Healthy happy kids at the Love and Hope Centre

This time of year in central Ethiopia, the days are mildly warm, the sun is shining and the meskel flowers are in full bloom. It’s the end of the big rain season, and there is a daily vibrancy of growing things.

Vulnerable Children Society Ethiopia Helping Kids

Tawnya and I (Arnica) arrived at Vulnerable Children Society’s Love and Hope Centre three days ago. It had been a year since either of us had visited, and we were wowed on our first steps through the gates. The centre courtyard, which formerly housed a vast expanse of red dirt and a tarped shack for cooking, was full of gloriously growing. The vegetable gardens that our volunteer Stefan started six months ago had been producing beets, collards, lettuce and other vegetables for the children to eat for the last few months. The difference the gardens made was amazing… The whole centre felt alive and welcoming, even before the children arrived from school.

We spoke first with the guard who had taken on the gardens has his project at the centre. Ethiopia can be quite hierarchical, but I was very pleased to learn that he had started a gardening club, and several of the children were regularly attending the gardens under his supervision.

Our next exciting visit was the new cooking building. Vulnerable Children funded this wonderful improvement to the property last year. The new metal cooking area enables the guardians who cook for the children on a rotating basis to prepare nutritious food out of the sun and rain. When you are cooking for 70 children each day, it nice to have a place to store food and plates, chop and stir and prepare the lunches. The children just started at a new school that likes the children to stay onsite during lunchtime. So instead of all the kids showing up for lunch, the guardians were cooking 70 to go lunches, delivered to the school by community members. In discussion with the mothers and grandmother on this month’s shift, we learned that the lunch boxes provided by the families varied from metal tiffins to leaking plastic plates. So we mentally added new lunch boxes to our sponsorship wish list!

Also in the courtyard are a bathroom, two showers, and outdoor taps for washing feet and brushing teeth. The children started to filter in, and the foot washing shifts immediately began. When the centre opened a couple years ago, we realized that many of the kids had never had a bath or a shower. So we place a lot of emphasis on hygiene activities, with teeth brushing, foot washing and even weekend showers on the weekly schedule. No doubt these hygiene activities help keep the kids in good health. And should they get sick, our centre reimburses families for their child’s medial visits, prescriptions and dentistry. Basically, kids who attend our Love and Hope Centre have extended health care through our program.

After foot washing, it was an outdoor day. The social worker, Walalign, broke the kids into shifts for playing. To our amusement, one of the teams was the “keep the ball out of the garden” team! So two groups of kids played, one cheered, and one held hands in a line along the garden to protect the vegetables. And then they would switch. How fun!

The Love and Hope Centre’s gorgeous veggie garden, homemade lunches, routine washing and physical activity are growing some wonderfully healthy and happy kids in Kality, one of the poorest urban communities in Ethiopia. Thanks to much too our Love and Hope sponsors, whose ongoing monthly contributions are making a world of difference to 70 beautiful, deserving Ethiopian children.

Want to make a world of difference to an Ethiopian child? Become a Love and Hope Sponsor!

In the next couple of days, we visited some of the children’s families in their homes with Woinshet (the centre coordinator,) participated in an afterschool art class, labelled 70 toothbrushes, showed the nutritionist our nutrition oak shop adapted from Harvard, had coffee with the guardians, and planned technology classes for the older kids. But you’ll just have to stay tuned for those news and pictures!

VCS Directors land in Ethiopia and visit projects helping kids and teens

Love and Hope after school centre for poor kids in Addis Ababa, EthiopiaWarmest greetings from Ethiopia! Two days ago, Vulnerable Children Society‘s treasurer Tawnya and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s buzzing urban hub in Eastern Africa.   I stepped off the plane to the familiar scent of spiced chilies and diesel fumes. It’s my umpteenth trip to Ethiopia, but each time I get off the plane, it’s the same – a breeze swaying the palms, horns honking, taxi drivers jostling to get my attention, the sounds of melodic Amharic in my ear, and a feeling of coming to a second home.

Tawnya and I usually visit our society’s projects in Ethiopia every year; however, it’s been a year and a half since I’ve been able to visit the kids and teens that we serve. We are both excited to see how the gardens are growing at the Love and Hope Centre, featured above.

Our awesome volunteer Stefan spent 5 months here this spring, helping the afterschool centre guards and parents build a demonstration garden and spread food security in the community. I can’t wait to talk with the moms and neighbours, and see how their own crops are doing.

Vulnerable Children Society's adapted Harvard Healthy Plate for EthiopiaWe brought a new program with us teaching about balanced diets, using a culturally-appropriate version of Harvard’s Healthy Plate.

I can’t wait to see what the women who cook for our 70 kids think about it, especially in light of the crops they are now getting from our onsite garden.

