Crafting, Reading and Meeting at the Love and Hope Centre in Addis Ababa

20140227-185844.jpg
On March 10, I had the delight of spending the day at Vulnerable Children Society‘s Love and Hope Centre in Kality, on the outskirts of Addis. In fact, a whole gaggle of us met at the centre. My family came along with me to teach crafts, and my kids ran around with the other Ethiopian children their age. I had a meetings with staff from Canadian Humanitarian, our partner organization that operates the centre, as well as Deb, the expedition coordinator from Canada. We were also joined by other Vulnerable Children reps: our project consultant Birhan, as well Nicole, one of our directors from Canada. It was a merry, busy day!
20140227-185903.jpg

20140227-185911.jpg

20140227-185916.jpg
Now, as the president of Vulnerable Children, I spend most of my time in Ethiopia in meetings, strategy sessions, and project evaluations. But this time, I got to interact with the kids, reading them stories and leading a craft.
20140227-190000.jpg
My mother, a retired school teacher, prepared a fantastic but very involved craft, that helped the kids practice their English. Counting, colours… My husband father, mother and I all lead groups of 15-20 kids, making beaded frogs and lizards. My hats off to my family… I had the benefit of rudimentary Amharic on my side; but they operated their groups with humour, determination, and a lot of hands on help. At the end of two hours, two hours! all the kids went home with an incredibly special, durable, and fun toy to show their families.
20140227-190006.jpg

20140227-190013.jpg
On a personal note, my seven year old daughters visited and participated too. Most of huge children at the centre are right around their age, so even though they were shy at first, once their daddy got involved in chasing around the kids, they were in their like dirty shirts. My husband Jason only knows a few words of Amharic, but all he needed to start that game was by yelling “Anbassa!” (Lion!) at the top of his lungs. Then he had a crowd of kids, including ours, after him!
20140227-190020.jpg

20140227-190033.jpg

20140227-190046.jpg
The children usually come to the centre for lunch, then return to school until the end of the school day. Then they return for after school tutoring, games, art club, showers, teeth brushing, etc. but since it was the first day back for them after “spring break,” the kids came for lunch, and stayed until the end of the day.

I was really impressed by how the ideas concocted between Canadian Humanitarian’s former executive director and I, those months ago, have transformed into reality. It’s amazing to see. For example, we asked the caregivers to be involved in cooking… So far, five groups of female guardians have rotated through the kitchen, making lunch every day. The guardians are paid as cooks usually would be, and then the next month, they are replaced by new guardians. It’s a pretty awesome, legitimate way to financially involved them in the centre, as well as being involved and supportive.
20140227-190629.jpg
The centre’s coordinator, an amazing young woman, came with the children from the former program, so she knows and understands their individual needs well. Also on staff are a social worker, and an accountant. In reality, they all help with the day to day operations, and it’s an extremely efficient and effective operation.

We did have meetings after the children went home (what’s a visit without a meeting?) to discuss the needs and new developments at the centre. I’ll share those with you all after I have a chance to discuss them with Vulnerable Children Society’s directors. But the punch line is that both our project consultant (who is doing formal evaluation work for us,) Nicole and I… We were all extremely happy with the project!
20140227-190055.jpg

20140227-190103.jpg
If you are currently a Love and Hope sponsor, you should be really proud of your support. It’s money extremely well spent! With an incredible well run centre. Hats off to our partner, Canadian Humanitarian, for operating a fantastic project. And hats off to you, for funding it!
Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!
We hope you will ask a friend to join us as a Love and Hope sponsor, so that we can enrich this program, and open another centre in the near future!
20140227-190107.jpg

Rediscovering Habeshaness: Ethiopian Language

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

20140216-214826.jpg

Over the past week, it’s been fascinating to see the girls adding mannerisms and language, to embrace their Habesha-ness.

On the road, in the van, instead of arguing,
“Yes!”
“No!”
“Yes!”
“No!”

They, with a bit of a smirk, yelled at each other,
“Ah-o!”
“Ai-del-em!”
“Ah-o!”
“Ai-del-em!”

Bucka!” (enough!)

The girls have also been trying to integrate the yes and no gestures back into their bodies’ vocabularies. The raised eyebrows indicate yes, and the shoulder shrug indicates no. Usually, the only time we saw this at home was if they were super tired or super surly… Then we would see the barely perceptible shoulder shrug.

But in Ethiopia, they are trying to start using the gestures again. With Spice, it’s subtle, but with Sugar, it’s almost comical. She refuses to say yes; instead, she opens her eyes super wide and raises her eyebrows dramatically to the heavens. It’s super cute, honestly. The are still working on picking it up from others, though…

I can understand a lot of Amharic, especially around the topics of family and home. I also have collected probably at least a hundred words in my travels. So all the Amharic the girls know is from me. They haven’t ever really used it, though, until this trip. Mainly, their vocabulary is around all the animals, which is their favourite topic of conversation in any language. They’ve also been learning the numbers, and a few bits of small talk.

