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Friday, December 4, 2009

An overwhelming day ...

Friday - There are so many moments and experiences to process from today and writing this down in some kind of order will be a challenge. 

We arrived at the Guest Home last night around 10 pm after our 10 hour trek from Kombalcha.   I was able to use Shiloh's satellite phone last night to call home and talk with Jay, Emme and Maea and it was soooooo good to hear their voices and get a little piece of home from their voices.  I only had a few minutes, so I told the girls I would upload to my blog in an hour or so.  As it turned, yahoo suddenly stopped working and I had no way of getting and receiving email.  I was up until 3 am writing the blog and then trying to post it with no avail.  Then we got up at 6 am to begin our day.

Our first visit this morning was a care-point called Hope for the Hopeless.  This organization works with street kids (ages 5-15 years).  What they are doing is quite exceptional and we spent a good deal of time with the director as he answered our questions.  He explained that they have a few counselors that make regular contact with street kids offering them a safe place to sleep, a place to wash their clothing and bathe, and regular meals.  Once a child comes to the center, the staff gathers as much information from the child as possible in order to contact any possible family member.  Sometimes, the child is returned to a family member if the social worker deems that it is a safe and appropriate environment for the child.

For those children that choose to stay at the care-point, they go to school and get behavior counseling.  I asked to understand more about the reason for the behavior counseling and he explained that there is a lot of violence on the streets and the children have been exposed to physical and sexual violence and they have learned it themselves as a survival technique.  The children usually spend 3-6 months at this specific location, and once their behavior is to the point where they obey adults and respect instruction and don't use violence with other children, then they are moved to another location (orphanage) with other rehabilitated children.  The children are not forced to come or to stay at the transition center, it is completely by choice, and some may choose to leave because they can't abide by the rules.

As we interacted with the children (15 boys and 2 girls), we noticed lots of injuries and scars on the boys.  The director explained that the street kids band together in gangs and they will fight each other (as well as adults) viciously.  In many cases they use razor blades or knives on each other, and those were the scars we saw.  Some of the boys had dozens of scars on their faces, heads, arms and hands. 

We asked about the situation for girls on the streets and he explained that there are significantly fewer street girls.  The main reason is that when a girl is orphaned, a relative or neighbor will often take her in and use her as a servant/slave.  Also, for the girls that do live on the street, they are easy prey for sexual predators (both young boys and adults) and they are often in hiding.  (More on this later …)

We spent a few hours interacting with the boys and they were so proud to show us the bunk beds, where they sleep 2 to a bed, with 3 bunk beds packed into a tiny, windowless room with barely a walkway between (that's 12 boys sleeping in one room).  We walked past a very small kitchen that I noticed was empty.  We played keep-away with balloons, did some chalk drawing (there were some good artists among the boys) and listened to music on an ipod with speakers.  The boys warmed up to us quickly and we were sent off with hugs and kisses on the cheeks.  Some of the boys are pretty shy at first but when it was time to line up for a hug and good-byes, their hugs lingered for a moment and some would lay their head against my shoulder and savor that hug  - and a few of them got right back in line for another hug.

Then we were off to our next care-point called CFI (Compassion Family International) which is about one block away from the Guest Home.  As we drove up to the gate, the driver tapped the horn and the children started squealing with excitement.  As the gate swung open, the children (ages 2-8) were lined up clapping and singing, waving and blowing kisses.  As we emerged from the vehicles, little ones wrapped around our legs and within a few seconds I was taken by the hand by a few little girls, motioned to sit down, and they began touching and then braiding my hair.  I had about 6 little girls trying to braid my hair at once and they were so perplexed as to why the braids fell out once they were braided (because their braids stay in without ties).