The other project we will be spending time at involves ten special girls, who joined our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program just a month ago. The girls are going through a year-long program, living in a group home, getting lots of counselling and intense vocational training. We heard from our partner organization, Hope for Children in Ethiopia, that the girls are learning about cooking and hairdressing right now.

raduates of Vulnerable Children Society's teen program, working in a restaurantSo Tawnya and I are hoping to do the same nutrition workshop, as well as a workshop on cooking for ferengies (foreigners,) to increase their chances of the girls getting jobs in the exploding guest house tourism industry.

Some of the program graduates are already working at hamburger restaurants and guest houses, so it’s a great chance to these 15-19 year olds another employable skill.

To the right: Zenebu and Alemtsehay with their new careers at Lemon Zest Cafeteria. We are so proud of them!

We invite you to follow along with our journey! We can’t send newsletters from Ethiopia, because the wifi is tooooo sloooowwww. But we can post to Instagram  and Facebook, and write blog entries! Please check out our social media accounts and see what we are up to.   Now out for a delicious meal of injera and tibs… oh yes, I can smell those roasted spices already!

Melkam Addis Amet from Ethiopia! Happy Ethiopian New Year!

Thanks for following along… Arnica and Tawnya

New Kitchen Facilities at the Love & Hope Centre in Kality

Last February visit, the staff at Vulnerable Children Society’s Love and Hope Centre in Kality asked us if we would provide funding for a new kitchen. The existing kitchen was used every day by the guardians of the kids who go to the centre. But a 8’x8′ structure was not sufficient to feed 70 hungry kids every day! We approved the funding, and are now happy to report that the centre’s staff and some fabulous volunteers with one of Canadian Humanitarian’s expeditions have completed a permanent kitchen.

Kitchen at Love and Hope Centre in Kality, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

According to Deb Northcott, the expedition leader, “the guys built a structure to give shade to the children, replaced many of the taps on the water center, and helped construct a smokeless oven in their new outdoor kitchen! Lots of fun!

This now captures the smoke and takes it out a chimney so the women can cook the hot meals for the children without being faced with a smoke filled room. AWESOME job!”

 Kitchen at Love and Hope Centre in Kality, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Love & Hope Centre in Kality provides hot meals, tutoring, medical care, community, clubs, a safe place to play, love and hope to 70 deserving children in Kality, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The centre is funded by Vulnerable Children Society and managed by Canadian Humanitarian, both registered Canadian charities.

Learn more about how you can help the kids at the centre!

Meeting the Kids

Originally Posted on:Step Up Dive In

Ethiopia – Meeting the Kids

Volunteering with the Vulnerable Children Society in Ethiopia is all about the kids.

The Kids

Oh, the kids. I don’t know how to describe them. The 70 kids at the center are the very embodiment of what it means to be developing into the people that shock you when you arrive in Ethiopia. Before you meet them you could easily describe them as the kids that have very little, or nothing. They have no toys, and few clothes. Were it not for the center they would have no meal at lunch time; no desk to do their homework; no toothbrush or soap. If you were ever to think of kids that are the poor of the poor, then they would meet your description.

Meeting the kids
The group birthday party… (that’ll be in the next post)

But somehow, that’s just not what you see. They’ve been handed a tough lot in life, but it hasn’t chipped their shoulders, or dampened their enthusiasm; hasn’t darkened their outlook or silenced their laughter.

When you arrive, they all run to shake your hand, and say ‘hello’ and ‘hi’; ‘hello mister’ and ‘how are you’. Then they’ll attempt to impress you by blurting out all of their English at once, whereby they both ask and answer questions immediately, it’s adorable (and somewhat awkward) and sounds something along the lines of:

‘Hi mister, how are you? Are you fine, I am fine. What’s your name, my name is ….. you father name?’. You kinda get stuck wondering if you’re actually supposed to answer any of the questions, or if they are 100% rhetorical. Furthermore, I’m really curious as to what English courses teach, ‘are you fine?’ … Don’t they know what F.I.N.E stands for?!

But I digress, after the question monologue, they’ll want to play with you, touch you, and continue to ask you questions… this time they actually wait for answers.  Another heads up, I’ve lately discovered that asking your father’s name is akin to asking your last name… so if you respond with your father’s actual name, they will all think that your name is something like Jonny Frank.

The first time I met the kids, I ate lunch with them (much to their amusement), and then we went out to play. They competed over who could hold my hand and touch my arm. They giggled and chuckled at my arm and leg hair… both of which they couldn’t help but touch, and pet, and caress, and examine (checking for bugs maybe?)

