Can I tell you our story of traveling to Ethiopia where our Church supports kids in need? – it’s a beautiful story!

Day 1      

Getting on a plane to AfricaOn July 1st, the adventure began as we boarded the plane going Toronto, and then connecting on to Addis, Ethiopia.  There were nine of us from our Church, and the eight women of us were graced with one man.  As we sat on the plane going to Addis, I began to see some differences.  I was noticing that there were many beautiful women — older women — with dark skin, buns and thick braids.  I could feel that we were entering a different culture, as we headed for Africa.  It was a big plane out of Toronto.  My seatmate was going to Nigeria.  These are parts of the world that I haven’t thought about or thought that I would see.  My eyes are open for the experience.  The seatmate on the other side is going to Jabuta, east Africa, and I’m thinking, ‘Where’s that?’  We’re off on a cultural trip to distant lands, and it’s calling me to consider the geography and cultures I’ll be seeing.  I’m fascinated.  I feel my interests inspired.  It’s a long flight, 13 hours, so we’ll have a total of 20 hours of flight time.  It’s the longest flight I’ve been on.  Cammie Dunaway (she was the former Chief Marketing Officer of Yahoo) is leading the trip, and it’s me (Joan Perry), Kristi Nolan, Judy and Gary Laine, Carla Brandt-Fenner, Cindy Matooka,  Nancy Price and Jill Campione.

Day 2    

It’s July 3rd, and we landed in Addis, the Capital of Ethiopia, today.  Our Church partners with Children’s Hope Chest to supportLoading of the van in Africa the School at Hitata Genet that we’re visiting here.  I have supported a child with monthly contributions for 6 years, even years that were tough financially for me — and now I’m here in Ethiopia and am going to meet that child!!   

Semeret Demeke, met us in the parking lot with the van that would carry us around for the next week.  It was quite a site to see our 30 some bags of luggage get hoisted up onto the top of the bus piece by piece.  We headed out of the airport and stopped for a good cup of Ethiopian coffee which we all needed to get our feet on the ground and transition to our experience here. 

The bus took us 6 hours south to Awassa, with a stop for lunch at the Haile Resort.  It was my first time to eat Ethiopian food, which was clearly spicy!  I was enjoying the congenial group of friends that had ventured on this experience together, and that I was going to be with for these days in Ethiopia.  The bus took us through the countryside, and we saw lots of the people, towns and scenery before reaching Awassa. We finally got to the Lewi Resort.  We figured that we’d been traveling for over 30 hours by this time, so we all clapped and were so ready to get out of the bus.  The Resort was very pretty with its setting right on the lake. 

Day 3

Calvary ChurchToday was just a beautiful day.  It started out with a beautiful rainfall, a heavy rain, and then a sunny day as we reached the Hitata Genet School.  By now Steve Otradovec had also joined us, he’s the Outreach Coordinator for Children’s Hope Chest.  I was in such anticipation of what we would see and do for this day as our new experience in Ethiopia unfolded — and a little nervous.  There would be lots of kids, 232 kids, who are needy kids deserving of this school.  Our bus drove through the poorer side of Awassa and through the school entrance.  It’s pretty, I thought.  There were kids all around, but these weren’t our kids, these were town kids who would love to go to the school here and were not accepted.  We walked through the yard, up a dirt road and into the next area where all of the kids that our church members support were standing in rows with signs that said ‘We love you Calvary’.  It brought tears to my eyes to see these shiny bright faces, and tears when we walked to the front of the line and a child greeted each of us with a pink rose.  Even though we didn’t know the language, we knew the love! Then, one by one, the kids that each of our team members had been supporting financially appeared, and were obvious in their gratitude for what we’d done so they were in the school.  These were:

Cammie was joined by Yodite, Joan was joined by Kebebush, Carla by Wube, Gary and Judy by Eden, Nancy by Edele, Kristi by Zuwditu.

