Dispatches from Ethiopia

October 8, 2012

By Gabrielle.

Yesterday we visited the Mary Joy Organization. We were greeted by children, and by singing, dancing, flowers, and thousands of smiles. It was awesome. These were happy, happy kids. The organizers shared a presentation about the center. Then the kids performed — songs and juggling and acrobatics. Then we all danced. And danced and danced. I love dancing! I did my best to copy their moves, but that mostly made them laugh. Or in some cases, challenge me with harder moves. : )

Mary Joy is a community center that serves at-risk children. “At risk” in many cases meaning: their parents have died and the children are left to fend for themselves on the street. The thing that’s especially cool about Mary Joy: it was started by local residents. Community members saw a need and took action. They created a center and are working to locate children in need and make sure they’re getting an education, and enough to eat. The work they’re doing is amazing and impressive and the adults involved have dedicated their lives to making this center a success.

And the kids. Oh man. The kids!

You read about the kids. You see the numbers and hear the descriptions of poverty. But being there and having them in your arms will take every speck of mothering instinct that might be in you and put it high gear. You will mug on those kids for as long as you possibly can, laughing and grinning and blowing kisses until the bus pulls out of sight. And then you’ll cry into your scarf for a long while as you think about their stories, as you think of the 13-year-olds with babies slung on their hips — their own babies. And you’ll think of your 13-year-old daughter and how you’ve seen her standing exactly like that, with Baby June on her hip. But Baby June is her sister. Not her baby. (Because how in the world does a 13-year-old raise a baby?)

And when you’re done crying you’ll think this: Kids is kids. The toddlers need to be picked up so they can get a better view of the acrobatics. The 5 and 6-years-olds are affectionate. They want to sit close and lean in, and they like your arm wrapped around them. The 10-years-olds want to impress you with the cool things they can do. The teenagers want acknowledgement — no hugs, but eye-contact and high-fives are welcome.

And every single one of them deserves an education, a shot at a happy future.

You can sponsor a child at Mary Joy for about $300 per year. That amount provides food, an education — and a school uniform! There are a million ways to do good things, and of course we can’t do them all. But if we read a story, or see a cause that touches our heart and we feel compelled to take action, I hope we will.

Today, we’ll be visiting the FashionABLE factory. We’ll also be visiting the Hamlin Fistula Hospital. I’ll keep writing reports whenever we have access to the internet. Thank you for following along.

All images by Karen Walrond.

This week, I’m in Ethiopia at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and malnutrition, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments to invest in smart programs that save lives. While here, I’m with a group of parenting bloggers to observe how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Ethiopia.

ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. If you’re moved by anything you read or see here, or on the ONE blog, please consider adding your voice, and join ONE by filling out this form. Your information will remain confidential.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katherine Astrich October 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

What a beautiful place that is!

Just became a ONE Mom and can’t wait to see your next posts. As someone whose work centers on communities creating positive change here in the US, I was so touched to see the same dynamic at play in Ethiopia. Have an amazing trip!


2 Design Mom October 9, 2012 at 8:46 am

The Ethiopians I’ve met are so proud of their gorgeous country — rightly so! I’m so impressed with the caring communities here.


3 marilee pittman October 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

You are so remarkable! To be there firstly. To be as compassionate as you are. And to be able to express your experience in such an amazing way…


4 Chrysula October 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Gabby, I am so thrilled you are doing this and inviting your incredible community to play a part. It is a joy to follow you all this week and I’m being wrapped in the warmth of what blogging can do! Brava. More please! xoxo


5 Design Mom October 9, 2012 at 8:48 am

Working on another post now! We’ve seen amazing things. Our schedule is absolutely packed. I can’t believe how much I’ve seen and it’s only Tuesday.


6 Maike October 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

you are doing an amazing thing. i am speechless. and crying, too.
thanks for sharing!


7 Lindsay October 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Way to be involved with giving voice to the struggles in ethiopia! Not sure how much say you have over your schedule while you’re there, I’m sure there’s tons to do. If you get a chance, get in touch with whereloveis.org and see how they’re doing in Addis. For 5 months I went in 06 with a different NGO, and fell in love. Happy to see someone I admire also loving on the habesha :)


8 Design Mom October 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

Yes! Such an easy place to fall in love with. I will definitely check out whereislove.org. Thanks for the link!


9 Lauren October 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

This post brought tears to my eyes! What a wonderful opportunity to serve those most in need. You are an absolute inspiration, and I just joined ONEMoms!


10 Tasha October 8, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I signed up too! Gabby, so thrilled you are experiencing happiness there and spreading it to us♥


11 Design Mom October 9, 2012 at 8:51 am

@Tasha @Lauren – Thank you so much for supporting ONEmoms. High fives all around!


12 Grace @ sense and simplicity October 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

So well written. I didn’t even know how to begin to express my emotions at what I was seeing in Bangladesh. I feel like I”m right there with you.


13 Design Mom October 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

So true. And difficult to try and put words down without getting emotional.


14 Emily McKhann October 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Gabby, your beautiful post and Karen’s gorgeous photos make me feel like I am there with you in Ethiopia. I was a bucket of tears reading about the young, young mothers with babies on their hips, and then smiling at ‘kids is kids.’ The full range of emotions alright – and tons of goodness layered in in between. I am so looking forward to following along all week. xoxo


15 Kathryn Carmona October 8, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Bravo Gabby, Proud of you!


16 Wesen October 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Hey gabby.I really wanna say thank u for everything Wht u did starting from trying to erase peoples view abt Ethiopia to trying to make feel the kids like lovely mom for them and u’re with them always.U have no idea how much am always proud of ma country.its not bcoz I did sth especial the way u guys did,but it’s bcoz the people’s welcome everybody with bright smile that comes from their heart.And I know how it feels to spend every bit of seconds with them,cause I was part of this big charity club family member back home in campus.Thanks a lot again for everything what u did!


17 Mom101 October 9, 2012 at 7:39 am

I love how you put this. Off, you’re making me relive the hard parts again.

But enough with the false modesty about the dancing. You were a pro! And I have the photos to prove it.


18 Miss Britt October 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

Kids is kids. Amen. It’s a great reminder that all of us people started out pretty much the same: as kids.


19 Whitney Smith Cripe October 9, 2012 at 9:58 am

Gabby – please, please, please post about your visit to the Fistula Hospital. This is a subject near and dear to my heart and I am trying to save/plan for a trip to Somaliland next year to go to the Edna Adan Hospital. Thank you for making the time to elevate these issues. You are doing something I’ve long dreamed of – hopefully one day I’ll be there in Africa too. THANK YOU!


20 Erin October 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Gabrielle, I’m wondering if you have access to any more info about sponsoring a child. I’ve been looking for a non-religious affiliated org, and I really like the firsthand perspective that you’ve given. When I go the maryjoy website, they have a section about sponsoring, but no sign-up info that I can find. If you happen to be able to direct me, that would be great.


21 Rachel S. October 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

I cannot tear my eyes away from these Ethiopia posts. I am loving every single one of them!


22 Liliet October 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I was very touched by your pictures, it reminded me of my mission trip of Rwanda two years ago. I was only 21 and did not have kids, but i certainly felt my yet to come mothering instincts kick in, there were so many orphans, refugees and poverty all around. Kids were fighting to hang on to my fingers, I literally had about 10 kids trying to hold my hand. It broke and still breaks my heart. I cannot wait to go back.
Have a safe trip and love as many children as you can while you are there.




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