Meeting the Kids
Heading back to school

They did their best to teach me Amharic words, and their names, and wanted to show me every corner of the center and how, even in a space that seems to be completely void of hiding places, you can play hide and seek. When it was time to return to school, they all came to bid me goodbye, and shake my hand again. I don’t know when the fad of kissing my cheek started, but it took over like wildfire, and became the thing to do… What can I say, I have beautiful cheeks (even if I do try to hide them under a shaggy beard).

A few days later I returned to the center to get started building a compost. The kids came at lunch and the whole scene played out again. If I were to guess, I would say that an average of 5 hands were touching me at all times. They are not shy, that’s for sure. They’ll take your arm and wrap it around their shoulder, or come sit on your lap. Coming from our culture, it may seem odd at first, almost unnatural and inappropriate. But, when you stop to think about it, you realize that it’s not this beautiful culture where the kids aren’t afraid to approach you; this culture where you don’t have to worry about overprotective parents getting the wrong idea that is unnatural and inappropriate… No, it’s not THIS culture that has it wrong.

Meeting the Kids
The leg washing station

I was still around the center when they came after school to brush their teeth, wash their feet and do some artwork. There are many clubs set up at the center including the ‘art club, reading club, gardening club, etc.’ The kids enter them voluntarily and seem to have a great time. It happened to be art club day so I took my seat and drew some flowers… the very charm of the kids might be best exemplified by the fact that they started a new improv acting club in order to pretend to be impressed by my picture and not notice the fact that I’m quite artistically challenged.

When you meet them you certainly don’t think of what they are missing, but rather what they have. They are grateful of every minute you spend with them, and never ask for money. They have a light in their eye that you can’t help but notice. They are the very reason why you’ve showed up, the drive behind the intercontinental flight and long layovers, the faces that make each sweaty, bumpy, grinding bus ride, well worth it.

Ethiopia Culture Shock

Originally Published On:

Step Up Dive In

Ethiopia Culture Shock

As a traveler, landing in different countries always presents the likelihood of some sort of culture shock. So what are the most shocking things for a Canadian arriving to volunteer in Ethiopia?

A Disclaimer

First of it must be said that I’m not really one to suffer from much culture shock. I always expect culture shock to be a lot worse than it really is. In all honesty, I always end up being a little disappointed that I can merge into a new culture almost seamlessly.

As mentioned in my arrival in Ethiopia, I certainly had overestimated the culture shock that Ethiopia would represent. But, getting to work here provides a whole different opportunity… one to be shocked in a whole different way.

Transportation

The transportation in Addis Ababa has been described to me as ‘not enough’ … Honestly, that description is ‘not enough’. From where I live to the center should be about an hour commute, in four different minibuses.

The Route

Ethiopia Culture Shock
The traffic looks fine from here

Conveniently, there’s a bus stop right near where I live. Perhaps I should clarify, there’s a bunch of people that stand on the side of the road, hoping for the minibuses to stop, and then run as quickly as possible, shoulders in, elbows up to win the coveted spot that might be available. I learned quickly that this bus stop was not for me… instead it’s a 20 minute walk to where the buses start.

This minibus, then takes me to the starting of a second minibus, which takes me to a line for the third (I’ve waited up to an hour there) which finally drops me at the side of the road where I can find the fourth. The fourth as actually presented the most problems as I need to find one that goes to ‘Akaki 08’ and most of them go to ‘Akaki 09’… You would think it’s a quick lesson on numbers, right??? Wrong! For the life of me I can’t pronounce the number 8, which sounds something like the word ‘cement’ and thus I am consistently holding up my fingers, and piling into minibuses just to pile off once people actually count the amount of fingers I’ve held up… Awesome!

The Capacity

Ethiopia Culture Shock
We Canadians just need our space

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe this to Canadians. You see, undoubtedly Canadians have an issue with space… we have too much. That may not seem like much of an issue when you’re in Canada, but when you venture outside, oh boy can it be interesting. The other day, as 20 people packed into the second bus (which had 10 seats) I was jostled into a tight fitting spot, sitting backwards facing a kind, smiling, Ethiopian man. The only way for us to fit in was apparently in the jigsaw-like manner that saw his right leg ending up between my legs and my right leg between his legs… As the bus jumped and jiggled it’s way along the twenty minute ride, it made me realize that it is, indeed, quite possible to accidentally grind a total stranger. It made me question all those times in High School when I thought a girl had purposely put her hand on my leg, and made me wonder if this was at all awkward for my Ethiopian grinding partner… His smile gave away little, really awkward or innocently normal I may never know.

The Power Outages

Okay, I may be a little accustomed to power outages, especially after Nepal where the power seems to be off 10 hours a day. The difference in Ethiopia is that it is totally unplanned, unannounced and can go on for days. My second day in Addis Ababa, a city of many million (estimates range from 3 million to 8 million) the power went out and stayed out for 30 hours. I tell ya, stumbling around my new living quarters made it real obvious that I need to be just a little more perceptive, and really take in my surroundings when I first arrive.

