Once back in Addis-fresh off the plane from Dire Dawa, we once again resumed our negotiations with Ethiopian customs. This time we split up–Lauren worked on getting her medicine released, and Kim and I worked on the shoes. Four hours later, we were no closer to either, and again left the airport empty handed.
The only donations that had actually made it through customs were the medical equipment for SOS EE and all of the school and art supplies for AHOPE. With renewed frustration for customs, we went back to the hotel. Once there, I once again asked for the package we were expecting–donations of underwear set to arrive by courier from a donor in the UK. Nothing. I couldn’t even track the package because I didn’t have the tracking information, and I couldn’t reach the donor via email because the internet was down. Again.
Since I was already at the concierge desk to check on the package, I asked him about taking some kids from AHOPE swimming the next day. There were 3 of us, and we were hoping to take 12 kids swimming. Despite the fact that we were guests, he was still planning to charge us per kid! I’d had enough at this point, and really couldn’t handle anymore of people in power in Ethiopia taking advantage of orphans. The concierge got an earful. As did his manager. And the manager’s manager. Not cool, Sheraton. Not cool. Everyone else at that hotel had been amazing on both our adoption trip and this trip, up until this point. But, come on. 4 kids per guest! That was all we were asking. I was really, really disappointed.
Dejection fully renewed, we met some staff from SOS EE for a traditional Ethiopian dinner and dance show. Lauren and I really just wanted to stay home, but Kim is personal friends with these people (they stay with her while in Portland for Dove), so we rallied. I wasn’t the happiest camper in the campsite, but I tried to put on a smile. I’m sure it was pretty obvious that we’d had a really, really crappy day-it was clearly written all over my face. But then the food came (awesome!) and the dancers started doing their thing (amazing!!), and we had a really nice time.
We were up super early the next morning to get moving for our last day in Addis. It was especially important to be efficient, because we’d wasted SO much time dealing with customs on our other Addis days. We started by heading to Merkato to pick up a traditional Harari style mesob for Lauren and some spices for the rest of us. I hadn’t been to Merkato on our last trip, and really wished we could have stayed longer. It was wild and awesome. Our driver and translator from Village Ethiopia were amazing and, once again, Felekech came through with sending us to the perfect vendors for what we were looking for. Fair price, high quality goods–good stuff all around.
From Merkato, we headed to AHOPE. When we drove into the compound, the kids were all over the playground EOR provided. I have to be honest, at first, we were all like, “OK, this is very cute, but it was obviously staged.” They knew we were coming, we obviously funded this playground (and another at their other facility) and we’d had a horrible week (they received the rundown over the phone).
But then we got out of the car and this little boy just leapt into my arms and started talking a mile a minute about how he was going to be my “photograph assistant” and asking me “Have you seen our playground? LOOK! We play! We play!!” and we all really quickly realized that this wasn’t staged. The kids were actually this happy. And that felt really, really, really awesome.
We played with the kids on the playground for a little while (did I mention how awesome this was?) and my little friend climbed all the way to the top of the jungle gym, then said “DOWN NOW!” He was the cutest kid in the universe and I’m so happy he has a family waiting to come get him. I mentioned a little friend I have from AHOPE and how I had some photos of him and his family on my phone–the kids mobbed me and COULD NOT wait to see them! They were hysterical and so happy for this child. Me too. He has an awesome family. And clearly some awesome friends back in Ethiopia. When we were done, they dragged me into the main facility to see pics of him when he was there-and to tell me to make sure he writes them a letter.
We gave the kids each a piece of sidewalk chalk to play with while we toured the facility and unloaded our donations. They got right to work, writing their names and drawing us pictures on the driveway. A little girl who was a toddler jumped into Lauren’s arms when we entered the baby room and would not let go. Lauren (AKA I Can’t Get Close To Any of These Kids) was putty in this little girl’s hands. Very cute. I picked up a baby who reminded me of the baby of a friend who just came home and we snuggled for the rest of the tour. More tears, from both of us, when I had to put him back down. Ugh.
We went through the donations with the staff and talked with them about what they needed. We still had a little bit of money left from what we’d saved for the field trip (which we were no longer doing because the Sheraton was going to charge us too much), so we donated that towards Christmas gifts for the children they work with in their outreach program. The gifts were alarm clocks to help them remember when to take their HIV meds–cool, right?! We’re hoping to fund all of the clocks they needed to purchase at a later date. We also identified a need for new mattresses, sheets and comforters for the children’s beds, as well as medicines for both the children in care and those in the outreach program. Again, we’ll be funding these things at a later date.
From AHOPE, we went back to Toukoul to drop off the medical equipment donations. It was a quick visit, but they were happy to see what we’d brought and it was really nice to meet again with the manager–he runs a tight ship and I appreciate that.
After AHOPE we reluctantly stopped for lunch (our poor driver and translator were starving), then headed over to Children’s Heaven. When we arrived at the office, a staff member jumped in the van and directed us to the new facility funded by EOR!!! The girls had just been brought there by Hanna, and had just toured it themselves. We were there for a “ribbon cutting” ceremony of sorts. When we got out of the van, we were all stunned. This was a pretty large home, with a big driveway, an awesome side yard and a back yard. I think we were all taken aback by what EOR had been able to provide for this wonderful organization. The day before, they’d operated under tarps in the driveway of the director’s home. And now we’d not only prepaid rent for 4 years, but provided funding for all of the furniture at this beautiful new facility. It was very emotional.
When we walked into the room where most of the 75 girls were, they stood up and clapped, and we clearly all started crying. They went on to sing and drum for us, and tell us about themselves. We did the same, then we showed them all of the soccer jerseys and equipment we’d brought them from our wonderful donors. They were very reserved, but when Hanna (the director) asked who wanted to put on a jersey and go play, the girls went nuts! It was really cute.
We all sat down for their one nutritious meal per week provided by Children’s Heaven (a piece of bread they baked and a cup of milk), and told Hanna we were going to work to do better. Surely these girls deserve 7 meals per week. Surely we can all work together to provide that for them! I also spoke with Hanna about setting up a small pilot program for microloan funding for the girls–many of them are skilled hair braiders and embroiderers, and we feel this could be a great program to get them on the road to self-sufficiency.
After everyone was done eating, we headed outside to play some soccer. It was great. I recognized one of the girls from when Hanna did her plea for the “dumpster girls” at last year’s Art for Ethiopia event in Denver. This girl–and all the other dumpster girls–are all now enrolled at Children’s Heaven. It felt good to see them smiling, kicking the soccer balls around like nobody’s business, knowing they were being taken care of.
When we were leaving, one of the girls walked up to me and asked for a hug. I gave her one, then she grabbed my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “God bless you for helping us.” I started sobbing for like the 10,000th time this trip. I know that what we’re doing is a tiny drop in a very large bucket, but I also know that we helped that girl. And that means something to me. Even if 99% of our donations are still stuck in customs.
So, we’ve learned a lot. We won’t be attempting to bring any donations into Ethiopia again–regardless of the method or the assurances. We’ll continue to do what we originally planned to do, and purchase things in country. Lesson learned. And learned. And learned again. We’ll keep working with our existing partners to ascertain specific needs, and we’ll in turn ask you, our donors, to help us fund those specific needs. We’ll go back regularly and check on progress. And we’ll keep helping orphans–together.
Thanks for your support and Happy New Year!