On the way to Nakemte

From Rita Churchill, Vulnerable Children volunteer

What an interesting day! We drove from Ambo to Nakemte over road under repair. It took us 5.5 hours to travel about 230 kms. They are constructing the whole road at the same time – completely upgrading it. So we would travel about 100 – 350 m on good paved road interspersed with long section of either rocky base or dry, dusty red soil over the base. There are many deep, mostly dry, gullies that have to be crossed. We took pictures of the cement and rock abutments, all in different stages of completion. The modern road construction equipment were a stark contrast to the workers breaking rocks with a pick or carrying each rock by hand to lay it in the correct place as the abutments are constructed.

The landscape is wide, gently rolling valleys surrounded by hill / mountains. I have no idea what the elevation is. At first glance it looks so pastoral and peaceful. But then you begin to notice the overgrazed fields; the dust raised behind the metal-tipped, wooden plows drawn behind a pair of cattle; the soil eroded from around the bases of many of the bigger trees; and the lack of understory through any forest near to a community.

This area is not as devoid of trees as the area closer to Ambo. Sintayehu, our guide and friend, mentioned that up to twenty years ago the area was quite forested. However the farmers have dug up most of the trees to create fields for crops and grazing.

As we got closer to Nakemte the ficus trees kept drawing my attention. They are enormous! And so beautiful. The bark is a lighter tan colour while the branches take off in any direction, searching for the sun. I tried to take some pictures that show not only their beauty but also their size…

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House 2 House in Ambo and Guder

Today was our first trip to visit with our House 2 House families, and it was a resounding success!

Our first stop was in Ambo, a busy city west of Addis Ababa. We went to the woleta Women and Children’s Affairs Office, to meet up with some of the families in our program. We were happy that most of the children were able to come and meet us. We had packages from some sponsors to deliver, but we made sure that each child that we got to meet went away with a car, stuffie, or soccer jersey. They were big hits! So thanks to all the donors.

Our plan ahead of time was to sit and talk with each family and get updates from them, but most of the mothers and aunts who brought their children were doing so over their lunch hour, so we didn’t have much of a chance to chat before they had to go. It was fun to meet many of the mothers and amazing to see the sweet little kids in person. unfortunately, the lady who runs the office just passed away two days ago, and of course, the whole office was in grieving mode, so we didn’t talk to any officials at that location.

After a late lunch we drove out to Guder, which is 12 kms away. This is a much smaller community, more of a town than a city. We were all impressed at how immaculately the streets were kept – it is just a pleasant place.

Our visit was at the woreda Women and Children Affairs office, which shares space with the HIV Association. More than sharing a building, we learned how closely the non-profit and the government office work together to identify and support children and families affected by HIV. For entry into our House 2 House program, there are many steps that take place. The kebele (neighborhood) identifies families that are extremely poor and affected by poverty and HIV. Reports are made (we saw examples of these) by the kebele and the adults applying on behalf of the child also have to collect a letter of support. The files go to the woreda Women’s office and the staff there conduct home visits. They then connect the families with the HIV Association to get access to ARVs and some of the children that fit our priorities, such as being HIV+, missing one or both parents, or physically disabled, get onto the wait list for House 2 House. Officially, we have 10 sponsors for our families in Guder, but in reality, we actually support about 16 children and their families. These families receive a cash stipend to help them send the children to school, feed them adequately, etc. I asked the official about follow-up, and I was impressed to hear not only do they do a home visit to ensure the money is being directed to the welfare of the child, but they also call the schools and collect report cards for all the school children to make sure they are attending. Super staff there at the women’s office, I have to say.

I think what really impressed me in general about Guder was how the non-profits, community and government all work together to take care of these extremely vulnerable children. The other distinct impression I had was that it is a real community, with a connection between the families.

Only 1/2 of the children we sponsor were there, but we left sponsor packages for a couple of children and made sure all the rest went away with a toy or jersey. I personally enjoyed interacting with the grandmothers there, and sharing laughs as we took photos. We also had a chance to meet with an enterprising couple of young women who are running a community lending program, which I will tell you more about in a separate post.

Enjoy the pictures! We did get pictures of all the children and their guardians who were able to join us, and will send them out in the next batch of updates in August! For now, here are some of my favorites of the day.

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Arrived in Addis

Tawnya, Rita and I have all made it to Addis! For all of us, the memories are ripe, and it is so good to be here. We all have spent time in this same hotel, and seeing familiar faces at the airport was just wonderful.

Tomorrow we are off to Ambo, Guder, and Toke, which are all communities west of Addis Ababa. We have more than 70 kids in our House 2 House program, and roughly 30 of them are in these three communities. We are delivering packages from some of the children’s sponsors, and gifts of stuffies, dinkie cars, soccer jerseys and school supplies, depending on their age and gender. We will also be doing updates on all the children and families that we meet, so that we can send them out at the end of the summer!

