When I visited this abandoned building in 2012 the question posed me was a bit like the one God posed Ezekiel at the valley of dry bones! He had said "Can these bones live?" and I was asked "Can this be a nursery school?". Well, during a period of prayer we discovered it was indeed something God knew the answer to.
At the end of that prayer my face was wet with tears of hope. Hope and faith that this place could be filled with the sound of children learning and that we would be able to have some part in that. As I wiped my face with my hands, which had just been placed on the crumbling building, my face was coated in a muddy layer of red sand! I was actually wearing the building! It is clear to me that since that day God's face has always been shining there and we have been happy to follow His instructions "Let the children come".
First Steps in Learning
By 2013/12014 the building had been simpy renovated and 20 of the community's most needy children were receiving early years education for the very first time. The learning emphasis was on developing children through their confidence, play and encouraging their early attempts at learning to read, write and count. Parents living in desperate poverty, who themselves had never received an educational opportunity, expressed their grateful thanks that miraculously their small children were being given the chance to go to school. Boys and girls learned together with many more longing to place their children into the care of this innovative Nursery School. Local mothers and young women with a heart to bring change to their own community were employed to lead the children in daily morning classes five days a week.
I just returned from two weeks visiting our partners and friends in Ethiopia and have nothing but praise for those wonderful people who are literally creating opportunities and lives worth living for so many, often the most vulnerable children, who have been without hope. It is exhausting and emotional work but all the people I spent some time with have one thing in common - a firm belief that things can be different.
At the Dorcas Project for women at risk of HIV/Aids there is clear evidence that the loving concern of the staff and women there draws an increasing volume of families to their regular drop-in sessions offering help with healthcare, parenting, disease prevention, social and self confidence. During the last 2 years PovertySwap has been able to help in seed funding for micro-business and it is there that I saw great transformation. The Dorcas centre provides support, strength, training for employment, business set-up and skills to earn an independent living within the local community. This is vital for families at risk of AIDS as often the main breadwinner will die early and leave families destitute. While medicines can help bodies cope with disease providing a service for their local communities has restored young mothers' confidence and status amongst neighbours and friends.
A pioneering preventative workshop amongst teenagers also shows encouraging signs. It is unbelievable but true that often mothers of many children have no idea how they actually became pregnant. In such cases knowledge is certainly power and such education amongst young people with little education and quite ferral living conditions can save the lives of both young girls and babies born far too soon. Sad to say, despite it being illegal, there are still great numbers of under-age brides, often resulting in difficult, dangerous pregnancites. Dorcas hopes to help educate young people, helping them make better life choices, see their own value and help them find pathways as significant members of their community.
It is such a blessing to personally see families being restored. I was at Dorcas the first day a young mum with two small babies arrived for the friday drop-in session. They were twins, a boy and a girl. The family, it was discovered, were living in extremely cramped conditions with around 10 other people. The mum's deep, hungry, dark eyes followed me around the room, perhaps they said, this was the route to life. I met mum and children many times over these two years, improving but always in such deep need. On this trip a woman walked into the centre with strong, confident steps. She clearly had purpose and there was an air of freedom to her walk. I was amazed to see, on second look, having already thought it was someone new, that this was the twin's mother! Her unfolding story is one of transformation and very moving to think we have such a small part in such a big story. Her children have been given places in the SOS school and that gives her opportunity to enroll on the Needlework programme at Dorcas. She is a top student and her face blooms with future possibilities. Dorcas will of course be there to support and encourage her as she carves out new pathways for herself and her family.
LANTU'S HOME OF HIDDEN TREASURES
Knowing the trauma of unwanted pregnancies in Ethiopia and the stories of terrible things that happen to those newborn babies as people try to hide them or get rid of them I was especially delighted to visit the new children's home, run by Ebenezer Grace Homes, for tiny babies and children with special needs/disability. I met so many with stories of early life tragedy but my impression of the home was one of a great deal of love, lots of light and smiles and unlimited possibility and potential for the little people in their care. This is the second home opened by our friends, Argaw and Rachel, Sean and Megan and when asked if it was a bigger challenge than they expected their immediate reply was "It's a bigger blessing than we could have imagined". When we stand on the side of the poorest and most vulnerable that is our promise. PovertySwap is able to support this work through individual donations. We heard that many orphanages are being closed around Ethiopia, with those small children becoming homeless. Ebenezer Grace and Lantu's Home of Hidden Treasures will be a lifeline to rescue many destined to die.
