Sunday, June 28, 2009

Our Amazing AAI Volunteers

We have a very active volunteer program at Layla House and many wonderful people have spent time with the children there over the last 10 years. Now that we have this forum, I've asked Ivy Dash, our compound coordinator, to have the volunteers send some "guest blogger" posts about their experiences along with a little biographical information. More information about volunteering in Ethiopia can be found at this link.

Our first volunteer post is from Catherine Irwin and she accompanied a group of older boys to play soccer in Nazret. Here's why she decided to come to Layla House:

My name is Catherine Irwin--- I am 19 years old and have just finished my first year at the University of Maryland as a double major in Journalism and Government. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. I found out about Layla when a family I babysat for regularly began the process of adopting through AAI. They had two biological children and decided to adopt two beautiful sisters from Layla. They had originally planned to have a family member come with them and take their two biological daughters along to Ethiopia, but the family member ended up not being able to go, so they asked me to come in his place. In just 8 days my whole world was literally changed and a year and a half later I seized the opportunity to return to this amazing country and this time be a part of the incredible things AAI does in Ethiopia.

My Trip to Nazret
I had an awesome time in Nazret. We loaded up the minibuses and headed out Thursday morning with the Group 4 and 5 boys. It was nice because they’re all incredibly sweet and they’re hilarious. Jemal the sports teacher and Fasil the history/science teacher went with us. Before we left, Jill was yelling at Fasil like he knew the same amount of English as a two-year-old, and Raya just looked at me and said, “Fasil speaks fluent English. Just so you know.” Oh Jill…

Dawit and Abraham drove, and Abraham stayed with us so we had a car to drive us into town and stuff. We stayed at an orphanage AAI has just begun working with; Karis and Raya had been there a few days earlier to pick up three of their babies and bring them to Layla

The actual place was really nice, there was a beautiful garden and we ate meals under an awning covered in grapevines. The boys slept in one huge room; they just laid blankets and pillows down, but Jill and I had our own room with mattresses on the floor, which was nice. The teachers had their own room just like it, but they slept with the boys anyway.

The older kids at the orphanage were named Kolsa, Worge, and Majo. The last two spoke very little English, but they loved to run around and play and laugh. They weren’t used to having so many other people around. We taught Kolsa Uno and then every time he played he would find me and make me fan out his cards. I would hear, “Catreen! Catreen!” and he would be running over, cards in hand!

There were two toddlers; one was very pretty and the first day she hugged my legs until I picked her up. The other toddler, Seefan, is dying of AIDs and TB. She’s getting medicine for TB but none for AIDs. The first night she came in and sat in my lap so I held her for a while and she cried when I put in her in her crib. Jill and I decided to try our hardest to find a way to get her to AHope where she could get some medicine that could actually really help her. It seemed like the babies were not held that often and their bottles are propped. The baby room was a very sad room.

After a walk in the afternoon, we went back to the orphanage for dinner. They had made a huge fire in the back yard and cooked goat. The goat had previously been walking around the garden and when it was time to be killed, the man in charge invited Jill and me to come watch! He kept crying like he knew what was about to happen! Poor little guy. Jemal and Fasil kept telling us about how raw goat is medicinal because they eat everything. If everything in Africa is so medicinal (the hot springs, the mineral water, raw goat) why is Africa so filled with diseases?! I don’t buy it.

They performed the coffee ceremony twice a day while we were there, and it was really cool to watch. First they roast the coffee beans over an open fire and then they grind the beans and boil the water over the fire inside these beautifully carved and decorated coffee pots. They had laid out beautiful flowers and plants all around the fire and were burning incense in a hand-woven little basket. Fasil explained that there are supposed to be three cups; the first is the strongest, and then they get more watered down from there, but we only ever got one cup. It was still delicious.

When breakfast and the ceremony were over we took the boys to a stadium in town to play soccer. They played against the local team, who were better just because at Layla they don’t have a full field and weren’t used to running as much. That being said, both teams were very good. At the end we took pictures with both of the teams and the boys from Layla said the local team didn’t have a ball and asked to give them ours. They’re just truly incredible kids and I want every single one to find the perfect home and family.

