“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.”― Stephen R. Covey
I have lived my entire life in North America. Not just in North America, but in the prairies of Canada. I was never what would be considered wealthy by North American standards, but I didn’t feel deprived. Over the course of my life, I have been able to do some traveling – mainly around western Canada, the western USA, and a couple of short vacations with my husband to resort towns in Mexico. I even had the privilege of visiting China a few years ago for my brother in law’s wedding. I felt like I was pretty well-rounded and had seen quite a bit of what the world had to offer.
But I was self-aware enough to know that I hadn’t seen enough.
I knew that I hadn’t seen poverty. Not real poverty. Not really.
I knew that I hadn’t seen hunger. Not real hunger. Not really.
I knew that I WAS blessed in my life – I counted my blessings every day – but I understood that my scope was limited. I yearned to change my conditioning, to see the world more as it was than as I was, if that makes any sense.
When the opportunity to go to Ethiopia arose, I just had to do it. I knew I had to have that experience. It wasn’t going to be a vacation, but a humanitarian expedition through an amazing organization, Kids Hope Ethiopia (Canadian Humanitarian in Canada.) It took a year of fundraising and some very generous donations, but I finally had the funds in place to go – and I went, this past October.
And I want to share just a little of what I saw; what I learned from the people there. And I want to plant a seed in you – a seed that will hopefully grow into a desire to have your eyes opened as well.
The first thing I noticed after stepping out of the airport in Addis Ababa was the smell in the air. It was a weird mix of exhaust fumes, animal odor, and incense. It would be a smell that I would become used to after a few days. I also noticed the birds singing and the palm trees, signifying I wasn’t in Canada anymore.
I learned that I take open spaces for granted. There were constantly people everywhere. All the time. There was traffic everywhere. All the time.
But you know what I noticed? There was no road rage, no angry yelling or shoving, nothing. Constantly being surrounded by people teaches you to have patience. Patience like I’ve never known. People from North America wouldn’t last very long in Ethiopia if they acted out the way they sometimes do at home.
It wasn’t long before I began to notice the shacks as we drove along. Little tiny structures from corrugated metal haphazardly thrown together anywhere and everywhere. I soon learned that these were homes. I couldn’t imagine anyone living in these.
That was before I saw the homes that the kids in the programs run by Kids Hope live in. They made those shacks look like mansions, and they made the bungalow I live in at home look like a castle! It was shocking.
I wish I could share more details about the poverty I witnessed, but I want these people to maintain their dignity. Just know that it was heart wrenching. As I met with the children and teenagers in these programs, as well as their guardians, I didn’t hear complaining and whining about their circumstances – instead, I saw beaming smiles and heard one expression of gratitude after another. When asked what they would like us to know, without exception, their response was one of gratitude for the program and that their child/ward was given the chance to be in it. It was a revelation to me! It truly isn’t happy people who are grateful, but grateful people who are happy. And I learned that happiness is a state of mind.
I also learned that you can rise above any circumstance or trial. I learned this from “T” – an inspiring young man who lost both parents as a young child and had no one in his life and no prospects. He wasn’t sure he had any kind of future and wasn’t even sure whether he would live very long. Once Kids Hope Ethiopia found him and gave him the opportunity to go to school, be fed every day, and have a place to go where he was loved, accepted, and supported – he began to flourish. With the help of Kid’s Hope Ethiopia and his own incredible will and personality, he is now in college studying heavy duty mechanics, and has started his own shoe repair shop, which is so successful that he now employs an apprentice. He has also rented out space at the front of his shop to a girl who sells coffee to his customers while they wait. Brilliant! His future is very bright and you can see the light in his eyes. His situation was impossible and yet he was able to rise above with just a little hand up from this amazing organization.
“T”‘s story is just one of so many who have been examples to me of having hope and working hard with the expectation that things will get better. And boy, do these kids work hard! At every center, without exception, the students were helping hands. They didn’t have to be asked twice, either. They happily would jump up and do whatever needed to be done. No arguing over whose turn it was. No whining that they were tired, or that they helped out yesterday. They recognized that where much was given, much was required and they leapt at the chance to serve and give back.
