Category Archives: Sponsorships

ALSO in Addis #4

I received this message while sitting in a HUGE traffic jam on my way to present information from the White Privilege Conference to my school board. I sat and read. What a treat. Once again, I’m copying and pasting. Mr. SillyPants is burning the candle at both ends – this gig is completely engrossing for him. Read.

We had a very emotional and fulfilling day today; this was the day that we certified instructors for the ALSO course and prepared them for their presentations tomorrow to a new group of students. It was a long and arduous day, with examinations lasting until the mid-evening. However, the success of the training was quite evident and we realized that this program we are teaching will undoubtedly make a difference.

Ethiopia unfortunately ranks as the 6th worst in terms of infant mortality worldwide. Infants are 1000 times more likely to die in childbirth here than in the United States. This is not due to the quality of training here; in fact, the obstetricians, general practitioners and midwives here are VERY well trained. As we taught our curriculum, we could see constant nodding (not due to sleepiness but *understanding*!). These medical providers KNOW this stuff.

The problem is one of access to healthcare. There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago or Los Angeles than there are in all of Ethiopia. Stated another way, there are 2000 physicians in Ethiopia, serving 80 million people. That’s one doctor for every 40,000 people (consider THAT when you think about scheduling your next doctor’s appointment).

At the end of today’s training, providers thanked us, with teary eyes, for presenting a system which could be easily taught in areas throughout Ethiopia; that, actually is the goal of the ALSO course – – – providing a learnable curriculum which can be used in a variety of settings. Many of the attendees voiced their plans to implement and teach this curriculum in their communities as soon as possible.

This was emotional and overwhelming to me, in fact, it took me to the point of tears. (Those who know me understand I’m a little emotional, anyway). I was so moved because I realized the enormity of the need here in Ethiopia. And, I was humbled by the fact that there is so much that I take for granted.

My hope and prayer is that these talented and committed providers here in Ethiopia will have new tools to “make a difference.”

So, the other reason I’m really wound up is that Richard and I finally had a chance to meet. I didn’t get back to the Hilton until 9pm, but Richard took a long cab to come to the Hilton for a drink. (He had Coke, I had a somewhat grainy and disappointing Merlot). We talked for nearly two hours and, frankly,he had me choked up a few times.

Richard, who calls himself “our son”, is doing very well. I think he was initially quite worried about misleading us, in fact, he apologized again and again for saying he was in medical school when, in fact, he only qualified for nursing school. Of course, as you probably already know, my response was that you and I were so proud of him and were not angry at all. In fact, I told him that we understood why he thought we might be “disappointed” but wished, instead, that he had realized we would be as happy with his admission to nursing school as to medical school.

He was visibly relieved, but he felt the need to apologize over and over.

He was also so FUNNY – – – I think he felt the need to “prove” that he was doing well in school. When he heard I was here teaching obstetrics, he interrupted me to say, “Oh yes! We are learning about first stage, second stage and third stage of labor, plus the problems with descent of the fetus and bleeding and other complications of pregnancy.” (Truthfully, he KNOWS this stuff. I have no doubt that he is doing well in his classes – – -he again demonstrated his hard work.)

Perhaps the most moving moment was when he stated that he realizes that he is “lucky to receive this gift of education”; he said that “most people in my country never have this chance – – – this is a great responsibility to me, to give back to my country in any way I can.”  I responded with one of the only Amharic words I know: “Ishi”. (I understand.).

I told Richard that we were “so happy to be a small part of his success”; however, I think that the major part of his success is his determination, his skill and his motivation to “do good in Ethiopia.” (his words).

Through a short, two-week trip to Ethiopia, we met Richard, Getnet, Getu, Alemtsehaye, and, of course, our amazing Blueberry, and these connecttions have changed us forever. For our family,  the sponsorship of Richard, Getnet and Getu is but a small inconvenience. In fact, I doubt we ever feel the “pinch” of their requirements. (Our support of our 2 kids in college takes much more planning – – – yes?). Yet, I see what a difference this small contribution makes in the lives of our good friends here in Ethiopia.
It is late in Addis Ababa – I must say ‘goodnight’ and leave additional details for another e-mail/blog post.

