Category Archives: Africa and Ethiopia

Woven Dignity 2016 {making an impact in the Chapa Village}

There is no talk of menstrual cycles or the glorious wonder of a women’s body as the giver of life. There is no understanding of what to do when a young lady begins menstruating and many girls suffer in silence and despair missing up to a week of life’s opportunities every month. That is three months of life a year.

IMG_3888

No wonder the room of young girls sat wide-eyed as we unpacked supplies and began educating them with simple drawings on the blackboard.

IMG_3891

They are young yet old enough to be curious about the changes happening to their maturing bodies, and for many they are statistically speaking already experiencing exploitation or gestures of sex in exchange for hygiene materials or permission to remain in school while menstruating. According to the World Health Organization as many as 74% of African girls are exploited by the age of 12 and many are “taken” to become child brides before their 14th birthday. Educationin remote areas in non-existent and so are the solutions to the problem of girls missing out on education and opportunities and eventually work days when they become young ladies.  The Chapa Village is no exception. Until we were granted permission to begin educating women and girls, there was no hygiene or health training, no safe menstrual supplies and no unity among the women of dignity and strength surrounding menstruation.  At the Begin With One Chapa Community Carepoint we are working to change silence and provide women with deserved dignity and hope. Through our Woven Dignity education and the delivery of hand-made menstrual kits we are seeing tremendous change and we know from the feedback of the girls that they are less likely to avoid school or drop out of school altogether due to infection and or lack of proper menstrual supplies.

IMG_3893

This year we were able to bring 75 reusable/washable menstrual kits to the women and girls of Chapa and each person who received a kit was trained on her body, what a menstrual cycle is and how to properly use the kits.

IMG_3883

A heartfelt thank you to Board Member, Kristi Herstein and her daughter Hannah for serving the women of Chapa so well through excellent hands on education.  What an honor it was to see the women and girls leaving the Chapa Carepoint clinging to the small token of love, education and restored dignity wrapped in a brightly colored cloth bag. Thank you to the many hands who generously donated materials, sewed pads and bags and to those who prayed for our journey to empower the women we have grown to love in Chapa. We look forward to next steps and we are dreaming big about teaching the women to teach other women not only about their health but also about how kits can be made.

To learn more about ways to get involved in empowering women visit: www.daysforgirls.org and take a look at this startling video:

 

Sponsorship {a bridge to change}

FullSizeRender

Working through the on the ground staff of Children’s Hopechest here in Ethiopia we have been blessed to see the fruit of child sponsorship in the village of Chapa. Children are selected and profiled based on vulnerability, risk of not being able to attend school and overall lack of family stability without basic intervention. This is determined by local church leaders who know the families and the children and are highly aware of needs.  If a child is profiled he or she is available for sponsorship which includes the uniform, shoes and learning materials needed to attend school. They become part of the Chapa Carepoint in conjunction with the small village church and the children are carefully monitored and discipled in order to improve success rates in school and so that families might more easily remain together.

Being in school in most developing countries represents protection and gives children a purpose and a place to be each day. While to many this may not sound important it is a vital piece of the overall health and wellness of a child and in many village communities the sponsored child who attends school is protected from early child marriage (often as young as 14). We have been told that those children in school are far less likely to stray from family, become hard laborers at a very early age which often stunts growth or perhaps even leave the family in search of a better opportunity which leads to thousands of street children who ultimately endure years of abuse simply trying to survive. In Ethiopia once a child migrates from the countryside into the large metropolis of Addis Ababa he or she is extremely vulnerable to those who trick children into indentured servitude and prostitution.  In Addis Ababa millions of children live in absolute squalor never able to return to family unless they end up in the hands of someone willing to help.

There is hope in breaking the cycles of extreme poverty and abuse. During our visit to Ethiopia this week our team has been able to see firsthand the models of ministry that work to equip and empower those who so often only need a little hand to become empowered. It is beyond humbling to see the light among the darkness and meet those who are building bridges to allow God’s grace and mercy to shine.  At the Chapa School/Carepoint these are the children still available for sponsorship and we are dreaming big as a team that they will all be sponsored before we leave Ethiopia in just a few days. Sponsorship is just $38 a month and this week it was so evident just how life-giving your gift is to the children and the overall community of Chapa.

UnspoZenabua soredChapaKids-2

This is Zenabua. She is playful and very smiley, always laughing with her friends.

UnsposoredChapaKids-7

Meet Habtamu. He loved the sport portion of our fun together and of course enjoys soccer.

UnsposoredChapaKids-22

Could Mesafante have a more engaging smile? He is delightful and spunky.

UnsposoredChapaKids-28

This is Yordanose. He is always with his pack of friends and tried several times to speak to me in English. He is eager to learn.

UnsposoredChapaKids-36

This is Tilahun. He seems very sweet and has a sparkle in his eyes.

Please visit:

http://chapa.hopechest.org/sponsor/

to sponsor a child today.

Thank you!

Weaving Dignity throughout the Chapa Village…

Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

-Galatians 6:2

The night was still and all was calm in my home.  I sat peacefully and prayerfully thinking about the stunning work God has done in and through our connection to and love of the Chapa community in Ethiopia. Tonight I am beyond humbled to share the story of three sisters who spend their days sowing by sewing for women throughout the developing and hurting world. I wish all of you could have the honor of meeting the one and only Jean.  In fact after one afternoon of being welcomed into her home where she and her husband have collected many animals her husband has hunted (and I do not just mean the usual white tailed deer), her prized antique collection and her sewing space, I am craving another time when we gather to share stories and many more laughs.  There is much I could share about the day my dear friend and board member, Kristi and I spent laughing and crying with Jean. She is a scream, passionately filling her days with activities that fill up others in so many meaningful ways.

