Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ethiopia 2015 Day 5 part 3

Passing out care packages to the kids from their sponsors was one of the highlights of the day for us and for the kids.

We had prepped and planned and packed over 300 packages from sponsors at I Care and Trees of Glory.  It was quite an undertaking, but worth every bit of the work to see the faces of these kids light up when they saw pictures of their sponsors.  We also were thrilled to be able to have lots of pictures to share when we returned of the kids with the items the sponsors had sent.  There is something about seeing items you've hand selected make it all the way across the world and end up with the child that you've only known through a profile picture. 
It makes it all more real. 
They do exist. 
They are real people with real needs.
As sponsors we are given the real responsibility and privilege to build relationships with them and help to meet their needs.
The sponsors and friends and family who helped make this possible really embraced this project and you could see the love that went into each detail.

You can view this video below for more pictures of our time at I Care for the Nations.

Thank you to all who made care packages for us and to the sponsors who sent packages.  Introducing you to your child through pictures and letters was an honor.

Ethiopia 2015 Day 5 part 2

So one question I hear often about sponsorship is, "how do you know where the money actually goes?"  That's a good question.  My best answer is that as far a Children's HopeChest in Ethiopia goes, I've seen with my own eyes many times where the money goes.  I've seen the changes in the children over time.  I've seen projects that we've raised money for completed in the country.  I've met the in country staff and they are some of the most dedicated and caring individuals that I know.  I've seen the diligence with which resources are handled.  I've seen sponsors inquire about health issues or concerns and receive updates.  My experience with Children's HopeChest Ethiopia is that they consistently do what they say they are doing and the children in their programs are thriving.

Meet Firezer.  He's a little boy who has been sponsored since last October through the I Care for the Nations care point.  The first picture is his original profile picture and the one that follows was taken by our team in June.

He has been sponsored for only 8 months, but his eyes and smile show the difference it is having in his life.
 Firezer after sponsorship!
As Heidi and I sorted through the hundreds of pictures we had taken, we went back to the profile pictures at times to match up kids in our photos.  The next few kids really stood out to us.  We were just in awe of how different some of the kids looked after less than a year of sponsorship.
Likea before sponsorship
Likea after sponsorship
Their faces were brighter, their skin looked healthier, often times their hair had grown and they had visibly gained weight in many cases. 
Yeshialem before sponsorship
Yeshialem after sponsorship! 

You could see the hope they now have on their faces.  These kids are now starting to understand what it means to be sponsored.  They were already receiving the discipleship, character training, supplemental nutrition, educational support and many other services at I Care for the Nations, but the partnership that now exists between our church, the sponsors and Children's HopeChest has provided a consistent source of financial support , spiritual guidance and relational encouragement that has  allowed the kids to begin moving towards their community goal of thriving in independence.
Martha before sponsorship
Martha after sponsorship!
Like I've mentioned in previous posts, this care point is in the beginning stage.  The families who are served her are literally in survival mode.  HopeChest's goal during this crucial phase is to focus on meeting the very real and very basic needs of food, clean water, clothes, basic medical care and discipleship.  As we worked with HopeChest prior to our trip, we realized that these kids are hungry.  Most of them are not receiving adequate amounts of food each day.  Most of them are living in suboptimal conditions, some even live on the streets in make shift housing. Their clothes and shoes are worn out.  Their families live in daily fear of not being able to meet these needs and this is why sponsorship is so important.
Betelhem before sponsorship.
Betelhem after sponsorship
Sponsorship helps to stand in the gap for these families.  You are not only helping to change the life of a child, but you are also helping to keep families together and helping to empower them to hopefully one day be self-sufficient.
This picture below was the most dramatic for me.  I remember seeing Daniel and advocating for him on my blog when we first got the kids' profile pictures.  He just looked kind of sickly and underweight and something stood out about him to me.  I was thrilled when he was chosen for sponsorship and even more thrilled when we met him in person.  He looked so much healthier and it was amazing to see the changes in him.
Daniel before sponsorship
Daniel after sponsorship
The relationship you are forming with these children as sponsors is one that may very well change the trajectory of their lives, their families' lives and their community.  We witnessed this first hand on our trip and encourage you to continue your commitment to these children by praying for them regularly, writing to your child (click HERE for more details) and continuing to support the projects that HopeChest and I Care have planned for the future.
The effects are far reaching and we may never fully know the impact that sponsorship has, but I want you to know that it matters and it's worth it.

