The difference between an orphan and a daughter

Four years ago, Birkenesh was at the end of her rope. She had five young children and her husband had just died of AIDS. She was HIV positive and her health was declining. She had no means of supporting herself, and her HIV status meant that the community saw her as an outcast. Meals were scarce. Her children were beginning to starve. And she made the difficult decision to place one of her children, her daughter, in an orphanage. LoveHope-Day2-Wade-035-6411 This is a tragedy that plays out all too often in impoverished countries. “Poverty orphans” . . . it’s  a term that refers to children who are abandoned for no reason other than economic hardship. Orphanages provide a way for desperate parents to give their children an education and regular meals. Unfortunately, it also means that children are raised outside of their birth family. In most cases, it means institutionalized care, and sometimes it also means that the child will be adopted into a family in another country. All because the parent did not have resources to care for that child. Today, Birkenesh’s oldest is no longer in an orphanage. She lives at home with her family. The difference for this girl vs. the other children still in the orphanage is simple: her family is enrolled in Help One Now’s program to support children living with their families . . . a program that prioritizes family care over orphanage care. It sounds like a simple solution, but unfortunately orphan care usually only addresses vulnerable children at the institutional level after a child has been abandoned. Help One Now is trying to do things differently.   LoveHope-Day1-Wade-014-5606 Today our second day on the ground in Ethiopia. Yesterday we had the chance to meet with Aschalew Abebe, the local leader that Help One Now partners with in this country. We’ve all been blown away by Aschalew . . . he is hilarious and brilliant and full of experience. He holds a master’s degree in community development and is passionate about child welfare. He talked about what he believes to be best practice for vulnerable kids, and so much of what he said resonated with me. Achalew has been involved in running a children’s home for many years. He quickly became discouraged as he watched local families bringing their kids to the orphanage in search of a better life for them. He also become discouraged as he watched children becoming orphans because their parents were unable to get help. He decided to do things differently. Achelew believes that orphanages should be a triage situation, and that children should be cared for in families whenever possible. To this end, the children’s home he works with holds the value that kids should not spend longer than 18 months in an orphanage. The value for orphan care is as follows:

  1. If possible, seek reunification within the birth family.
  2. If reunification is not possible, seek an adoptive family within Ethiopia.
  3. Work to prevent orphans by resourcing families before abandonment or parental death happens.

This last part, the prevention part, is the focus of our trip. Help One Now wants to prevent children from being orphaned in the first place by resourcing at-risk families to keep their children. Aschelew grew tired of watching local families abandon their kids in his community, so he identified 150 of the most at-risk families in Gunchire in an attempt to provide support for families at the brink of “poverty orphans.” A year ago, Birkenesh’s family was one of the first in the program. Today, we sat in her living room as she shared how this program has changed her life. AZ6A0189_TyClark Today, Birkenesh has all of her children living with her. They can now eat every day. She has no fears that she will need place one of her children in an orphanage for their survival. She has received training in business and a loan to start her own shop, where she and her daughter now work. She has a milk cow and received agricultural training and help with creating her own garden. She is receiving ARV meds, and she reports that her community is now welcoming to her since there has been more education on HIV/AIDS. LoveHope-Day2-Wade-027-6278 She is emphatic about how this help has changed her life . . . so much so that she tears up as she thanks us. We tell her that we think she is brave and amazing, and we mean it. When Help One Now first started working with Ethiopia, they had a value to serve orphans . . . but they now realize that a vital step in orphan care is orphan prevention. There are so many families like Birkenesh’s in this region . . . so many families on the brink. So many mothers making hard decisions. So many children being separated from their families because of poverty. Help One Now has been the difference between being an orphan and a daughter for Birkenesh’s children. LoveHope-Day2-Wade-040-6568 In the next few days, we will be learning more about how Help One Now is assisting families and preventing poverty orphans. We’ll also be meeting with a few more families eager to share their stories. To read more about the trip and to sponsor a family, click here. You can also follow our hashtag on twitter and instagram at #lovehope. Photos by Ty Clark and Scott Wade.