We went back for lunch (injera and wet, like every day of my life here) and then we went to Sodere, a pool from natural hot springs. It was SO funny, maybe 90% of the people stayed in the tiny shallow section because very few Ethiopians know how to swim! Fasil and Jemal were the only Ethiopians in our group who swam. There were like, four people in the huge Olympic-sized pool, and maybe twenty in the tiny kids section. Too funny. I tried to go in with my shirt on but they wouldn’t let me so I had to wear my scandalous American bathing suit.

I loved playing with the kids, all of them were trying really hard to swim and a lot of them were getting it! I would take some of them into the deeper part one at a time and they would hold on to me and swim for like, a foot, But still they liked it and I did it until I was too tired. The water was pretty hot. Then I threw them around, especially S__ and B__. Once they were in the water I would pull them out really quick and say I saved their lives and they owed me big time, which they thought was hilarious, and then they kept pulling me out of the water every time I went under and telling me they had saved my life. Why are kids the most fun people ever? I’m in love with them.

That night we had spaghetti for dinner. It was spicy, like all food in Ethiopia, but it was still delicious. We all played games again that night, but this time I played Monopoly with Fasil and one other kid. Fasil won within like, thirty minutes, it was awkward.

In the morning we ate egg sandwiches again, and this time I guarded my jam so I could eat it all. We thought we only had one car so we loaded up Abraham’s van and tied everything to the top. Then Dawit came! I rode home with Dawit and Jemal. The Monopoly game fell off Abraham’s car on the way home, which is sad because apparently the kids actually really liked it and I guess it does have some educational value. That’s what it gets for making me lose though!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Father's Day Garage Sale in PA Benefits AAI

AAI encourages all of its families to "give back" and make a commitment to helping other children in the country they are adopting from. Many of our families do wonderful and creative things to help AAI's humanitarian efforts, particularly in Ethiopia and Ghana. We want to use our new blog forum to celebrate some of their efforts and to inspire others.

Just this last weekend, the Fischer family of Pennysylvania held a garage sale and advertised that all proceeds would support AAI's humanitarian programs in Ethiopia. Despite rain worthy of Noah's Ark, they raised over $3500 and passed out information about AAI and its programs to many people. They sent us these photos of their family, the advertising they did for their event, and some of the items for sale. Because it was Father's Day too, they had a stack of our "in honor of" donation cards to give to people donating $25 or more in honor of a dad in their life. Rachael reports that they made a lot of new friends in their neighborhood and had people attending of many different nationalities.

Rachael and Steven Fischer have three children and are currently waiting for an infant boy from Ethiopia. She is an attorney who has done pro bono work with refugees from the Congo and says that that experience is part of what inspired them to adopt from Ethiopia and to choose AAI for its commitment to being both an adoption and a child welfare agency. Steven Fischer is an emergency room physician and he was recently able to get a whole case of much-needed rubber gloves to AHOPE and Wanna House. Rachael is also helping to revise a number of the FAQ documents for Ethiopian adoptive families, a valuable and very time-consuming volunteer effort as well.

We are so grateful to the many families and individuals who share their time and talents to benefit AAI's humanitarian programs and to assist other adoptive families.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The latest issue of the AAI e-newsletter just came out and is available at this link. In it, Merrily writes the story of Eyasu, a new two year old boy at Opportunity House, our facility for children with special needs. Eyasu was born without arms and would have faced a very difficult future in Ethiopia. We hope to find an adoptive family for him soon.

When she learned about Eyasu, Merrily recalled another family that adopted two children from Taiwan with similar disabilities. She called the family and learned that both children are now in college and doing very well. Below are some pictures of Molly and Mikel that the family was kind enough to send. We always loving hearing from people as their children grow up and this is a particularly inspiring success story.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Electricity Situation in Ethiopia

The following is a post from Gail Gorfe, the AAI staff member who manages Layla House and raises her own wonderful family of 4 children in Ethiopia. The electricity situation is becoming increasingly dire.

