Monday, March 20, 2006

Afternoon at AHOPE--travel story continued

AHOPE stands for "African HIV Orphans: Project Embrace" and is an orphanage caring for orphans with HIV/AIDS, located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was founded in part by our adoption agency, AAI. They were receiving so many children to care for with HIV that they needed a place for them. While AHOPE used to essentially be a hospice, now that antiretroviral drugs are allowed into Ethiopia, these kids are being treated and they will now be able to live much longer lives! And some children are being adopted!

We sponsor two sisters at AHOPE, Eden and Addisalem, aged 4 and 9 respectively. Their mother passed away last April and they were living on their own in a shanty until a neighbor took them to a government office to get help for them. They were eventually referred to AHOPE. Both girls are HIV positive, and poor little Eden is already on the ARV drugs (you only go on them once your disease has progressed to a certain point.)

We've been receiving updates on these precious girls for months, praying for them and looking forward to meeting them when we traveled to Ethiopia. So we arranged ahead of time to spend some time at AHOPE and to throw all the kids an ice cream party!

Two AHOPE workers picked us up at the guesthouse Friday afternoon, and off we went. There are two AHOPE facilities; one houses older children and one houses the younger children. We stopped at the first facility and the van was mobbed with loud, excited children! They all piled in with us chattering and looking at the boys. My first impression was that kids are kids, no matter where you go, what their circumstances are, etc.!

My second impression was, oh my goodness, these poor kids have HIV and many of them are very, very ill. I don't know how much you know about HIV, but when an HIV positive person's immunity drops, they get lesions on their face that look like warts. One precious boy's entire face was covered with heart went out to him and all these other kids, who are not only fighting for their lives, but they are without parents or family.

As I recall, I was thinking a LOT about this as we drove to the other facility. We met Sidisse, a wonderful woman who runs the orphanage. She gave us a great tour of all the rooms, explained the childrens' medicine, etc. The current AHOPE facility is actually our adoption agency's former facility.

We were then introduced to Eden and Addisalem. And I proceeded to feel like someone had punched me in the stomach. There stood the two most somber, sad, depressed children I'd ever met. They just stood there holding hands and I just stood there wanting to cry. I felt ashamed. I had been so looking forward to meeting them, I'd spent months praying for them and thinking of them and not once did I ever realize the cold reality or depth of sadness of their situation. Do we ever really stop to think, what must their life really be like? What is beyond the smile in the little picture they send? What is it like to lose your mother to AIDS, to feel sick half the time, to live in an orphanage with very little hope of being adopted and of ever having a family? The hopelessness and loneliness must be overwhelming. At least, it seemed to be for these two girls.

(On a side note, we can get to feeling pretty good about the things we do to help others. We send in our little checks to World Vision or Compassion or the Red Cross or to AHOPE and think, okay, we're making a difference, we're doing something good, and it makes us feel good...but then when reality smacks you in the face you realize, This is a child's life. This doesn't make me feel good anymore.)

Neither of the girls spoke English, and they seemed so shy, so we really didn't spend much time with them, one-on-one. Sidisse and the other workers herded all the kids into a large room and got them to sit down, and then had us go in. All the kids stood up (to show respect I guess) as we entered the room. When Sidisse told us they were standing for us we told them to sit down! I felt so unworthy to have these precious children doing that for us.

They decided to sing some songs for us. They sang "Father Abraham" (first in English, then Amharic), and I began to tear up when they started singing "This is the Day that the Lord Has Made." The line that says, "I will rejoice and be glad in it" really got me. Here these kids just have the most tragic of circumstances, and here they sit clapping their hands loudly and singing of how they were put my own little life into perspective I guess.

After awhile the staff handed out the ice cream. Sidisse thanked us and said that we had made the kids happy and given them something to be excited about. Again I felt horrible being thanked for the paltry gift we'd given them. At the end, Kevin asked if he could pray for the children. Sidisse translated his prayer, and the children would say "amen" after each phrase. Precious.

