Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ethiopia - Day 4: I am a success

I forgot to mention that last night for dinner we all dined at an Ethiopian Chinese Restaurant. How weird does that sound?? Even weirder, it was some of the best Chinese I have ever eaten. The bowls of different kinds of dishes just kept coming out to be passed around and were all very quickly emptied. Such a relief, as I can tell you, the group wasn't all that excited to be going to eat Chinese that night. Dog anyone??

((Bear with me on this blog as I felt I was rambling through lots of facts and examples. But all things that I really think is important for you to know, because I didn't before I went.))

Day Four began with a long bus-ride into the countryside to visit 2 projects. While yesterday's rural area had been marked with shacks and trash everywhere, this little village looked to have the same economic status, but yet they took pride in their little town. Large rocks were stacked to make dividing walls, roads were good, and they had a Foosball table on every corner. The boys and men all gathered around under shade trees. I guess checkers has finally met it's match as the neighborhood gathering game of choice.

Once we safely made it to our first project, we were treated to the cutest little angels dancing and singing for us. Even the 3 year olds had more rhytthm than me (it's very sad...) After the obligatory coffee ceremony, the teenagers performed a drama titled "I am Saved". These kids were talented! Although I had no idea what they were saying, it was like an opera - their acting was that good.

We learned so much on this day as it focused on Compassion's Complimentary Intervention which provides medical help to those that need it. Now I knew that the kids got their shots, got AIDS medication if needed, got their physicals. But I had no idea, how far-reaching their help really is to these children. We met a 17 year old boy who had been blinded as a child. Compassion sent him an hour away to the hospital in Addis and when they couldn't help him, he was referred to a specialist in Kenya! His statement, "Praise the Lord. I'm good. I'm alright." Another case was of a boy who was bed-ridden because of severe arthritis. Compassion helped him to get surgery and now he is able to move around with the aid of braces. Not only does Compassion assist children in such severe cases, they also help with shoes, clothing, supplemental foods and vitamins, and health education. Their parents are trained in HIV prevention and treatment and older children are counseled on life issues, family planning, and abortion. All children receive a health evaluation twice a year which is recorded and tracked in their permanent folders.

We then moved on to another nearby project that seemed to be a little Eden set apart in the midst of the shacks. We were greeted with the voices of the high school choir and a tunnel made of little smiling faces. They ushered us into a green, grassy compound with lots of shade trees, room for playing ball, and even their own garden and baptismal pool! This project showed us how they help the children to learn vocational skills to aid them in acquiring a job after graduation. Children have a set schedule in which they have computer time, voc. ed., tutoring, reading time, and recreational time. I was impressed when shown over 8,000 little tree seedlings that are grown into fruit tree plants and then given out to the children to plant at home! But maybe my being impressed has something to do with how cool I think it would be to have an orange tree in my backyard!

After lunch we visited the home of an 8th grader with juvenile diabetes. Compassion purchased a heifer for him which is then used as income when the milk is sold. The boy goes to the project twice a week for medical check-ups and receives his insulin shots as part of the Complimentary Interventions. His home was nice compared to the others we had seen with a small room for sleeping and a main room with a cabinet, fabric ceiling, and pages of an old car calendar on the wall as art. It also had a radio and a bare lightbulb in the ceiling but the mother told us that she didn't have the money to have the electric company come out to repair the line. When we asked her if she had any worries or needs she would like us to pray about, she said "I praise God and thank you for helping my child. Pray for his health, I have no other worries." Can you imagine having your electricity cut off and being able to say "I have no worries"???

The saddest part of the whole experience was when we asked the boy if he had a sponsor and he said yes. When we asked to see his letters he hung his head and said that his sponsor had never written him!!!

Again, a parallel: on the way back to Addis, I sat on the bus beside Masresha. She had been a translator for us on the trip and worked at the main Ethiopian Compassion office. She told me that she had been sponsored for 16 years by the same woman who she called "Mama". I asked her if the sponsor had other children, and she said that, "she has 5 children.. but 6 including me!!" She said it is good to call your sponsored child a member of your family or your son/daughter as they really look at us as their second parents. I was afraid that my children's mothers would be offended if I did so, but she said that the parents are so grateful for our help and that they also see us as family members. When she found out that I was an Advocate for Compassion and had come on this trip to gather pictures, experiences, and info, she became excited and said:
I came from the projects, became a sponsored child, went to school and then the university. I now have a job and support myself and can take care of my family. I am a success. IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.... YOU GO AND TELL THEM THAT!!

Masresha supports herself, her mother, and her two teenage sisters. She is putting them through school and told me, "Oh, they WILL go to University."

So now, exactly one week after I returned home - I have really started to reflect back on my trip and all the emotions are brought up anew. On one hand I know, I saw, I felt the difference that Compassion is making in these children's lives. I heard so many testimonies, met so many adults, that Compassion had touched. And on the other hand, I am feeling very small. That my little monthly check really doesn't make that much of a difference when you look at the whole picture. That my writing to my children can't really impact them all that much. I'm only one little mommy for goodness sake!! I'm just a drop in an ocean of need. BUT.... then I think of the graduate who said that she, "holds her sponsor's letters as more valuable than gold". The senior with a 4.0 who lit up and ran to get his photo album of mailed pictures to show off "his family". The girl who calls her sponsor "Mama" and counts herself as an adopted daughter. Those children are successes. They do not hold their head low. They have been given something more valuable than shoes, cows, or even medicine. They have been given love. And that love is what pushed them to be more, to love more, and to be proud of themselves in the midst of the dust and the dirt.

I work with little ones every day. I play with little chubby fingers and touch little dirty mouths. I love little ones. But still, I remember, the only time I cried on the trip was when talking to the teens and graduates. Not a cry of desperation or despair, but a cry of hope. I cried because I know I am not as strong as those young adults. I cried because we cannot bring every child to the point where they can say "I am a success." I cried because my small $32 a month may one day allow my child/children in other countries to look back on our years and sincerely call me their 'mother' also. And I pray, that at that time, my children, all SIX of them given to me as gifts by God, will be able to rejoice in the hope that we will one day be together in eternity as one family of many different colors and races. Then I will know that I am a success.

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