Our nursery in the mountains of Yir Gallum went through a bit of a transformation itself last summer that felt quite uncomfortable. Upon my visit in June 2015 I discovered roadworks outside had encroached upon our fence and it had fallen down. Inside play equipment had not stood the test of children learning to play and it too lay in pieces. We had so many plans and while the children, with the help of faithful staff, had done well the atmosphere was one of disappointment and even defeat. It was troubling. But we had offered these children Early Years Education that would mean they would have opportunities for a life none of their ancestors ever dreamed of. That concept in our culture is difficult to understand as we have never known a system where children don't go to school. The Deborah KG offered free nursery education for 25 of the poorest children in the area, there was no other option. With our partners we set to work on a plan to restore and maintain, train and develop staff and establish the nursery as originally planned, with PovertySwap continuing to provide grant funding for running expenses. Upon my return it was a delight to find that now the road is completed, the fence is standing and solid again, new stronger outdoor play equipment is in place, staff training has been effective and included production of learning materials and enthusiasm that is bringing remarkable results from our little early learners, some of whom will be ready for school this year.
A NEW CHALLENGE
The nursery building to date is a small residential building that was previously derelict. It stands in a garden compound full of coffee trees, false banana, fruit trees and a small field for maize and vegetable growing. The local education authority are not happy. Despite the fact they can see 50 children receiving free or low cost education which they cannot provide themselves, like any local authority they have their regulations regarding residential use and non-residential. They arrived a few months ago to say the nursery must close until a school building with at least 3 classrooms is built. Essentially, they were saying, no school is better than our home spun, highly effective free school. It was a big shock as that office had always encouraged us and said they would give all the help they could. Our partner explained that there is no personal benefit at all to her family who own the land, but that the school is wholly for the benefit of the local children who have shown an aptitude for learning with excellence. The school also employs 7 people. The answer was hardline and immovable. Until that is the parents got to hear of the dilemma. These are families who have learned to keep quiet and live in their poverty without ripples. But this decision made them angry. It affected only their children and like mums the world over those children would be protected from every attack and injustice by the very people who gave them birth. So together the parents went to the education office and demanded the school be kept open. Negotiations were entered and it was agreed to start some work with a view to give time to improve the buildings over the summer break. This was victory indeed. It was also discovered the name of the nursery was in confilict with another local school so it had to be changed. It will now be known as Fikir KG (which means Love) - the new title is certainly a declaration of what makes that nursery grow and succeed.
We are so grateful to all those who make this little miracle school happen. It takes so little to help and it is wonderful to be in such a great team, together with staff, parents, local people and authorities, donors and supporters working hard to bring these huge dreams to practical reality. When Jesus was asked "Who is greatest in the kingdom?" He took up a little child in the middle of them. He still notices that smallest, most at risk little one. He lifts them up and says: Here, educate this one, save the life of that one, get parents for this one, house that one, rescue this one, heal that one etc. Such work becomes part of heaven itself.
If we are not able to build our classrooms for Fikir KG in the summer then there is real danger that it will close! Everything in me cries at what that would mean for so many. However I have been grateful that God has always led us and that PovertySwap has had some amazing financial gifts, faithful donors and supporters of every walk of life for some years. I think we are facing our biggest challenge to date. We will be embarking on some serious fundraising over these months and if you can help in any way at all, especially to connect our story to your many friends and family, would you please do that? We will help you in any way we can. Thank You So Much.
With love and thanks on behalf of our partners, friends and the Children who benefit from these projects, Helen and Ian
I wonder, are there any more desperate, vulnerable or at risk people in the world just now than those who risk all that is left, leaving behind vast piles of rubble that used to be their cities and their homes, with the haunting images of their most loved family members, even children, dead in the settled dust. Take a look at the photograph of just one street in a Syrian town! What would you do? Where would you go for your children to be safe?
