I started this draft about a week ago and have just let it sit. I am not sure if I am ready to process this yet or if I just do not know how to…but here I sit with only a few more Ethiopia posts I want to write, and I don’t think I want to end with this one cause I have a feeling it is not going to make anyone feel good. Here goes nothing…
Yezelalem Minch ministers to over 500 children. Their goal is to keep children in their families and communities. I can easily stand behind that goal and sponsor a child through them to support this amazing ministry.
(Yessak is wearing a shirt I sent him earlier that year, the bag of food was $20 USD and was so heavy I could not lift it… How is it that $20 USD buys so much yet they can afford so little! And yes, this family is Muslim, which I think is awesome, that this Christian organization is helping people of all faiths, I certainly can not say that for many other so call faith based agencies!!!!)
Sorry, back to the feeding program (see I am trying to avoid the subject!). So besides sponsorship (which is just way more that just a few dollars a month it includes skill training, education, medical support…) they have a feeding program every saturday. They are held at three different locations in and around Addis. The children come in the morning and play and then get fed a good meal.
We first attended the feeding program in Addis, many of the children start their day in Sunday School and then head up the hill to YZM’s group home (currently housing 4 children 2 who have adoptive homes, and 2 infants who arrived so ill that it was unsure they would survive, one has been there for a few months and is thriving, the other was there only a week and still looked very sickly, but had made considerable progress). When we arrived the children were laughing, playing and seemed very excited to see us. They wanted to try their English and laughed at our feeble attempts at Amharic. Many of the other teens had just arrived from a soccer game they were playing in and were proud of their success (1 teen was wearing a Hope College T-shirt and another a Holland T-shirt!). We had lots of fun with these kids. We witnessed sharing food, smiles, kids sitting together talking, and food that I would even eat ( a huge loaf of bread and something resembling mac and cheese). They ate slowly and seemed more interested in companionship that food (although every plate was licked clean).
It was a great afternoon.
The next week went by as we were absorbed in our work and spending time with friends in the evenings. But Saturday morning came quickly and we were off to Holeta, about a 30 minute drive outside of Addis. It was a beautiful drive in which we saw small villages in the mountains. You could almost convince yourself you were in Colorado. Green fields, mountains in the distance and ox pulling hand plows (make that Colorado in 1864…)
We arrived at the gate of the feeding program grounds and the second we were out of the van we were surrounded by beggars, (where do they come from and how do they know we are coming?) An old woman (anywhere from 50-90 years old) grasped our hands and pleaded, like I have never heard pleading before. 2 simple words: “food, money” I can still feel her soft touch, her thin skin. I can see her empty, but pleading eyes and her brown stained teeth. I was quickly pulled away by begging children and the driver saw our dilemma and ushered the children away so and brought us into the gate. The reprieve was short lived.
If Addis does not have a lot of white people (I saw about a dozen while I was there) Holeta really does not have a lot of white people. And so we arrived, with our cameras and our purses and our clean shoes. The children swarmed us. They kept screaming “you, you, you!” and pointing to themselves. I quickly learned they wanted pictures of themselves. So I obliged, but I could not click fast enough, kids would push each other out the of the way to get into other’s pictures. Every time I though I got them all a dozen more would appear. I finally just put my camera away, some of the children would not be able to see their smiling faces out of the camera screen that day. ( A treat better than candy I think).
As we slipped through the very muddy “play area” children continued to swarm. At one point a searing pain shot through my foot. I looked down and saw a HUGE ant on my foot, I could not understand why this ant was hurting me, but went to brush it away anyway. It did not move. So I pinched it and tried to pull it off. I managed to get the body, but the head was still attached to my foot and I could see the pinchers attached to me. Tears were in my eyes from pain. I finally managed to dislodge it from my food and had instant relief. But these ants were EVERYWHERE. About 10 children saw my distress and spent a good part of the morning guarding my feet and brushing off anything that touched me. Unfortunately a few of these killers crawled up my legs for a bite and I soon found myself stripping off my pants in a dark room. Once I was sure the ants were gone, I tight rolled my pants in true 80’s style and went back out to the program.
By this time the children were washing for lunch, games had been played (I use the term played loosely as there were at least 100 kids and about 4 of them got to play a shorted version of musical chairs) and they began to “line up” for lunch. And although there was no stampede for food, the kids made sure they got to the front of the line as soon as possible. And they ate their food hunkered in corners as quickly as possible, and they came back for seconds before some had even gotten firsts.
And the food? I am not sure if I could have choked it down even to be polite (Remember I have eaten such delicacies as Ox stomach, chicken joints, fish intestines and the pancreas of an unknown animal). It was just soupy bean mush scooped onto a piece of ingera. I can not imagine there was any flavor and it seemed likely there was much nutritional value.
Here is slide show of both feeding programs
But this is what YZM has to work with. If they need to feed 500 plus kids, then they need to feed 500 plus kids and we all know that it can not be a steak dinner! And to top it all off, the rent of their tiny building and muddy, ant infested grounds has increased over 200% in the last few months. (want to know how you can help? Click HERE)
I am not sure what is worse, not being able to feed the children anything or have any place to feed them, or feeding them the bean watt and ingera in ant infested grounds.
I left muddy, frazzled, and overwhelmed and to top it off we had to face the starving, empty pleading beggar again. She touched me again and I was ashamed at my anger at her. I was ashamed at my annoyance with these children. I wanted to serve, to give, to find joy in them and instead I was frustrated, annoyed and wanting a quiet corner. I did not want to serve one more plate of ingera or take one more picture or say “Selam” to one more child.
At this point I NEEDED to find a place where children were living a “normal” life. Where they did not need me or crave my touch and attention. I needed to know that somewhere in the world there were children who were getting all their needs met and would be able to grow health and happy and possibly capable enough to solve the problem that I was running away from.
Shame is hard. I don’t like it and I am good at pushing it deep inside of me. I felt deep Shame with my relief of leaving Holeta. I felt deep shame in my need for home and my “stuff” I felt Shame in being over weight. I felt Shame in hiding. I even felt Shame in my drama over the ants, because these kids are bitten so often they do not even notice, yet they are willing to surround me and spend their morning brushing ants off my feet.
I felt Shame in my anger and frustration. I felt shame in my photographs. I felt shame that I thought I could serve these children their lunch, but all I could think about was getting the heck out of Dodge. Most of all I felt Shame that I did not take a plate of this food that made me turn my nose, sit down and eat with these children.