The People

Ethiopia Culture Shock
First monthly meeting… My open notebook consists of words I don’t know… which is basically every single Amharic word.

This is one that will get you everywhere you go. No matter what people tell you, you’ll never be prepared for the difference in the people that you meet in a new country… The people are, after all, the greatest reason to travel. The people in Ethiopia are a huge shock for me. They are a far cry from the crippling images we’ve seen on our Canadian televisions since the 1984 famine. They are beautiful, smiling and kind and very intelligent. You get attention for being white, but you never feel in danger. There may be a little pushing for a minibus here or there, but there’s always someone looking out to make sure you, the Farenji, are okay.

There’s one final culture shock that I experienced in my first week in Ethiopia, and that’s the kids. But, they are easily worth an entire post themselves.

Up for some more reading? Check out either my arrival in Ethiopia, or stop by at my other site, Step Up… Dive In, I’d love to see you there.

Arriving in Ethiopia

Originally Published on

Volunteering in Ethiopia

So, off to a new volunteer project, this one with the wonderful Vulnerable Children Society, focused on the health and betterment of at-risk children in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Arriving in Africa

I have been dreaming of going to Africa ever since I was a kid. Other opportunities always popped up so I headed to Europe for a couple of months, then Europe again to live in Germany, then Thailand to live there, then Indonesia and area to travel, then South America for a year and a half, then India/Nepal for 9 months.. Combine that with a few stopovers in France ranging from 1 – 3 months and you get a total of about 4 years (48 months) spent abroad… and a grand total of…. wait for it… 3 or 4 days I spent in Africa.

Arriving in Ethiopia
Africa is that way?? Are you sure we’re heading in the right direction?!

After spending a good chunk of time away from Canada, and many a year in both third-world and non-english speaking countries, I never know just how much, if any, culture shock I will experience upon landing in a new country.I have, however, always held Africa in a different light. I had been there only once on a quick trip down from Spain with my sister and mother when I was but a new traveler; the type with a Canadian flag, brand name clothes, cash dispersed in four different pockets, and fear of anyone who attempted to talk to me.

Oh, and it was Morocco, to say that Ethiopia would be different, and basically brand new would be the greatest of understatements. So, after a quick stopover in France, and some planning with Arnica and the rest at Vulnerable Children Society, I landed in Addis.

For the first time in my life, I had a driver waiting to pick me up… unfortunately, I clearly had no idea what that meant. Here I was expecting to find my name held up high in the sky on a big whiteboard for everyone to see, as if I was essentially royalty… That, believe it or not, is not how it turned out.

I landed at the beautiful hour of 1:10am and didn’t want to go outside directly, it’s Africa after all. Isn’t this the place that those commercials have been insistently convincing me my whole life that starvation, kidnapping and theft are the norm?! Go outside in the middle of the night, without my driver? Never!

I also, however, didn’t have a phone and couldn’t find an internet connection…

Arriving in Ethiopia
Africa’s gotta be out there somewhere…

Unbeknownst to me, my driver was not allowed to come inside, which meant that I was sleeping in yet another uncomfortable (and slightly chilly) airport, waiting for someone to arrive who was, at the same time, waiting in a much more uncomfortable (and chillier) van, waiting for the ridiculous Farenji to step outside.

Oh, but don’t worry, this didn’t last. A mere 4 hours later, I finally found an internet connection and contacted some people back in Canada who promptly informed me of my ridiculousness (though they were kind enough to not word it that way). Unfortunately, the driver had gone home (can you blame him?!)

He agreed to come back in an hour or so. Thus, I sat around watching a documentary on Ethiopia and finally went out to meet him around 6am. The street was incredibly comfortable, not at all foreboding, and in no way dangerous… Of course I never once thought about how unbelievably irrational I had been waiting in a chilly airport, frightened by my own shadow and the notion of dangerous Africa.

Incredibly, Ketema (the driver) showed up with a jacket that read Canada, a hood from a different jacket and a smile on his face. Any lingering doubts or fears that I had vanished the moment that this poor soul, who I had left to suffer in the shockingly chilly night opened the door without a hint of resentment, and even apologized profusely… as if the whole thing was not only my horrible misunderstanding, but rather somehow, the blame fell squarely on his shoulders.

From that moment forward I knew that volunteering and living in Ethiopia would be easier and a lot more pleasant than I expected.

If you’re curious about who I am, or just have some time to kill, then feel free to drop by at my other site, (where this post was originally published). I’d love to see you at Step Up… Dive In