Saturday, October 31, 2009

God's Forgotten Children

A friend asked me recently what Leyla’s future would likely been if she had remained in Ethiopia. There is no easy answer because you never know the path she would have taken. Looking at her now pictured here in her full raingear happily posing at one of her brother’s soccer games, it is hard to imagine her any other way. But if you look at the circumstance of so many children in Ethiopia today as an indicator, her chances for getting adequate nutrition or reaching a ripe old age were not good. Basic education, medical care, things we often take for granted, would not have been readily available. In Ethiopia today, there are literally millions of orphans who have lost both parents to starvation, HIV and other communicable diseases. One statistic I saw that struck me - there is one doctor for every 250,000 children.

A few weekends back, we attended a fundraiser for a local Ethiopian charity, Blue Nile Children’s Organization (link is included on the right). Blue Nile is working to address the basic needs of some of these children through sponsorship and to address some of the medical needs through building a local clinic. At this fundraiser, delicious Ethiopian fare was served while we were entertained with Ethiopian music and dance – reminding us of the beauty and depth of the Ethiopian culture.

At one point during the evening, an Ethiopian young man of 18 came up to read his poem about Ethiopia. He captured in words the harsh reality of life for too many of Ethiopia’s children. He provided a much more graphic and detailed answer to my friend’s question. His poem moved my husband and I to tears with both its eloquence and heartbreaking details. I hope it moves you too.

God's forgotten children
by Minilik Yewondwossen

God's forgotten children,
Who roam through unpaved roads
Carrying coffee in their insides
With dark eyes,
Open hands, and
Empty stomachs.

Slender skeletons shimmyshakin' dust from the clutch of an empty hut.
Little girls braiding imagination from their feet to their hairlines.
A place where you would see a child thumbsucking 13 months of sunshine from empty skylines
Whose blooming blue veins resemble the blooming Blue Nile.
How can we not provide for those who ask for so little?
When we constantly beg for so much.

With sun-kissed skin,
So much laughter you thought they carried the wind.
And just enough God in their smiles to baptize your sins.
If it is joy we are after then the tragic and comic communicate through laughter.
This be an ode to thee
Dream that tucks itself in the riverbedsheets of the Blue Nile.

And the contortionist orphans,
Fitting dreams into time capsules,
That were never intended to shed sand.

In the crevices of back alleys roams the frequencies of an orphan's lullaby that imprints marathon footprints marching for the distance.

Collecting postage stamps in tin buckets.
So, they can throw love letters down the throat of a dormant God who does not wish to respond.

A young child so dark and tall you'd mistake him for Hakeem.
His 'Dream' is not the NBA but food the next day.
And with a body worn-out and broken like a promise
His eyelashes outstretch like arms waiting to grasp the world
As if to say, 'Examine the archaeological remains.'

Cuz with an ongoing civil war that is far from civil
Lucy is not the only skeleton dug into barren soil to be examined with a chisel.
So while newscaster's mundane small talk brush over narratives of death in Africa's East
A child circumscribes city less planes with eulogies.

The God Forgotten Land that had the most humble stake in her rigidly loose faith
Mothered her firstborn with absolutely no mistakes.
A name once extended to the entire African Plane
The Land of the Burntface;

Ethiopia: the first place a child was ever raised.

The first ground a human being laughed, ate, wept, slept, and prayed.
The only nation in the world that resembles a crooked heart try'na to skip itself to the nearest body of water.

The only land I claim citizenship without a Visa
Or any regrets

So Forget: American Express.
Ethiopia: 'Never leave home without it.'

Friday, October 23, 2009

Connections and Learning

My sons both had different reactions to the idea of adopting a little sister from Ethiopia. The first who was eleven at the time was quite excited. He liked the idea of being a “diverse” family. He thought it made us all “more interesting.” My younger son, seven at the time, had questions. “Weren’t families supposed to look like each other? She wouldn’t look like us, would she?” I asked him if I looked like his dad or his brother. He said “No” quite candidly since my sons bear a strong resemblance to their Greek dad and little to me. He seemed satisfied with that answer. We did not discuss it further until we received the referral picture of his sister. It was amazing – she looked like he did as a baby. Even he saw the similarities and lots of other people commented on it. Within a few days, he proudly had that picture of her on his desk. He asked special permission from his second grade teacher to keep it there until his sister came home. It amazed me how his questions had been answered in such an unexpected way. His sister, pictured here while she was still in Ethiopia, both looked like him and did not look like him.

