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