It has indeed been difficult for people to know what to do but the feeling of “we must do something” has been strong for many. A number of people have asked if PovertySwap has partners who are able to help those suffering. We have the honour of personally knowing amazing people all over the world and a number, like our friend pictured below in Athens helping children and distraught people on the move, have already been to refugee camps in the Middle East and a number of flashpoints where desperate families find themselves. We have friends who are even receiving multiple traumatised families into their own homes.
Within our own extended family we have family members who live in Athens and they have spoken movingly and with deep sorrow at witnessing the fragility of small children arriving there with nowhere to go. Sometimes even small children with no-one to care for them on the journey. Were we to see them at our bus-station or post-office what would we do? This Christmas, PovertySwap wants to be a channel to facilitate that “do something” prayer that is in many of us.
We have opened our Children’s Christmas Appeal Fund with our promise that 100% of all donations will go directly to our partners, people we know personally, for the benefit of these most desperate of children. Choked by the emotion that overwhelms them as they recall to mind their experiences of meeting people face to face our friends tell us the need is great for urgent medical assistance, food, water, shelter, clothing and shoes, tents, sleeping bags and more. Just as vital for people who have perhaps travelled thousands of miles, survived sinking boats while loved ones may have drowned and lived life in constant survival and grief for so many years is the great need for human contact. The need for just one friend in a dark night, someone who cares, someone to talk to, to be able to relate their story, someone to cry with and someone to hug, even someone who can make those little broken hearted ones laugh.
We are confident that PovertySwap donations this Christmas will help to ease suffering and supply help, healing and hope along the way. In essence we can be the vital hands of the Good Samaritan on the dangerous road, without whom the beaten man would undoubtedly have died. Would you help us to do that? We would ask only that please, this year, be especially generous. Go an extra mile. Give an extra gift. Do what you truly can. Desperate children require our desperate giving. We, and they, shall be incredibly grateful. Donate Now. Thank You.
Thanks to the prompt and compassionate responses of PovertySwap friends following the Nepal Earthquake on April 12th £3000 for the benefit of earthquake victims was raised in just 2 days. Donations are still arriving and following the May12 earthquake the fund has grown to almost £6000. It has always been our intention to place the funds directly with our trusted co-workers in Nepal who are tasked with the role of finding where those funds can be best used for the benefit of those who need it most.
As cash, cheques, online donations, group collections and retail collection boxes were being thrust our way someone, with that feeling of hopelessness that surely arrives with every new media account, questioned what use a donation of £20 would be amongst so much need. The story that is unfolding amongst the rubble of Nepal's villages is incredibly moving and we are enouraged that our personal hands-on approach has proved vital for those at the sharpest end of the pain, even in the midst of catastrophic disaster.
Reaching the unreachable
Both of our co-workers in the Katmandhu area are known to us and we heard from one immediately after the earthquake, relating his experiences of the continuing shocks and tremors. We were instantly able to instruct him to find those who would be able to put PovertySwap donations to best use for the benefit of the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake. Within days he was able to provide us with sufficient information for us to begin to transfer some of the funds. The organisation he partnered with have sent teams into the worst affected areas. This organisation works in a very similar way to our own core values. They are working in a very personal way with local people for the well-being of their communities. The emergency funding we sent will provide in the first instance clean water, food, shelter and sanitation with teams in place over a longer period during the months ahead to assist families as they rebuild their homes and lives.
Another group was in preparation to take vital supplies to remote areas when the May 12th earthquake hit and their plans had to be reassessed. Himself a shocked member of the Kathmandhu community that has faced so much destruction, fear and frustration we are thankful that our co-worker has been working tirelessly to find those we can best help.
Loving Your Neighbour
In 2008 I travelled to Nepal with a group from Glasgow University. It was part of our field-trip to stay with local families for some nights and work with parents and people from the village to build some new classrooms onto their school. During these years I have maintained contact with my host family. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake contact with that area was difficult. We heard from a number of sources that people were safe but that there had been much destruction of property.
After an anxious week we heard from our co-worker that people were without food or clothing. We remembered the rice and vegetables that are the staple diet in those homes and realised that to be without basic supplies is truly disastrous. Often livestock, the harvest and food supplies, grown in the fields around, are carefully stacked in store rooms of homes. A vital supply for the family's needs. When those houses came down so did their ability to survive. In the shock of those first weeks life becomes a deadly game of survival, even as the ground continues to heave and shake. We wanted to play our part. In the first instance we passed on £200 for use amongst local victims. Our co-worker himself had lost no property and was keen to help those on the worst affected ridge, relatively closeby.
