Today was another wonderful adventure, however. at times completely hectic. I started early today since, I was finally going to the orphanage. I looked forwarded to the visit, but dreaded it at the same time; I didn’t know what I would see. It was a long distance from my hotel, so I got to experience even more of the city. It was a great drive there but, I have to say, what I saw raised even more questions in my mind, as we drove back.
Catholic Sisters run this children’s home with about 375 children. The children range in age from newborn to about 10 to 11 years old. These are the same sisters that are related to Mother Theresa’s work in India.
The sisters were very kind when we arrived. They were very direct about the fact that no pictures should be taken. It was clear that pictures would not be tolerated and we would be asked to leave.
I have to say the facility was beautiful; it was clean and very large with individual classrooms for grades preschool to 4th grade. The dorm rooms with about 30 beds in each, were very orderly and organized and in great condition. There were beautiful gardens with paved walkways all over the compound. Since it was high in the mountains of Addis, its view was beautiful of both the city and the country.
Looking at it from that perspective these children are lucky to have a nice place to live. I had brought my wristbands and went to every classroom and give each child one. Every time you entered a class the children would stand at attention, then each class sang us a song. The younger classes sing in Amaric and the older ones in English. All of the songs were about Jesus or God, because the children are raised Catholic. After each song I would pull out the bracelets and their eyes would light up like Christmas morning. It was very touching to see how something so small was so exciting for all the children.
When I traveled around the grounds, if a class were outside after they received the wristband, they would raise there arms and wave the bright yellow bands in the air at me. It was so uplifting to see joy on their faces. The only ones I didn’t give to were the infants. But, every child got one and they were so grateful for their gift. I want to thank all those who have been so helpful with getting the bracelets here; those were moments that will live in my heart forever.
Most of these children, if not all, are HIV+. The sister’s philosophy is that the child needs to die in “peace and dignity”. What that means is, they will care for the children and make them comfortable until they die. They will do no simple drugs that might pro long the child’s life and give no drugs that will heal simple infections. So I described the place to you, let me describe the children.
Most were very sick, thin with swollen eyes. In children it is common to have warts with HIV infection, we don’t see it much in the US because it is easily treated with simple anti-infection drugs, but here in Africa it is common with no treatment. In a row of 5 children, 4 of the children have warts covering their faces and bodies. They are small white bumps that are uncomfortable, at best and can be painful. Some had eyes that were swollen out from their heads from these warts which can get infected and cause additional problems. The warts are highly contagious, when you have an immune system problem. So, each child passes to another them on, just by simple contact.
Some of the children could barely stand when we entered the room and struggled to sing. There were a host of other medical problems most of which could be fixed with simple drugs that are even common in Ethiopia. However, once again the policy there at the orphanage is to let them die with peace and dignity. The explanation for this was very simple, it is God’s will whether to let these children die or not. It was all in God’s hand, and their lack of a medical course of treatment was to let them die with peace and dignity. That is why they were almost no children beyond 4th grade. They had all passed away.This follows the path of the disease, infection till death is around 10-12 years is left untreated here in Africa. If children can survive the first 2 years of life then, with no treatment they could make it to 10 maybe 12.
So I asked my colleague, why do they even educate them, if there is no hope of adulthood. The answer came back that it gives the children something to do other then just waiting for death. Every educational billboard in Addis says something about education is the path to secure your future. So for these children at the orphanage, their future most times is to live there until they are too sick to go to school and die in peace and dignity. Most in the classroom were already too sick to be there and the children in the sick room were dying.
I saw a child that I could have scooped up and loved as my own instantly in the nursery, she was no more then 9 months and actually waved at me to come see her. She talked to me and whatever I did with my hands she copied. Obliviously she was bright and full of life just needing a chance to live and, at this point in time, she doesn’t have much of a chance. Not to say she is not cared for and attended too, volunteers mostly female Westerners living in Addis come there once a week and hold and care for the babies for 3 hours a day, but what future does she have?
How can you fault people whom, take the unwanted children of Ethiopia and give them a home, but how can you praise them, for not doing everything possible to save the children who are in their care. The work they do is good and I am not saying the sisters that run this place have anything but love in their hearts for all of those children, but at times we have to ask how is not saving a child that could be saved, better. With new discoveries in medicine everyday and, even just the basic meds that Ethiopia has would keep a child alive and relatively healthy as long as possible. Hopefully, this would be long enough, until we have a cure. I have seen many things here, but this is yet another thing that will haunt me, forever.
I managed to get a lot of actual work done while I was here along with the sightseeing and adventures. I interviewed patients and HIV testing clients, talked to doctors and nurses and non-profit executive directors. I managed to talk to the county coordinator for the World Health Organization, so I gathered a lot of information. I feel I have a fairly complete picture of Ethiopia and it’s problems and it’s accomplishments.
What stands out most for my colleagues and I was the level of commitment the people have to helping others in this country. They are passionate about what they do, despite all the built in problems with a system of no money for basic meds and testing. There is an overwhelming demand and a disease that never seems to loosen its gasp.
I have had so many tell me in the comments and emails how proud they are of me for trying to help and living my dream, but these are the people that need to be celebrated, not me. I go home from Africa back to my comfortable way of living in the US and these professionals look at this everyday. These are the people we should all be proud of, because for me this was easy, just a moment in a lifetime. But for them, this is their life and they choose to stay and fight for the future. So I thank everyone for their kind prayers and words, all of which have touched my heart. But, pray also for all those that can’t leave, pray that they have the strength to continue the fight, for those that are to weak to fight for themselves.
I think my task in life is becoming clearer here. God has given me an opportunity to come here not just as tourist do, seeing things from a distance, while they stay in nice hotels and are sheltered from the realities of actual African life. I have looked in a dying child’s eyes and talked to a mother desperate to feed her hungry children. I have watched the determination of children that walk to school, more then 2 hours each way, so they can do better for themselves in the future.
All this and more has changed the way I look at life. Everyone said,” this will be a life changing experience”. They were right it is, but not as I had thought, I see the people here as powerful role models to the world. I see the people here as heroes that need a voice. Hopefully, in some small way, I can offer my voice. (As you all know, I don’t mind talking!)