BY JEFF GILBERT, GRACE ATTENDER & ETHIOPIA SHORT-TERM TRIP LEADER
A group of us had visited Berhan Yehun, a childrens’ home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia eighteen months earlier. It was only for a couple of hours. For me these kids were indelibly etched into my heart. I was never going to forget the kids or my visit. To them, though, we were just another group that had come by to say hello, take pictures and leave some gifts. This has been the story for these kids. After so many years, no group had ever come back.
We call these kids “societal orphans,” and many of them have at least one parent. For them, though, the parents often require care from their children. The geographic area is one of brutal poverty. It features the massive landfill in downtown Addis Ababa and the ALERT hospital, a hospital that specializes in serving Africans with leprosy and tuberculosis.
The landfill is a source of both employment and food for many in this area. The hospital draws families from all over Africa desperate to find help for debilitating diseases. The parents do what they can to support their families, often with the help of the children.
As you get to know the kids, small details of their lives begin to spill out. Their experiences make them much older than they seem. Bright-eyed angels with just a hint of pain in their eyes.
Whether they are putting on a brave face for us or managing to put aside their problems for a time, there is hope in this place. These kids are students. Each of them sees education as a way out for themselves and their family.
What gets me the most is the contrasts of the two worlds they live in. During the day at school and during their time at Berhan Yehun, they live in a world where there are clean clothes, food, companionship, and help with homework. When they return home each night and when awakening each morning they are in a totally different world.
One of the older boys named Berhanu, made a point of emphasizing “we are family”. He said this several times to me to make the point. As I see these kids roughhouse and tease each other I could see the care they have for one another.
There are also feelings of guilt, and this may be the most prevalent negative emotion. While each of these kids is happy and cared for there is often a family member – sister, brother, aunt, mother, grandfather who is still living with little hope and often not enough food. It’s easy for the kids to feel guilty about what they receive.
I think it is the bravery and determination in these kids that makes me want to help them.
Berhan Yehun is a special place where these kids find hope, help and family. After eighteen months, I went back. I cannot wait to visit again this summer, and to be someone who keeps coming back. Do you want to go with me? To learn more details about our trip to Ethiopia and other Grace trips CLICK HERE.