Friday, January 29, 2010

A Volunteer takes Layla kids Camping

The following blog post was submitted by Alexa Lawson, one of our tireless volunteers at Layla House this winter. Hailing from Montana, Alexa's burning desire was to take some of the kids camping!

The desire to take the older boys on an excursion into the wild developed soon after my arrival to volunteer at Layla House-----and now the long-awaited day had finally come! Our ability to take this amazing trip came about through the generosity of our local friend Robel Saido. After asking him for suggestions of where we might be able to camp and horseback ride, Robel took it upon himself to not only make all the arrangements, but also to have his company cover the majority of the costs.

On the appointed day, we eventually had everyone gathered and loaded, and we were underway. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant, a rare treat, where we discovered that M___ had a bottomless pit for a stomach, ordering the largest meal and devouring it before moving on to dispose of everyone else’s leftovers. Afterwards, we piled into the van once again to make our way to Lake Wenchi where adventure awaited but we were halted for while by an overheated engine. By resorting to using precious bottled waters to cool the radiator, we eventually were operational again, making our way to the Wenchi Park entrance, paying the entrance fee, and meeting with Robel’s guys.

In the small bright yellow pickup sitting low to the ground with all the supplies and people, we traveled slowly down a steep and rocky road, eventually stopping about two hundred yards from the edge of the lake where a large, white, circus-style tent was already set up. After unloading the truck, the boys rushed down to the lake, excited by the prospect of swimming. Taking a few moments to revel in the beauty of the lake, and to breathe deeply of the pollution-free air, I returned to the tent to set up house and prepare dinner. Having attracted the attention of the local children whose hut was a mere ten yards from our tent, I invited them, a little tyke named Abu and a girl with a smile a mile wide, into the tent to play with the game of Connect Four we’d brought with us. Though the objective of the game was lost on them, they enjoyed themselves nonetheless until they were shooed away by their father.

The evening meal was hobo balls, a staple of my camping trips in Montana – rice, meat, and vegetables mixed together and wrapped in aluminum foil then thrown directly into the fire to heat up – the boys came back wet and cold from their swim, and I took the chance to go photograph the beauty of Ethiopia’s natural landscape. With the wind increasing in strength and all the boys chilled by the icy lake waters, we set up the beds, with all 25+ blankets, though I was fearful we didn’t have enough to ward off the cold setting in as the sun began to dip below the horizon. I passed out the jerseys I’d gotten for the six boys; each one thrilled to be sporting new apparel from their favorite teams.

After letting the boys try their hands – unsuccessfully – at starting a fire, the locals took over and with the efficiency of those who depend on fire daily, had a fire going in no time. The strong winds made cooking over the fire quite a challenge, the bread ending up a lump of inedible charcoal, and only about one third of the popcorn kernels actually popped. Luckily, the boys were hungry enough that they weren’t overly picky. Having not planned for the extra eight to ten individuals that we ended up sharing dinner with, I ate sparingly.

Huddled around the fire for warmth, we passed the evening marveling at the star-strewn sky, the boy’s laughter filling me with warmth as I rejoiced in being able to offer them this opportunity to be young men, free from the monotony of everyday orphanage life. Thankful the boys were ready to retire by about nine, we headed to the tent, bundled up with all the layers we had, and steeled ourselves for a cold, windy night. Bright and early we again fought the gusty winds to get a fire started in order to cook eggs for breakfast. Again, underestimating the appetites of six growing boys, I went without in order to ensure they had had their fill. Then we packed up camp, leaving Robel’s guys to take down the large tent, and we negotiated a price with the local men to row us across the lake. The strong winds got the best of us yet again as we fought against the currents to make our way to the other side. Stopping midway at an island to recruit other rowers, we took a brief moment to explore the island’s monastery before separating into two smaller boats and commencing on our way across the lake. After fighting for nearly half an hour to travel less than 300 yards, we finally reached the other side, and hiked a short distance to where the horses awaited.

We rode happily, the hours passing all too quickly as I attempted to capture the joy of these first-time adventures through my camera’s lens. We even sampled the natural spring of fizzy mineral water from which the bottled product Ambo comes, though I wasn’t bold enough to actually swallow it for fear of giardia. The outing proved H__’s astounding perseverance; though I didn’t witness the incident, he fell off the horse, but quickly rebounded and got right back on without fear. Also, when we came to a section of the trail where the horses could not carry passengers, H__ hiked up the steep, slippery grade like a champion. Reaching the top, he was exhausted by the effort, but proud that he had accomplished the feat when he had originally said, “I can’t.” After over two hours, we eventually made our way around the lake, and back up to the top of the mountain where our drivers awaited our arrival. Worn out by the hike, I sank happily onto the seat. As the drivers made a switch, I feverishly made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry crowd with M___s help. Approaching Layla’s blue gates several hours later, I was both thankful and amazed that the weekend had gone so well, confident it would be a fond memory for these boys for years to come.