Receipts for PovertySwap donations come in a variety of forms. We have everything from neatly typed letters to quickly scribbled notes with the amount, the date and a known signature. But the receipt that arrived from this village must touch the heart of even the most cynical. There on an A4 sheet of paper, folded and torn as it has clearly been carried from place to place in someone's pocket, stained and grainy with the dust of tons of rubble that used to be people's homes, it contains the names, and signatures of 21 householders, each one given an equal share amounting to less than £10 each! Names ike, Ram, Rupa, Dharba, could be the equivalent of your neighbours, Bob, Grace, Alan. These are very ordinary people whose neighbour, when faced with their need, saw a way to help.
After his tour of distribution he wrote: "Villagers said to you Thank you very very much to helpng and supporting us and thank you from myside also god bless you. I had given that money to the victim family, per family RS1500.... there are more victim family". We were happy to send a further £500 for the immediate benefit of earthquake victims in that village and it is our intention to carry on with our plan this year to visit in November.
What Can I Do Now?
We will continue to administer the Nepal Earthquake Emergency Fund for some months so we shall be happy to receive your coninued dontions, fundraising, sponsored events and the like for that. However if you want to contribute to a regular sum to help rebuild Nepal's Broken Homes then do set up a standing order with your bank for any amount and we will get it to them on a regular basis.
Thank you to everyone who made this all possible.
We have been shocked and saddened to hear details of the massive earthquake that is causing death, suffering, loss and destruction in both the city and remote areas of Nepal. We ask you to pray for our co-workers there, our friends, their families and friends as well as those whose lives have been torn away from them.
It's a Happy New Year greeting from all our coworkers, friends, the children, families and communities we work together with across the world. Some of us work with different calendars and therefore today's date can be different across many nations and in many cultures. However each one of us fully appreciates your interest, connection and efforts on behalf of the children, families and communities we serve. Therefore, whatever the date it is a fresh new day of opportunity to make a difference for some of the world's neediest people.
Snow has fallen heavily in the Roma gypsy villages where our PovertySwap supported Family Worker offers a hand to children growing up in a rough, tough world. During the Christmas and New Year period her small courageous team were able to work with local churches and schools to bring the love and message of Christmas in caring and practical ways. Outreach is also encouraged in the local school and, as a trained social worker with teacher training and gifting she is able to minister there, creatively helping children grasp basic education like reading, writing, arithmetic as well as a well informed religious education class as currently required by the State.
Photographs of children we have known and met and who are growing into teens, young men and women now delight us as they send their greetings to us through laughing dark eyes and easy smiles. The daycamp dining room set out in Christmas splendour, winter fun in the snow and warm and welcoming tables set with food to fill hungry stomachs, all draw children for a while into a safe, loving environment, and for most it is so completely different to anything they experience elsewhere. I am always aware though that the children always look more vulnerable, less healthy and more unhappy in these winter pictures. Sickness, hunger, cold, depression, hopelessness, lack and fear are their tormentors in greater measure during these harsh months.
Together with a number of communities we are working to find a pathway for the Roma gypsy child to have an improved future in the generations to come. After-school tuition is recognised globally as an excellent way to fast-track children's learning. For the Roma gypsies of Romania we are eager to find a holistic solution that will mean the new children born to this generation of young people will be able to find better opportunities for their children to come. The efforts of our Family Worker and her team are a step in that direction and we encourage PovertySwap friends to consider what future lies in the eyes of the girl in this picture. I am sure that is not the future of her dreams.
PovertySwap is working with the local community to draw her into the potential she can only imagine. The camp days, classes and children's outreach meetings all serve to say "You Matter". Self-esteem is an amazing starting block for fulfilled potential and fullness of life, irrespective of environment sometimes. We have witnessed firsthand how a mother who is helped to have her self-esteem and confidence restored will first begin to restore the lives of her family and the community around her.