After my first trip to Chapa almost five years ago we as a family felt a clear mandate to lead others back to see what I saw in the people of the nation where human remains were first discovered and coffee was born in the 18th century. When in Ethiopia it is challenging not to see through the lens of poverty and despair. There are people in need everywhere,  yet I choose to see resilience, strength and abundant resourcefulness at every turn.  Much of the culture smiles from ear to ear, worships with great fervor and welcomes us with multiple kisses on the cheek and tiny piping hot cups of coffee. They are a people so deserving of dignity obtained through education.

The Chapa surroundings were stunning, the church grounds lined with banana leaves, where I stood with only a translator,  singing alone in front of hundreds of students in need of sponsors to support them in school.  That day is forever etched, a perfect blend of fear and complete joy filling my heart and deeply rooting me to the Chapa village. After the first visit I was eager to begin working with Children’s Hopechest and One Child Campaign to plan the next visit where we would invite sponsors and those looking to enter into the needs of those within the margins with the hope of providing basic support and sustainable solutions.  As that planning began to unfold the idea was born that the women and young girls of the Chapa village needed to be educated about the changes that take place as they mature into young ladies.  We learned that many remote areas of Ethiopia and beyond still consider menstruation to be taboo, the girls toxic. Menstruation is something girls must experience in silence, often shamed into staying away from family or school or forced to menstruate over a hole in the ground due to lack of supplies. Even owning a pair of underwear for many is a luxury so it is nearly impossible to utilize feminine hygiene products.  Here is what a girl living in rural Nepal endures.  We have been told that the same is true in Ethiopia.  As educated women it sickens me to learn that young girls endure such fear or shame, but the unknown creates fear and fear results in girls being treated as nothing more than commodities. Their fear is my burden.

What we have helped to accomplish so far within the Chapa village we have done by first building relationships with locals.  We have begun to see small changes in the health and motivation of the children and we have understood emergent needs through our relationship with the local church and village leaders. No matter what our desires we do not want to make things worse for a girl entering puberty. So far the kits have been wildly accepted and the women and teenage girls are beyond grateful. We hold classes with the young ladies, wide-eyed and giggling. We use drawings and demonstrations to explain their anatomy and how to use the kit so that they should be allowed to remain in school and among society. We teach them that their maturity is not a curse but rather a perfect science allowing for women to reproduce. Their wide eyes speak a thousand words and we can only imagine what they are really thinking. We hope to do more to educate men that women should not be devalued or suffer from social stigma.

This year we thought we would be starting from the ground up creating or collecting kits. The kits have become a vital part of our outreach to the women and children of Chapa and we do not want to return {February 2016} without new kits and educational materials. Several weeks back I sat chatting this through with my in-laws, now highly involved in Haiti working with the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty, and they mention a woman living nearby who sews kits with her sisters to give to others who will deliver them to women in need. WHAAAT? So I make a call to someone who makes another call and the connection is made.  I give Jean a call and after an hour of sharing our similar hearts for women throughout the world, I am squealing in delight that Jean wants to help us continue the work we have begun at Chapa and beyond.  Just another connection to a woman who will invest in the women of Chapa. Partnership is what it is all about.   Last week Kristi and I had the privilege of traveling only forty-five minutes to meet the one and only Jean. 2015-10-13_0002

She is a jack(ie) of all trades, lover of missions, caretaker of her sisters, collector,  famous pie maker, mother, grandmother and social activist.  She will make you laugh and cry simultaneously as she shares the calling laid on her heart to sew with her sisters, ages 79 and 84. One of her sisters struggles with her memory so the sewing has become an exercise in helping her to remain sharp and focused. They call themselves Three old ladies who sew and sew for others.” As we entered her bright sewing space Jean pulled up two chairs, plopped down atop a box and said, “Ok girls let’s talk.” She asked us what we really needed. I began explaining our journey in taking slow steps to connect with the village women. Then I simply asked for her help with providing us the kits. Could we buy them from her?  Within seconds tears were streaming down all of our faces as Jean stood up, began shifting boxes and started counting and loading the most beautiful menstrual kits created in bold patterns and colors.  Kristi and I sat with jaws hung and tears flowing. The menstrual kit ministry will be called Woven Dignity  and it will continue at Chapa and beyond as many other ministries are also interested in how sexual education can empower women and young ladies, perhaps protecting them from the horrors of child pregnancy, trafficking, forced labor and beyond. Education equals critical thinking and empowerment and empowerment equals standing up to change and the rise out of poverty.

The women of Chapa and Ethiopia in general AMAZE me. They are the backbone of the village, working as gatherers, nuturers, selling at the local markets, rasing children and they do so in conditions many of us cannot begin to imagine. During our visit last year the women shared about their daily lives and how challenging it is to be without skills and resources and that they often have to choose between children when it comes to education or food. Many talked of husbands who have fled or died and they are left to care for and protect large families on their own. During that hour my heart was ripped wide open for their plight.  How could I hear their plea as they humbly asked us to lay hands on them and pray and not be called to action?  How could I not carry their burden back to my community? We have a dream in the works… We want to collaboratively bring skills training to the women of Chapa. What might such women accomplish if they were given an opportunity? Dream with me…

WE NEED YOUR HELP:

Donate Here

Share this post with your community. Maybe you have a way you wish to serve the women of Chapa. We are open to hearing any and all ideas and look forward to creating a retreat for them and teaching them basic skills when we are on the ground in February. This is only the beginning!

Peace and Grace on your Journey,

Melanie