Saturday, May 09, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 7

Thursday morning we shopped for mattresses and blankets for the Shallom Street Ministry that we had visited on Tuesday. The kids were not there because they were out doing work organized by the director. Therefore, the actual drop-off was fast, but the process of buying the supplies took the whole morning. I awoke VERY sore in my back and shoulders from tossing and spinning so many children the previous day, so the break gave me a chance to try to stretch out the kinks.

We had lunch at a carepoint called CFI, and the kids were as nice as could be. The carepoint is in a nicer neighborhood and the house was two-story. I went to walk up the stairs and banged my head HARD against the ceiling (the ceiling/stair design was such that the ceiling height did not change to leave headroom as people begin to climb the stairs). If it had been drywall, I would have busted a hole in it, but it was cement. I was stunned for a moment and actually thought I might have broken my neck. It was tingling and in tremendous pain. The rest of the afternoon and evening I had a very hard time turning my head to the right.

Our next stop was Brother’s Church where we met some of the people in the same community. By that time, I had a migraine-level headache, on top of the intense pain in my neck and my sore shoulders and back. Every balloon I blew up made my neck feel like it was being stabbed. But, I kept going. After everyone had balloons I sat on a chair and thought I'd catch a minute or two to relax. A girl came up to me and, with a big smile, proudly showed me the stickers she had received. She asked my name, how old I was, if I had any kids, and so forth. She was probably around 7 or 8 years old and knew English pretty well. I asked her the colors of various balloons and she told me the English color as well as the Amharic. What I thought might be a 5-minute conversation turned into 30 minutes. After the first several minutes I think she could tell I was not 100% and asked how I was. I just told her I was tired (I still conversed with her as I would have if I was 100%, it was just harder to do). She smiled, took the stickers off her shirt, and gave them to me. I was floored. I could tell by the way she showed them off when we met that they were important to her. And yet, she was willing to give them away simply to brighten my day. The amazing thing is, her generosity is typical of the Ethiopian people. Most Americans would not give up a couple cups of coffee a month to FEED an orphan for a month, and this girl gave away something very special to someone with a headache. That just breaks me. As we were going to the vans, I tried my best to tell them the stickers were hers, but she insisted that I keep them. She stood there and waved at me and the rest of the team until we disappeared from view. Someone asked me recently what the number one thing I took away from the trip was. Tough question, but this girl's gesture was probably it, because she was so willing to sacrifice for others despite facing much deeper needs herself. She "took us to school."

Our final stop for the day was Kolfe, and all-boys orphanage. The term "boys" is used loosely because many are men (up to age 25). They are not turned away just because they turn 18. They know they can stay until they are able to adjust and afford to live on their own. I had good conversations with two boys. I sat on one boy's bunk as he showed me his entire photo album and spoke of each picture. I could tell it was special that someone showed an interest in him personally instead of just looking around and leaving. I spoke with another "boy" who I would guess to be around 20 yrs old. We had a great conversation about many things, then the subject turned to his lame legs, which had been that way since birth. He said he had been taught that since he was born that way, God must want him that way. I respectfully disagreed and told him that God is a perfect, loving Father. I described that even myself, as an imperfect father, would never, ever want something like that for my sons. I could tell it gave him something to consider.

We went out to eat for dinner and it took a LONG time to get two hours or so. Going to bed that night was bittersweet; sweet because I needed it, but bitter because it would be our last night sleeping in Ethiopia. It seemed to go by so quickly.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 6

My first couple of years as a teacher was spent at a school that was not in the best part of town. Substitute teachers were hard to find because few wanted to go there. I never had any problems. For me, respect, encouragement, clear expectations, consistent discipline, good lesson plans, and a bit of humor thrown in was all that it took. Kids whom were seen by others as problem students, I saw as possibility students. More often than not, I was able to "break through" and become the one that spurs them forward. Part of what made the previous day difficult is that these were the same kind of boys - rough around the edges, but one look into their eyes and you know there is gold inside. However, given the short amount of time, I don't think any of us "broke through." Therefore, we left with the feeling we still had more to do...there was work left unfinished.

The first place we visited on Wednesday was definitely a change of pace. It was a place called Kind Hearts and the children ranged in age from 4-10. I went all out with swinging the kids around, throwing them up in the air (they never left my hands) and hanging them upside down by their ankles. I played frisbee with the older ones and "hide-the-balloon-under-my-shirt" with the younger ones. I plum wore myself out, but it was awesome. As usual, the gifts and supplies were big hits with the kids.