It felt to me that these kids had a sense of pride and obvious joy.  They smiled broadly and were immediately attentive.  It was captivating to me.  John, the School leader (and CarePoint Coordinator at the School) took command.  The kids respected and followed him in quick sequence.  He introduced us and the kids repeated our names.  There were laughter and fun.  They repeated my name as ‘I’m Joan’ – because I said, ‘I’m Joan!’ And we laughed.  Standing in front of the kids were two flagpoles, with the Ethiopian flag and the American flag at rest.  The kids sang their national anthem, and then John told of the American 4th of July and that it was our nation’s birthday, and our team sang our anthem.  It was very moving.  Then Cammie leads a few additional songs, like Chika Boom, and we all merrily played in the melodies.  I was so happy to meet my sponsor child, Kebebush.  She’s in the 9th grade, age 15, and a lovely poised young woman.  I began to feel an affection building in my heart for these kids.  There was a richness here that took me by surprise, not the dredge of poverty that I expected, but the spontaneity of kids with enthusiasm and heartfelt expression.  Maybe they have more to teach us, I thought. 

We moved in mass into the church building.  All of the school buildings were of the mud/straw adobe style that we’d seen so manyhappiness_day3c times along the road on our way to Awassa.  Very simple structures, sometimes with windows, sometimes not, and a narrow doorway.  The inside of the church was sparse and held all of the kids and us.  Cammie picked 14 kids to help enact a play of her lesson teaching for the day.  While the story was somewhat complex, I was amazed at how engaged all of the kids were.  I didn’t see any taunting or disrespect.  The kids wanted to talk, love and engage each team member as we helped them write their names on their programs.  They were playful and touched and were gentle with their friends.  John had a booming voice that quieted them all down.  Cammie’s play was a big success and the actor kids took their bows.  Some of the kids were shy but mostly they didn’t seem self-conscious in their participation.  I was getting the feeling of how grateful these kids felt to be here, to be in school, and to have us here with them.  I felt joy.  We passed out sodas and really big egg sandwiches for lunch.  For some of the kids, this may have been their only meal for the day.  Kebebush said that her family is very poor.  She looked lovely in her long skirt, erect stance, and coiffed being.  Her teeth have some brown marks, probably nutrition-related that would otherwise be different with American dentistry.  The kids went home for the mid-day break and all of our team rallied to blow up soccer balls, arrange name tags for the kids, and sort out the t-shirts we would be handing out when they returned in an hour and a half. 

The little kids were so cute, the bigger boys and girls convened, and I headed up the dirt road and into the area where we first gathered for an afternoon of soccer with Workenhe Tikura, the soccer coach for the week.  He was magical with the kids.  He had them running and kicking the ball and dancing to the rhythm of his voice.  I admired openly what I saw on the filed that day.  In fact, what I saw to my surprise, is the world’s next generation of leaders.  These kids followed his lead, played on teams, were appreciative to be kicking the ball — I saw gratitude, respect, the ability to take being disqualified with humility, total involvement, support, and healthy competition, willingness and wanting to learn.  I was duly impressed.  I suddenly thought that instead of coming here and being depressed by the conditions, I was seeing in these youth the light of the world.  Their hearts were open, their minds were sharp, their spirits were engaged and their passions ran high.  It was beautiful to see, and the rest of our team experienced this as well.  The love was all around us.  I’d put my faith for the future of the world in these kids hands and knew from the bottom of my heart that our church’s support, and my individual support, of these kids for their education and future, was money very well spent. 

happiness_day3b

We boarded the bus to go back to the Resort, and all of us were happy and deeply touched.   At dinner together we recounted our experiences.  And sat out by the lake at the candlelit tables under the canopy and enjoyed a 4th of July dinner together.  Thank you, I thought, for all that you do to give these kids this experience and the world hope.  And I thought – one kid at a time, there were still all of those kids outside the fence who came to watch every day, all day — because they want to be there too.  My wish was for them too to be included.

Day 4

happiness_day4aThe schools are called ‘Care Points’.  They are partnerships between the community, the church, the government and Children’s Hope Chest.  Letters are written by the community to propose the neediest children and why they should be accepted into the program.  The church receives the letters and makes a recommendation to the government.  Then children are selected based upon the funding of sponsorships at the Care Point.  There are more Care Points in Ethiopia, including several in Addis, where we flew into.  Hitata Genet only schools children to the fourth grade, but John is the coordinator of their education for as long as they are in school.  By the fifth grade, the sponsorship funds support the kids in public and private schools and the funds provide for what the child needs, ie. clothes, medical care, books etc.  In 10th grade, the kids take the State exam and depending upon their score, they are sent to 11th and 12th grade as college prep or to trade school. 

