When I was asked to help out in the daycare program two weeks ago, I was quite apprehensive. Honestly, having never been the babysitter-type, I was dreading it. I agreed to this knowing that anyone can survive almost anything for two weeks. I am here to serve where I’m most needed, not to serve where I’m most comfortable or even most skilled.
It turns out that I not only survived the past two weeks, but I actually enjoyed them. I worked in the infant room with Tigist and Meseret, the two caregivers whom I now refer to as the Baby Whisperers. Never have I seen two women with such motherly intuition, strength, and patience. (Five days a week, they spend 9 hours in a small room with about ten children, ages 6 months to 1 year. And to think they have their own family waiting for them at home!) These women can transform tears and fussing into smiles and calm with ease. They work together seamlessly, taking turns with the more unpleasant duties, all the while laughing with and encouraging one another as friends. Their passion and love for the children are obvious. They work with joy and gratitude, and it’s contagious. I quickly began to look forward to walking through the infant room door in the morning, warmly greeted by Tigist, Meseret, and all the babies’ wide, beautiful brown eyes. I didn’t mind changing diapers (it actually gave me a surprising sense of accomplishment – how wonderful it is to hold a newly dry, clean baby!) and wiping so many runny noses. I loved feeling the warmth of their little bodies against mine while rocking them to sleep, discovering their unique personalities, and hearing their sweet babbling.
Strong Hearts’ daycare program is an incredible opportunity and blessing for families in need of sponsorship and support. Working mothers can have peace of mind that their little ones are being well cared for in their absence. Clothing, food, medication as necessary, and fun activities are provided for each child through the generosity of donors and the dedication of caregivers. As a nurse, I’m familiar with the formative impact a child’s early years has on long- term health and development. These children are gifts from God, and they are incomprehensibly precious to Him. This daycare offers a vibrant, safe environment where children can grow in the nurturing love and warm light of Christ.
During my initial meeting with the Director of Strong Hearts, one of the first questions asked of me was “Do you love Jesus?” Never have I been asked that during an interview, and I must say, it was both startling and refreshing. As I’ve begun volunteering in the hospice program at Strong Hearts, I have seen the ardent love of Jesus as a value shared and upheld by all staff in word and in action. Thus far, what I have appreciated most about the hospice program is its holistic approach; not only is physical comfort a goal, but also spiritual and emotional comfort. Scripture readings, prayer, and counsel are always offered during visits. I have sensed that hospice care is not just a job to my Ethiopian teammates, but rather their unique calling from God. Patients within the program are not just sick people, but friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.
The most difficult aspect of volunteering has been the language barrier. I perceive that important things are being said, and oh how I wish I knew those things! Despite my frustration with the language barrier, visiting the homes of patients has been a joy and privilege. When entering homes within and surrounding the city dump, I am entering different worlds. The majority of the homes have one or two crowded rooms with dirt floors, walls made of a combination of rock, clay, and grasses, and roofs constructed with scraps of plastic and sheet metal. I have met men and women who have remarkably strong, steady faith in the midst of extreme poverty and physical suffering. I have met middle-school aged children who are forced to quit school and find day labor jobs in order to support their bedridden parent and pay rent. I have been amazed and humbled to find that patients and families have been such generous hosts despite having so little. During almost every home visit thus far, some sort of food or drink has been shared. A number of families have welcomed us to join their coffee ceremony (the whole process done over a tiny charcoal fire pit, from green coffee beans to steaming hot cups). These ceremonies are occasions where the barrier of language is overcome through the act of hospitality and the shared enjoyment of an Ethiopian tradition.