In the afternoon we toured a place called Hannah's Orphanage. This was the best we had seen and served as a model for other orphanages. In fact, they even had a library and a computer room. Most of the children stay in rented houses, with the older (16-18 yr old) ones acting as head-of-households. Most are in school and shared with us their career dreams. Because of the support they are receiving, those dreams are certainly within reach.

Toward the end of the visit, I was told that the parents of a 7 yr old girl playing near us had both died of AIDS. She is HIV Positive. I watched her bounce a soccer ball back and forth with one our team members and thought about how so many take life for granted. As we were getting ready to leave, I gave her a hug. I can't explain it, but I could tell by the way she hugged me that she knows the score. And, she knows that I know, and that I know that she knows, if you follow. That hug was very special. Again, words fail me here.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 5

The past couple of nights I have slept all the way through, but I have also dreamed of the needs I saw in Ethiopia, so I have awakened with a heavy heart. Today especially has been tough as my thoughts have been on this post, which will likely be the most difficult.

Our first stop was a center run by Emmanuel Church. It appeared to be a day-care type place where mothers could bring their kids for social interaction, meals and other care. Inside one of the rooms I enjoyed complimenting the children on their coloring, which was obviously something they rarely got to do. Outside, I played with several kids and helped tie up balloons to hand out. The mothers and children alike were so beautiful inside and out. This was another occasion where there were no specific kids that stuck out to me, but rather it was a chance to love on as many as possible. It was the first time that I had knowingly held a child with full-blown AIDS, and it was right as we were leaving. I simply cannot describe how that felt. I wish I could.

After lunch we visited a place called Shallom. It is a rescue center for street kids, run by a woman who, like the director I mentioned in my previous post, is famous in Heaven. In fact, she has been doing this, on her own, for 14 years. From what I understand, she has funded it herself as well. She told us that she takes the kids out and has them "work" by going out and witnessing to other street kids. Some also shine shoes. She does this to try to instill a work ethic in them as well as self-confidence. The main room, which had a dirty, splintery wood floor, is where the kids sleep. That's right - on a hardwood floor. Most of them cannot afford to go to school either.

Imagine, if you will, that you are scaling a tall cliff with no ropes. You reach a point to where you are exhausted, and your feet give way. You are holding on with only your hands, and you feel the strength leaving as your and arms begin to shake. Then, in the nick of time and out of nowhere, someone grabs your wrist and pulls you up to a ledge. You are given water, food and get some much needed strength to move on. This time, however, you are accompanied by partners who are encouraging you and sustaining you. As we talked with the director, she hinted around and said everything just short of "I'm done. I can't do this anymore." Our team left her with encouragement, hope, blankets and mattresses for the kids (which we bought and delivered on Thursday), financial assistance, and the very likely possibility of a stateside sponsor. She wept.

Here is some additional information on why her job was/is so difficult. None of the boys were physically affectionate like so many other places we have visited, and no wonder. They have lived on the streets and have had to fend for themselves, which probably consists of a pecking order, with the higher members getting first dibs on the trash heap. My guess is that they are between 9 and 12 yrs old. Most of these kids are HIV positive and many have been preyed upon by men who wait for them outside the shelter and rape them. One boy in particular had been raped multiple times by multiple people. Another boy had been beaten up and a cup was placed over his eye and then pulled off in an attempt to pull his eyeball out with the suction. His eyeball remained, but the fluid came out and his eye became useless. If you use your imagination, the implications of why someone would want his eyeball out are sickening. This is where I have a hard time remaining spiritual. If I see a parent slap a child in the grocery store, at the very least I'll give him or her an angry look, and sometimes I say something. I don't care what the child did, you don't slap a child in the face. When I imagine following one of those boys outside the property and witnessing a man attacking him, the kind of things that enter my mind are violent and scary. Forget justice, it would all be about retribution at that point...I have to stop there.

The director mentioned to us that she is trying to get out of that building and out of the area. The assistance that was given her will help her do that. I was privileged to be a witness to the virtual IV that pumped hope back into her. I hope the move happens soon.

***I'm sorry, but I failed miserably on this one. My words fall far short.

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