Friday, March 14, 2014

Humbling Invitations

Last week, (was it really just a week ago?), I was invited into the homes of children that were relatively new to the Canadian Humanitarian program in Gulele, Ethiopia. The kids we visited were less than three months into the program and were already benefitting from the after school program, nutritious meal a day, and medical assessments. The first home I went into was the home of a sweet nine year old girl, her sister, and her father.

Over the past few years, I've been invited into the homes of children living without adults, with grannies, or with just one parent or guardian. I have seen the varying degrees of poverty as it applies to housing, and though I'm not hardened, I definitely didn't think I could be surprised by anyone's living conditions. I was wrong.

I have a rubbermaid shed in my backyard. It's a slanted little shed, about four feet high on the back end, three feet on the front, and about five feet long. We keep our lawnmower in it during the winter and a few of our outdoor cushions. I do not exaggerate when I say, it was a better structure than what this father and two girls were living in.

I can not really express how small their lean to was. It basically was a tarp for a roof attached to a neighbouring shanty, that they paid rent to. The walls were corrugated metal sheeting and the floor was mud with some cardboard laid on top. The sticks that held up the tarp hit my head when I sat on the floor across from this family. I crouched on the floor and tried not to let claustrophobia overcome me. The door didn't close all the way and from what I could tell, it hadn't for a while, it hung so deep in the mud. Three or four small plastic grocery bags held what the family counted as belongings. As I sat with my head touching their roof, and listened to the father tell how their lives had changed since his daughter's life had changed since being part of the program, I realized that when we see these kids in the yard of the care centre, surrounded by others, playing games and being kids...we often forget the circumstances they live in.  This father was deaf and partially blind, both conditions that could have been prevented had he had access to medical help when they occurred. He walks several miles to buy injeera, the staple bread that Ethiopians eat, and resells it in his own community for a tiny profit. That is what he does when there is a little extra money to be used. When there isn't any extra, he begs for money on the side of a busy road, scraping what he can together for food for his girls. The care centre that his daughter attends also has an income generating project that he will be able to get involved in, to allow him to work within a cooperative of guardians and to make a steady income.

We literally take a bigger tent that offers more protection against the elements camping than this family spent their days and nights in. They cooked on a small fire just outside the door of the lean to and the smoke from their fire evidently filled the lean to because the telltale scent of charcoal smoke permeated their home. Their home. When it rained and water ran through the mud and cardboard, the neighbours in the shanty next door would allow the girls to sleep on their floor where at least it was dry. Imagine a father, sitting in the dark, knowing at least his girls were dry but fighting the cold and wet alone, indebted to his landlord for that small mercy shown his daughters.

And yet, I was honoured to be invited. And humbled.  The most beautiful part of their home was the welcome they gave us when we arrived.  We were made to feel most welcome and that it was such a pleasure to have us visit. I can't imagine what a father feels when he sits in the dark at night, his two daughters cramped up beside him, with his feet against a door that doesn't close. I can't imagine how his daughters get up and look as beautiful as they do and clean themselves up to get to school and to the after school program with little to eat or drink. If this was a camping trip, I would have packed up and gone home. But that's just it, isn't it? This is their home. And it's humble. And it was humbling. To sit with five of us in a lean to that barely could contain us and to know that this was their living room, bedroom, upstairs and downstairs all in one. The bare lightbulb above us worked when the power was on and paid for but there was no telling how often that occurred.

And now, a week later...just one short week...I'm half a world away and I can't stop thinking about the tiniest home I've ever been in. And I think about the fact that there is a father doing his best to provide for his girls and I remember how thankful he was to know that his daughter was receiving a nutritious meal every day and access to education and medical visits. This family has not been out of my thoughts since I sat on their floor and listened to their story and received their smiles and their friendship. It is often in the most difficult situations that people really show their true values, and this family values one another above all else. I'm thankful they have the opportunity to be part of Gulele Care Centre so that they can be part of a bigger family that cares for them as well.
Dad and his 9 year old daughter, who has been attending the after school program provided at Gulele
Care Centre - with access to homework help, time to play, a nutritious meal and health assessments.
The care centre plays a crucial role in making sure this family can survive and thrive. 

Their home...the blue boards on the right side of the photo is the broken door. The cardboard bike box is their back
wall. It's no wider than what you can see. 

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