This amazed me because they had so little themselves, but they were always willing to share. More than once I had students offer me some of their meal at the center – this was the one meal per day that they had. One meal. And they wanted to share. With me.
One small boy offered to share his meager lunch of rice after a little game of peek-a-boo with me.
Two teenage boys offered to give me their one meal for the day after I gave them each a portrait I had taken of them the day before. They were very insistent but I just had to decline – I couldn’t take their one meal from them, no matter how much they wanted to share.
An old woman prepared some bread to share with us after we had been hiking near her home.
I saw this generosity over and over again – and from people who had very little themselves. You don’t have to be a person of means in order to GIVE. It’s a lesson I needed to learn, and I was taught it again and again by the people of Ethiopia.
I learned to give of myself – in the ways I was able. There were moments, early on, that I started to question the value of my being there. I asked myself, “What skills do I have that are actually of use to these people?” I’m a website manager, for heavens sake. Oh, and I take photos. In a place like Ethiopia, how was that going to be helpful?
I quickly realized, however, that I had value and that value had nothing to do with my occupation. I had a smile to share with everyone. I had arms that gave really good hugs, and could play clapping games with the kids. I had legs and a sense of rhythm (okay that might be debatable) so that I could join in the dancing with full purpose of heart. I even knew some action songs that had the kids laughing and singing along loudly. I was there – and for those kids, and the adults who work with them, that was gift enough.
The love they showed me, and the value they placed on me, took me by surprise. Yes, my main contribution to the expedition was to photograph the children – to update their files and have nice photos to give each of them and their sponsors, as well as to capture the experience in photographs – however my photos took back stage to my willingness to just BE with them. And they sure made it easy to want to be with them.
I learned what a typical day might look like in the life of a vulnerable, poverty-stricken child in Ethiopia. In visiting with many families and hearing their stories, I had my eyes open to a few harsh realities. These children wake up hungry. They spend their days hungry. They go to bed hungry. Their entire focus is finding a way to eat – to live- one more day. Being able to envision a future, make plans, or even dream about what they might become isn’t a part of their psyche. It’s folly for them. Children become beggars with their parents, even in infancy. And that is if they still have parents. So many children become orphans very young because of the spread of HIV/AIDs and other diseases. The ones who have parents at all are the lucky ones. If you are an HIV orphan, you can look forward to a life of persecution.
Once the children are older, they begin working – either begging or maybe selling gum on the streets. Many girls are sold into sex slavery, to pay off debts of their parents or just to earn an income. Guardians do their best to feed their families, however giving the children an education is a pipe dream for most. I have seen so many children and teenagers walking through traffic, selling their wares – until late into the night.
If they have a structure to call home, they most likely share it with many others and it offers them little to no protection from the elements, or from predators (human and otherwise.) The very idea of my children – the same ages as many of these precious ones – spending even one night in some of the structures I saw was enough to give me nightmares. Literally. I saw “homes” constructed out of sheets of metal, old mattresses, cardboard, mud, and (if they were lucky) some tarps to keep off the rain.
Many suffer from malnutrition (obviously) and illnesses that wreak havoc on their little bodies. If they can’t afford a roof overhead (and believe it or not – these “structures” are rentals that cost them monthly) they certainly can’t afford medical care.
What hope do these children and their families have in a country where things like welfare, food banks, soup kitchens, and government aid just doesn’t exist? How can their circumstances change?
The most important thing I learned in my two weeks in Ethiopia with Kids Hope Ethiopia, was that change CAN happen, and that I can make a real difference in someone’s existence. Kids Hope lives by the idea that they build people. Some groups build schools, others build wells – but Kids Hope builds PEOPLE, which requires a long term commitment. They start helping vulnerable children as young as they can by enrolling them in their programs, which pay for their education, feed them at least one good meal per day, give them clothing, regular (at least 1-2 times per year) medical check ups, offer them enrichment programs such as dance and music, as well as give them a safe place where they can come to study and just BE together. Kids Hope continues to support these children through elementary and high school, and then into college! The kids aren’t out of the program until they have gained full employment – and their program is WORKING!