(Alexa with the t-shirt the boys surprised her with after the trip!)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Office Renovations at Layla House

We have new office spaces at Layla! Gail Gorfe sent the following post and pictures to show you some of the new, more comfortable offices for our hard-working and growing staff in Ethiopia. Enjoy and thanks to all who helped make this possible!


The final touches have been completed in our new main office! About 2 months ago we started a renovation project in our main offices at the AAI facility in Ethiopia. This is the compound that we built and moved into about 3 years ago now.

The main office space on this compound is right by the entrance and was the restaurant and bar of the hotel in its "former life". When we bought the compound and first planned out the space, we decided that this location was the best for the office and that we would do only minor work to it, as there was so much else to do. The space itself was larger than any office we had worked in before, and even though the space did not have the best layout and had several different ground levels, we were excited to move in.

For those of you who have been to the previous "Layla houses", you know that we have generally had not much more than a large bedroom in the service building, or the garage space, as our office space. Of course back then we had only 1 or two office staff, only me in fact, for the first months. Over the years of course we have added more office staff as the work increased and the government requirements changed. We have always felt though, that the best place for an office was in the same location as the children, so even though we did not have much space, we did not feel that it was right to go out and rent something in another part of town and be removed from the kids.

At our Layla house facility, we have several office locations. The social workers have their office further into the compound where the older children live. The teachers have their own little office where they keep some personal items and do some preparation work during their free class each day. We have a "clinic area" for our doctor and nurses. Ivy, as the volunteer coordinator, has an office near the soccer field, where she works and the volunteers can keep their things. Each department has a place to keep their personal belongs and to sit for tea and lunch. The administrative and adoption staff work from the main office.

In the old main office arrangement there was an outside lunch space with a corridor that led up to the biggest office overlooking the gate Downstairs the small door by the main AAI gate, took you into the small outer office where the copy machine stood and directly into one of the two remaining offices. Along the wall was the long corridor where the financial staff worked. At the end of that corrider was the second office where Etsegenet our administrator handled the affairs on the 170+ staff employed by AAI in Ethiopia. Behind that was the meeting room, where lunch was eaten during the rainy season, and where the toddlers passed through to get to their class. In between all these little rooms was a secured little room for the financial records (as required in order to receive a positive financial audit report each year) and two narrow little bathrooms.

The hub of all office activity though was the little office I mentioned, right off the inner office where the actual adoption paperwork was handled. This was Tsehaye's office. Tsehaye is our adoption assistant and prepares all the adoption contracts, birth certificate, passport applications and much more. I worked out of this office with Tsehaye compiling the documents for the embassy, among other things. Also working out of this office were Yared, our court liason and Felekech and Sintaheyu, our project assistants, who both handle the running around with the kids/paperwork that is part of the adoption process. On a busy day there would be as many as 6 people standing, talking and discussing court issues, paperwork problems and driving schedules in this little cramped space.

With the addition of Temesgen to our team this year, and his desire to work right with the rest of the adoption staff, in clear view of all that was happening, and the many orphanage staff coming to our offices, it was high time for us to redesign our office space, so that our 11 office staff would have the needed space to work.

The work went very fast and every day we would walk through the space with the contractor giving comments and ideas and watching the exact same space become much more roomy. Last week the temporary wall came down; the furniture was moved from the outer office into the new office space. A large office for the financial staff, an office right near the outer office/reception for the administrator, an office for the court liason, and project assistants, and one office each for Tsehaye, Temesgen and myself. The washrooms are nicer and more roomy and together at the far end. The small outer office looks much bigger without the many entrances and the new reception desk is perfect for Eleni the secretary. There is lots of space for the copy machine and chairs for the waiting visitors or staff. The main door has also been changed and is now much bigger. The upper office has now been emptied out and has become our meeting and lunch room.

It is very nice to be able to sit down and do paperwork without the constant interruptions due to the crowded work spaces. We are all very happy with the changes and are enjoying this special Christmas bonus.

We want to thank all of you who helped make this renovation possible by giving donations for this purpose. It is not always easy to see the benefit of money spent on administrative details, but in the long run a better work environnment is a benefit to the kids we work so hard to care for. For those who would still like to give a donation, the costs have not yet been fully covered and the office is always open to your assistance.

We look forward to welcoming you into our offices when you come to pick up your kids, and our staff also enjoy meeting you and seeing the fruits of their labor.

Gail Gorfe

Adoption Coordinator AAI

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia

(office number 6!)