Thursday, April 30, 2015


June 11, 2011

Dear friends and family,
As I approach my big 4-0 in October I have decided that the way I most want to celebrate is to return to Ethiopia.  We are lucky enough to be a part of an ever-growing community of Ethiopian adoptive families that have given their hearts and souls back to Ethiopia.  In September of this year, one of those families, the Alexanders, is leading a mission trip to bring smiles to as many Ethiopians as possible (see "Our Inspiration...").  Dr. Moody Alexander and his wife, Emily, are bringing a team of orthodontists, dentists and helpers to serve the capital city of Ethiopia -  Addis Ababa, the city in which Sophie was born.  The Alexanders are a very special family and you can learn more about them and their love for Ethiopia on their blog.  They have four biological children and two boys that were adopted from Ethiopia - one with Cerebral Palsy.  This is their second Ethiopia Smile mission and I am honored to be able to join them with Matthew this year. 

Our mission is to bring smiles to Ethiopians in three very special ways.  Please bear with me through this long post to see how you can help Ethiopia Smile!

Smile Part I
This portion of the mission is quite literally bringing smiles to Ethiopia.  We will spend four days serving the poorest sections of Addis with any and all dental needs - primarily extractions and teaching basic dental care.  Obviously, Matt and I won't be pulling any teeth out, but we will help with running supplies, managing the crowds and anything else they need us to do.  Last year the team helped 300-400 patients EACH DAY!  One of the areas is at the city trash dump.  Hundreds of people actually live in extreme poverty in Korah, a city of outcasts within Addis at the dump.  These will be emotionally charged days for sure, but the reports from last year's trip indicated that the extreme joy of these people outshone the despair as they watched a team of 65 people love and care for them.  I have attached two powerful videos at the end of this post made by members of Ethiopia Smile 2010.

Smile Part II
Another day of the trip will be spent delivering wheelchairs to disabled Ethiopian adults and children living in the city and surrounding areas.  The wheelchairs are provided by Wheels For Humanity and we are hoping to deliver 500 wheelchairs around the community!  Of these, 200 of them will be custom built on-site, in-country for the most severely disabled... amputees, kids with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, etc.  We will have physical therapists traveling with us to handle the fittings and transition.  To put it in perspective, the wheelchairs that we are bringing have an average true value of $2,000 - $6,000, so we will literally be donating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment. 

Another Ethiopian adoptive family we know from California (see "Our Inspiration..."), is spearheading this effort and has helped produce this powerful and informative 60 second video.  Their daughter was actually with Sophie in her final foster home and we were able to meet her when she first arrived to the home and send them pictures and videos of her as they waited to travel!  

Smile Part III
The final part of our journey will be to visit several government-run orphanages around the city (including Sophie's).  Some of these are for children waiting to be adopted internationally, while others are for older children that will likely not ever be adopted and will be turned away from the orphanage at the age of 18.  We saw many of these orphanages during our last trip and while the conditions were heartbreaking, the children were filled with joy and hope for a brighter future.  One of the favorite activities at these orphanages is soccer.  An Ethiopian man by the name of Ephrem Hagos has started an organization called Ethiopia Youth Impact Academy to help these children take advantage of any glimmer of hope and joy that they do have and enjoy their lives together.  He collects uniforms, balls and shoes for these children and facilitates soccer as an organized sport to the extent possible.  He is now also trying to raise money to start a group home for all of the boys and turn the game into something much bigger.

Here is a picture from September 2007 of the "soccer field" at the older boys' orphange, Kolfe, and some of the boys (and me) ready for a game!

The video below summarizes many of the needs I have discussed above and discusses the Ethiopian Youth Soccer initiative as well as the truth about life in Addis and Korah, in particular. 

The City of Addis - A short documentary from Session 7 Media on Vimeo.

Smile Part IV - HOW YOU CAN HELP!!
While Matt and I are thrilled to be part of such an important and life-changing journey, we are writing to you today to ask for your help.  

We are trying to raise as much money as possible to ensure that the 500 people waiting for wheelchairs are not disappointed.  The actual wheelchairs range in cost from $150 for an adult standard chair to $300 for a child's positioning chair (remember they are valued at $2,000 to $6,000!!), though it is difficult to put a price on broadening the horizons of a severely disabled human being and allowing them the freedom to move.   If you would like to donate, it is CRITICAL that you use the form just below.  Although the form outlines specific amounts, shipping these chairs is extremely expensive, so ANY amount is appreciated and needed.  100% OF ALL DONATIONS go directly to the cost of the wheelchairs and the shipment of the wheelchairs (and is obviously tax-deductible).  There will be a production company traveling with us to document the distribution, so you will all get to see photos and videos of all of the recipients and witness the smiles spreading!

WFH Donation Form

With four kids of our own, all of whom have played soccer in one form or another here in town, we know that we receive a new shirt (or two + shorts!) every season.  We are looking to collect as many shirts and shorts as possible.  They can be simple t-shirts or travel jerseys with numbers - believe me, they will all be well-received.  We plan on talking to the Darien Youth Soccer league and The Darien Times to spread the word (and encourage you to do the same in your town if you live elsewhere).  There are three ways for you to donate:

1) Drop off uniforms in the large plastic bin at our house - email me for the address
2) I would be happy to pick them up at your house at any time - just email me to make arrangements.
3) I will pay for you to ship them to me at the address above - again, email me to make arrangements.

I'm also in the process of determining exactly how to donate funds to Ethiopian Youth Soccer for their new programs including sponsoring children - stay tuned!

It's really that simple!

We can't begin to describe how excited we are for this journey to begin.  We honestly believe that it will not end with our trip to Ethiopia in September, but rather, will only be the beginning of lifelong adventure!  

Please feel free to send this link to anyone who you think might want to help.  Even if you can't donate, we appreciate your support in helping us help Ethiopia smile!

Just in case you need any more convincing, I have included below a powerful video made by the Ethiopia Smile 2010 team chronicling their journey.  There is another great one that I can't get on Blogger, but you can find it here.  Enjoy!

ethiopiasmile: By Our Love from Kurt Neale on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for updates on fundraising, preparations for our trip,  and pictures and posts about our actual trip in September 2011!

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful job Heidi!!! Praying to be on this trip with you all!