When you turn off from the main road you never quite know what you may find. Up and around we slowly climbed dodging rocks, chickens and numerous onlookers staring and often smiling as we smile back at them. The orphanage is clearly marked but we learned today that few Ethiopians go there. We greeted the few who work at this large orphanage and within moments I began to wonder how they do what they do each day.
Many children stood in the doorway dressed in uniforms that looked a bit like rags. They were eager to wave but a bit unsure if they should walk out to greet us. We met the Americans who have moved to Ethiopia to make this particular orphanage their main focus. It was clear that they were in love with many of the children and that many of the children were so excited when they arrived. Within moments little hands were locked in mine and kids were pouring out of every corner. There were 75 plus children ages 2-8 who we were able to love and play with. The babies were in a different part of the compound and there were so many babies we all had to take turns to be certain they were touched and held. At least thirty babies, some only a week old were in the two rooms. There were flies. The flies were aggressive and frankly one of the most challenging things to watch were the flies on some of the wounds of the children.
Hayden sat in the van, protected from the many eyes upon him so he could fold as many paper airplanes as he could. Seeing him interact with the children without disgust or fear was a gift to me. He held the hands of those who wanted to walk with him and he tried his mighty best to make paper airplanes for each interested child. We headed up to the area the kids call their soccer field and I opened bags of potato sacks. The kids giggled and shouted to have one of their own. It was a fury of activity and many hands were reaching as if I were a rock star performing on stage. I finally got the 12 bags open and the kids jumped with wild abandon all over the field. Brady and and Delia showed Hayden how to make balloon swords and flowers and there was so much joy as we passed them out, watching the kids run and bop one another.
There were children who sang for us and many kind exchanges of appreciation from the teachers and the staff. We even met a young man who has such a deep love for the orphan and volunteers daily at the orphanage. He was such an amazing soul and tries to spread the word that local Ethiopians can help at the orphanages too. Our final hour was spent saying good byes and listening to the the staff tell us over and over that it was the best day the children had ever had. Can you even imagine? There truly are few words to describe the emotions that surged through most of us visiting the orphans today. For many this is their first Ethiopia trip and their first exposure to orphans living in very tough sub standard conditions. I found myself drawn to comfort the members of our team who were very emotional about how adoption and orphan care has been placed on their hearts. You do not come here and not have your heart touched by the raw. There is raw joy and smiles mixed with raw the circumstance of poverty and despair.
We had the afternoon free and Hayden slept. He is struggling with altitude sicknes but we are treating him now with an altitude medication and we have seen improvement tonight. He even ate injera and shirro. We had a unique evening of visiting with the child we sponsor at a boarding school few hours away. He has lived on the street for many years and sending him to a boarding school to get him off the streets has not been the perfect solution. We are working through it and I have a wonderful team of Ethiopian friends who are helping me with the situation. It was a gift to spend time with him today but he is begging to stay with me and we simply cannot break the rules of the Guest House. There is much more to share but tonight he had no where to sleep so he is outside of our compound until we all wake up in the morning. It is a bit of tough love but we really need him to want to go back to the boarding school with the team that is going tomorrow.
There is much more to share, but I am in need of a good night’s sleep before we head to a new village where we will be serving in a new orphanage, building a chicken coop and slaughtering goats (yup goats!) to cook and share with the community. I feel richly blessed for the opportunity to be here in Ethiopia just serving and loving and learning. Having Hayden alongside is icing on the cake.