Ethiopian Group Birthday Party

Originally Published On:Step Up Dive In

Ethiopian Group Birthday Party

So what exactly is a Ethiopian Group Birthday Party you might ask?! Well just gimme a few short lines and I’ll explain it to you.

Love and Hope Center – Kality

Group Birthday Party
Apart from the tarp falling from time to time… all went well

Volunteering for the Vulnerable Children’s Society in Addis Ababa, the majority of my time, up until now has been spent at the Love and Hope Center in a section of town called Kality. Actually, it’s more so in Akaki 08, but being as I can’t say 08 in Amharic, (one of my many issues in the commute) I’ve resorted to calling it Kality.

At this Center, we have 70 kids, meeting them has been not only a highlight of my time in Ethiopia, but truly one of my highlights in all my travels.

December 25th, that’s an important date, no?!

So, the manner in which the Ethiopian calender operates has utterly confused me to great end… there’s no hiding that. I’ll get into the nitty gritty of it when I explain when they actually celebrate Christmas and the New Year in the next post… but for now, let’s just say that on December 25th in Canada, we were not celebrating Christmas here… Instead we were celebrating a group birthday Party.

Group Birthday Party
Rife with excitement

You see, with 70 children, it is almost impossible to have a separate birthday for each child. Add to that the fact that the documentation of some births is less than 100% accurate, resulting in many children not knowing their actual birthday, and you’re left with a bit of a conundrum.

Many of these children (or all of them) have not had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday in their young lives, as it’s a privilege left to the haves, and they have fallen into the have-nots category throughout their years.

The solution? You guessed it, the group birthday party at the Love and Hope Centre. Canadian Humanitarian and Vulnerable Children Society arrange four group birthday parties, one falling every three months. In order slightly coordinate with the gracious donors in the west, the group birthday party this quarter falls on December 25th (in the Canadian calendar).

Blah, blah, blah… What’s it like already?!

Okay, okay… enough of the paperwork and logistics. I’ll do my best to bring you there. The staff at the center set up the chairs outside with a tarp above (for shade) and face them all towards the two large desks on the concrete porch.

A sound system is set up, balloons are puffed up, modest gifts (quite modest) are wrapped, cakes and cookies are bought, and through a utterly hectic run-around we’re finally set up.

The kids arrive after school rife with excitement. They all receive birthday hats, and sit in the chairs. 17 children had birthdays within the last three months, so they are the focal points of the day. Their parents/guardians have been invited, and sit in the chairs to the side, while the 17 of them go in for some face-painting and other preparations.

Finally they come out, and sit in the 17 chairs that have been spread between the two desks on the porch. There’s a short dance presentation from the kids in the dance club. The kids, are filled to capacity with excitement and nervous anticipation and many of them start getting up to join in the dancing…

The sound system is booming, the kids and guardians are dancing and apart from the tarp falling down a couple of times, it’s a jolly, rocking-good time.

Finally it’s time to cut the cake. On one side 8 of the children hold a knife together and try to all, somehow, coordinate smiles and adequate pressure to cut the cake in unison. Much of the same is repeated on the other side, though now it’s 9! Regardless of the pending disaster that one might expect, the cake is cut perfectly (a.k.a. the cake is cut and no children are rushed to the hospital with gaping knife wounds)

Finally, the cake and cookies are handed out, along with other little snacks… more dancing, more face-painting, more running around… and basically a pure, joyful chaos breaks out. Eventually night falls and the kids have to go home, much to their dismay… so much so, that many of them try to hide in the nooks and crannies of the center (there aren’t many)… but after a painstaking half hour, they are all discovered and sent on their way.

Group Birthday Party
Handing out the presents

The 17 of them, heading home with their little gifts (whistles, and plastic paddle-balls) and the other 53 with cake and smiles all over their faces… It’s one of those experiences that can’t help but warm your heart, as you’re overtaken by the joy that they all share.

And, where you arrive and think… ‘it’s odd that none of them would know what it’s like to experience a birthday solo, where they are the sole receiver of all the attention’… you somehow leave thinking… ‘maybe it’s odd how we never experience what it’s like to share such a day with many of our friends’. After all, who doesn’t feel at least a bit awkward as the center of attention at his/her birthday party… Wouldn’t it be nice to share that attention with 16 of your friends in a group birthday party?!

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