Bonding with at-risk Ethiopian teens, over cookies and nail polish

It’s been six weeks since we spent time with our favourite teen girls in Ethiopia. With one of our directors (Menbere) leaving this week for a visit, I find that I’m missing these special girls that we got to know. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more determined, sweeter group of young ladies, and I’d love to tell you about our visit.

A tiny bit about our program first: Vulnerable Children Society’s New Life Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program is a year long supportive program, helping girls indentured in the sex trade escape, and build new lives for themselves. Tawnya and I (Arnica) were eager to meet the newest cohort of young women, who had just started the program in June.

We met the girls at their new group home, a spacious new building that accommodates the ten girls we support (on the top floor) and ten girls supported by a US NGO. They’ve moved out into the outskirts of Addis, distancing the girls form the dangers of Entoto, the Stadium and other dicey districts. As the groups of girls we’ve met before, they were shy and on their best behaviour, treating us to coffee ceremony. I personally find that formal visiting stifling… Heaven knows how difficult it is for the girls to have us, the faces of the organization that sponsors them, sit in their living room. So we brought some icebreakers… Temporary tattoos! The Canada flags were a huge hit!

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

The giggles started then, although, understandably, there were a few suspicious scowls. We can’t forget that these girls have been through unimaginable horrors, and are justifiably nervous around strangers. Tawnya and I then handed out the little gifts of nail polish and hair tools we brought with us, and the nail polishing began. The girls’ house mother, a quiet woman named Mulu, was delighted that she too had some new – orange- nail polish.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

We were soon treated to some delicious coffee, made by one of the girls. Addis said it wasn’t her favorite chore to do, but she did it with care. The girls take turns at everything, from cleaning and cleaning to serving their guests. Note the tattoo on her arm.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

The most amazing part of our visit for the girls are the letters that we brought with us. 20 teens from an International Development course in Prince Edward Island wrote the girls, with the hopes of starting a penpal relationship for the duration of their respective programs. It was incredibly meaningful to several of the girls. They had never received a letter before, and were astounded that astounded that young strangers their age, all the way in Canada, cared enough to share about their own lives and wanted to know how they were doing in Ethiopia. Over the next two nights, the girls worked hard on their return letters. Even Tigist, who never learned to read in her rural home, and certainly didn’t working in Addis, got a friend to scribe for her and sent a note back.

Over the next few days, Tawnya and I got to know many of the girls as individuals. We attended their lessons, ate supper cooked by them in their home, sat and chatted in the living room, shared stories of family and I even got to teach them something from home. Of the twenty girls in the program (ten supported by us,) fifteen are in cooking school right now. The other four are learning hair dressing and one is in design school. Since all of the girls supported by Vulnerable Children are in cooking, we volunteered to teach them to make some ferengi food… Foreign recipes to increase their employability at guest houses and restaurants. When I asked the girls what they wanted to learn to make, one tentatively told me “chocolates.”

Well, I thought chocolaterie was a bit difficult for their first sweets lesson, so we settled on cookies.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

With peanut butter and chocolate chips in hand, the next day I taught them two kinds of cookies. Tawnya would have been right in there, but she was terribly under the weather. So with help from our translator/public health nurse Meron, I taught the girls about the funny things called cups and teaspoons. What fun! The dear kids braved my teaching methods. Remember, I speak only Amharic Lite and traditionally teaching in Ethiopia is not interactive. We made several batches of the cookies in teams. They put much of the dough in the fridge to make later (not on fasting days!) so they could all sample them. Delicious! The only person who appeared unimpressed was the oldest girl, Ada, who hadn’t let out a hint of a smile since our arrival.

The last day we visited the girls, we popped by their house announced. They were all lounging around, playing games and watching TV, obviously not in their best clothes as the times we had stopped in before. This time, there was no formal coffee, but some honest conversation.

We asked the girls about their dreams for the future. We went around the circle, as they shared their own hopes: of finding a cooking job, designing her own clothes, starting a family and living in an apartment with a friend. Finally, we got to the oldest, Ada, who had a scowl on the whole time. She looked at us, and defiantly declared that she was going to start her own cookie business, and sell the cookies to foreigners at guest houses around Addis Ababa. Then, ever so gently, she grinned.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

An hour later we were sharing hugs with all the girls in the courtyard. Much to my surprise, Ada made a beeline for me. We hugged and hugged and cried and cried. I can’t believe what that girl has been through, but I believe with all my heart that she is going places.

In fact, all of them are. These girls, thanks to support from people like you, hard work and determination, are building new lives for themselves.

Think of a girl or a woman in your life, and consider donating in their name to help teen girls in Ethiopia this holiday season. We want to give another ten girls the life changing experience these teens have experienced.

with gratitude,
Arnica
President, Vulnerable Children

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.

A surprise gift for the girls in our Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program

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 🙂

 

Canadian Sunday School Supports Ethiopian Children’s Music and Dance Program

by Marie Matchett

Recently I was approached by my childhood church (St. Stephen’s United Church) and asked if I knew of a charity in Ethiopia that the Sunday School children could fundraise for.  Immediately Vulnerable Children Society came to mind.

After waiting over 4 years to adopt our son from Ethiopia through many ups and downs, a lot of the congregation were there to cheer with us and sigh with us when we hit yet another hurdle.  On our first trip to Ethiopia in October 2012 we were able to visit with one of Vulnerable Children Society’s former projects.  It was one of the highlights of our trip that we still talk about to this day!  We saw first hand the good work this wonderful organization was doing for the most vulnerable children.  So it was an easy choice when I was asked about a charity.  After bringing our son home and visiting Ethiopia twice, we knew how important it was to give back to a country that gave us so much, and the Sunday school agreed!

The Sunday school which consists of around 15 children fundraised throughout the year.  In September they kicked off the season with a pancake breakfast.  In December they had a service where all the loose offering was donated.  And in February they started Random Acts of Kindness and placed a jar though out the church for people to place loose change or money in.  This project alone raised $135!

In June I was asked to make a presentation to the congregation about our adoption journey and the work Vulnerable Children Society does.  I was also presented with a cheque for $450 which will go towards a music and dance program for the children at the Love and Hope Centre!!   It was an honour to accept that cheque on VCS’s behalf!