Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Blessed in Awassa

Day 2 - Ajuuja Care Center

A few months ago I selected a little boy named Zemene from a group of profile pictures of children needing a FIG (family in the gap). My friend, Charisa and her husband Greg, fellow Ethiopian adoptive parents, were steering an initiative called Project Hopeful Awassa. This initiative is so badly needed not only because of the great needs of the region, but because bureaucracy in this particular region has made it extremely difficult for adoptions to be completed. There are several families from our adoption agency who have had agonizing experiences being referred children from Awassa either to have their adoption process drag on and on indefinitely, or they were advised to accept the referral of another child from a different region because finalizing their present adoption wasn't likely with the child they were referred.

I selected Zemene about a month before we received Wynray's referral. We were very close to the top of the wait list, and we knew our son was out there waiting for us. Zemene's picture was of a tiny boy sitting alone on a bare floor wearing a huge downturned pout on his face. Something about his picture from all the other babies and children stole our hearts, and as it turns out, he and Wynray are about the same age. 

By becoming Zemene's FIG we agree to support him financially with $30 a month and to hold him in our thoughts and prayers until hopefully, the gap closes and he is able to find a forever family. It is a constant reminder to our family that even though we will be able to give our son a family, there are many children still needing a forever family. For some, a forever family may not be possible no matter how unfair that is.

As a FIG, we are also able to periodically send our child gifts and letters because Charisa and Greg are committed to making regular trips to Awassa to do relief work. Their adorable son, Teshale, was one of the last babies to be adopted from the Ajuuja care center in Awassa. Just a few weeks after we received Wynray's referral, we had the opportunity to send a small package to Zemene. 

Everything needed to fit into a gallon size zip lock bag. We went to Target with a bag to help gauge what we could send. At this point, we were in the midst of a two month wait for our court date and all I could think of were those two boys. One boy finding a home soon, the other one stuck indefinitely. 

I stood in the baby boy section of Target rolling up clothes to see how much I could fit in the bag and I paced the aisles looking for toys that would be comforting, stimulating, and durable. I became really emotional and frustrated for both boys. I just wanted to bring Wynray home, and I couldn't wrap my brain around Zemene possibly never having one. The line between Wynray and Zemene blurred a bit for me, it was impossible to decide who got what. Fredrik suggested we just buy several things and what we couldn't fit in the bag for Zemene we would just keep for Wynray. 

And then when we got home, I lost it a little bit...

That zip lock bag was too little. All I could fit were a pair of pajamas, a shirt, a pair of pants, some socks, a pacifier, a stuffed tiger, and a little car. I packed and repacked and busted several bags. It was not enough…it just wasn't enough. I wanted to do so much more. I wrote Zemene's name on everything because I wanted him to have things that belonged to him. And even if they were thrown in the community pile for others to use, they would still have Zemene's name in permanent marker.  

Just last week, a few days before our Embassy trip to bring Wynray home, I threw out a question to our Facebook adoption agency's support group. "We have 2-3 days in Ethiopia before our Embassy appointment, where should we go?" There were several great suggestions, but one that really struck a cord. Charissa posted, "You could go visit Zemene."  I knew in my heart that I wanted to go, it felt right. The only problem was we had our bags stuffed with donations for our son's care center, and I just could't show up in Awassa empty handed. So I asked Charissa what they needed. She suggested board books. So Kysa and I went to Barnes and Noble and bought 10 little books and I pulled some gently loved books from our own shelves. Then I packed the clothes we bought at Target that day a few months ago that Fredrik suggested could be for Wynray, but all along it appears they had been intended for Zemene. 

But it still didn't seem enough... 

The next morning my sister sent me an email asking if she could send money for donations. I said absolutely, and told her the easiest way was just to put some funds in our paypal account because a check wouldn't get to us in time. She surprised me by generously sending $100. With Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert (an album that always inspires) playing loudly in the kitchen, my fingers started typing words I hadn't really formed into thoughts. I simply asked friends and family both through email and Facebook to consider sending money so we could make a bigger impact on our trip to Awassa.  

And then, you all blew us away with your generosity. Within 24 hours there was $1,200 in our Paypal account ready to be used for donations and more kept trickling in and trickling in. Friends forwarded the email and shared my Facebook post. We received money from close friends and family as well as friends we haven't seen in years, former high school teachers, strangers like grandparents of adopted children who were some of the last kids to be adopted from Awassa, and from the grandparents of Wynray's BFF from the IAN care center. To see what your donations contributed, go to the bottom of this post.

On Saturday, having had Wynray in our keep for less than 24 hours, we drove four hours south of Addis Ababa and visited Zemene's care center. We arrived to meet Eyasu the director of the care center in Ajuuja and his sweet wife, who ushered us into a modest reception area with a sign that said "Well-Come" with pictures hanging below of our friends'  previous trip from back in the fall. We were then served traditional Ethiopian coffee and popcorn. Wynray was asleep in my arms. After a few minutes the director's wife disappeared and then reappeared with Zemene. It took a few seconds for me to soak it all in, but as I looked closer, he was wearing the clothes we had sent him and he was clutching his little stuffed tiger and car. That day in Target, I could never have imagined one day I would be holding my son in my arms, while putting a kiss on Zemene's cheek as he wears the clothes we had bought him half a world away when they were both just precious faces in a picture. Is this seriously happening?