Over the next few months, I am looking forward to seeing more of how the organization’s vision of “transforming from the inside out” comes alive and bears fruit. God is at work in this community and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
Kasech has been a patient of the hospice program for over one year. Over this time she has been fighting through the stages of HIV and TB. At this time she is bedridden once again, and because of this cannot work. Her daughter, Slameweyt, has been forced to take over the role of providing for the family, as Kasech’s husband has passed away. Slameweyt is 17-years-old and because of having to provide for her family had to drop out of school over a year ago. She had finished through grade 8 and she said Biology was her favorite subject in school. She also said that she misses her friends and social interaction with peers her age. This past year, instead of school, she worked 10-hour everyday 6-days a week as a day laborer carrying heavy blocks and working with cement, but even this is not possible anymore. She hurt her leg at work and has not been able to work for the past 15 days. Typically, Slameweyt was making about $50 a month, which was enough to cover all of their needs. But now, they have no source of income. Their rent is due in 8 days, and costs about $25 a month. Even once Slameweyt’s leg heals, she does not belong as a day laborer, but in school where she can get an education and hope for the future.
if you are interested to send Selameweyt to school please do extend our hand of blessing on the following onine doations
Well…the day we have been waiting for has happened! The Strong Families Care Center is officially open! Whoah! We had months of preparing, hiring staff, screened almost 200 families for 40 open slots and now we have started! So how was the first day? That may be what people are wondering. Well, not how I had it in my head, exactly, because well, I’m American. So therefore, everything should have been in perfect order, nicely organized and just tears of joy, right? Actually, when I walked inside the gates of the compound Monday morning, I really did have to fight back tears. Here were all the families we had been praying about for months. I was so humbled that we are even here doing this. So I choked back the tears and went directly to the check list in my head—did the bottles make it here and were they clean? I can run through a whole list of things in my head that I wanted to make sure was in order, but I will spare you those details. It was a hectic morning, all day, really. Figuring out who went where, trying to get the right names on the right kids. And geesh, there a lot of crying! It was loud.
The Sullivan kids and Mark came about an hour after the moms came. They walked up the stairs and kind of looked at me with a “wow—this is chaotic and loud!” and they might have even said that, frankly, but I didn’t really hear them. They all helped where they could. Even the little boys wanted to play with the kids, but quickly found out that these kids were not really in a playing mood at the moment, so they had a great time when it was tea time and they got cookies. It’s all about embracing the culture, right? The Sullivan girls however, are really great helpers and have a gift with the little ones! The kids woke up Monday morning super early like it was Christmas morning…anxious to get to see the kids at the center! I helped out where I could, getting new clothes for kids that needed it, dug into different bins for various things, greeted moms that came during lunch time to feed their babies, and had my fill of cuddling babies. Mark even held babies (that loved him, by the way!) but was more the main photographer, errand guy and transporter of our own kids. Even though these kids were upset since they had probably not spent much time off their mother’s backs…they were so cute! One little boy in the baby room makes these cute, manly grunting noises with his big smile that cracks us all up. Another little boy just bounced around on the mattresses (that are really for taking naps), as others in his room were crying up a storm. A sweet baby girl would softly lay her head on my chest, just wanting to be cuddled…and I was happy to oblige! The moms, dads, and sisters came even before 4:30 pick up time to get their babies. Yes…there are more than just moms. Mostly moms, mind you, but we have some dads that pick up and drop off their little ones, as well as some older (maybe 10 years old?) sisters that must be caring for these little ones.
We have had only 2 days open, and the second day went smoother than the first. We expect it to continue to get smoother with our experience, in how things will run at the center. For now, we know that we have some awesome staff. There is one baby that still had to be medically cleared from having TB, so we had to keep him separated from the other children. Our fantastic guard took a turn with this little one, as well as various caregivers. At the end of one day, a caregiver was finishing up washing the diapers by hand, as some of us hung them out to dry. The cook was in charge of feeding some little ones a snack on the front step outside. Everybody just pitches in where they are needed and what is best for the kids, regardless of the position they were hired. The staff already work really well as a team. They amaze me in their patience and laid back attitude in the midst of what most of us would perceive as chaos. The caregivers do not seem frustrated by any of it, but just add another child to their lap, tie a baby onto their back, so they have a free hand to deal with another one, or any such variation! Amazing.