After spending a few hours at CFI and having a coffee ceremony, we spoke to the director about their greatest needs.  This particular drop-in center has 25 kids (some are single orphans, some are double, and others are classified as "vulnerable", meaning the family is extremely poor).  The local government (kebele) classifies vulnerable children and families and each is given a priority rating.  The children served by this drop-in center are considered high priority.  We ended up buying 13 mattresses and blankets so the children can nap lying down instead of sitting at their desks.  We also gave a 30-day supply of food.  This is another location that is ideal for sponsorship to ensure that the children have access to food, clothing, education and adult supervision.  Without a drop-in center, these same kids would be home alone or on the streets while the parents are at work. 

At this point, Candy asked the team about returning to "Hope for the Hopeless" with money for food.  As she had talked with the director there about their greatest needs, he said simply "Food - at this moment we have not been able to feed the children at the transition center or the orphanage today.  We just don't have funds right now and we are praying for God's provision."  Candy and Shiloh were both so burdened with that situation, so we discussed it as a group, and even though we had a dinner meeting with another organization that we would be late for, we returned to Hope for the Hopeless with funds for food. 

On the way, I asked our driver to stop at a roadside stand so we could purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables as well.  (The staff tries to stretch money as far as it can go with staples like rice, corn or tef (wheat) and the kids rarely get fruit, vegetables or protein because they are more expensive.  They figure its better to have some rice in your belly everyday rather than one day of vegetables and nothing the next.  We bought 10 kilos of bananas, 10 kilos of oranges, 9 kilos of carrots and 7 loaves of bread and delivered it with the funds to the transition center.  The director and his staff were absolutely overwhelmed and cried openly.  They said this was a direct answer to prayer.  Not a one of us had a dry eye Ð it was an absolutely overwhelming emotional experience to see such a desperate need and to be instrumental in meeting that need.

During that second trip to Hope for the Hopeless, I got to meet Meron.  A 14 year old thin, little scrap of a girl with the most radiant, brilliant smile you have ever seen.  She lives at the transition center and attends 7th grade.  I remembered her story from one of Tom Davis' books and earlier in the week Tom relayed her specific story to the group. I may have a few of the details wrong but here is the gist of her story …

About three years ago, Meron's parents were sickly and extremely poor and a distant relative offered to have her work for him.  Trusting him, they sent her to him and he enslaved and abused her.  Hearing that her parents were extremely sick, she asked to be able to go see them.  He refused, so she ran away to find her parents, only to find out they had died.  But now she was on the streets of Addis and terrified, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  She stayed awake for 3 days straight, trying to hide from the gangs of street boys but she was discovered and brutally gang-raped and beaten.  One of the Hope counselors found her and brought her to the transition center - and a few years later, she was greeting us at the gate as we drove up to deliver the food.

As I got out of the van, she shyly greeted each of us individually with a hug and a beautiful smile.  I said "Hi Meron, it is so nice to meet you.  My name is Karen."  And then I pointed out that our names rhyme, Meron and Karen.  While we delivered the food and spoke with the director and the staff, she came and stood next to me and I wrapped my arms around her and just held her.  Her hands were cold, so I held them and warmed them in mine.  As the group realized what we were delivering, she broke down in my arms and just sobbed, burying her face in my shoulder.  Embarassed by her tears, she brusquely wiped her eyes and nose with her sleeves and then fiercely hugged me back and out came that gorgeous smile. 

We quickly loaded back into the vans as the Hope for the Hopeless team wiped their eyes, hugged us, shook our hands, thanked us repeatedly, blessed us repeatedly, and waved good bye.  It was then that what just happened overwhelmed me É here was a young girl that has lived through more evil than any child should ever have to bear É the death of her parents, abuse and enslavement, living in fear on the streets of Addis, and brutally gang-raped and beaten …  and yet this delicate, little scrap of a girl had become a shining beacon of hope for the future.

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Anonymous said...

Wow, Karen.... I lay in bed reading this post last night crying and calling out to God for understanding...not being able to stomach all the things those beautiful children have been through....
Thank you for working so hard to post all you did....Lord willing, it will not go unanswered.
With love, Amy

Karla said...

I have no words!! Love you!