Wednesday, January 12, 2011

and...Holiday Project in Ethiopia!

Post submitted by Rita Radostitz, AAI parent of Hanna and Sabella.  They were visiting Ethiopia and helped out with the Holiday Project celebration at Layla House last week.   The pictures are small because they were sent from Ethiopia---hopefully we'll have bigger ones soon!  Suffice to say though, our 2010 Holiday Project was a great success and will benefit our humanitarian projects all through 2011.  We are deeply grateful to all who donated this year. 

Thursday -- Christmas Eve -- in Addis

Just like on Christmas at home, my twin daughters got up early with no prompting (an unusual event for teenagers!) so that we could get to Layla House and help set up for the Christmas activities.  We slammed down the pancakes that the cook at the Ritmo prepared for us and grabbed our bags and headed out.  (Christmas is celebrated a day early at Layla so that the staff can participate and then are able to spend Christmas day with their families.)
We arrived at Layla to find the kids excited about the morning activities -- though the excitement ranged from full on anticipation to wariness -- depending on whether the child had been at Layla for Christmas before.  Since Ethiopian Christmas is mostly about going to church (and in Orthodox churches, the service lasts 3 to 4 hours…) and eating with relatives, for children new to Layla, the idea of Santa Claus and presents is not entirely clear.  But they did know, from the other children, that it would be fun.

The children had been working on their version of the Christmas play for weeks.  Teacher (as the beloved head teacher is known by) was dressed in a beautiful suit and scuttling around getting the actors into their costumes and rehearsing their lines one more time.  The older kids moved the Christmas tree from the dining room to the play yard where the activities would be held, and spruced up the decorations.
 Mary and Joseph eat while babies and toddlers look on

As with most things in Ethiopia, the planned 9:30 start was delayed…the cakes weren’t quite ready, and Mandie had to run up to Churchill street to get two more traditional outfits for children who hadn’t been on the original list.  But by 10, the process of gathering all the children into the play area had begun.  And a process it was -- first, all the babies were brought out -- and I mean ALL the babies…from the tiniest child to 18 month old Mikias, they were carried one by one by the volunteers and the staff and laid out on mattresses set out in the play yard. 

Once all the babies were settled, the toddlers came out -- two or three at a time, holding hands with a volunteer and settled onto the steps.  Then the KG kids, then the older children all gathered and settled on the steps.  As they waited for the actors to put the final touches onto setting the scene and pinning up costumes, they sang Christmas songs in Amharic and listened to a Christmas mix album that Addis, the wonderful AAI accountant and full time Christmas fan, had put together (rumor has it that Addis has been playing Christmas music while he works since mid-November J)

And then, the play began.  Although there was no curtain to raise, the audience did settle (though Opportunity House child Yohannes thought that the chairs set up for the scene were set there just for him and he ran out to sit in one before a quick staff member corralled him and got him settled back on the steps.)

The angel announced, Herod was ferocious, the donkeys brayed on cue, lines were remembered and forgotten, and scenes changed fluidly.  The children did a fabulous job telling (in English!) the story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus.  The kings brought their gifts of gold, myrrh and Frankenstein. (yes, that is a difficult word for even a native English speaker!)  And in the end, the real live baby who played baby Jesus was held high by the priest and we all were awed by the miracle of Christmas.

After a few more songs, cake and soda was served and then the children were again seated in the play area, waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.  One of the guards, Mesfin, played Santa this year, and he was fabulously jolly.  The children did recognize him, and some tried to pull off his beard, and poke his big belly -- just as you would expect.

Names were called one by one and the children came up to receive their gift directly from Santa -- and they tore open the wrapping with whoops of joy as they found a traditional outfit (which I think they expected) and then the unexpected - a ball or a car or two (yes, TWO) Barbie dolls.  No matter what the present, the children were thrilled and played with them all day.

Enormous kudos go to Mandie Doak who did an amazing job -- mostly all by herself -- organizing and wrapping the toys for the children and then measuring and shopping for their outfits.  Every child had a gift, every child had an outfit (and one that actually fit!) and the smiles of gratitude were genuine.  The babies looked darling, the older boys handsome -- and she took photos of every child in his or her outfit.

It was a fabulous day and I know that the staff appreciated seeing the joy on the faces of the children and also appreciated the special gifts purchased through the generosity of donors. 

So, as the story goes -- Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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