Then when it is tea time, the staff somehow make the time to take a moment, have their hot tea and not spill it on a baby that is crawling around. I finally had to concede and have tea (2 times!) on Tuesday. Just relax and enjoy my tea for a moment. Oh how much I am trying to embrace and learn here! I just can’t wait to get things done and organized sometimes. However, I am learning how things will get done (maybe not the way I would like it) and truly, it is the friendships that we build with one another that matter in the long run. I may be rushing up the stairs on my way to get something, but if somebody just enters the building, I must take the time to greet them and not just wave “selam” and scurry past. It is one thing to read the books like “Foreign to Familiar” and be here for a week or two and realize yes, this is how this culture really is here. But when trying to actually run a program and live here….it is taken to a whole different level! There are definitely things on both sides of our cultures that we can both benefit from. It is that balance between them that we are still figuring out. Not sure that we ever will, really! It is hard to be raised with one way and then switch to another, automatically. We are thankful for our eyes being opened to this new way of living, and building relationships, even when it seems so unnatural to us. I can’t wait to see the families on Monday. We cannot wait to start to get to know them. For now, I see their kind faces, some big smiles and some shy, but so many are saying “amaseganalah” (thank you) as we tell them “ciao ciao” to get them to leave and assure them their babies will be ok. Again, just so thankful that we are here doing this. Families like these have got to stay together. They want to stay together, but they are in difficult circumstances that make life very difficult to get by and provide for their family with the resources they currently have.
We hope to soon have profiles and pictures up on the website so you can sponsor a family. This is the means that we are using to keep the program funded and running. All of the money that you put towards the sponsorship go directly to the services that help families. The Sullivan family is supported separately by Christ Church. Of course there are always going to be needs (especially right now, as we start up and see what we really could use and did not budget for!) that come up for the center, so one-time donations are great as well! We will keep our donation list updated so you can donate money towards an item, or purchase items to get to Ethiopia. Donations can always be dropped off or shipped to Christ Church and they will coordinate getting things over here. Or, if you are travelling over to Ethiopia—we would love to meet you, show you what we are doing here, bring supplies, or give us a hand with the kids! You can always contact us through our facebook page, or email us directly.
Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement!
It is hard to give updates when it isn’t quite complete! But wanted to let you know the progress of things here so far, because I think we will be even MORE busy soon! We already have our lead positions filled (social worker, lead caregiver, manager and accountant). We are interviewing for the nurse. We have hired 5 caregivers, still needing 3 more caregivers to complete our number of caregivers. We are interviewing applicants tomorrow. We are also in the process of hiring the cleaners and cooks. Almost complete for our staff, so we can start training them all next week and/or the next. Purchasing of the supplies and furniture is happening as I type here! The process is not very easy. I wish we could just pull into a super store and purchase it all, hope that they have price matching and hand in our receipt. Yes…not that simple. So we came up with our list of supplies that are needed and they are widdling it down to what we absolutely need now, based on our budget! Kind of like a family budget!
Almost 200 families have applied to be in this program. The need is so very great here, but only 40 slots are open. We are being very conscious of helping those that truly need to be helped and not starting a welfare system of dependence. Part of this process is after some screening, those families that seem to be a better fit have home visits from our staff. Since this is an extension of Strong Hearts ministries, we would like to also continue to support the families that we already know and are assisting. But we must be fair to all families that apply, so we will see who God has in mind for us, soon!
The supplies that are coming in or are already here are just so vital to us here. I know it may seem like we have a large budget, or why can’t we buy this or that here, but the thing is, items here like clothing or dishes or bottles or even cloth diapers are hard to come by and when you do come by them, they are not great quality and so very expensive! As we go through our lists, all I can think in my head is the ability for people to shop clearance at Kohls, Target, Old Navy—you name it and it is so easy! So thank you all so much for saving us so much money and head ache here when you so generously fill up those pieces of luggage to get over here! A special thank you to all of those “mule” friends of ours that haul it all over for us—some dear friends that we have known for a long while, and some are new generous friends that we have through adoption or missions! This community of people we are all a part of, is so special and certainly God-orchestrated. Thank you—and hope we can report soon about the grand opening! We are a bit baby crazy here and can’t wait to help out! And when I say all of us, I mean, everybody! Ok, maybe not Mark, he will be happy to make our shelves and make a great website with family profiles! But for the rest of us, I think the Sullivan children can probably man the center on their own! Blessings to you all.
