Yesterday was a long one, I knew it was coming and tried my best to prepare, but the truth is that nothing I ever could do would make a day like that easy.
(I have to apologize in advance that this post is not going to be very well written, its hard for me to write with this much emotion, but I still need to get this out there. I hope it all communicates like I want it to, please bear with me)
We woke up early, started out the day with a breakfast meeting at a guest house with a group that is visiting and looking at helping with funding on the orphanage project. We had a great time getting to know them better and sharing our ideas about how the project will move forward. We walked of the small houses we want to build and how each one will have a house mother and eight children that will grow up as a family, we talked of government licenses and how that process is moving forward. We hoped and prayed that they would like what they heard, but most of all we wanted to show them of the deep needs in this countries orphan care system.
Later that day we headed off to the government orphanage for some meetings to give them a feel of the need we are dealing with here in Ethiopia. Oh, my heart hurts just to think about it again, the babies lined up in rows of cribs, room after room, I shudder at the thought of the lives these kids have. Each of them a person, a little soul, loved by God just the same as you and I, yet in this place they only are held for long enough to change their diapers a few times each day.
I stood by a crib with bent rusty legs that caused the mattress to slope awkwardly and reached out to touch her hand, she looked like she might be around a year old, yet she hardly moved, her head was flat from being pressed into the mattress for so long. She slowly extended her hand back towards mine and wrapped her tiny grip around my finger, a smile slowly made its way across one side of her slim face. My heart nearly stopped, it always does when we visit orphanages like this, I tried to keep it together but knew I was going to have to get out of here fast if that was going to happen. I moved on through the room and fought off feelings that I needed to take each of them home with me.
We talked with the staff about the need in country for more sustainable orphan care and were yet again blown away by the statistics, and as if on cue, just as we were learning of the scarcity of beds and funding, a woman from the police department walked through the front door holding a baby that must have only been a few hours old. “He was left at the hospital” She said as she handed the small child over to one of the staff members and filled out a few forms. Within a few minutes she was headed out again, out to yet another call of an abandoned baby, left somewhere else by presumably another mother who could not provide for her child.
We said goodbye and I stooped down to hug as many of the older children as I could.
From there we drove across town to Jerry and Christy’s day care project that just got started about a month ago. We made it just it time to see the mothers arriving to pick up their children, we sat with the kids and played with them while their mothers came in one by one and took their children back out to the streets where many of them live. I am not really sure how to explain what it feels like to be there when the mothers come to pick the kids up, so many of the children are sick and its clear the mothers have all been through a long strenuous day of hard work. The care here is great, but the life that these children live while they are not here is overhelming, its nearly impossible to keep them all healthy, yet if they were turn away a child because it was sick that day there would never be anyone in the care center. And as Christy puts it they are better off recovering from a cold on a mattress in the warmth of the care center than on their mothers back walking all over the city struggling to survive. Its not anything like a day care would be back in America, its not a joyous thing to see a mother who has worked harder than anyone should have to that day to make less than a dollar. Its painful when you look deep into their eyes and see the struggle that they live with, but at the same time its clear to see that this program, the one they were only recently picked out of the masses of women just like them to be a part of, is the only bright point in their lives, this means everything to them.
I see a mother lay her son out on a blanket, he is about five and has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, she wraps his long body up in the blanket and lifts him up to her back where he will spend the rest of the day. Off to the side her three year old daughter waits patiently for her mother to finish, its clearly a drill they all know well having practiced it for years.
We say goodbye and continue on with our trip, I am not sure how much more of this I can take, but I know there is one more stop I must take before the day is through, this one will be just me and Yabi our Ethiopian friend.
We say goodbye to the new friends we have made from the foundation and thank them for spending the day with us, we make arrangements to follow up. I secretly hope that we have not overwhelmed them with the staggering need in this country, I hope its not to much for them in one day. We really need this partnership, its the one that could really get the orphanage off the ground.
I thank them for their time and head home to see Jessie, her and the kids broke off from the group about half way through the day so the kids could get some rest before our big flight to the States tomorrow, we have learned that traveling with tired kids is just about the worst thing you could do.
I spend a few hours with Jessie and the kids, they are excited, bouncing off the walls with anticipation for our flight tomorrow. We do our best to keep them calm and try to refocus their energy into packing some toys that they want to bring with them, but my mind is elsewhere, I think of those little children in the orphanage, the ones who were the same ages as my children yet looked so lost and defeated. I am hopeless, I stand up and walk into the bathroom, in the mirror I see red tired eyes, I wash my face with cold water and stand there for a moment trying to process it all, its not possible. And yet the day is not over…
Finally 10PM rolls around after several failed attempts to explain to Jessie the emotion I am feeling. I put a few bills underneath my sock with my Ethiopian Drivers License and slide my phone into my pocket, wondering as I do it if I will ever see it again. Just then it rings, “Are you ready” Yabi says as I answer. “Yes, I will meet you in a minute” I say, I kiss Jessie goodbye and head out the door. Only a few minutes up the road Yabi and I park the car and get out along the sidewalk outside a big Orthodox church, all along the wall, no more than a few feet from each other, lie tiny bodies. Some of them are covered up in newspaper, others have sheets and blankets, dispersed along the line of children and teenagers there are a few dogs that stand up alert when we walk past. One boy is sitting up and smiles at us, he looks like me might be about 11 or maybe 12. “Salam no” I say greeting him in Amharic as we shake hands. His hand is filthy and I try my best to ignore it by stuffing my own hand back in my pocket when we are done. Yabi steps in to translate and we begin to ask this boy about his life.
He was born in a town just outside of Addis and his whole family died from sickness and a lack of food, he survived but had no where to go after they all passed away, he came to Addis a few months ago to see if he could find work or someone to take him in, but since arriving he has only been able to beg for money and now lives here by the church with hundreds of other boys who all have a similar story. “Its hard” He tells us. Another boy stands up and greets me, he had been asleep beside the one we are talking with, this one is smaller, he can not be more than 9 at most. He smiles a toothy smile and does not say anything but lays back down on the concrete, at first I think he is just tired then I notice that he is struggling to breathe deep, he is sick and gripping his chest while he labors to suck in his next breath. After a few more conversations a crowd starts to gather around us and Yabi makes the call that we need to leave. “Its not safe” He says quickly as he turns towards the car. “We need to leave” I step back with him and we leave faster than I want to, as we drive away I can not get my mind off of these boys and the lives that they are forced to live, none of them choosing this fate but none of them having a choice in the matter. “Where are all the girls?” I ask Yabi after we drive for a while in silence. “Many of them are sold or trafficked out of the country to the Middle East and other countries” He says, his voice shaking from the deep emotion we are both feeling from this visit with the children. “Sold?” I ask. “I do not know much, but lately I have been hearing more and more that children are being sold and then we are not sure what happens to them” He says.
Later that night I try my best to explain to Jessie all that I have seen, she and I hold back tears as we talk of the struggles that these kids live with every day. As we discuss different things we can do to help, the answers do not come easily, but one thing is for sure we are committed to make a difference, we are ruined for the cause and we will give whatever we have to for a chance to help these children.
Tomorrow we get on the plane and head back to America for a furlough, its going to be a few days before I have a chance to write on here again, but I want to leave you with this challenge.
Will you fight with us to give the orphans of Ethiopia a future, will you stand with us against the trafficking that is happening with these girls and the horrible future that each of these boys have to face? Its going to take an army of us gathering together to take this on. Are you with us?