Thanks to the wonderful response to the AAI Holiday Project fundraising effort this year, we have begun a feeding project in a small town in rural Ethiopia, about 200 kilometers from Addis Ababa. The town was chosen both because of the need and because we knew of a partner organization, the Bethezasa Children's Association, that we felt confident could run and administer a quality program with the funds provided by the AAI office in Addis. AAI staff member Ivy Dash recently had the chance to visit the program and meet the students benefiting. Her report is below and we should be able to provide more photos very soon.
The feeding center sponsored by AAI has been set up at an orphanage called Bethzata Children's Home in Arsi run by a gentleman named Sammy (I don't know his 2nd name). The first boy to show up was about 10 or 11 yrs old with great big beautiful eyes. Then, one by one, the pre-teens and teens started to file in. It was a weekday so they were coming from school in their uniforms. Most of their uniforms were tattered and faded and dirty but they were proud to wear them and proud to be in school.
We started the program with everybody washing their hands for lunch. My favorite little boy was the one pouring the water over everybody's hands. Then it was mine and Temesgen's and Sammy's turn and then someone poured the water for him. And we all sat down for a full meal of injera, mesir wat & aleche wet. Everyone seemed so happy to have a nourishing meal - for some, their only meal of the day I learned. There was some small talk around the table, but mostly everyone was quiet, enjoying the food.
At the conclusion of the meal, Sammy got up and talked, thanking everyone for coming and thanking AAI for providing the meals. Then some of the students spoke. They each had their own story, but the gist of what each of them shared was the same. They were so thankful for being part of this feeding program. They are now able to concentrate on their studies in school because they are not hungry all the time. One girl said her brain can now function because she is no longer thinking about being hungry. Another girl said that she did not have anything to eat for breakfast or lunch before our program and now she is so thankful to have a good meal. Another girl said she would have 1 piece of dough for lunch before she joined our program. There was an older woman who got up and spoke - she was the students’ teacher and advisor. She said that she picked out these specific children to be part of our feeding program. They are all the top-ranking students in their classes and since being part of the feeding program, every single one of their grades have risen. Temesgen and I both spoke and said we were thankful for the donations to be able to provide this for them. We wished them well in their studies and hoped that they will continue to do well in school so they can make something of themselves.
We had a little coffee ceremony and popcorn was passed around. Then we went outside for a group picture. We did bring donations for them, clothes and shoes, but Sammy decided to wait for another occasion to pass them out.
All in all, I think this feeding program is well worth it. I don't know how much it cost us, but I do feel we are doing something that is helping these kids. And their grades prove it!