Nothing can prepare you for the sea of faces. There were several hundred children crowded around the gate, smiles on their faces with their hands extended to greet. A hand shake was enough and brought bigger smiles to their faces. The flood of emotion was overwhelming. This is how we were greeted as we arrived to the Yezelalem Minch’s feeding program. Once a week the children gathered for Sunday School and one good meal. Yezelalem Minch, meaning everlasting spring, is a local non-profit NGO based in Addis Ababa providing assistance to orphans and vulnerable children as its primary program. The organization assists children 4 years of age and older. They provide for schooling (private if needed) through university age, uniforms, school supplies and assistance to the extended family the child is placed with. Of the 1200 children Yezelalem Minch supports, only 6 do not have extended family. These children are placed in foster homes.
As I passed through the children shaking hands and smiling, one boy offered me a flower which I put in my hair. It was nice to observe the children’s personalities and to see that there was still hope in their faces. We headed back to the office within the feeding program grounds to separate the biscuits we had brought. As I entered the office and saw the other women, I nearly burst into tears. I had to pull it together as these children were not in despair but happy. What would they think of a grown woman crying for no reason at all? We handed out the biscuits while the children were eating their lunch. They sat lined up along the walls and on the ground. The meal was an Ethiopian staple of injera bread with lentils and vegetables piled on top of the bread.
Once we started to take photographs, the children would raise their index finger and say: “One, One!” meaning they just wanted one photograph of themselves. And they were even more delighted if you showed them the photograph on your digital camera. The boys were a bit cheekier, many posed and laughed in delight. Just for a brief moment we had entered their world.
Then I saw her, a beautiful little girl with her pretty green patterned dress and pink jumper. She looked 5-6 years old. I took her photograph and then lost her in the crowd only to see her again and again. She resurfaced as Kimberley requested to take some photos with the children. I picked her up. She put her arms around me immediately. I knew she was my girl in the photo. I hoped that I could help. I wanted to help them all, take them all home. Give them a bath, some clean clothes and cuddles. Children were supposed to smell sweet. I wanted to give the little girl some extra sweets. I knew it wouldn’t be fair. It was hard not to though. We were leaving and I managed to get her to walk with me outside of the gates. I gave her some extra sweets and one last cuddle. As we drove away, the children ran after the van a long distance waving. We all waved back until they were out of sight.
The ride back was silent, much too silent for 10 women. After a long while, Kimberley broke the silence. She said she had intentionally left us to our thoughts. She knew it would be overwhelming, she had been there before. It was all a bit much emotionally but nothing compared to what these children must have been through.
After returning home, my daughter skinned her knee. As I cuddled her while she cried, I couldn’t help but thinking who is there to hug these children when they cry? The next day as I drove to pick up my daughter, I thought of the little girl. I think of her when playing with my own children, at the grocery and late at night when all is quiet. It seems like there is not a moment that I don’t think of her. I have submitted our request to sponsor this little girl. It was an easy choice to make. I thought of how easy it is to mindlessly spend $30 USD per month (the cost to sponsor a child) and knew we could cut out the extra trip to the ice cream shop during the week. Once our request was submitted, I wanted to run out and put together a care package: new clothes, food, vitamins, and some toys. But I had to wait. The wait has seemed forever. While I waited, I perused the photos I took of the children several dozen times. What was striking while reviewing the photos (in addition to their beauty) was that many of the children are thin, a few look really malnourished and they all look like they would benefit from minor medical treatment (for the fungal skin infections etc). I recently found out we can sponsor the little girl in the photo. We are delighted. She is 6, the age she looks. Her father has died and her mother has no income. I want to help them all but am glad we can start with at least this one. I am heading off to put together a care package. For more beautiful photos of the children please visit: www.facebook.com/expatdoctormom next week as I should have them posted by then.
If you are interested in sponsoring a child, to find out more, or make a donation, please visit www.yezelalemminch.org.