We all headed back outside, where we pulled Eden and Addisalem aside to give them the gifts we'd brought for them. Nothing exciting, just some girly necklaces and bracelets we'd bought for them. But it was the only time I saw the girls smile the entire afternoon. Little Eden's face lit up as she put on her bracelet and necklace. Initially I'd thought, okay, we'll get them these things to remember us by. But now I just hoped it made them feel beautiful. They are such precious girls. I wonder if they know how special and beautiful they are--I doubt they do.

While we were there Sidisse told me the children at AHOPE oftentimes feel very hopeless and like they have very little self-worth. She said they look in the mirror and only see the bumps on their faces and how sick they are. She said it's hard for them when someone does get adopted--they feel so sad that no one has adopted them.

It was interesting observing the different children. Some seemed pretty well adjusted and happy, some seemed starved for love (they are so well-cared for at AHOPE, yet that is not a replacement for a family), and some just seemed depressed. We got to see the babies as well...a whole nursery full of young toddlers/babies with HIV. They were precious.

When we finally left and got back to the guesthouse neither of us knew what to say about the day we'd had. How do you put those things into words? Even now writing about it I think I'm all over the place and probably not explaining things the way I'd like to--I think I'm still trying to figure out what my thoughts even are.

I just have all these where does God fit into all of this? Jesus loves these children...He is there with them looking out for them and for some reason has allowed them to live a life harder than you or I will most likely ever live. How do I translate my feelings of sadness over these kids to feelings of hope? Where do we see the hope in this situation? And what is the answer?????

For starters I need to pray a whole lot more! I need to pray that God will comfort these children and prepare families to adopt them. It can be done; HIV is not the death sentence it once was, and HIV-positive or not, these kids are "precious in His sight," just like the song says.

Lord willing, we plan to continue adopting children throughout our lives. There will always be kids that need families and we are committed to doing what we can to meet that need. I've spent twenty-something years looking only to my own needs (or the needs of people I like), and I am already seeing the change God is bringing in my life through doing something that forces me out of my comfort zone and that leaves me little time to worry about "me."

We'd also like to somehow advocate more for these children and for adoption as well. We are praying about how to do that (as I have no real clue.) I think that orphans, whether they are ill or not, will always struggle with immense hopelessness and loneliness. Children need families. That family could be you! If you are not at that place, please consider donating time/money/whatever to help an orphanage, relief organization, homeless shelter, etc.

AHOPE would like to be able to take in more children, but are hindered only by finances. PLEASE consider sponsoring a child or two, or giving a gift, or something. I have more information if you'd like, or you can go to the AHOPE website to find out more.

Seeing things that are difficult to see has caused me to cling to Christ and His promises all the more. There are things in this world that are hard to look at and discouraging to see. Praise the Lord that He is the God of the oppressed, and of the poor, and of the orphan. I am so glad we can cry out to Him and ask tough questions and that He listens and cares. I'm glad that the beggars and orphans are not alone. I am glad that my joy comes from Christ and from nothing else...because if it did, I'd be pretty bummed! We have the amazing ability to be able to mourn and grieve over such tragedy, and yet still have a joyful spirit.

If you are still reading this, I am sorry for the long-windedness. My heart broke for these children and their situation, and they need our help. I could not have blogged about this day without sharing the feelings we were having.

I'm sorry if this post seemed depressing. Even though I grieve over the childrens' situation, I know there is hope and joy in the fact that God watches over them, and there is great hope in the fact that you and I are a major part of God's plan to help these people.