These are the small, seemingly insignificant, building blocks with which our PovertySwap co-workers work. The value of kind words, faithful visits, constancy of message and availability of warm relationship is lifeblood to the child whose world is none of those things. Absence of violence, absence of fear, absence of responsibility and a working life, even for an hour, sow gentle seeds in the heart of stone, and from tough little stones great trees have been known to grow. If you would like to help us by sharing your time, knowledge, resources or gifts, get in touch today.
News from The Deborah Kindergarten, Ethiopia
We are pressing on to encourage people to give their best efforts for the small children of Yir Gallum in the Sidamo region of Ethiopia and the wonderful stepping stone into lifelong education that is The Deborah Kindergarten. While PovertySwap friends have been able to start-fund the nursery school the project is growing fast with 45 children and 5 staff members already in place since the summer break. Local people are able to contribute some payment towards children's education but the majority within the area where the school is situated have only known generations of need and poverty.
PovertySwap has an ongoing opportunity for those who would like to provide vital pre-school preparatory education for the smallest and poorest children in this community. From just £5 per month you can get involved, contribute to this work and make a powerful impact in the lives of really vulnerable children. 100% of every donation will be sent to the project co-workers for the benfit of each child's individual need. A strong healthy child will learn well and at The Deborah KG we are concerned to have well fed stomachs, healthy bodies, active and creative minds and a programme of formal and informal education that is encouraged by "Learning Through Play".
We would be happy to hear from you if you would like to help us impact these children and the future for Ethiopia in this way.
"Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world" Nelson Mandela
Empowerment, Healing and Laughter for South Africa
Elizabeth van Zwet works dailyamongst some of Scotland's neediest children. They may be terminally ill, children with disability, in crisis or in trauma. As a creative health practitioner her work takes her amongst families suffering trauma, their educators and medical staff. Working with a skilled team she is sharing a wonderful and unique gift that is able to gently win the trust of a fragile heart in its hour of deepest need and draw out an inherent wellbeing through simple humourous fun.
Fascinatingly, laughter, full of comfort and even healing, seems to be housed deep within the soul, often sitting in darkness and fear until someone with the gift to know how to draw it out comes along. Families, medical staff, teachers and carers agree there is great value in hearing the sound of their desperate child's giggles and raucous laughter. As she goes about her day Elizabeth seems like someone in a hot thirsty land drawing a small cup of water from a deep well.
When we saw Elizabeth in action it filled our imaginations with 'what if we could package up that gift and those abilities and send it for the benefit of children in the world's toughest, most desperate places?' How would children benefit? What would be the outcome for their lives? What healing would they know that would help them along their way?
Of course there are more needy children in the world day by day but Elizabeth comes to us offering to use her knowledge, resources and skills amongst those in South Africa where she has received an invitation to spend three months mentoring young people. It will be her second trip to South Africa and she has already begun to prepare her work to share her giftings, and offer Life Skills training to local people who will be able to communicate hope and positive changes for their communities where children are at risk of violence, HIV/Aids, early marriage, early pregnancy and a never ending cycle of fear and cultural abuse.
If laughter can be drawn and stream from the heart of a child without hope of recovery on a hospital bed in Scotland, then we feel sure the impact of this co-worker upon the children and young people at the heart of these communities in South Africa is worth packaging her up and sending her there. Would you consider fundraising for our Laughter for South Africa fund? 100% of your donations will be used for transport, health care, board and necessary expenses for the trip including educational materials. We believe it is a powerful seed to create a big impact for children at risk now and for the future of their own children. Help us secure that future. You can donate here or through BTmydonate where you will find more information about Elizabeth's plan and the people who will be transformed. https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/laughterinafrica
The Long Walk Home, Nepal
Thanks to the amazing efforts of PovertySwap friends and fundraisers the children of a Kathmandhu children's home were all ready to take their arduous journey back to their home villages during the Christmas break. I am sorry to say that unusual weather conditions for the time of year, high on the Himalayas, saw worried relatives desperately sending messages to say "please don't come, it's too dangerous". And so the trip had to be postponed. It will now be October before the next holiday opportunity but the organisers feel sure all the conditions required for the trip will be favourable. Children are pictured here in their warm winter jackets, purchased by the funds raised, as they prepared for the long awaited journey. They must have been sorely disappointed but the warmth and love of their carers I am sure comforted them and they will be working at school through this year thinking about how much they will have to tell in October. We will, of course, keep you updated.