Ethiopia – Meeting the Kids
Volunteering with the Vulnerable Children Society in Ethiopia is all about 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.
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.