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.
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!”
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
Vulnerable Children Society’s first long-term on-the-ground volunteer, Stefan Jasuira, left today for Ethiopia. Stefan, a landscaper, serial volunteer and globe-trotter, is spending three months in Addis Ababa developing urban gardens to enable food security among impoverished Ethiopian children.
Stefan’s task is huge – but it will have a lasting effect of the quality of life for 70+ children and their families.
First, Stefan is launching up a demonstration garden at Vulnerable Children Society’s Love & Hope Centre in Kality, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Children from impoverished families attend the centre each day, to receive a hot meal, after school tutoring, love, medical care, counselling, clubs and unconditional acceptance. Many of the children are orphaned, but their guardians are already involved in the centre, preparing meals for the children each day. Stefan will work in partnership with the guardians and Vulnerable Children’s partner, Canadian Humanitarian, that runs the centre, to build vegetable gardens. The gardens will not only enrich the diets of the children who attend the centre, but also teach valuable intensive gardening skills to the kids and the community.
Across town, Stefan is planning another garden on a smaller scale. Vulnerable Children’s partner Hope for Children in Ethiopia runs an effective retraining program for young girls who want to escape the sex trade and start new careers. The ten girls live in a group home, and the plan is to work with the girls to build container and vertical gardens within the courtyard. The gardens will be managed by the teen girls, empowering them to provide some of their own food, be less income reliant, and enrich their cooking skills for working in restaurants.
We hope you will follow along with Stefan’s adventures over the next few months, and see our cooperative urban gardening projects grow.
This nourishing project is financed by Vulnerable Children Society’s General Project Fund. If you would like to contribute, please donate here.
My daughters and I had fun shopping for some very special teen girls on Saturday. Tawnya is leaving for Ethiopia next week to check in on our projects, and is visiting the ten girls in our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa.
The girls in Addis are currently getting training in hair dressing, and we thought they could use some tool! But also, we just wanted to let the girls know how much we care for them. Many of these girls have been rejected by their families, and have very low self esteem. It’s important that they know we are sending love, as well as money for their program.
I’m sure Tawnya will have a blast sharing these gift bags with the girls. If you would like to light up the lives of 10 more girls next year, we are currently fundraising to support another cohort of girls that would like to escape the sex trade. Please consider donating 🙂