Power rationing and life in Ethiopia

Around the end of the February power rationing was started again in Ethiopia. Power rationing is done by the Ethiopian government to meet the energy demands of the country. Due to a shortage of power, the electricity is turned off to save energy. Most electricity is generated through dams and without enough water (and dams being built taking longer then scheduled) the problem continues to grow.

Back in February everyone was very annoyed with the rationing but as it continues annoyance is a very minor issue. We went from losing power for 8 hours twice a week, to 12 hours then to 16 hours every two days. As of this week it is now 24 hours every second day. This is no longer simply an annoyance, but a catastrophe for the economy and for many people. And it is not over. Rumors around town are suggesting it will be as high as 48 hours of no power and 12 hours with.

Losing power in your home is no fun, especially when you are used to the luxuries of life, like hot water in the house, a fridge and washing machine. Without power those of us with the luxuries are reminded of what the majority of Ethiopians live without every day. This does not make it any easier of course. Planning meals is harder, shopping for groceries because a daily job and even taking hot showers (especially with a large family) becomes a job of scheduling.

But the impact on the country is so much bigger. There are many small business that operate in Addis Ababa and throughout the cities where that small business provides the income for the owner and/or employees and supports a large household. Income is shared within families as unemployment is high. As power rationing continues, business close down and more people will lose their jobs, with little prospect of another one.

Small business like coffee shops, translation offices, secretarial services and so many more are dependent on power to operate and on days without power they cannot work, which is a big loss for a business that needs to bring in a specific amount of income to stay operational.
Larger business like restaurant suffer greatly too of course. A lot more time and effort is needed to prepare food and keep it fresh and many need to spend money on purchasing generators.
Government offices, banks and others also suffer great slowdowns with the power cuts. The work of one week is forced into a few days and people wait longer for things that otherwise take only a few hours.

Large factories, which provide needed items for the society, or sent products for export, and bring in the needed foreign currency, are struggling to stay operational and every day you read in the papers of another one shut down. Without sufficient power the large machines cannot operate and many hours of work are lost when the power is shut off. The government is even requiring some factories to purchase generators for their power needs or to be cut off completely.

Specific factories are currently still exempt from the rationing, such as Pharmaceutical factories, but if the power shortage continues even they will need to be included in the rationing, forcing them to become dependent on generator power in order to keep the power properly regulated.

From mid to late June until the of September is when Ethiopia has its large rains. It is the “Krempt” season. Over the past few years the rains have come as early as late May, but so far this year there have been only a few showers here and there. Rain is very much needed and once the rainy season it is fully underway the power issue will be alleviated.
Of course rain for power is not the only issue. Ethiopia has faced drought many many times in the past and if this years’ rainy season is late, there will be many other problems besides the issue of power rationing.

We can only hope and pray that the rains will come very quickly and life can return to normal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Prom night for 3 AAI girls

The AAI staff was delighted to receive this beautiful photo of young ladies ready for their prom. Three of these friends were adopted through AAI, two from Ethiopia and one from China. And to brag a little more, the girl from China, placed at age 5, has a full scholarship to college, majoring in physics and with a minor in Chinese!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

For The Dad Who Has Everything!

Father's Day is coming up on June 21. Do you have a father or a grandfather to honor with this special card? For a minimum donation of $25 to AAI's humanitarian projects, this beautiful "in honor of" card will be sent to arrive in time for Father's Day. Your name and the fund you designate the money for (Dessie, Layla, general, etc.) along with "Happy Father's Day" will be written on the back. Printed on heavy cardstock, this 5X7 card is perfect for hanging on your favorite dad's bulletin board.

To get your card in the mail, just donate online at this link and click on the "Father's Day Card" designation. Enter the fund you wish to contribute to below and your dad's name and address. You may also e-mail that information to Susan Poisson-Dollar, AAI Director of Development

Nice Father's Day presents can also be found at our Benefit Orphan's store. Happy shopping!