A Very Different Experience…by Shelly
Africa, especially Ethiopia, has a special piece of my heart! I love this country. I love the people and I love this trip. This is the second trip I have taken to Addis Ababa with the Journey Team. I am having quite a different experience the second time around! Equally as great, just different. One thing I did not do last year that I was determined to do this year was visit a sponsor child through Compassion or World Vision.
Over the weekend I had the amazing opportunity to visit one of my sponsor children. Tihitinna is the woman who runs the Selah Guesthouse that we are staying at. She also runs a sponsorship program for 100 children and their families. Last year I got to experience her sponsorship program first hand. We visited the location where she hands out bags of flour and oil each month to the families. We were able to help distribute the flour and oil to the families last year. After that experience I felt compelled to become a sponsor. Through the organization “All Our Children” I am able to help provide food for a thirteen year old girl named Etsubdink and her family. She lives with her mother, younger brother, and her even younger nephew. Tihitinna graciously drove me and one of my teammates, Jenn, to Etsubdink’s house on Sunday. This visit was a last minute decision so I gathered up a few gifts including two toothbrushes, toothpaste, a soccer ball, and many granola bars and we set out across the city. While we were driving to meet Etsubdink, Tihitinna explained that some families were Orthodox Christians, some were Protestant Christians, and still others were Muslim families. She explained that it is a mandatory requirement for the children in the program to attend at least one Bible study class each week at a church near where they live. She makes this a requirement in hopes that the families will learn the love of Jesus Christ. She has heard many stories of families that have accepted Jesus as their Savior.
When we arrived at Etsubdink’s house they were anxiously waiting for us. We stepped into what seemed like an incredibly small house. There were two small couches, a small television, a small refrigerator, a china hutch, and a bedroom off the back of the living quarters that had a bunk bed in it. I was told later that the house that Etsubdink and her family live in was actually a very nice living situation. I was shocked. While we were there, we were served coffee and popcorn. I asked Etsubdink many questions such as how she was doing in school, her favorite sport, and what hobbies she liked. She is doing well in School and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She loves playing soccer and her biggest hobby is drawing. She showed me many many drawings of doves and Jesus. She told me she sells her drawings during holidays. It was so amazing to see Etsubdink and her family. Her mother is raising the last two of her six children and one of her grandsons all by herself. Her oldest son died in a car accident 5 years ago and that is how she ended up with her grandson. We asked where his mother was and she told us that the mother was diagnosed with HIV and they are unsure of her whereabouts. She assured us that the grandson has been tested two times for HIV and he does not have it. I was also told that the mother sells her injera for income. Injera is the most commonly made and consumed type of food here. She saved up enough money by selling injera to buy the fridge that was in their living room. Once she purchased the fridge she started making and selling popsicles, although that is not what they call them here. She seems like an incredibly smart woman. Etsubdink’s father does not live with them; he has separated from her mother. We were told that the father comes at least once a week to visit with the children; he also pays the mother a pension every month which helps pay for rent and her other expenses. She pays 14 birr for rent, 20-30 birr for electricity, and 50 birr toward a community fund which was explained to us as a sort of life insurance policy. All of her expenses totaled less than ten US dollars. She struggles to pay that, and is unable to afford food for her family. It was really nice for me to see that her mother is working hard to provide for her family.
Getting to meet my sponsor child was a very emotional and exciting and amazing and sad experience all rolled into one. It filled my heart with so much joy! I am very thankful that I got to meet her.
The very next day, four of our team members, including me, got to travel approximately 120 kilometers away from Addis Ababa to visit two more sponsored children in an area called Wonji. It was a very different experience, but also great! Jenn was able to meet her little boy, Sitota and his grandmother. Paige was able to meet her husband’s little girl, Kidist and her mother. Each experience was very emotional and amazing for different reasons. First we went to meet Jenn’s sponsor child Sitota and see what his project was all about. Sitota was a very shy 6 year old. We were told he was the littlest boy in the project! That particular project sponsored 187 children with about 30 more on the waiting list! Jenn drank her first drink of coffee in about 8 years! She loved it! After visiting the project, we went to see where Sitota and his grandmother lived. Turns out there are actually 7 people that are living with Sitota and his grandmother. Once Jenn gave Sitota his soccer ball and the rest of his gifts he came out of his shell a little. We all cried a bit while Sitota was pulling out his new clothes and shoes from the backpack Jenn had packed! His grandmother was also crying and was SO grateful for Jenn and her kindness and generosity. We prayed for Sitota and his family and then hopped in the van to head to Paige’s child’s house. We were greeted by the social worker who walked us through the streets that finally lead to Kidist and her family’s house. We were offered more coffee and this time there was a very large loaf of bread that Paige had the honor of cutting into. We all got a piece of the bread and watched as Paige and Kidist sat coloring with the new markers Paige had brought. She also brought a dress for Kidist, who loved it! She was already in a very bright blue dress with adorable pink dress shoes on and melted all of our hearts! We were told that Kidist’s father had left the family after learning that his wife was diagnosed with HIV. It was very hard for all of us to hear this news. Even more difficult was that she is struggling to pay her rent and cannot afford proper food for her to take antiretroviral medications as the doctors are now recommending. As we sat there, wiping our tears away, we told Kidist’s mother we loved her and we would continue to pray for her and try and help in any way we could. We finished the visit with a prayer for her family and happy tears as we took pictures.
It was a very emotional day for Jenn, Paige, Laci, and me. We are all so grateful to have the opportunity to visit these children and see the environment and villages that they call home.