This has been a challenging week for the Hospice Program. We learned on Monday thatour patient Serekalem went to the doctor for a check up and was told she onlyhad a short time left to live. Serekalem has cervical cancer, and ended her chemotherapy treatment months ago. The last round of chemotherapy caused kidneyfailure, so now she is living with only one kidney. The day after she heard thenews the hospice staff spent a lot of time with her offering her words ofsolace, as well as praying with her. The news has been very hard for Serekalem,and she has spent the past few days with family and friends. It has been veryimportant to us to keep her faith strong, and make sure she knows that she willbe going to a better place. One of our big concerns is both of her daughters. Serekalem’sdaughters are ages four and twelve, and their father recently moved to Americafor work. Serekalem has always been a very hardworking, friendly, and positivepatient that we have always enjoyed visiting. We at Strong Hearts hope that thefamily stays strong, and will continue to regularly visit them throughout thenext few weeks, as well as keep Serekalem and her family in our prayers.
Debre is fifty one years old. She came to addis from the countryside region of Gojam when she was ten years old. She is in stage four at this time, and is bedridden. Last August Debre learned that she had ovarian cancer. The doctors did biopsies and other tests that showed the cancer has already metastasized to many organs in her body. They were not able to remove the present tumors and sent her home. There is much accumulation of fluid in her abdomen, back, and peritonea. She suffers with extreme pain and discomfort, including shortness of breath from the fluid. She is taking morphine four times a day for pain. Debre worked before she got sick, but is now unable to leave her home and is dependent. Now her husband and twenty five year old daughter work to support their family. Debre is our newest patient, only having been with strong hearts for two months. Strong Hearts provides her with groceries monthly and other needs periodically. The Hospice team visit Debre everyday in her home to evaluate her physical state and encourage her spiritually, psychologically and emotionally.
Twenty-five years ago, Shibera Bogale who is currently our Hospice care Client, came to Addis Ababa from the countryside of Welo. She had no children, but her husband, who came with her, has children that live with them currently. Eight years ago Shibera went to the hospital to be tested and treated for Herpes Zoster. The tests revealed that she also was positive for HIV AIDS. She started treatment immediately. Shibera and her husband support themselves by collecting garbage from people’s homes. Last year Shibera began growing vegetables to sell. Although her garden is flourishing, she is becoming increasingly weak from her illness, and struggles to carry water from far away for her garden. One month ago, she took out a loan, which she will repay within 18 months, to purchase 15 young chickens. Shibera is an excellent example for people suffering from HIV AIDS. She does not let her illness keep her from setting goals for herself and accomplishing things. She is industrious, positive, and should be an encouragement for all HIV AIDS patients.
If Shibera got a water tab line at her house then that will make her successful in her garden work and Strong Hearts appreciate any help towards this need!!! The water tab line costs abdout $250 if anyone is interested in helping Shiberea please let me know!
Today I spent the day with Dundee, the co-founder and visionary behind Strong Hearts – the recipient organization of the first two solar lights. An incredibly special day for me.
Dundee’s real name is Getinet Tafesse. A few years ago a couple from PEI, Canada saw Dundee opening a pop bottle with his teeth, thought he looked liked Crocodile Dundee and since then the name has stuck. He said now even his parents call him Dundee.
He picked me up at Guenet’s Hotel in the center of Addis Ababa (which actually hasn’t been a hotel for years) where we had set up our camp. Our first stop was the super cute Strong Hearts School filled with the cutest, best-behaved kids I’d seen in all of Ethiopia (OMG – well behaved children DO exist in Ethiopia!!!!!!)
I had to wonder if they had shipped these kids in from Kenya, they were THAT good.
About 100 children attend this school and are broken into three grades – the equivalent of Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. The story behind these kids and this school is pretty incredible. All of the children attending this school were specially selected; their parents either have HIV, Leprosy or are affected by extreme poverty.
The school is located blocks from the only Leprosy colony in all of Ethiopia, also making it one of the poorest areas of Addis Ababa. It is also conveniently located next to the city garbage dump. Prior to opening this school, Dundee went into the area and interviewed kids about their future dreams (he said most kids in Ethiopia want to be one of three things when they grow up a doctor, a pilot or a teacher/professor). But when he asked the kids from this area what they wanted to be it was either a garbage scrapper/picker or a thief – other occupational choices did not even exist in their wee minds.