Now off to sleep for the first time in 25 hours…

We are on our way!

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Rita and I just had a restful night in Seattle and we are on our way this morning to Ethiopia. In case you are wondering about the picture above, that is the only way I can sleep in the same room with my mother! And I thought you would find it amusing. Tawnya left a day before us, routed through China. We are both reminiscing about our last trip to Ethiopia together and how different this one is. We have four huge checked bags full of donations – thank you to everybody who donated medicine, toys, toothbrushes and shoes! And Tawnya had a huge bag as well, including the laptop we scored for Faya Orphanage from BC Tree Fruits.

I think all of us have different goals for this trip. Tawnya said she’s looking forward to meeting all the people she’s been working with over email for the last 2 years. Rita is looking forward to meeting the kids and their guardians in the House 2 House program. As our update lady, she knows all their faces, but she is looking forward to seeing their smiles in person. She is also very interested to meet the guardians of the kids… She says that they are the real heros in our program, taking care of vulnerable children who are often extended family. Rita says they deserve our respect and she’s excited about meeting them, especially the grandmother who takes care of the little boy she sponsors. Of course we both have personal goals for the trip, but that’s another story.

As for me, I think I’m really happy about meeting with our Ethiopian partners and figuring out so many details that are hard to explain while on the phone. I’m looking forward to meeting the government officials and the folks at the HIV clinic who refer our families, checking in with the families and seeing what their needs are, and really understanding the whole system. We’re also doing exploratory work on this trip- we’ve been thinking of starting other programs like micro finance and small plot gardening, and I’m very interested in hearing from the families what they think would be most beneficial to break them out of the poverty cycle and enable them to care for their families self sufficiently. The other goal for the trip is to work out kinks with our updates and to figure out some more Vulnerable Children oversight and engagement measures as our projects and activities continue to grow. We’re considering hiring a (very) part time administrator in Ethiopia, and have candidate interviews planned for next week.

Well, we’re now off to the airport. We should be arriving in Addis Ababa tomorrow.

Thanks for following along! Arnica

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3 days until our oversight trip to Ethiopia!

Vulnerable Children Society’s treasurer/money lady Tawnya Pattie, update volunteer/keeper of the files Rita Churchill and big dreamer/president Arnica Rowan (that’s me!) are off in 3 days for a whirlwind trip to see our charity’s projects in Ethiopia.

We hope you’ll stay tuned and come along for the ride. We will be blogging along the way, and posting at least text and hopefully pictures from our travels.

We have a packed schedule! In just 9 days, we are:

  • visiting the families in our fabulous House 2 House community support program, which is now operating in Ambo, Guder, Teko, Adama/Nazret, Wonji and Mojo;
  • meeting with government officials and/or the HIV clinic in each location that refers the House 2 House families to us;
  • visiting Faya Orphanage and doing some strategic planning with our partner organization;
  • delivering packages to many sponsored children and donations to the orphanage;
  • visiting the Canadian Humanitarian educational support centre in Gindo that we are filling with books, furniture and supplies;
  • taking pictures of all our projects and sponsored children;
  • investigating ways to ensure the timely arrival of complete updates for each child;
  • connecting with other fantastic NGOs in Ethiopia (Hope for Children, Partners in the Horn of Africa and Canadian Humanitarian) to discuss synergies and strategies;
  • shopping for good to sell at a fundraiser this spring;
  • visiting our families and friends, as well as our own sponsored children!

If you would like to subscribe to our travel blog posts (there are usually one or two a week, but more while we are traveling,) simply enter your email on the left. You can always unsubscribe when our trip is over.

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Follow Vulnerable Children’s President across Ethiopia!

From President Arnica Rowan:

Hi folks –

I thought I’d let you know that I’m heading off to Ethiopia again for a whirlwind trip next month! (See our trip map!)

I’ll be leaving mid April and will be in traveling on a mad schedule for Vulnerable Children Society.

My mom and I (my mom is the volunteer who sends out all your sponsor updates) are going to visit all the 5 communities where we sponsor House 2 House  children and families (Nazret/Adama, Wonji, Mojo, Ambo and Guder), Faya Orphanage in Adama, Canadian Humanitarian’s education project we are helping with in Gindo, and a few other non-profits we’re looking at working with in Addis Ababa.

We’ll share our stories and experiences from all of Vulnerable Children’s current and future projects… please feel free to repost them on your Facebook page.

So if you’d like to follow our travels and see pictures from all around central Ethiopia, please tune in to this blog April 22, 2012! You can also subscribe to our blog posts on the homepage so you don’t miss a thing!

We’d love to take you all along for the ride!