These are small bits of progress, but it’s delightful to see. Over the past few days, they have been feeling more and more at home. They really don’t seem to care if their vocabulary is limited; they feel like they belong.

Morning greetings in the Ethiopian Outback

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

20140216-212312.jpg

Not thirty seconds after Jason and Sugar left for an early morning walk, I saw a shape at the door. I thought it was Sugar, but it was shorter, wider, and harrier. “Get out!” I hissed! With a smile on my face. I was being woken up by an invading baboon.

Today is our second day at Lake Langano, one of the Rift Valley lakes, south of Addis Ababa. We returned yesterday, after a five year hiatus, to Bishangari Lodge, a lovely off-the-grid ecolodge in one of Ethiopia’s few forest reserves.

We had such a wonderful time here with the girls, when they were two years old, that we had to return. We have all sorts of memories of this place… Especially how the girls were petrified of the bush pigs (and anything else that moved quickly!) The girls tried swimming for the first time, and have been swimming ever since. The peacefulness, the quiet.

One thing we have learned about our family, is that our favourite vacations are away from everything. We have our best times in a cabin in the woods, or jungle, or mountains. Being three days in the Ethiopian forest, with nothing to do, is our version of paradise…

Yesterday the girls swan in the milky-tea lake, while we watched birds, looked them up in the guide, and read.

Many, many, pictures to follow!

20140216-212317.jpg

20140216-212322.jpg

The big big day: visiting our Ethiopian family

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

Yesterday was a big big day for our family. We don’t share the details of our girls’ Ethiopian family publicly, but suffice to say, we have an open adoption, and huge extended family in Ethiopia.

With any large family, there are bouts of drama, and our Ethiopian family is no exception. It’s hard sometimes navigating the politics and cultural expectations, when you just drop in for two days from across the globe. I’m sure we made mistakes… But I also know we have clear cultural and familial ties because of these visits, and the letters and photos send back and forth, in between.

We spent the morning deep in the countryside, far far away from the town. One group of the girls’ relations is literally the poorest family I have ever met in Ethiopia. I’ll remind you, that I run a charity that helps poor and vulnerable families. So I’ve seen my share of poverty. But the abject circumstances that they live in are quite astounding. It’s the second time we’ve visited them, and it was a very positive, warm visit. The girls made their best connection there, playing with the children. Sugar especially felt very comfortable.

We make sure the the girls are privy to all of our discussions, so that they understand what we talk about, and hear the stories straight from those involved. The rural family faces the greatest challenges, but it is the one we can’t help. Not at all. Money really doesn’t solve all problems… Even with all our resources, we can’t help a dang bit. It’s so frustrating. Their own Ethiopian family can’t help, and we can’t either. So they stay in these dreadful circumstances, and we just hope that an opportunity to help might present itself next time we visit.

Our other family groups live in suburban and urban areas. The most positive experience for the girls was out in the dusty countryside. But the second was a long visit in a meeting room in our hotel. The key ingredients were that We just had a couple of people involved, so that we got to chat and interact without a lot of observation. Honestly, one thing I find so annoying in Ethiopia is that it’s very hard to have a private conversation, without neighbours, hotel workers and people on the street crowding around. So you have to make your own privacy.

The visit to the suburban house was a case in point.. It was a mess. Our relative carefully arranged for about a thousand distant (and I mean distant) relations to show up at his house, so we were met by 50+ people on arrival. Sugar couldn’t even get out of the car. Spice managed to get through the crowds with grandma and I to the house, where just four or five people crowded in. But there was no way Sugar was getting out of that van. She melted into a puddle of tears on the floors. So we made our apologies and exited. I’m sure they will be talking about our rudeness for years to come. The girls just can’t take that much attention… And it don’t think they should be expected too.

The rest they managed well, though. After an extremelly long day of stress, new people and visiting, they crashed in bed, satisfied. We had seen almost everyone we wanted to see, and it had gone better, in most cases, than we could have asked for.

Sugar said one of her best moments was actually right before her worst. When she didn’t want to get out of the van, we let one of her cousins in to chat. She said “she was super nice, and cute! I know she’s supposed to look like me, but I didn’t realize she would be so smiley and nice. When I was scared to get out of the van, she gave me a big hug.”

Sugar’s favourite moment was out in the countryside, visiting with a younger relative as well. “She has two dogs, just like us… Even a puppy! And I really like it that she looks so much like me.”

I asked the girls for advice, for other kids who might be visiting birth family. Sugar said: “It can be kinda scary, but after you are there for a while, you can relax. Then you can talk and visit. Afterwards, even if it was scary, you feel good.”

Spice: “You don’t have to be scared, because your family will keep you safe… But seeing your birth family can be pretty nervous. Before, you don’t know what’s going to happen. If they are really excited, it gets scary. But if they are calm and you get to visit, you really enjoy it. I’m glad I saw my family.”