Ethiopia 2015 Day 5 Part 1

It's taken me so long to get back to these posts because I knew that Day 5 would be a long one (so long that I'm going to divide it up). 
We know how lucky we are as sponsors to be able to travel to Ethiopia and meet our sponsor kids and we wanted to connect sponsors and their kids as much as possible while we were there.
I hope these next few posts will give you all a glimpse into what we experienced.
As we crossed the street to enter the gates of the I Care for the Nations care point, we could hear the children chanting with excitement in anticipation of our arrival.  I'm pretty sure we all teared up a bit at the sound.  We were welcomed with a flood of cheerful faces and before I knew it this sweet boy was in my arms. 
Meet Besufakad, our sponsor boy.  He just celebrated his 8th birthday and he is an absolute delight.  He's a perfect blend of sweet and rambunctious all mixed up in one.
A moment later, his beautiful mother Genet (which means "heaven" and is totally appropriate for her) came up to meet us.  More about this amazing lady in another post.
We all moved through the crowd of kids to find our special little someones.  Aimee and her girls.  I mean two of the most beautiful girls you've ever seen.

Cherie and one of her kiddos, precious little Bezawit.
A view of the crowd from above.  Little did we know (well, we kind of knew) how crazy this crowd would get (not crazy, crazy, but crazy like there are a whole lot of them and not that many of us and we were in a relatively small space).  Like I often say about my own herd of children, they need a field.  Literally.  Like these kids need a field to run and play in.  This is part of the long term vision for I Care for the Nations that I am praying big time will one day come fruition for them.

We had planned for this day for months and now we were finally standing in the middle of the place that God had picked for us before we ever knew it existed.  For some of us, Ethiopia has been a part of our lives for many years.  Ever since my first trip to Ethiopia in 2010, a piece of my heart resides there.  I can't fully explain it and it's hard to understand unless you've been, but once you go, I think it becomes easy to see  what I mean.  It has changed me and I am so thankful that God has expanded my view of the world through this beautiful country and it's people.
After that first trip, I knew that God was asking for more from me and my family.  We were now aware of the needs and we were required to act (Proverbs 24:12).
Thus started our adventure with sponsorship.

Devin with Abenet

 God brought us to Children's HopeChest shortly after that and the rest is history.  We've had the amazing opportunity to be sponsors of a child at a Children's HopeChest care point, Trees of Glory, for 5 years.  Through that relationship we were able to see that God was using Children's HopeChest to change lives, strengthen families, disciple kids and provide for their most basic needs.  And it makes a difference.
Eyrusalem and Jeanie
So when our church decided to partner with Children's HopeChest to help support a new care point in Ethiopia, I couldn't have been more excited.  This care point is in the very early stages and the staff at I Care for the Nations are doing amazing things. 
But there is much work to be done.
Cherie and Mikayis.  This little one holds a special place.  Just love him!

The children served here are among some of the most vulnerable in the city of Addis.  Most come from single mother households which puts them at higher risk of suffering from the affects of poverty.  Some have witnessed or experienced domestic violence, the affects of substance abuse, HIV and other illness, and many other painful and traumatic circumstances that nobody should have to endure.
Despite these challenges, these children, mothers and families radiate joy.  It is one of the things I love the most about being in Ethiopia, the beautiful and resilient spirit of its people. 

Heidi and Yared

Jeanie and Abel
So we had all these great plans for how we would get all of our tasks done, spend time with the kids, learn more about this amazing ministry and document our time so we could share it with you.  We started by lining up the kids so we could pass out name tags (the stick on "hi my name is___" kind).  We had raised money to provide each child a new outfit and pair of shoes.  These items were ordered in country and I love this.  HopeChest is very conscientious about how they "help" and one of the things they encourage is purchasing items in country as a way to boost the local economy.  So when you donated to the clothing fund, the kids at I Care benefited and the local businesses benefited.

Anyway, the kids patiently waited for their clothes and shoes to be distributed.
Some of them were definitely in need of a new pair.



This older group of girls was absolutely precious.
The fun part about the clothing distribution is that the kids wanted to put them on right away.  So they did (this kicked up the crazy a couple of notches).  Just picture over 100 kids trying on new clothes and shoes (shoes that needed to be laced).  The most fun part was that when they began to change clothes, they peeled those nice little name tag stickers off.  We quickly realized we were in trouble, especially after we realized that the kids were putting on matching clothes.  So not only did they no longer have name tags on, they also now all looked alike.

Lesson number one when doing a mission trip in Africa (and really, it's a good lesson anywhere) plan well and then plan for your plan to not go as planned and be flexible. I'm super awesome about being flexible (ok, so I'm so not good at this.  I like my plans to go as planned!). 
Plan B: markers.
We busted out the markers and we were able to salvage the situation.  The kids thought having a number on their hand was a pretty cool thing, so it all turned out alright.
It was fun to see all of the kids dressed in their cozy jumpsuits and new shoes.  It's rainy season in Ethiopia now, so these clothes came at just the right time to keep these kiddos warm through the cool nights ahead.


Up next, we had great plans to have three groups rotating through care package, arts and crafts and game centers.  This kind of turned into a semi controlled mob scene in which care packages did get given out, arts and crafts did get completed and games were played. 
Stay tuned for this part of our day.