Monday, April 11, 2016

This is What It's All About

So, first off, no more bellyaching. Life is good. I have a great family, good friends, my health, a roof over my head, and food on my table, and I have a job. I shouldn’t write when I’m tired…!

To put it simply, today was a great day.

As expected, many of us were up at 2am. Some were able to go back to sleep. Rob and I threw in the towel and went downstairs. I checked in on email, and then ended up chatting with Lori on Facebook. Benjamin also needed some help with math, which sent me to Google.

Interestingly, when you Google something here, the first line of the search results is in Amharic. It must be something new, because I’ve never seen it.

After about 90 minutes, I decided to try the sleep thing again, and fortunately succeeded, only to be woken up about an hour later by the call to prayers on the loud speaker outside. I don’t know if it was Moslem or Greek Orthodox, but the man was singing (loudly). I wasn’t annoyed though. I found it comforting, and after listening to him for about ten minutes fell back asleep.

We were up again at 6ish, had breakfast, our devotion, and then loaded up the vans and headed back to the airport. One of the vans was pretty late, so when we immediately got caught up in traffic, it seemed as though we wouldn’t make it in time (even though we had originally given ourselves two hours prior to our flight to be at the airport). Fortunately, we made it to the airport in plenty of time. Unfortunately, the drivers took us to the wrong terminal and they were gone before we realized what they had done. So, we had to trek our baggage to the other terminal (no, they’re not connected. Yes, there’s a massive construction project going on between the two terminals, so there was no direct route. Yes, the members of our team who track their steps on FitBit were able to get their entire day’s quota in the walk. Yes, it was very hot outside.) But I digress.

Even with all of the challenges we faced, we still managed to get to our gate in plenty of time and had a very comfortable, 30 minute flight. The runway at the Dessie airport (the next town over from Kombolcha) had a very short runway, so as soon as we landed the pilot seemed to be throwing on the reverse engine to slow us down quickly. And, for the first time of any flight I’ve ever been on, the plane then turned around and taxied back up the same runway we just landed on. And, I’ve been in some pretty small terminals, but this was the smallest terminal I’ve ever been in. But we were here.

The man in the foreground is running with the cart to pull our luggage to the terminal.
Very impressive. And, the fastest I've received baggage even at airports with fancy equipment.

Our terminal.
We made a quick pit stop at Sunny Side hotel for lunch, and then headed over to CHDA, the first care center for the day.

We only recently started working with CHDA, and this is the first year we are putting on an entire program with these kids. Their ages range from 6 to 12. They’re the same age that the kids at Meserete were when we first met them in 2009. We had so much fun playing with them and getting to know them. Les (from North Carolina) started out with a Bible story about the man who was lowered through the roof by his friends in order to be healed by Jesus. We followed that up with three stations; crafts, music/dancing, and recreation. I’m on the recreation team and played with a parachute that Glen (from Massachusetts) brought. The kids had never played with a parachute, so had a grand old time. It was very hot out, and dry, and dusty, so I was drinking a lot of water.

The 100+ kids at our newest care point, CHDA.

The entire program lasted about 90 minutes. Rob asked the rest of the team to spend time with the kids while Heather (from California), Rob, and I stepped away to talk to the care point leadership. Rob and Candy Tennant had become aware last week that one of the reasons the sponsors at CHDA weren’t getting regular updates was because they didn’t have a computer. The Tennants, on Friday, the day we were leaving, purchased a new computer to be used by the staff. The staff is very appreciative. They didn’t know they were receiving this computer and were visibly surprised when Rob pulled the computer out of its bag. (I have pictures that I’ll add later.)

We then went back out to get to know the kids some more. And did they love the attention. There were lots of laughs, and giggles, and smiles. Because of the young age of some of the kids, some of the parents were there and even they were smiling. After about twenty minutes, we said our goodbyes and promised to return tomorrow.

Our next stop was at Meserete. The kids, whom we’ve gotten to know so well, had put together a program for us. There was singing, and drama, and even a fashion show. They gave us coffee, which is probably why at 11pm I’m still wide awake, and popcorn as well as a rose (artificial, thankfully, so we can bring it back with us) and a small 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper with the single word “Welcome” printed on it.

During the program, I kept sneaking looks at the kids who weren’t in the program. There were Habib, Natnael, Ranni, Nuredin, Kalkidan, Karima, Karabe, Obebobo, and so many of the other kids I’ve gotten to know. They were all smiles, and I caught them sneaking looks at me as well. They’ve grown so much. Some of the boys have to have grown six inches since I saw them last year. There are some new faces too, as kids have aged out of the program.

After the (fantastic) program, we finally got to mingle with all of the kids, sharing hugs, high fives, hand shakes, and more hugs. There was singing, and dancing, and clapping, and of course lots of photos. It was a grand time!

Finally, we headed back to the hotel for dinner. Glen and I snuck in a quick run (amongst the trucks, and taxis, and dust, and diesel exhaust), ordered our food, took showers, and ate dinner.

So a little about one of the kids. We found out last week that one of the boys in the program had developed a serious intestinal problem and had to be taken to Addis Ababa for treatment. I learned this morning that this particular child is sponsored by our friend Cindy in Indiana. I wanted to arrange to see him in the hospital but it turns out he is doing much better and will be back in Kombolcha on Wednesday. I asked about his medical care, as we had received a donation from one of our family friends that they had asked to be used expressly for medical treatment. When I asked about this kid, I was told that because he is sponsored, Children’s Hopechest was covering ALL of his medical expenses, including transportation for him and a parent back and forth to Addis for his initial treatment and followup doctor appointments. **SPONSORSHIP IS MAKING A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THESE KIDS’ LIVES.**

That being said, 75% of the kids at CHDA are still unsponsored. They can’t start a food program (where injera, cooking oil, or other staples are sent home with all families, sponsored or unsponsored, once a month). And, because so many kids are unsponsored, they don’t get medical care when they need it. At dinner, I was sitting with Fikre, a Children’s Hopechest employee who accompanies us to Kombolcha, telling him about this generous donation we’d received, and that while we were at CHDA, I saw a few kids that appeared to have various maladies. One child had some pretty serious, open sores on the area between his nose and upper lip. Another child had some sort of head fungus. Fikre says there are several other children who have some medical needs. Tomorrow, we are going to gather a few of these kids up and take them to a doctor, thanks to this fantastic and generous donation.

Two years ago, one of the little girls had a head fungus. I was amazed when I found out how inexpensive it was (for us) to get it treated. I imagine that this donation will go a long way to treating these kids.

One final thought. The difference between the care centers and the well being of the kids at the two is striking. We’ve been working with the Meserete kids for a long time now. It’s a strong program that is making obvious improvements in the lives of these kids. The kids are still struggling, but they are thriving. On the other hand, CHDA is definitely in the early stages of development. We had a great time with the kids, and loved laughing with them, but their basic needs are not being met. I pray that five years from now, CHDA will be as strong a program as the one now running at Meserete.

I have a lot more photos to share, but my Internet connection is wonky. I'll post them as I'm able (probably Saturday when we're back in Addis.)

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