kids raising kids: the reality of child-headed households in africa

01chhOn my trip to Ethiopia with Food for the Hungry, I knew that a portion of our time would be spent visiting the homes of sponsored children, so that we could see the way child sponsorship was transforming their lives. When I saw the schedule for our time in the village of Zeway, there was one description that gave me a catch in my throat upon reading: Child-Headed Household.  I’ve heard this term before, and understood that it refers to a house in which there are no parents. As an adoptive parent and orphan advocate, the idea of children living without an adult, left to fend for themselves and care for young siblings, has always  evoked a profound sadness in me. I knew that these visits would be emotional.  We visited several families in Food for the Hungry’s program for Child-Headed Household.  Each family was overcoming incredible obstacles . . . and each family was thankfully having their basic needs met by a sponsor in the US.  I cannot imagine what live would be like for these children without help. I’ve shared the details of five incredible families over at Babble Voices today.   I hope you will take a moment to click here and read their inspiring stories of resilience.  Their reality is such a stark contrast to kids growing up in the US . . . but their hope for the future belies their circumstances. 5chh2chh 1chh4chh 3chh           fh

poverty, perspective, and a surprising sense of peace as I re-acculturate

It’s been interesting processing my trip to Ethiopia over the past few days.  Oftentimes people who have visited or served in developing areas will describe a process of re-acculturation, in which they resume their lives with a new lens.  This phenomenon is usually accompanied by a series of revelations involving a renewed sense of gratitude, a changed perspective of the world, frustration with the excesses of American materialism, and a vow to make sweeping changes.  I’ve done a lot of mission trips, and I’ve gone through this process many times before.  molnar_ethiopia-0282 The funny thing is, I didn’t this time.  I didn’t come back with feelings of guilt, or frustration. I’m not berating myself for not feeling grateful I’m not making promises to live differently.  I’m actually . . . oddly . . . feeling peaceful about the whole thing. It’s hard to explain, but I think it hinges on the fact that previously, I felt like trips like this exposed me to The Problem of poverty. This trip exposed me to the solution, and how I’m a part of that solution. molnar_ethiopia-0206 There is a part of me that has wondered why I’m not feeling more emotional after this trip.  But I was reminded of the church camps of my youth . . . trips on which I was constantly going through a process similar to the one I described above . . . . feeling moved, recommitting my life, making grand gestures of radical life change, and then promptly forgetting my fervor a few months after returning.  Eventually, my faith morphed into something more mature, as I came to the realization that perhaps God isn’t looking for grand gestures or altar calls or public campside commitments to move to Africa.  Perhaps he’s just looking for quiet, stable obedience. molnar_ethiopia-0361 I feel like that was the lesson of this trip as well. I’ve done a lot of travel and I’m intentional about understanding the world outside the US, so I was not surprised or shocked by the poverty I saw, nor was I confronted with the startling reality of my own privilege for something as arbitrary as being born in the right country.  I’ve long abandoned any impulse to ignore my seat at the privileged table. That denial mechanism flew out the window when I survived the earthquake in Haiti and, after several days of pure hell in which I felt an insane and indelible bond to the people there, I boarded a plane and flew away. “Thanks for the memories, guys. You can continue to pick through this rubble and rebuild. My country just sent a plane for me. So.” molnar_ethiopia-0317 I’ve come to terms with these realities.  While I am still disgusted, I’m no longer shocked or surprised.   I’ve moved through the stages of grief in regards to social injustice . . . . out of denial (where I think most Americans reside) and past bargaining and anger (the place most people visit after their first trip to a developing country).  Now, I’m living in acceptance of the problem, but also finding ways to mitigate the problem. I think that’s where the peace is coming from.  I’m no longer screaming and stomping my feet about the unfairness of it.  I’m doing something about it . . . and this trip showed me in tangible ways exactly what I’m doing. molnar_ethiopia-0377 It came be overwhelming coming face to face with poverty on a global scale. I remember expressing feelings of futility at the vastness of the problem, and a wise friend telling me, “You can’t solve the whole problem yourself. But you can pick a field, and work that field to the best of your ability”.  My trip with Food for the Hungry allowed me to see a field I’ve picked, and how they are bringing about dramatic change for that group of people. molnar_ethiopia-0255 The one source of tension I’ve had, in getting back to my regular routine, is the fact that I had some sponsored posts scheduled upon my return. These were weighing heavily on me, because really, how does one segue from talking about poverty and orphans to a Pantene giveaway?  It’s awkward, and suddenly everything else feels silly and trite. But then I was reminded of something The Nester said after a similar trip with Compassion, in a post called The African Elephant in the Room:

And I think about what they would do.  Because I know if our roles were switched these maternal ladies would sponsor my child in a heartbeat and they would do whatever it was that God gifted them to do in whatever crazy field that was in order to make that happen and make no apologies.  And I think they would tell me to do the same.

