Monday, April 20, 2015

Day 7 - Friday - 9/30/11

Today there was a small group of people that headed about six hours south to check on a project that the Alexander family has spearheaded with the help of Glimmer of Hope.  They traveled to Dube Bute, which is the village where their second Ethiopian son is from.  They have raised nearly $500,000 to help build a road, bridge, medical facility, several water points, etc.  It is an incredible sum of money and the progress they have made in such a short time is unfathomable.  The group will stay over night in Awassa and return to Addis tomorrow afternoon.

Matt and I got up early and joined the wheelchair team (David Richard, the head of Wheels for Humanity, Drew Plotkin, the guy who introduced me to the project and who is recording (via video & stills) the distribution of the wheelchairs to make fundraising materials, and Doug and Melissa, two therapists who help fit the patients in the wheelchairs).  We headed out of Addis to the countryside (only about 45 minutes out) to a place called Cheshires, which is a large medical facility primarily for surgery and rehabilitation.  It was an action packed morning.  Matt helped David fixing and rebuilding wheelchairs while the patients started to get fitted.  Matt know knows all the tools needed and how to adjust, tighten, loosen, oil pistons, etc.  He was once again praised for his patience and hard work.  I basically watched and entertained the kids and parents – which is a little hard to do when pretty much all I can say is hi (selam), beautiful (konjo) and thank you (amasege’nallo’)!  Things are always made a little easier when you come bearing stickers, hair bows, tic tacs and nail polish, though!  There were several men and a few women there when we arrived.  Most had severely disfigured legs and basically “walked” on their knees and hands.  Others soon started arriving via taxi or were carried up a very steep hill by friends or relatives. 

After we fitted many of the men, we were fed coffee, tea and bread.  So many people on our trip have gotten very sick, so I basically had some bread and pretended to drink the very strong, very thick coffee.  Most of the time the coffee is WAY more delicious than at home, but I just couldn’t stomach it today, though it was probably more in my head than anything.  Shortly after that, a van arrived with six children and their caregivers or mothers from a nearby home for mentally and physically disabled children.  Every child I have helped so far with the wheelchairs has a mother whose husband left her specifically because of the child’s disability.  Two of the kids had spina bifida and were both four years old.  They could communicate and express their happiness with their new chairs.  Two of the kids had severe cerebral palsy.  One of those was the third child in her family that had CP - her two older siblings had both lost their lives due to complications from CP at around 8 or 9.  She was eight years old and most likely blind, though it was hard to tell due to her lack of responsiveness.   I don’t think any of us could even comprehend the amount of pain her mother has endured throughout her young life. 

After half of the kids were fitted (these fittings take much longer since the kids need to be as comfortable as possible and in positions that will enable them to see, eat, etc), there was a situation with an older boy that had no legs and basically crawled up the hill to get to the site.  He was covered in scarves, etc, around his head.  After fitting him, the medical staff and assistants soon discovered that he had already come on Monday and was given a wheelchair.  Cheshires is very diligent about doing their homework and compiling their list of who needs the wheelchairs.  They visit the patients’ homes and make sure that certain chairs are needed, or can be used in the homes.   This boy did qualify for a wheelchair, but in order to get a new one (maybe a few years down the road), you need to bring your old one back.  Apparently, beggars can bring in a lot more money begging from the ground and therefore often get a wheelchair only to sell it.  There is no way to know whether this boy sold his wheelchair or simply left it at home to get another one to sell, but each recipient has a picture taken with a specific number, etc, in order to keep track of who got what.  He was yelling that he wouldn’t leave until he got a wheelchair, but they finally showed him the picture of himself from Monday and he finally settled down.  It is hard enough to watch this all when people are smiling from ear to ear about their new mode of transportation, but then to have any sort of conflict breaks your heart – intentioned or not.  You know that these people are simply desperate, and sometimes it’s hard to separate all of the different feelings and motivations.

At about 1pm, we returned to the hotel for a little rest time before a final dinner with half the group (many of them are returning home tonight).  We went to a great Italian restaurant right by the airport called Aventi.  I literally felt like I was in New York, which can be dangerous, because you still need to be careful about the food and definitely the water.  I keep praying that I won’t get too sick – a lot of people have been completely out of commission for an entire day – even after being incredibly careful!  At the end of dinner we had to say goodbye to about a third of the group.  The connections we made with the team on this trip were incredible.  Matt was really sad to say goodbye to Sallie in particular.  Sallie started out as Emily Alexander’s barista at Starbucks every morning when Emily was starting the adoption process.  Over the years, she has become part of the family and this is her second trip to Ethiopia with Ethiopia Smile.  She is such a spiritual, intuitive, crazy fun lady with a huge Texas accent!  She is a mechanic on racecars, still a Starbucks barista, a wife and mom to two kids and now, a very special person in Matt’s (and my) life!  We also said goodbye to a few of the dentists, Moody’s mom, and some other women that I really connected with and can’t wait to keep in touch with – people came from as far from us as California, Texas, England and France, and a few stops in between. 

I had connected with “Soccer Ephrem” earlier in the week and he returned this afternoon to pick up the 200 pounds of soccer uniforms that we brought.  We are going to go play soccer with him and all of his kids tomorrow afternoon and then host a pizza party for them.  I can’t wait to get all of those pictures and see those shirts and happy kids running around the field!

Tomorrow morning, Matt and I are going to head over to the Gladney baby house to see all of Sophie’s caregivers and deliver pictures of them with her from four years ago.  I’m still holding out hope that they will be able to find her birthmother before then.  They have found her grandmother with whom she supposedly lives, so any prayers would be welcome.  Even if she doesn’t want to see me, I hope that I can deliver the photo album that I made of Sophie starting from before we met her (a few even with her birthmother) and through this summer. 

Mr. Fix-It helps the Head of UCP Wheels for Humanity

Mission accomplished!
A new, happy patient
This smile is a far cry from this before pic.....

Note the hard plastic knee pads sewn into his pants.  That was to protect his knees while crawling before the wheelchair came 
Matt's new 4-year-old friend - a spinal bifida patient 
Everyone loved Matt
The road out of Cheshires - filled with new rides!

An abandoned chair - traded for a new one

Heading back to Addis

A typical street in Addis
I will have to update the rest of this after I am able to type it all up on the plane.  I still haven’t been able to process all that we saw and did during the three dental days at Korah, but I promise I will!

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