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.