My thoughts on Africa

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A friend at work has this quote as his signature on all of his emails. I've seen it a thousand times. Strong words from a man who refused to silently standby and watch the atrocities of the Holocaust. He saw a world ravaged by hate and bigotry and the insatiable desire for power. Many countries in Africa have seen this same desire ravage their homes. Not every country has seen the same genocide (though many have) as the Jews did during Nazi rule, but the people have fallen victim to the desire of those in power to accumulate and hoard at he expense of the masses. Such is the case in Ethiopia. When famine began to take the lives of tens of thousands of people, the rulers tried to claim ignorance and tried harder to prevent the story from getting out to the rest of the world. Famine in the 70s and 80s created a devestation that would be punctuated in the 90s by the massive spread of HIV and AIDS across the continent. The combination of these forces is largely responsible for the orphan crisis.

It's difficult to comprehend here in the United States what happens to children when their is no longer anyone to take care of them. We have government agencies who swoop in and non-profits that advocate. I in no way want to minimize the situation in our country - believe you me, I see it firsthand. I know what happens to chidren in foster care. The ones who have been abused or neglected. But even in that system each child receives a court appointed guardian and possibly a volunteer to make sure their guardian is doing what is in the child's best interest. A foster home goes through a thorough inspection and a licensing process. Standards have to be met for the care of the child. Counseling is offered and treatment is available for older children who may have some behavioral problems.

In Ethiopia children from the ages of 7-18 go to homes. Not foster homes where they have to share a bedroom with another sibling. Homes that resemble placese where we in America would go camping for the weekend and then complain about the circumstances. Homes where the running water is a spicket outside and the toilet is a hole in the ground. Homes where the only clothes they have are the uniforms so tattered by daily wear they are barely held together by the threads. Homes where they are cared for by nannies who make less than $2,000 a year. Nannies with good hearts and kind souls, but not mothers.

These are the children we saw on Thursday of our trip.


We went to see the boys in the morning and the girls in the afternoon.

When we arrived at the boys orphanage we set up shop in the church/auditorium. One large room with painted murals on each wall. One outlet for electricity and no water. The room reminded me of a movie set where the characters stumble into an abandoned warehouse that was once used for happier times. To say that it was dirty puts it mildly. The boys were so sweet and eager to help. They picked up the crates of supplies and dutifully put them where requested. So eager to please. So eager for praise. Some boys grabbed brooms and mops and worked to make our area presentable. The team was once again amazing. Each person found their supplies and went to their station to set up shop. As the boys waited on benches to be checked in sweet Sallie taught them the thrill of doing the "wave" and then rounds of "Head and Shoudlers, Knees and Toes" broke out. They marched through like little soldiers, ironically considering there were possibly some former ones in the crowd, and smiled as they departed with spaces where their teeth once were and new toothbrushes and toothpaste. After about 250 boys were treated we packed up, ate our lunch in the vans and headed to the girls orphanage. As we waited to to leave one boy recognzied a member of our team from a visit earlier in the week. He came up and said he had missed the dental day because he was at school. He said he was working very hard because he had to score a 700 in math to be considered for college. By his speech and his memory there was no doubt in my mind he had the ability. He said he wanted to go into medicine and do what so many people had done for him. He said the only way he could do it was with the Lord's help. What drives a kid like that. Parents dead, living in a home with 250 others, nothing in the world to call his own and a smile as big as the moon and a desire to be a doctor.

The girls were just as heartwarming. They eagerly stood in line for a chance to be seen by a dentist. As they waited, some of the girls from our group painted their nails and made salvation bracelets with them.

Sweetest smiles and gentle eyes.

I was asked on this day to share my story of being adopted. It was fitting to share it in this place. It was easy to let my mind wonder how different my life would have been if my biological mother hadn't chosen adoption. The life filled with love, protection and opportunities I have had with my family was not a likely scenario. I even said it outloud, while my life would have been different if raised by my biologically mother, it still would not have been what these girls where facing. It's hard not to wonder what will become of these girls? What does their future hold? These girls abandoned by death and disease. The life of a young girl abandonded is not pretty anywhere on the planet. They are so much more suseptable to the evils of the world. Knowing how fragile the self-esteem is of a young girl, who will tell them how beautiful and worthwhile they are? In some ways it felt like a cruel tease to come in and shower them with love for a few hours. My prayer is that they take this small moment to know there are people out there who do care for them and love them and believe they are worth traveling across the world to give them a hug.

1 comment:

  1. Amen!! It was so worth it! One little girl that I helped treat early in the afternoon, I learned was deaf. The only one there who was. I can't imagine her lonliness...she's lost her family, everyone she knows and ends up in this girls orphanage with hundreds of girls...none of whom know how to communicate with her. She didn't get in line soon enough to get a hygiene pack before the extras were carted off to the directors office. She was crying, physical with the girls who wanted to help her. I stood with her and hugged on her for 45 minutes, trying to calm her, encourageing her not to hit those who were trying to talk to her and wondered if she ever gets hugged. We tracked down a hygiene pack for her but it didn't stop the tears...I think because they went so much deeper than not getting a ziploc bag of deoderant and soap...she was lonely to the core in a silent world with no one to relate to. It broke my heart to "hug and leave" but maybe she has a taste of the reality that there are more hugs to be had...and maybe even a international sign language teacher that could unlock her world for her.