This journey through Ethiopia to expand our family has had so many interesting connections and learning and they continue. As I was looking for ways to give back, I came across the Ethiopia Reads organization. Their link is included on the side of my blog. I wanted to learn more and found the biography of the gentleman who started the program, an Ethiopian who fled his country but then returned. I learned that the organization is based in Denver where I grew up – another connection. I have included a write up about the founder. His way of giving back is somewhat unique. In a country with disease and famine as significant issues, he has focused on providing food for the mind – something just as important. We are collecting books around our house to send to his libraries. If you have extra books lying around, you might consider doing the same.

Ethiopia Reads News
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Yohannes named Top Ten Hero of the Year by CNN

Denver, CO -- Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children's literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. . . . .
A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Mr. Gebregeorgis is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Mr. Gebregeorgis and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

. . . . Growing up in rural Ethiopia with very little access to books, Gebregeorgis was 19 years old the first time he picked up a book for pleasure. This experience went on to shape his life as a literacy advocate, children's book author, and co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization based in Denver, CO and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.. . .

In 2002, Gebregeorgis left his job in San Francisco and returned to Ethiopia. With 15,000 books donated by the San Francisco Children's Library, he opened a children's library on the first floor of his Addis Ababa home. The library was so deluged by children that it soon required the addition of two large tents.

Today, Shola Children's Library records an average of 60,000 visits per year. Additionally, Ethiopia Reads is planting libraries in public schools across Addis Ababa and Awassa at the rate of one per month. Ethiopia Reads has published six bi-lingual story books for children.

Gebregeorgis lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he serves as the Executive Director of Ethiopia Reads.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Starting to Pay it Forward

It’s been a little over one year since we received and accepted the referral of our third child and only daughter – Leyla – who was born in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The entire experience has moved and changed me in ways I could not have imagined. Becoming a mother for the first time twelve years ago with my eldest son was also a life altering experience. However, this time the experience extended far beyond me and our immediate family and friends. This time the experience left the entire family forever connected to a country and a people half a world away from where we live and worlds away from how we live. In all the craziness of settling into having a baby in the house again, adjusting to a family with three wonderful but busy kids, I had a pull to do something more, give back beyond the confines of our family, and honor this new connection.

The challenges in Ethiopia currently are almost beyond comprehension – there are millions of orphans, HIV and Hepatitis and starvation have ravaged the population, the life expectancy is an unbelievably under 50 years old. There are many more statistics like that to hammer home the desperate plight of this African nation.

However when we were in Ethiopia and when we look at our daughter, we also see so much joy, rich culture and possibility. And we have discovered there are lots of ways to help start to improve the situation in Ethiopia – both small and large. I started this blog to honor the gift Ethiopia has given my family by trying in some small way to be part of the solution for the current challenges. I want to help people learn more about this amazing culture and the ways they can lend a hand. This is all new to me so I imagine there will be lots more learning on my side too.

On my blog, I have included some opportunities to get involved I have found. It could be as simple as buying Ethiopian coffee and supporting their exports or using “Good Search” for your search engine and they will donate to a charity that focuses on Ethiopia. I have also included books to help provide a more complete picture of the issues and the underlying causes of the current situation. Educating yourself and others is an important step toward solutions. My plan is to highlight efforts we have undertaken as well as stories I learn about. I am happy to share our adoption experience with those considering that step. I also welcome thoughts and ideas about learning more about Ethiopia or opportunities to get involved.

Currently, we donate clothes, toys and other supplies we collect from family and friends to WACAP, our adoption agency. These donations are then are sent back to Ethiopia for children waiting for their adoptive families usually with families that are going to pick up their child. Knowing Leyla’s outgrown clothes and toys are being used by another Ethiopian child is a wonderful feeling. When we traveled to Ethiopia to meet her for the first time, we took two big suitcases of supplies. Now we are happy to fill them for other families.
We also sponsor a number of children in Ethiopia through WACAP’s sponsorship program so they can stay in school and remain with their families. Blue Nile also has a sponsorship program that you can participate in. These types are tough here is the United States too right now and there are lots of worthy causes. I hope you will consider Ethiopia as you decide where and how to reach out to those less fortunate pulling on you too to help or learn more. Until next time . .