Our Care Point is six years old and the population is still maturing, so just one boy has graduated high school and gone on to college from Hitata Genet.  My child, Kebebush is in the 9th grade and hopes that she will go to college.  She says that they say she may be #1 in her class, and she’ll know later in the week when she gets her report card.  The children here have the ambition to rise from the poor status that Kebebush grew up in.  She has the poise already to be a leader.  The Care Point will stay with them all the way through their college years, and John has a deep understanding of the path of each child and compassion.  Only one child from each family can be in the schooling program so if there are four or five children, only one of them can be selected.  This is because they want to help as many families as possible.  When I chose Kebebush, she was living with her Aunt, and she’s the only child of schooling age in her family now. 

Three other guys from Care Points in and around Awassa joined us — and we were so glad to have them as translators — Fikiru Tekele, Abu Neguss, and Yared Ayele.  Other churches sponsor the kids in their Care Points, and they are all newer points than Hitata Genet.

Watch out!!  Kerplunk!! — a monkey just bounced on the table and took the banana right off your plate!!  This was a game we played every morning for breakfast as the monkeys sat up in the trees and eyed bananas, sugar packets and french toast on the breakfast table.  They were very stealth.  They would case out the yellow fruit and then jump up from around you and grab the prize.  They were beautiful and well groomed and they crawled through the canopy of trees that is over the outdoor area by the lake where we gathered for breakfast. We laughed hysterically as that banana for breakfast was rotten!   After making plans for the day, we headed for the bus and back to the school.  Today it was Nancy and Cindy’s turn to do the lesson with the kids.  They also enacted their story.  They dressed Steve up in costume with a wig, and kids were actors too.  The kids came to school in their green t-shirts that we handed out to them.  The learning for the day was played out and then the kids did a craft of making bracelets and a game.  It’s a lot of joyfully jumping, moving kids!  I went to the soccer field with the older kids.   

About 4pm that afternoon, we started the home visits.  I was excited about that!  It meant that we were going to Kebebush’s Aunt’s house in the Village and I would also meet her parents.  We’d stopped at the store on the way to the school that morning and gotten oil and grain and we were now taking them as gifts to the family.  I also had a backpack of new clothes to take tohappiness_day4b Kebebush.  We walked out the front gate of the school, down the dirt road, with many Village kids along our side, and Abu (our interpreter), Kebebush, and I, with Cindy and Nancy, were soon inside the boxy mud and straw-built house sitting on a small couch with a little coffee table in front of us.  The floors were earthen and except for a bench and a chair there was nothing else in the room, and no lights as the room were dark except for the light of the door.  Kebebush’s Mother sat in the chair along with her Father on the bench.  And we learned that many neighbors were also crowding into the small room with us.  And Kebebush also had a pretty older sister who joined us.  I noticed what care they had taken with their dress.  I got to ask Kebebush’s Mother – what she hoped for her girls and was this different than the life she leads?  And I asked her Father how he felt about his daughters becoming educated.  It was a very warm and lively conversation.  Kebebush sat with me, and Abu interpreted.  Kebebush started to cry as she explored the backpack and all of the new clothes I bought for her, and I put the lovely necklace on her that was my gift too.  This was a peek into the inside of the lives they lead, behind the happy faces of the kids, and the very bare conditions of their housing.  I wondered where they slept in this small two room structure – and where they hung their clothes, and some of the basic things about living as the two rooms were neither a bathroom or a kitchen, as we’re used to.  We took pictures and left, and after dinner lack of sleep was calling me.  It was a good day.

