Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ethiopia - Day 2: A little piece of Heaven

This morning I began the day as a typical traveler - throwing up. So much for being the brave newby to actually try the new foods on the breakfast buffet! I was smart and stayed away from the fresh fruit and uncooked items. So we're guessing the white stuff that looked like oatmeal probably had milk and I just didn't react well to that. So for the rest of the day, I stayed green. Tomorrow's breakfast = Pop Tarts.

We began by visiting the main Ethiopian Compassion headquarters. After a brief worship time with the office staff, the main Director gave a presentation to sum up their country and Compassion's work. After singing praises in Amharic, the comment was made that this was, "a little piece of Heaven" as we were so different but united in our love for Christ. And while I liked hearing the singing of the adult workers and their enthusiasm for the Lord, I have to say that it didn't even compare to hearing the voices of the children in the projects praising Jesus. THAT was a little piece of Heaven in my eyes.

A quote that stuck out to me was "Children are robbed of their joy and happiness because of poverty. Compassion brings back their smiles, singing, and joy." I could never imagine at that point how true those statements would become in the next week. Nor could I envision the feelings seen and described by the primary Compassion physician - "It is hard to see an adult with hopelessness, but to see that in the eyes of a 3-4 year old is heart-breaking." That is something we do not see in the children on America's playgrounds. No matter how poor a family is, children here have the opportunity to work hard, study hard, and be a success if they put their mind to it. In Ethiopia, that is often not even an option. Just to attend elementary school requires school fees and uniform purchases to be made. When struggling to feed hungry babies, that uniform is last on the parent's list of priorities. The above little boy is 7 years old. He cannot attend school because he has to take care of his 4 yr. and 18 month old siblings while his mother works for less than 90 cent a DAY. He is 7 years old. What chance will he have without an education? How can he be a child who laughs and plays carefree when he is caring for a toddler 6 days a week? In the 30 min that we were in his home, he never smiled nor showed any emotion. That is hopelessness.

Some additional facts about Ethiopia and Compassion's work in this country:
*There are 74 million people in Ethiopia. 57% of those are under the age of 20.
*74,680 children are registered in Compassion's program.
*311 church-partner projects in the country. The largest of all Compassion areas.
*155 students in the Leadership Training Program (Compassion university scholarships).

On a short tour of the office, we met the translators who translate the children's letters to their sponsors. We saw the slots where sponsor letters are placed for the country project administrators to later hand out to the waiting children. And I was able to drop off Abbie's doll for her little girl Marta to later be delivered! Not that I ever had any doubts, but it was nice to see that after my hard work writing letters, they aren't just trashed in a Colorado dump but are categorized, entered as data, and tracked in the main office.

After lunch at a really cute little cottage restaurant in the middle of what I thought were the slums (I was later to find out the entire city is what I thought were the slums), we headed out to our first center visit. Our journey through the capital city of Addis Abada was an adventure in itself. Billboards look like they were placed in the 1970s. Buildings are being worked on with rickety scaffolding made of sticks and twine that our OSHA would have a field day with. Men were working on power lines with no bucket or safety harnesses. The city is so congested with no real lanes of traffic. Cars, trucks, and buses just push their way into traffic with the honking of horns and slamming of brakes. I literally could have reached out the window and touched the cars beside us from our bus most of the time. Not to mention the pollution and smog which would was wafting in those windows.

At our first project in Addis, we were immediately swarmed with children young and old. All saying hello and asking our name. Within 3 minutes I had 3 permanent attachments that never left my side or would let go of my arm or shirt-tail! The other travelers nick-named me the "Pied Piper" due to my entourage. The children had pretty good English and had a great time playing with my magna-doodle. With them naming my drawings in English and then teaching me the Amharic versions. Of which I can't remember a single one!! It is true that the young learn language better. (Yeah, that's my excuse.....) I felt like a celebrity with my own translator and body guard. The translator was a dirty little boy in ragged clothing who knew more English than all the others and would let me know what they were saying. I later found out that he is not registered in the project but was there with several other neighborhood children just to check out the commotion. The church projects have little playgrounds, libraries, and classrooms. Some with computers. They usually have walls surrounding them and rightly earn their name as 'compounds' as they are truly a little safe place for children where they would run, play, laugh, and sing. Later in the week, I was to realize how safe and happy those compounds were.
When driving through the city of Addis or countryside villages, the children we saw living on the street or wandering about did not have the smiles, the joy, or the laughter of these children. This was a little piece of Heaven.
My bodyguard is the bigger boy in a white shirt. This kid was so cool and would keep the younger ones from swarming me to the point where I couldn't breath and was good about finding my magna-doodle or sticker pad when they were ran off with excitedly. He later broke my heart when he told me he did not have a sponsor, that he was very poor, and that his father was sick. What do you say to a young man like that? At this point so early in the week, I was still speechless. I hadn't yet seen the good Compassion is doing, the hope this boy could hang onto, or the opportunities that others had capitalized on. All I could do was hug him and tell him that Jesus loved him and I loved him.
This little girl brought her younger sister to the project. Our Ethiopian translator and tour guide told me the next day that you can tell which children are Compassion children. They at least have shoes and decent clothing. Keep in mind that for a child to be registered in Compassion, they are picked from, "the poorest of the poor". Are you seeing the consistencies in Compassion registered vs. neighborhood children?? The light in their eyes, the joy in their face became more evident in the days to come....


Abbie H. said...

I'm loving reading your posts from your trip. I read these last night before I went to bed and I had dreams all night about going there myself-the flight and all.

Thanks again for dropping off Marta's doll!

Can't wait to read more!

Juli Jarvis said...

I'm enjoying your posts so much -- thanks for sharing! I know it isn't easy to blog while you're traveling, so I appreciate the effort. Have you met my friend Venancy that is on this trip with you? Please give her my greetings if you do. Love Marta's doll!