Because of your donations and encouragement, friends, our hopes and wishes to do more were realized. Because of you, we were able to do so much more than the zip lock bag...
But we also realized immediately how important those zip lock bags were.

We spent about 2 hours at the care center taking pictures of the children so their FIGs back home could have updated photos of the kids they sponsor. We opened the boxes and handed the children the board books. The children loved the books, particularly a little 3 year old girl we'll call "H", who reminded us so very much of our Kysa back home. We then toured the compound. I was struck by three things: 1) How many tiny little babies there were 2) The genuine kindness of the staff, and 3) How very little they had. The Ajuuja care center houses 34 children under the age of 3 and supports over 100 children from the community as best they can….

Midway through the tour, they took us into their food storage room. It took me a minute to process that is was indeed the food storage room because there was no food in it. There were only a couple half opened sacks of flour on the floor next to an almost empty bottle of oil. They opened their refrigerator to show only two very wilted and rotting heads of cabbage. The director's wife was holding Wynray thankfully because my knees got weak. I turned my back to the group and covered my mouth with my hand as I fought hard to contain the sobs trying to escape. I didn't want to embarrass the sweet people who were devoting their lives to these children. The children who were accumulating in their care because they simply can't be adopted.

We continued through the compound to see an almost empty medicine cabinet and playroom and many more tiny babies crying in cribs. There was one little baby who appeared to be only a few days old, and certainly not even a healthy size for a newborn. I asked how old the baby was and they said 2 months....

I was having trouble processing it all. I took Wynray back in my arms and held him tightly….

Just when I thought I couldn't handle seeing anymore babies, they suggested we go shopping for cooking supplies. We loaded into our friend Fekadu's van, and we drove to a little grocery store with the director's wife and a couple social workers. They loaded carts full of what they thought was about 2 months of cooking supplies, food, soap, a few odds and ends and some treats for the kids.  There was a lot of hope and joy during that time in the grocery store and on the van ride back.

The care center in all their need and sadness is still somehow a proud and beautiful place. Saying our goodbyes, the staff showed us the trees in the courtyard were fruit trees: pomegranate, mango, avocado and even coffee. I asked if the coffee we drank came from their trees and they looked at me like "where else would they come from?" but simply said, "yes, of course!" I'm not sure why, but those trees gave me hope for the children of the Ajuuja care center. Some cool shelter, a little food, a sweet scent in the breeze…

Friends, we made a huge and unexpected impact. I don't think my words fully articulate the timeliness of these donations, and how badly they were needed. When I asked where their regular funding comes from, they said from families who have adopted from their care center in the past, and who continue to give them money, from Project Hopeful Awassa and the FIG program, a little from the Ethiopian government, and sometimes they get help from soldiers (though I"m not entirely sure what that means). 

Generally, most care centers survive from a portion of the adoption fees paid by adoptive parents to their adoption agencies. So because adoptions from this care center have essentially stopped, they aren't receiving the type funding most care centers receive. Basically, they live day by day from donations, knowing more babies will be coming into their care and may not be leaving.

In our final goodbyes, the directors thanked us again and again for the donations, and for our concern. We explained we were only the deliverers, and that so many of you had provided these donations, and so many of you back home were thinking and praying for them and sending them blessings. They send their many blessing to you. 

Climbing back in the van we realized we may have been the ones unloading boxes of supplies, but we were the ones being truly blessed a million times over with love. Through your generous donations you allowed us to be a conduit for hope and love. You blessed us with your generosity.

We were blessed.

Many of you have asked about the t-shirt I was wearing in my Facebook cover photo, and how fitting it was for the image of me holding both my children at the end of our court trip. If you haven't seen it, it's a Lucinda Williams concert t-shirt that says BLESSED multiple times down the front.  It's lyrics from this particular song that summarizes our trip to the care center:

We were blessed by the homeless man who showed us the way home
Blessed by the hungry man who filled us with love
by the little innocent babies who taught us the truth
We were blessed by the forlorn, forsaken and abused.
We were blessed.
We were blessed.

Our most humble thanks to all our friends, family and contributors. 
"For it is in giving that we receive." - Prayer of St Francis

Want to get more involved? There are several ways:
Or, simply check out www.projecthopeful.org and find out what the organization is doing at large.


What YOUR donations contributed:
  • 3 large boxes filled with formula, diapers, shampoo, conditioners, lotions, vaseline, toothbrushes, toothpaste and more for the Ajuuja Care Center in Awassa
  • 1 large duffle bag filled with 2 bumbos, several balls, board books, shoes and lots of clothing for the Ajuuja Care Center in Awassa
  • 2 months worth of cooking oil, corn starch, corn flour, barley, rice, rice cereal, powdered milk, soap, aloe vera, honey, small treats and more (items selected by the care center Director when we took her shopping) for the Ajuuja Care Center in Awassa
  • 14 pairs of shoes for the children at the IAN care center in Addis Ababa
  • Monetary donation to a woman and mother of a family supported by the Ajuuja Care Center in Awassa who is undergoing surgery in Addis Ababa after extensive burns; to help compensate for travel to Addis Ababa and time lost working for her husband http://forsuchasthese.blogspot.com/2012/12/emebets-surgeryupdate.html
  • Remaining funds donated will go directly to Project Hopeful Awassa to help support upcoming expenses

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