Day 5

This was an amazing day for me because I got to see beyond the visual of what my eyes could see and into the lives and hearts of the kids in some ways.  Steve, Kristi, Workenhe, and Semeret took the older kids to the soccer field for a deeper conversation.  The first exercise was so interesting to watch.  It was about faith.  There were 3 numbers on the side of the school building and with each question the kids formed in clusters under a number of their choice.  (1), yes; (2) maybe; and (3) no.  The variety of questions posed to them were ‘if you are such and such’ (ie. rich, Ethiopian, American etc) would that get you into heaven?  We all marveled that the kids really had clarity.  Then Steve told his story which included being abandoned by his Father and his life’s journey, and Semeret gave hers, and then Kristi.  Kristi said that we all have a story to tell.  The kids were given yellow paper and pens to write their own story.  They spread out and to our amazement wrote full pages.  When they gathered we asked if any one of them would share their story.  Happily, Edu stood and talked about his journey, and then Tamenech Bekelle stood up.  We were all filled with joy at the blessings of their discoveries and the open-hearted way that the kids listened to others and explored their own vulnerabilities.  It was really good to work, and to be continued the next day, as we headed off to lunch. 

Kebebush walked with her head slightly hanging down — that was my clue to her experience of herself in the short 15 years of her youth.  She’s about 5’6’’ and proud with some fierce determination in her eyes.  Today I see that she’s looking so nice in the American jeans I brought her and cute white shirt.  It’s the first time that she’s had new clothes instead of the hand-me-downs that she received as the last of eight children and the help she gets from Children’s Hope Chest.  It’s just amazing that all of the clothes that I brought her to fit so well.  It makes me happy and smiles.  I asked her to join me with an interpreter after lunch so I could learn more about her life and story.  We sat on the steps in front of the church with Semeri and I listened.  A trust has developed between the two of us and she talked freely.  Kebebush was from a big family and when she was born her parents couldn’t afford her so they gave her to her Aunt to raise her.  This meant that she moved to Awassa, very far from her parents.  She also only spoke Amharic, and now had to learn the local language as well. This was very hard for her because the Aunt had a boy child and this child lived in the small house with her.  Kebebush was made to live outside the house under a line to next to the house, not inside, and her job was to do all of the household chores. 

In this part of the poor culture of Ethiopia, children were seen as convenient labor and she didn’t go to school.  She said that she barely survived, and she had an old Bible that she took to sleep with her.  She said that she didn’t know the words, she knew some letters, and she would piece together the words over time.  She said that the Aunt (who was the one that I met at the home visit and was very quick with the tongue) said very mean things to her.  She told her she was worthless and bad.  It was so painful to Kebebush that she ran away.  She didn’t have any place to go.  She ran to the river to commit suicide.  She had a plan to end her life, and she didn’t succeed in doing it.  An older woman got her and calmed her and helped her negotiate and make some form of peace with the Aunt.  This is when a letter was written by the community to ask to enroll her at Hitata Genet, and when I became her sponsor, this was part of the resolution.  It wasn’t easy living with the Aunt, but she was now able to attend school.  Kebebush said that it has all been very hard, she’s suffered a lot and her parents also gave away other of their kids that they could not support because they were financially poor.  Her eyes teared with thoughts of these years.  We talked about how will and courage and strength are forged through these times.  How her suffering can turn into her greatest gift for her future.  That education and doing well in school is so very important to her better life.  She agreed.  Her experience with her Father (who I met) has been very harsh also.  He’s accused her of being a ‘bad girl’ when she’s not.  She’s determined not to relive the life of her parents.  In fact, I see a clarity in this young woman that knows what it takes and she’s building character so she can understand the suffering in her world and later grow to serve others for changes for better lives.

The team’s dinner was lovely outside at the candlelit table at the lake. 

Day 6

happiness_day6This was my day to teach the daily lesson.  It was a fun creative experience.  I used two blue pieces of cloth on the floor and put the church benches in a semi-circle around the cloth, which was then my ‘Sea of Galilee’ and I sprinkled paper fish on the cloth.  Six kids were in costume and positioned around the Sea with fishing poles and the story began.  Abu was dressed up with flashing glasses of light to make it more fun.  Then the kids played a tag game, made fishing poles with the dangling paper fish and reinforced the learnings.  These were the little kids and I realized my deficiency of not having been a girl scout leader or homeroom mom with more practice in kid efficiency.  It was all quite a handful and a successful morning.  The team sat out in the middle between the church and the offices for lunch.  The informal nature of all of this didn’t bother me — the fun was the kids and the kindness and closeness of the team. 

