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!

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