EOR Board of Directors Trip to Ethiopia 2009-Part 1, Toukoul & Gelan

I’ve been having a hard time getting started on the post-trip recap of our trip for various reasons (jet lag, the holidays, etc.), but mostly, it’s hard to explain the issues we had with customs because we’re still trying to work them out. The short version is that the Ethiopian government detained all of the medicine and shoe donations we were attempting to bring into the country to donate to our orphanage partners. And it happened despite the fact that this had all been cleared with the Ethiopian embassy in the US before we left, and we’d meticulously followed their instructions for documentation. The situation is under investigation here in the US, and for that reason, we will not elaborate on the issue further until there has been some resolution.

Before I arrived in Addis, Kim and Lauren had already spent many hours working to get the medications released from customs. When I arrived, they met me at the airport and tried again, then we all went to the cargo area to work to get the shoes released. Six hours later, we still didn’t have any donations. I’d been travelling for 4 days at this point, and although I felt like I was holding it together really well for a good long time, I just couldn’t take it anymore toward the end of the day. Many, many tears were shed and I really began to question what we were doing. Why were they making it so hard for us to help the kids in their country that we all KNOW need help most? Were we EVER going to be able to make a difference in this place?

Eager for a positive experience, we visited Toukoul 1, the orphanage where all of our daughters were before coming home to the US. Toukoul was exactly how Kim and I remembered it, although there were not nearly as many kids around as the first time–they are in the process of moving some children to the new Gelan Orphanage in Akaki, and it was noticeable–the whole scene was much less chaotic than our last visit. We met with Dr. Tsegaye, who cared for all of our children, but more so Lauren’s daughter Meron, who as you know from reading this blog, was very sick with multi drug resistant TB when she came home. Dr. Tsegaye immediately knew who Lauren was and became incredibly emotional when she saw Lauren’s pictures of beautiful Meron today–

“I tried so hard to keep her alive.”

Normally strong and unemotional, Lauren just started sobbing and they hugged for a long time. It was so nice to see these two women finally get to meet. After we all stopped crying, Dr. Tsegaye took us on a tour of the “baby house” where our girls had lived. It was much less crowded than last time, and the babies all seemed to be doing well. I have a very good childhood friend currently waiting for a referral from Toukoul, so I studied all the baby’s faces–maybe one of them will be a neighbor and friend to Amelie soon.

We spoke with Dr. Tsegaye and the nurses about what types of things they needed for the clinic there, and we were told they desperately needed medicine and a special type of food used to treat malnourished children. Both are readily available in Ethiopia, so we took notes and will begin fundraising for these things soon. To avoid future customs issues, we will arrange for purchase in Ethiopia.

From Toukoul, we headed out of the city to Akaki, to visit the new Gelan Orphanage. When Bryan and I were in the adoption process, long before we started EOR, we raised a bunch of money from our family and friends to help fund this orphanage, so it was really nice to finally see it in person. The orphanage is amazing–set on a hill out in the country with beautiful views, beautifully designed and built. The clinic EOR helped fund is here, and we visited the doctors and nurses, along with the treatment rooms. All were clean and bright and well done. We also visited the dorms, laundry facilities, restrooms, kitchen, dining hall, playroom and classrooms. All were beyond our wildest expectations–the center of the complex features two large traditional “toukoul” shaped round structures. One houses the dining hall and the other is the playroom. They are surrounded by windows and views of the countryside, and also the playground that EOR funded. The playground is still under construction, but looks great so far, and is adjacent to a large, grassy play space where I can imagine many soccer games will be played.

The toddlers were in the playroom and were happily playing with blocks. They were all more reserved than I know they’ll be once they have families again, but overall, they all seemed to be doing well. I stopped to say hello to each of them, and towards the end, a little guy asked me if I was a mommy. I said I was, but that I wasn’t his mommy, but that he’d have a mommy soon. It feels good to be able to promise a kid that who is in an orphanage, because I know that all of the kids here WILL have a mommy again.

The older kids were in the classrooms doing school work. The younger ones were working on puzzles and the older ones were working on word match games and writing. Again, they were all quite reserved, but after some “high fives” everyone was giggling and happy and full of energy. They were all really proud to show us what they were working on and the teachers seemed to have what they needed to teach effectively.

When we left Toukoul and Gelan we were all still pretty dejected from our experience with customs, but we were starting to feel an eensy, weensy bit better about all EOR had been able to accomplish in 2 short years. We were also ready to get out of Addis, and really looking forward to our early morning drive to Harar.

More after I take the kids to the gym,

Danielle

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