After lunch, I looked for Kebebush.  She had on the cute white lace top and the jeans — and they both fit great.  Even the bras I brought her fit, so there was some evident connection between us even before meeting.  We sat in some plastic chairs alongside the offices and Fikiru interpreted for us.  She was smiling ear to ear.  She had just gotten her report card and she was #1 for the year in her 9th-grade class.  I too beamed as I read through the subject of chemistry, physics and other compelling subjects that she mastered.  That was such great news and means that she could be in a position to go to University when it’s determined in her 10th grade school year.  We had an hour or more conversation about life and how the excellent job that she is doing in education can carry her.  We talked about new opportunities for women and how she will find her passions.  I just have this sense that she is destined to become a leader.  We’ve had conversations about how so much is changing now for women, how the internet is making knowledge and communication available even if we are a 20-hour plane ride away.  That the University system will be giving her education and so will the world-wide-web.  She gets having a job, but also serving humanity in her lifetime work.  I think that she has a great capacity and my heart was so warmed to know that this child born in poverty was getting (and fully embracing) the opportunity to develop her intelligence and plan for her contributions in the world.  That is just too cool!!  I was a proud Moma sponsor, for sure!

It was pouring when we headed to dinner We stopped to eat at a new hotel that had an Italian restaurant. The full days made for a sleepy team.

Day 7

happiness_day7aIt was raining again this morning.  We got to Hitata Genet and to the three buses of kids all packed in and ready to go on the field trip planned for the day.  They were waving out the windows with big smiles and plenty of energy for the adventure and excitement.  We were all headed to a hot spring about an hour away, and many of these kids had never left their small neighborhood.  The team was on our bus and the children followed in theirs.  We were headed to a park where Emperor Haile Selassie had maintained a summer home.  We drove through the towns and countryside that was now Ethiopia to me.  More of the mud framed houses, many people along the roadside and mules pulling carts of hay.  We pasted vendors of mangos, pineapple, corn, and stalks of sugar cane.  The countryside was lush, green and pretty; and flowers grew too, which was not the case where people live by the school.  The kids piled out of the buses excited for the adventure.  We divided the group and the smaller kids went up to the play area and the ones who could swim headed for the swimming pool and baths of natural hot springs.  I stayed with the older girls who went to the outdoor showers.  The boys went to a separate enclosed area.  The girls stripped to their underwear and frolicked in the descending water and the abundance of the happy water flow.  Judy and I stood and watched them realizing that they carry water to their houses in the Village and no such plethora of flowing water is available to them for this kind of bathing.  It was a real treat for all of the girls to crowd under the shower heads, wash their hair and get soapy to cleanse.  It’s still a mystery to us how they bathe and other things since there are no bathrooms (or kitchens or refrigeration) in the Ethiopian houses where we visited.  The girls and boys played in the separate showers for more than an hour and a half with lots of joy, and other of the kids frolicked in the pool.  Soon Semeri and John gathered us all back to the buses and we journeyed back to the school.

We were back to the school just in time for the big event that we’d planned for the day — the Mother’s Gathering.  Our team had invited each mother of the 232 kids to join us in recognition of the roles they play in their children’s lives and importantly their (thehappiness_day7b Mothers) being seen.  When our bus pulled into the school, many of the women were gathered in groups in their Sunday finest and sitting on the lawn outside the Church.  They greeted us with smiles and waves.  This was the first time that any team had planned something for the Mothers.  Cammie and Kristi had wanted to do this after their trip to the school the prior year and planned this celebration.  We decorated the benches of the church with colorful paper flowers and carefully arranged the Mother’s bags that Judy, Nancy, Kristi, and Cindy had sown and were filled with small gifts.  Our team opened welcomed the women, with introducing ourselves and the love we shared for their kids and followed with comments by Jill.  As we looked out at the 250 smiling women’s faces, someone on our team made the comment that this wasn’t likely to take place in America where these Mothers all showed up on short notice.  This person was commenting on the gratitude and appreciation that we received from these Mothers and our efforts for them.  We held the traditional coffee ceremony as our team’s honoring of these women; and traditional cutting by several of the Mothers of really big, big round loaves of bread.  The church is so simplistic that the bread sat on the plastic bags on the benches as it was cut and then handed to each woman by our team, and the school staff made coffee with only two pots on the open fire outside.  John’s lovely wife was busy with coffee as she was for us each lunchtime during the week. 

