Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When I Think of Ethiopia, It's Her Face I See.

About a year ago, I was invited into the home of one of the girls who is part of the program that Canadian Humanitarian offers in her community. Bea* is a vulnerable child who lives with her father and sister in circumstances that I can honestly say I've thought of nearly every day for the year since I first met her.  The story of our first meeting is here on the blog.
Bea and her Dad, Bela, in doorway of their home

This is their home. In its entirety. The blue wood is the door. The bike box is part of the back wall.
It's no wider than you can see. 3 people stay here. Every single night.

This year, I was excited to return to the community where she lives. As we waited for the kids to return to the centre for dinner after school, I was wondering if I would recognize her or if she would recognize me. Then, she came in through the gates and her eyes took in our group and when they met mine, they got so wide. I waved and called her name and she shyly came over and greeted me. It was so good to see her, looking healthy and happy, with her school bag and holding the hand of her friends as they came through the gates.

With the help of one of our interpreters, I asked her about school and how her family was. I asked about her sister and her dad and told her that I think of them often, and was so glad to have met them. Over the afternoon, as we treated to a program by the kids of the centre, I would glance over and find Bea's face in the midst of the kids. I asked one of the program directors how her family was doing. He told me that things were getting worse for them. The tiny lean to that she shared with her father and her sister was attached to the house of relatives, making it possible for them to stay there for very little money. Unfortunately, their relatives were moving out of the slum to another area and that most likely meant that they would be unable to stay where they were. Regardless of how small or cramped or unprotected their home was, it was their home. Bea's father is deaf and makes a little money either begging or when he can afford to, making injeera to sell at the market. The little money that he makes can not support the girls and himself and he has relied on his relatives to help care for the girls and to provide them with a place to stay. Now, everything may change. The directors at the centre are working together to try and ensure that wherever Bea and her family end up, that she will still be able to be part of the program, for it is the only way she will have access to one meal a day and to school. Without the program, this family will become increasingly vulnerable to their poverty and perhaps plunge them past the point of help.

When I look at Bea in these photos, I'm so aware of how beautiful and vibrant she is. She represents Ethiopia to me. The beauty and the struggle. If you were to meet this girl walking into the centre with her school bag of books in hand, friends surrounding her...you could hardly imagine the place where she lays her head at night. I've seen it and can still barely reconcile it. The idea of her losing even that little stability is unimaginable.  The truth of these trips is that it's a double edged sword getting to know the children and their families and their stories. In the midst of such beauty and joy, there is always the undercurrent of struggle and poverty and pain. Or perhaps, I need to look at it differently, that in the midst of such struggle and poverty and pain, there is such beauty and joy. When I look at Bea and watch her play and run and laugh with her friends, I see both sides now, knowing where she lays her head at night. If things change for her in a few weeks with her relatives moving away, I can only hope that she remains able to stay with the program and have access to meals and education, regardless of where she lays her head at night. 

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