I'm sorry if it seems like I'm on a "soapbox." Meeting Eden and Addisalem, visiting their orphanage, opened my eyes to what is a daily reality for many, many people. It was a glimpse into something that we rarely get a glimpse of in middle-class America. It brought some things into perspective and I feel that if I don't share those things, then who will? You go to the Christian bookstore, and there are thousands of what are essentially "self-help" books on how to live the Christian life. I think we (in our happy, comfortable Christian culture) look for the answers there all too often...And then very rarely we get some sort of glimpse into the things God sees every day, and realize, it is a lot simpler than we thought in terms of what's important, what God wants from us, what matters to Him. While it was uncomfortable feeling so helpless and having to see some things I saw, I'm glad for it. And so now I try to put the pieces together and figure out what I walked away with and what that means for the future. (If it means I'm on a soapbox or something, well, I suppose there are probably worse soapboxes to be on!)


Becky said...

Hello, I am one of those blog "lurkers" who has been following your story. We had hoped to adopt from Etiopia, but had to put that on hold for now. We currently sponser a little boy at Ahope named Kassahun. I pray for him every day.
Thank-you for reporting on your visit with the Ahope children. Whenever I start to feel at all sad for myself, all I need to do is look at Kassahun's picture or the Christmas card sent by the kids to smack me back into reality.

Jeannett Gibson said...

You know...God has BIG plans for you and Kevin. Scary I'm sure, but true nonetheless. Your ability to be interesting, passionate, and articulate in print is a gift...way to use it! :0)

Thanks for "going for it" (as Tim would say!).

Stephannie said...

This entry was so touching. Please keep sharing - we're clinging to your inspiring story as we wait for a referral ourselves. I appreciate the honesty with which you write. So many people seem to gloss over the experience and force it to be perfect. All the best, Stephannie

Rachel said...

Reading about your experience at AHOPE brought tears to my eyes. I've actually been crying a lot today, but this was different. I love that you spent time with the people of Ethiopia instead of using spare time to safari(even though that would have been really cool too). You got a first hand look into the suffering that is experienced every day. What an opportunity for growth. I am thankful that I get to see a glimpse of that through your posts.

dharmamama said...

Brianna, as you know we are adopting a child from AHOPE. I really appreciate what you had to say about your experiences there.

And I have to ask ... do you have any pictures of Desta?

Brianna Heldt said...


You know I was trying to spot her while we were there. I read your blog regularly and think it is AWESOME that she is going to be your daughter!

There were a few older girls there around Desta's age and I could kick myself for not looking at a picture of her right before we went. She may appear in some of the random pics we took. I'll look through 'em and see!

I am so, so excited that every day you are closer to bringing her home!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time and the heart it takes to express what God has been doing in your life through your adoption in Ethiopia.You are truly blessing many with your words and moving many to see as God sees as well.

Brianna Heldt said...

Hi! I'm glad you posted! That is so exciting that you hope to adopt from Ethiopia. AND that you sponsor Kassahun. I wonder if we saw him.

Yeah it is always scary wondering how God will work things out/bring them about, etc. but He sure always comes through! :) And yes "going for it" is definitely a Tim-ism! (PS Looking forward to seeing you tonight!)

Thanks for posting, how exciting to be waiting for a referral. I hope it comes soon! Keep me posted!

Oh I'm glad you liked the post. Truly the most amazing thing about Ethiopia was the people. It is the best way to learn about a place, etc. and I can't wait to share our experiences with the boys as they grow. Keep hanging in there, it was good to talk to you last night.

Thank you for the sweet words. Hopefully if nothing else it'll get people thinking about things they maybe haven't thought about before.

KelseyChristine said...

This is such a moving made me cry! We sponsor a little girl named Martha Zerihun. I hope I will be able to travel to Ethiopia again soon so I can meet her. She is such a part of my heart even though I've only seen her picture. Thank you for sharing your experience.

richlisad said...

We are adopting a girl from AHOPE and her sister who is at Layla House, and your post caught my eye. I believe (difficult to tell exactly) that our daughter is the girl in sky blue in a couple of your pictures. There are more photos on my blog if you click on my name. Would love to talk offline if you remember anything about her. Our passions are the same!

Rich & Lisa

Brianna Heldt said...

Rich and Lisa, I click on your name but no blog is shown! What's the address for your blog?

richlisad said...

Sorry about that.



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