Our team sang to the Mothers, and the Mothers sang something rocking in Amharic to us, and the emotions of love, communication and joy filled the room.  We were women – so much the same and so much different.  Our team thanked the Mothers and one of the Mothers spoke and the translation showed their appreciation and understanding with us American women.  We sang Amazing Grace to them and handed out the gift bags by calling each Mother up individually.  As the afternoon ended there was a flood of hugs and kisses from the women for each of our team members.  We were all filled up with the generosity of spirit and goodwill.  I’d say that if women could influence the world with this spirit in this way, surely much progress would be made.  Gary took lots of pictures of the joyous event. 

happiness_day7cTired, we cleaned up and headed to the bus.  Back to the hotel for a team dinner outside and happily fell into bed.  This was a night to catch up on sleep.  Each day was really full with the kids and each morning for breakfast we had the day’s planning to do for the kids.  Where had the week gone?  Semeri has taken such good care of all of us, team members who needed support, kids who needed guidance, and she had done it with much grace and care all week long.  The team was very bonded and supported each other, and love flowed with Cammie’s leadership and Steve’s support and everyone’s patience and easy going at just being with whatever showed up in our experience.  Sometimes things got changed and it all worked out well. 

Day 8

happiness_day8It was Saturday already and a big day — because today was the official soccer tournament finals.  The teams were down to two for the match on the School’s soccer field.  I found Kebebush and the other older girls and we settled under a tree with some shade from the sun.  Workenhe warmed up the teams with his a ‘ouchata, a ouchata’ rhythm that got the kids dancing and playing.  Spirit was easily created.  The town’s kids were trying to crowd in to see the game too.  Excitement was in the air.  The three small mud built classrooms where the school taught grades 1 to 4 were on the far side of the field, and their windows were filled with shade seekers.  It was the best of 2 out of 3 games for the winner.  The kids were all into the game and routed for their favorite team.  The game play was good, both teams scored goals and there were talented players on both sides.

It was a time too when each of our team members got to hang with their sponsor child.  The sponsor children definitely blossomed over the week with the advantage of their American supporter being there to nurture and connect.  Judy and Gary’s child, Eden, showed new confidence.  Nancy’s child, Edele, brightened tremendously and Cammie’s child, Yodite, glowed with appreciation.  It is a significant contribution to these children’s lives to visit them as well as support them financially.  I sought out Degnet, my friend Charlie’s child, and other team members sought out kids sponsored by their friends like Bob Thomas’ child.  Through the week the team made individual connections, and spoke the beautiful names, of many of the kids as we loved on the kids all week. 

Britaina won the match!  Workenhe handed out trophies and the soccer jerseys that our team got donated, and the boys and girls on the soccer teams were transformed by their new jerseys and soccer play.  There was laughter and congratulations to the winning team as we headed for lunch.  Lunch for the kids was ‘Feast Day’.  Mostly the kids diet is grains, rice and bread — but today it was ‘Tibs’, a stew with goat meat in a traditional red sauce and injera, a bread to scoop the stew and eat with fingers.  In one of the office rooms of the school building, a small group of women sat on the floor of the mud structure and handed out the plates of food as fast as they could and the team delivered the daily lunch and bottles of soda.  This week of the program and VBS, meals were provided to the kids, but in the regular school year the kids go home for lunch and each quarter the school provides supplements of grain and oil to each family as part of the funds provided by each sponsor’s contribution.  This is so the support from sponsors and Children’s Hope Chest extends out to the families, and other kids in the families, in addition to the child who is privileged to be in the school. 

Judy and Gary prepared for their afternoon daily lesson.  They were teaching the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den.  The kids love the costumes, and participating in the play to act out the story.  They made lion masks and a game of tag, while the older kids explored questions of their life paths with Kristi, Steve and Semeri.  A melancholy was beginning to fall over us all because this was the last day of our mission with the kids.  All of the smiles and faces had become so precious to each of us on the team.  We would be parting soon and this welled up in our hearts.  The kids all got onto the steps behind the Church for a picture of the whole group. 