Sunday Snapshot

Lalibela, Ethiopia – AlemTsehaye’s backyard
* a look and a wave to a young teen aged girl in this backyard was the beginning of a lovely friendship between my children and an age-mate in Ethiopia*

Hello from the Headmasters – Check

I worked this week to correspond with the headmasters at the schools where the young Ethiopian students we sponsor attend school. I’m 2 for 2 so far.

Getnet’s headmaster sent me a reply to my first inquiry in which he said he has not yet met his new enrollee, but looks forward to the opportunity. He goes on to say, “I understood you are likely their late family providing influential sponsorship. I would like to appreciate your commitment towards those less fortune men. I can give you my words to give you any necessary help like advising, controlling, correspondence . . . privately or administratively. “ Getnet is a hard working young man. I expect he will succeed in college, although I also think it will require a lot of hard work and focus for him. This is the first time he and Getu have been separated since they were young boys(Getu stayed in Lalibela to finish secondary school). I hope the distance is not too difficult for either of them – they send me notes that they speak daily to “keep each other full of courage.”

Richard, the student we sponsor in Addis has begun his second year of study for his 4 year medical degree. After that he will be in medical school. I have been in contact with his headmaster twice before. I have always found him to be kind and reassuring. His response full of generous compliments for Richard. He said, “Not only does he demonstrate deep interest and commitment to his study he can also be cited as role model for others. His commitments can be expressed by his eagerness to red books, to attention in the class, browse the Internet and consent his teachers. In my view, he is excellent student both in terms of conduct and academic discipline. Hence, it is with great pleasure that I confirm now responsible and duty minded young man he is.”
He continues his correspondence with an explanation of a medical apprenticeship Richard must do each summer for these next 2 years. Ethiopian students are responsible for the costs of the apprenticeship, so it was good for me to hear about this “field experience” requirement so that I can anticipate a little extra assistance will be necessary for his 8 week travel/boarding expenses.

I have 2 remaining e-mails to write to the secondary school headmasters for the 2 students in Lalibela who are still in high school. The letters are always a careful mix of introduction/information request/accountability check. It’s not complex, but the terms of my relationship with the kids is both private and not so private. Expectations are necessary for accountability; it’s a trade off.

I am always tempted to write, “our students.” It sounds so colonial (It IS so colonial). I have to really work at how to express our family relationship with the young people we support. They aren’t “OURS”, although the relationship of us and them (power and no power)really does show up in my language. Privilege is like that – they who have it (us/me) get to USE it – language is one of those places. I’m working on my awareness, and I have no intention of colonizing the lives of these young Ethiopian students. But, the structures make it difficult to always frame what is going on in a way that isn’t just ripe with power dynamics. I’m open to comments on this – because I know there is a slippery slope here.

Ethiopian Tuition – the down and the dirty

I have had quite a few inquiries, all private, about the “terms” of our involvement with the young Ethiopian kids we met while traveling. One of the best parts about traveling with our teen children was meeting other teens – the kids are magnets for each other. I can’t describe how much the kids set the tone for our encounters, and how they created the opportunities and connections that I could never have created….although I would have spent my entire traveling time wishing/hoping/yearning for kids just like THESE kids, to BE in our lives.