And so I trudge on, because the work I do, however silly it sometimes seems, is how we are able to afford to sponsor 5 children, and to support a variety of other NGO’s that we believe in, like Heartline’s Maternity House, God’s Littlest Angels, Mercy House KenyaSolidarity, and Krochet Kids in Peru.  While we aren’t picking up and moving to the field, we are doing the part we can to support those who do . . . and that’s gratifying. molnar_ethiopia-0333 Ultimately this is why I feel positive after this trip. I feel good about playing a part with Food for the Hungry and I feel glad that this blog has allowed me to advocate for them, and hopefully exponentially grow the number of children whose lives are changed through sponsorship. I never knew where this blog would lead and this feels like a full-circle moment. Being invited made my purpose in this blogging space sort of “click” for me.  I feel proud to play a part with Food for the Hungry, and hopeful that this trip means some of you might get that experience, too.  I know not everyone can visit Ethiopia, but I’m hoping that my trip has moved you out of denial, and I hope you’ll join me in moving into a resolve to action. fh {photos by David Molnar}

ethiopia photo dump

I’ve still got some stories to share, and some unpacking to do (both literally and metaphorically).  I’m working on a post to try to articulate the bizarre sense of peace I’ve experienced since coming home (in stark contrast to the agitation I’ve previously felt during the re-acculturation process).  I’m also working on a post to address a comment (and valid) question I’ve received in regards to Food for the Hungry: “I’m not a Christian, so why would I sponsor a child through a Christian NGO?”  Good question, and I’ve got some answers. But for now, I wanted to share some of the highlight reel in photos.  These photos are by David Molnar, an incredibly talented photographer who was part of our team. ethiopia photo dump iphone photomolnar_ethiopia-040molnar_ethiopia-0115molnar_ethiopia-0119molnar_ethiopia-0129molnar_ethiopia-0142molnar_ethiopia-0145molnar_ethiopia-0151molnar_ethiopia-0152molnar_ethiopia-0170molnar_ethiopia-0174molnar_ethiopia-0195molnar_ethiopia-0203molnar_ethiopia-0224molnar_ethiopia-0242molnar_ethiopia-0244molnar_ethiopia-0262molnar_ethiopia-0278molnar_ethiopia-0286molnar_ethiopia-0340molnar_ethiopia-0370molnar_ethiopia-0389molnar_ethiopia-0175   fh

meeting our sponsored child

The highlight of my trip so far was meeting India’s sponsored child Ayantu. meeting ayantu I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I found myself with butterflies in my stomach as we pulled up to her house, and I can only imagine how she might have felt to have a stranger from another country coming to visit. Ayantu was very shy when we first met, but her personality came out when we started to chat.  I told her about India, and some of the things that India likes doing.  I asked her what she enjoyed, and she told me she likes to draw and play jump-rope. She mentioned something else, but the translator could not figure out the English word.  They went back and forth for a bit, and finally she decided to pantomime the game, drawing lines into the dirt floor and then tossing a rock and jumping.  After a second, I got it.  Hopscotch!  They thought this word was quite funny. meeting ayantu2 I gave Ayantu a few gifts – a dress, some colored pencils and a coloring book with stickers. I told her that India would love for them to exchange drawings with each other, and she smiled the cutest smile.  molnar_ethiopia-0329 Ayantu lost her mother when she was four years old.  She now lives with her father and his new wife, and three siblings.  They struggle to make ends meet, and Food for the Hungry fills the gaps for them.  I’ve always been blessed by the experience of sponsoring kids, but meeting her in person and getting to see the way her life is impacted was an amazing experience. If you are interested in learning more about child sponsorship. click here. fh {photos by David Molnar}