Our team was standing behind the photographer below.  When he was finished, the kids rushed down the steps with hugs and kisses, and more hugs and kisses, and more hugs and kisses and tears.  Each team member was surrounded with throngs of kids wanting to say their goodbyes and love on them.  It was with a heaviness that out team climbed into the bus knowing that we had finished our play time with the kids and the good will work that we’d come to deliver.  New bonds had been made with kids and deep friendships would be missed with the staff of John, his wife, and all who supported our success.  We convened for dinner down by the lake at the candle lit table for dinner and shared our joys for the week in memories.  Now it was time for packing.  Church tomorrow and then we’d be on the road back to Addis.  We bought some souvenir straw basket bags from a vendor at the hotel gate to bring home. 

Day 9

happiness_day9aNext morning at Church back at the school, our team was the  honored guests.  The congregation thanked us for traveling to them and being with their kids.  We introduced ourselves and sang Amazing Grace.  Kristi gave a beautiful sermon that spoke into the hearts of the people i about the difference between happiness and joy — and joy is what comes divinely to all of us.  The congregation related to us and the struggle that we all feel just having this human experience, which also is so much the same in Ethiopia and America, with our different cultures and economics.  A wave of feeling spread over me as I felt transformed by this week of experience and my team members were feeling the same.  This was a big trip and going home we were all rich in new ways.  As we stood on the stage, each of our sponsor kids came up and adorned us with vests and scarves with traditional regional designs.  Kebebush looked really cute in the skirt and shirt I’d brought to her.  Others of the kids were there too. 

Semeri was ready for us on the bus because we had a 6 hour drive back to Addis and wanted to be there before nightfall, and if you could see the way Ethiopian drivers drive, you’d want to navigate the course in the daylight too!  Dougie, our bus driver was the best.  He translated for us during the week, and on the drive to Addis he negotiated the rough roads, the cows and goats that sometimes wandered aimlessly across the highway, the mulls pulling the hay carts, the villagers in the towns we passed through, the slow moving trucks, and the way drivers there sometimes just make three lanes out of two!  We stopped for lunch again at the Haile Resort, and got to Addis just at dark.  And, Semeri had planned a fun evening with Ethiopian traditional dancers at the Ethiopian Cultural Ambassador restaurant.  It was a fun filled time to play together and enjoy our last night in Ethiopia. 

We stayed at the guest house and the next morning after breakfast we were lead by Steve to share our experiences, and then it happiness_day9bwas a day of shopping in Addis for sponsor gifts and cultural and fun stuff.  We visited a jewelry shop a women created to support women who are HIV positive, where they make jewelry out of bullets that have been melted down to make beads, and they weave these beads into pretty bracelets, necklaces and earrings — and our of team women delighted in jewelry purchases that were also important to this mission.  There was an article on the wall about how the Wall Street Journal had reported on this story.  We went to the  market where we each bought all kinds of Ethiopian fare including scarves, wood carvings, clothing and baskets.  Now, would it all fit into the suitcases?! 

Time for the airport.  On the way, we stopped to meet the head of Children’s Hope Chest in Ethiopia for dinner and learned more about CHC.  There are 35 Care Points in Ethiopia, and more in Uganda.  Hatita Genet is just one of them, and these Care Points care for nearly 6000 kids here and touch more than 25,000 through their families, as they partner with churches like ours.  And expansion is still needed, as well as plans to continue and better serve the kids. 

We said our goodbyes to Semeri and Dougie, and were off on Ethiopian Airlines for our 17-hour flight back to Dublin, then Toronto — and soon back to San Francisco to reunite with family. 

It had been an amazing journey to Africa and back, where we were blessed and we were a blessing!

PS… Charitable dollars make a big difference… remember, Tamenech Bekelle (she’s the one on the left) who is one of the bigger kids and that stood and told her story with Kristi and Steve?  She has been mostly deaf since birth and now after our team left Ethiopia, she has had her second surgery and is now blessed with her hearing!!

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