I was pleased to meet several college students who have made their way through school with the help of the Kids Hope programs, and you would never know the dire circumstances they came from. Some are studying to be engineers; others are studying medicine, and so much more. What was even more astounding was to hear that they are at the tops of their classes! They definitely do not take what they have been given for granted. It is truly astonishing to see the complete turnaround from where they began. They are a testimony to me that the Kids Hope programs WORK and they are worth the long term investment. This young lady is studying to become a doctor – and I know she will succeed:
We visited a small village where a brand new Kids Hope program has been set up. It was interesting to see the beginning stages and to meet the children there who are just starting out. As I photographed each child, it was nearly impossible to tell how old these kids were; many were smaller than their ages because of malnutrition. As Dr. Northcott performed medicals on each child, it was so encouraging to hear his plan for improving their health. Simple things such as giving them iodized salt in their food, or giving them a multi-vitamin per day, to including amounts of protein in the meals they receive at the center each day. It gave me great hope for these kids and I look forward to seeing them progress as they continue in the program there.
The look on their faces as they were given tooth brushes for the first time, and saw a suitcase filled with books for a library in their center, was priceless. It was like Christmas morning! Many of the children started sounding out the words on the pages to my astonishment! They are such bright, beautiful children – don’t they deserve a chance?
Ultimately, the person that this Kids Hope humanitarian expedition built the most was me.
I am not the same person I was. How could I be? My eyes are opened that much wider, and I am changed. I see the world differently. I see MY world differently. My priorities are changing. I have seen how so little from me can change so MUCH for them, and I just can’t walk away from them without doing something. I used to think, “Well, there is just too much need to really make a difference in this world.” But once I met these children. Once I learned their names. Once I looked into their eyes and shared a smile – I knew that I couldn’t abandon them. When we hugged, I was making a promise to them. They have a piece of my heart, and I have determined to work as hard as I can to make sure they are not forgotten. I might not be able to change the whole world, but I can change theirs. And my world has been changed. Forever.
My family has decided to sponsor one of the children in the Halecu program – that brand new program starting up in the countryside.
None of these children have sponsors, and they need them desperately. Ethiopia is going through a terrible drought, and people are suffering. I know that through our sponsorship, these kids will be fed, educated, and taken care of. There are many different levels of sponsorship, and each level covers different expenses for these kids. Check out some of the different sponsorship options here:
Strategic Sponsorship>> Become a sponsor for $75/month or $900/year
Strategic Sponsorship provides all of the support of Growth Sponsorship, plus contributes to long-term development by supporting the sustainable investment initiatives of Canadian Humanitarian and our partners.
Growth Sponsorship >> Become a sponsor for $50/month or $600/year
Growth Sponsorship provides all of the basic necessities of Development Sponsorship, plus additional support to our programs for materials, program expansion, and training opportunities for guardians.
Development Sponsorship >> Become a sponsor for $35/month or $420/year
Development Sponsorship provides the basic necessities for the child within the program including: educational fees, school uniform, tutoring, extra-curricular clubs and activities, and one hot meal per day.
**Can you help?**
Do you have an extra $10, $40, or $100 in your budget? Can you image if all of us joined together and donated something to this great organization? A child needs about $1000 per year to pay for absolutely everything in the program. Why couldn’t we raise enough for 50 children to be in a program? Why not 100?
You can donate in so many different ways, child sponsorship being one. You can make one time donations, go on an expedition, or attend a fundraising event in your city. Please, please take a moment to visit and see if you can dig deep and make a difference.
Thank you for sharing this experience with me. I wish I could share more. There was so much. I would love each and every child in the the Halecu center to have a sponsor. I have met these children. I love these children. I want their futures to be secure. I feel like I owe it to them – but I can’t do it alone. Sponsorship is an amazing, personal way to give. And, I mean – just look at their faces!