This school provides the children with two meals a day, breakfast and lunch. Everyone knows it is easier to concentrate in school with food in your belly!
Besides the school, Strong Hearts has ventured out into other areas of the community as well.
A mini micro-financing department was opened two years ago. Ten women from the community were provided with sewing training and a loan to start their own repair business in 2010. These women are all now self-employed, paying off their sewing machines and start-up supplies and will have their loans paid back by the end of 2012.
A housing project was also started last year. Twenty-five local families were provided with a place to live and Strong Hearts paid 100% of their rent last year. This year the recipients had to pay 60% of their own rent and next year they will be responsible for 100%. Once these families are 100% self-sufficient, Strong Hearts will support another 25 families.
The next stop in my day with Dundee was a new office space that will be used for nurses and pharmacists heading the new medical program at Strong Hearts. These nurses and pharmacists will provide home visits/care to cancer and HIV patients. It will only be the second hospice care organization in all of Ethiopia.
Two of the solar lights my community helped me raise money for will be donated to two local families connected to the Strong Hearts community. The first family’s parents are blind and are not able to provide their family with any kind of electricity. Their children will now be able to study after dark. The second light will go to a family within the Leprosy colony. The father is very ill, cannot work and again cannot afford any electricity. These recipients are extremely grateful for the gift of light into their homes.
My day with Dundee was extremely interesting. He is passionate about his country, gave me a lot of insights into the Ethiopian government and confirmed some of my personal thoughts about the current situation in Ethiopia. But this blog post is about my amazing day at an organization doing some incredible work ( I will write another blog post about my personal thoughts on Ethiopia later). Dundee does not believe in giving anything away, especially money. You have to work for it, and continue working. He is one man changing Ethiopia for the better and I was so happy to have had the opportunity to spend the day with him. Thanks Dundee, for being Dundee and for being such a rock (star) in your community.
Ps:- this page is written by one of our guest from Canada!
Strong Hearts Hospice Program located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia helps people who have HIV or cancer. The program helps with managing medication, going to medical appointments, counseling, and assisting with the daily cost of living when needed. The program is run by a medical staff which includes a pharmacist and trained nurses as well as a range of volunteers with different medical backgrounds.
I am an American student taking pre-med courses who has decided to volunteer with the hospice program over the summer. These past few weeks I have had the privilege to work with this team visiting the patients in their homes, and it has been a remarkable experience.
One patient I was particularly moved to meet was Emawayish, she is 35 years old with a 7 year old daughter who she named Dasasha which she explained translates as her everything. She is widowed, and her daughter is extremely precious. Emawayish is HIV positive and has cervical cancer and is in continual pain. Her only source of income is begging as she has no other family to help. Despite that she was initially reluctant to accept money for medication, but is now being helped by Strong Hearts with medication and food for her and her daughter. I found Dasasha and Emawayish to be friendly, and she wished blessing on the team visiting her. I was touched by her courage and optimism. With the medication and food being provided the outlook for both her and her daughter looks more positive.
We are also helping 27-year-old Meaza, who was working as a housemaid before she was tragically raped, as a result of which she contracted HIV. Her parents had already passed away and when she went back to her village she was rejected. She then moved to Addis Ababa and got married, however, when her daughter was born her husband left her. She bakes as a source of income to help support herself and her daughter, and Strong Hearts are able to support her work by assisting with pain medication to help her. I felt deeply affected by visiting her and her efforts to overcome the adversities life has thrown at her, and to remain positive and keep faith to provide her and her daughter with the best life possible.
I find it amazing to see the Ethiopian team, with assistance from other volunteers, enter the peoples’ homes, spend time listening to them, working to understand them, praying with them, helping with managing their medication, and bringing pain relief as far is as possible, and food and rent when needed. I think its great that they are taking the time and effort to care about these people who could easily be forgotten and left alone in their homes with just their pain and suffering.