave. They are continually talking to each other while we are away, passing along information, absorbing the information we're feeding them, and letting us know what is needed. Most of those needs have to do with sponsors, making sure they know how their kids are doing and any problems that arise.

Major props to both of you for your hard, tireless work.

Today, we ran the first full VBS at CHDA. Another major focus of today was to distribute care packages from the sponsors to their kids. As this is a new location, the kids are much younger than the ones at Meserte, and we were sure there would be surprises along the way. The only surprise was how smoothly things went. The only challenge was the heat. We're here a month later than usual, so the sun is much more intense. There was full sun in the morning, so those who had to spend time outside needed refresh time over the lunch hour. I was with the team distributing care packages, and taking photos as they received them. It was so much fun to see the look of joy as they opened cards, looked at photos, and saw the clothes that had been sent. One boy received a Superman shirt, and he got a huge smile on his face. He didn't put it on there, but I'm certain he'll have it on tomorrow.

Another family sent a card with photos of cats on the front. One of the cats was able to be removed. When it was removed, the card started playing "Happy Birthday" in meowese. She was giggling so hard, all of us were laughing. Sarah and I took lots of photos. I'm working on organizing them. I can't wait to share them.

The Bible story today was "The Good Samaritan". Several team members performed a skit, with Rob being the poor victim of the bandit, brilliantly played by Bre. Heather and Theresa played the snobbish passer-bys who wouldn't help, and Alex (one of the translators) played the Good Samaritan. The kids laughed and giggled when Rob was "clobbered" by the bandit but enjoyed the skit. I have it on video, so will post it when I have the chance.

Thanks to the generosity of lots of people in Belchertown, including lots of kids, some of whom gave up birthday presents and instead asked for donations for our trip, we were able to buy bananas and bread for each of the kids. You should know two things: first, the bananas here are unlike anything you've tasted in the United States. They are picked ripe off of the tree, so are incredibly tasty. Second, when I say they got bread, I mean, they got bread. The loaves were about eight inches long, and had some heft to them. And, they were gone in no time. These kids are so appreciative of the food.

Over the lunch hour, we came back to the hotel to eat. As is tradition, we sat on the stoop in front of the hotel and pulled out bread along with our peanut butter and jelly supplies and ate sandwiches. We started doing this several years ago because meals tend to take a long time and we didn't want to waste time away from the kids. One thing I've learned is that there are lots and lots of types of peanut butter, including whipped peanut butter and chocolate.

Next, three of us went on home visits. Theresa, a high school senior, sponsors a little girl so got to visit her home today. In order to get to her home, we had to walk through the yard of another home, which by the way had an animal pelt drying on the front lawn, a bull nibbling on grass close by (along with the requisite cow droppings), and a couple of kids playing amongst it all.

We had a very nice visit with mom, dad, and four sisters all living in a three room mud home. This home had electricity (there was a tv in one room), but was pretty small.

The next visit was to the home of a child sponsored by a friend of Lori's. This home was one room, about 20x20. This boy has three siblings, all of whom live with their mother. The father passed away two years ago (she didn't offer how he died).

After one other home visit, we went back to Sunny Side, picked up the others, and headed back to the care center for the afternoon VBS session.

While we had been eating lunch, we heard thunder off in the distance. By the time we got back to CHDA, it was completely cloudy and we felt a few rain drops. We had two thoughts: 1. how in the world were we gong to make things work if it started raining, tempered with 2. at least if it's cloudly and maybe just raining a little bit, it'll keep things cool for the rec.

Alas, after a few rain drops, the skies cleared and it got really hot again. However, we soldiered through and had another successful program. There are about ten kids who weren't there today, so hopefully we'll be able to get photos of them and their care packages on Friday.

A few items of note:

First, at CHDA, only about 25 of the kids are sponsored. Rather than have a situation where only some of the kids got care packages from their sponsors, Lori committed to getting enough donations for all of the kids to have them. She asked for help from our community, and boy did they deliver. People bought t-shirts, underwear, flashlights, and more. it all culminated in our now annual "packing party" where 25-30 people come over to our home and prepare care packages and hygiene kits. Daniels third grade class wrote notes and made friendship bracelets to be included. The local girl scout troop wrote letters and drew pictures. The rest of the cards were drawn by the folks who came to the packing party.

Second, I mentioned in yesterday's post that some friends of ours gave us money specifically to be used for medical needs while we were here. Today, Fikre (on the staff of Children's Hopechest) noticed a little boy in the program sitting by the fence with his mother. When asked why he wasn't participating, the mother told Fikre that he couldn't walk as he has contracted typhoid. I don't know anything about typhoid, but do know that if left untreated it can be fatal (it's not contagious, though). Thanks to the donation, he was sent to the doctor for treatment. He received two shots today, and will receive two more shots on each of the next four days. This afternoon, he was walking (not easily, but it was a vast improvement). It was AMAZING to see! Thank you Stemolkas family! You made a huge difference in a little boy's life.

Third, while timid yesterday, the kids are warming up to us.

Another boy has open wounds on his face between his upper lip and nose (I know there's a name for this area, but can't recall it right now.) We were able to get him medical treatment. He has the medicine heeds to fight the infection that's developed in the sores. (He is suffering from allergies, so keeps rubbing the area, which doesn't give it a chance to heal and is now infected.)

After we were finished, we distributed the bananas (mooz in Amharic) and break (dabbo) and returned to the hotel. We ate our dinner and prepared for tomorrow, where we'll be distributing care packages for the kids at Meserete. Later, we sat outside and continued another tradition of eating sugar cane.

Another day comes to an end. Yes, it was a great day. Can't wait for tomorrow.

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