There are 4 of young people – Richard, Getnet, Getu, and AlemTsehaye. A year has gone by. Our exchanges have continued via e-mail and their needs have become clearer, well articulated, and … we do the best we can to give them what they need.
The questions always come up:
“What do they need? ”
“How do you send money – literally?”
“How much does it cost to send the kids to school?”
“What are their living expenses?”
“How do you know they don’t spend it on things they shouldn’t?”
“Aren’t you afraid they are abusing your trust?” “How did you pick who to help?”
“Can you write it off on your taxes?” …and there are more, but these are the biggies.
I resist giving specific details. Culturally, we Americans don’t talk turkey in public spaces when it comes to real dollars. It’s common for wealthy folks to claim they are middle class, and for people with means to understate those means. And, I don’t want to create some sort of skewed impression of myself or my family. The truth is that we have a lot. We have more than we need. And, we do BELIEVE that it is our duty to be generous – thoughtfully, respectfully generous. We try our best to put that belief into PRACTICE. I bet most of you agree with the belief, but the practice of giving is more problematic, isn’t it?
If the average American gives about 3% of their income to charity, then it is true that we are slightly above average in our giving ways. If it is true that generous giving is considered to be about 6% of one’s income, then we’ve joined the club of generous givers. The truth is, I don’t feel like I am generous. The truth is, that my giving, while it means I have to “give up” some things, doesn’t create suffering for my family. We have given up some things in order to help others. But, if you were to look at our life, I don’t think you’d see anything that looks like “going without.” I’ve seen people with a whole helluva lot less give a whole helluva lot more. So I (we) don’t deserve any special ^5 or kindness for the good deeds of our family. It’s our obligation – and the truth is – we COULD DO MORE!!! I’m working up the courage to ask our family to do more. I am working up the courage to ask you to do more.
But, because I get asked these questions about the kids in Ethiopia- and because the questions typically come to me privately, I’m going public. Clearly, folks want to know. So here is the down and dirty as I know it. (Disclaimer – my down and dirty might be WAY different from yours – so I don’t expect this to match the reality of other folks who are sponsoring kids without the help of an official charity organization).
1. College tuition costs about $550 in Addis.
2.Room and board in Addis – $100 month (includes all school supplies/material supplies as well)
3. We received the following accounting for the support of 2 brothers (verbatim as they wrote it):
House rent demands 450 birr
Food expense 830 birr
School fee 500 birr
For material needs 375 birr
In total of 2155 birr each month which worth $1795.833USD (by current currency) for the whole academic year.
I literally send the money using Western Union. It costs $114 to send $1800. I know, I just did this on Friday. We’re looking into using a bank to bank transfer. It’s a little messier than Western Union. You cannot believe how easy it is to use WU – you just put the destination as “Ethiopia” and need a full legal name of your recipient along with a test question they have to answer. It’s so easy. So far, 100% reliable.
We don’t know the kids don’t spend the funds on things they shouldn’t. (What shouldn’t they spend money on? ) We do know that some money gets shared with their extended families. They tell us, “we took some monies to our family for the Easter.” None of the kids have ever asked for us to support a sibling “after the fact.”
We don’t worry the kids are abusing our trust. We trust them. I tell them to be frugal, to be honest, to be thoughtful in their use of their time and their resources. They tell me, “We have been careful our whole lives.” The truth is, they have HAD to be more careful than I will ever know how to be. Their lives depend on their FRUGAL use of resources. They depend on us to continue our sponsorship of them – and that creates its own sort of accountability. Finally, I tell them to be stewards, so that when they are finished with school we can find another student in need to carry on their legacy. These kids get it. If they are stretching their need dollars, it’s not about creating any sort of ultimate luxury. I wouldn’t call electricity and running water and a bed a luxury. Would you?

I do have a few strategies for accountability:

They send their school reports and end of year exam scores – they must give me their school headmaster’s e-mail address – they have all had visits from travelers delivering something to them (t-shirts, ball caps, shoes, textbooks, even a donated lap top!).
We didn’t pick them, they picked us. They asked for our help. They sent school scores to underline their hopes and dreams and they did this with polite and careful requests for assistance. Their gratitude is endless. We SAW how they all live – we could NOT NOT help. Sleeping on tarps with no blankets on the cold dirt floor, eating a small sandwich bag of oatmeal every day, only one change of clothes, no running water….for them, school is a life’s dream. They were all supporting this dream on the barest of minimum – shining shoes to make a few cents a day to eat. They were wise to ask us to help. We didn’t offer – we were asked. And, no, it’s not tax deductible. And, yes, it is about $4500 a year to help these kids. We just do it.
Here is what they say in the e-mails I often receive. The kids go to neighborhood kiosks and write to me to tell me about school, to send greetings, to report school interests. They call me “dearest mom” or “dear mommy M”. These are all quotes;
  • We would be lost without you. We longingly think about extra achievement that make you ever feel relief.
  • You do no more doubt about our thrift life. This is the habit we exuded since from we were polishing shoe for our earnings.
  • You see both tiny boys are growing to good men.
  • However you are beyond my eyes, but is there any other body have many and wonderful family like me? No body!!How God liked and gave me such kind of family (that is you).
  • After I succeed my dream I wish to help others those who lost their family by HIV AIDS and can not get education and health.
  • When you came for my graduation we will travel to lalibela together. Actually at the Christmas and epiphany time there is very good celebration than all over Ethiopia.

…when I go to Ethiopia for your graduation…THIS is why we do this.

AlemTsehaye and Her First Digital Pictures from Ethiopia

Meet AlemTsehaye. I’ve blogged about her before here. We met this lovely young woman in Lalibela. She invited our children for coffee, after they exchanged waves from balcony to her backyard. AlemTsehaye is 17. She’s beautiful, smart, reserved, determined, and hopeful. AlemTsehaye’s father was ill when we first met her family and were welcomed into her home. He died several weeks after we left Ethiopia. Although AlemTsehaye never asked our family for help, we knew that with 3 daughters (later we learned there is a college aged son) her mother, with no work and no fields to farm, would suffer trying to keep her daughters fed – and school would be impossible.
I am fortunate to have wonderful friends, one of whom heard AlemTsehaye’s story and offered to help sponsor the daughters so they can finish school. Along the way, the big brother became a pen pal of Songbird – he’s studying journalism at a university away from home (Dessie, I think) and has been enjoying writing to our biggest girl and exchanging college stories.
Today I received a lovely e-mail from AlemTsehaye along with a collection of digital photos she took. Let me track back a bit – AlemTsehaye’s one request of our family was for a working digital camera. We were lucky to find travelers (hi V and R!) to deliver a camera to her – a camera with a great lens, but an older model. It turns out the camera’s battery has a slow charge and a brief charge. I think the realities of limited local resources for power and batteries, and the limits of batteries, and the limits of my “perspective” (always a challenge in resource limited countries), have made learning to use the camera a slow process.
But, today there were photos! I e-mail with her regularly, but these photos were a first. First, I read her e-mail with delight and absolute glee when I scrolled down to her pictures. I then shared the pictures and e-mail content with the rest of the family and that is when the tears started. Oh, and they are starting again. I cried from that deep deep place of longing, of joy, of frustration.
Why cry? The special friendship my family has been able to share with a handful of people in Ethiopia is totally beyond any expectations I had when we all were in Ethiopia a year ago;one year ago exactly. And, it is no surprise that the conduits for these connections were our amazing teen aged children. They brought us into the fold, so to speak. They reached out and made friendships that continue to flourish and challenge us as a family. We are challenged to see our own global and local privilege, to see our own place as global and local neighbors, and to make choices about how we use our resources in order to share our family’s bounty with others.

So, when AlemTsehaye’s photos arrived, especially this one of a room full of school mates smiling for the “camera of AlemTsehaye“…I wept with gratitude for her self portraits and the lens she has revealed in Lalibela. I wept for beautiful Ethiopia. I wept for all of the needs still unmet. I wept for the goodness of my children. I wept for the unanticipated treasure that our Blueberry brought with him, even as he left his home country to become our son.
There is more to say, but the tears are clouding my vision.
I need to find a less “fussy” camera for dear AlemTsehaye. I’d like to make the battery operation simpler for her – so that I can enjoy her point of view.