Sharon and George have been child sponsors with BTO in Ethiopia for years. They have recently returned from a sponsorship visit where they met their sponsor children for the first time. It was a very special experience and it’s a very special story.
“A good friend of mine posted a link to Beyond The Orphanage (BTO) on Facebook. I followed the link and read every word on the BTO website. Needless to say, I was very impressed and moved by what I read, so I shared it with my husband George. I contacted Geoff Hucker CEO, and was very surprised to find he was living in my town. George and I met Geoff and his wife Kate for a cuppa that afternoon.
I might add that child sponsorship is not new to us, as we already sponsor children through other charities. We are aware, every day, of how fortunate we are to enjoy good health and to live a comfortable lifestyle, and we feel the best way to show that awareness and appreciation is by helping those, namely children, who are not so fortunate.
Though the distance and language barriers mean we aren’t able to communicate very often with our kids, their photographs are prominently displayed in our home and we think of them often. Temarr has a smile that lights the world, and I fell in love with him the second I saw his photo. We also sponsor Sebi, a beautiful girl who is blossoming into a sometimes shy, sometimes cheeky teen with amazing potential. We have been able to prepare ‘packages’ for them, which Geoff and Kate delivered for us, and that made us feel a bit closer to them as well.
When we decided to take a dream safari trip to Kenya, it was impossible for us to even think about NOT detouring to Addis Ababa to meet Temarr and Sebi. Kate asked if I’d take a class at the drop-in centre, and I decided to teach the kids to make loom band bracelets, even though I didn’t have the vaguest idea of how to do it myself. I ordered looms and bands and also sourced an instruction book (written by a kid, I think!). But at about the same time, we were in the process of moving home, so teaching myself this loom band stuff just didn’t happen until about a week before our departure. And it wasn’t too successful! At just about the last minute, a friend’s little girls taught me loom band bracelet making using my fingers, and that was what I ended up going with. We also took pick-up sticks, which George taught, as visits to other sponsored children has shown them to be a huge hit with all ages.
We met our driver Danny and Martha, a social worker, when we arrived. We loved their company and immediately felt we’d known them forever. I especially felt a kinship with Martha, as though we are long lost sisters. Well, maybe soul sisters! They are both such warm, loving, friendly, giving, and FUN people, and there wasn’t a single second that we felt out of place or at all uncomfortable.
Addis Ababa is larger than we expected, and the poverty – especially people sleeping (or lying) on the sidewalks – is somewhat confronting. Someone told us it is more confronting than India, but I think such poverty and need is confronting no matter where it is. However, we were immediately wrapped in the BTO environment of love and care.
We saw beautiful people, kids and adults, who are exceptionally thoughtful and kind to one another and who smile often and welcome all. Although so very poor, the areas we travelled are colourful and interesting, as are the people.
We first met Temarr and it was such a happy, beautiful, emotional occasion. The look in his eyes and his beautiful smile spoke volumes! It was just perfect, being in his home with his friends, and Danny and Martha, and watched our first Ethiopian coffee being prepared and served. It was the best! Of course we had gifts for soccer-mad Temarr.
The next day, we met beautiful Sebi and her auntie and cousins and friends, and enjoyed another coffee ceremony and the special bread Sebi had made just for us. We also tasted ‘injeera’, the bread that is quite odd-looking and a staple of Ethiopian diets. Sebi’s gifts fit her perfectly!
Our original plan was to invite Temarr and Sebi and a friend each to join us for dinner that night, only as our list of friends grew, so did the list of invited dinner guests! What could have been a rather difficult evening because of language barriers, was really lots of fun. But there was still plenty of visiting to do before dinner! Next we visited Stefo’s home, then the home of the Biruk children and their beautiful grandmother and their auntie and others. It is impossible not to sound rather ‘sappy’ about all these gorgeous kids and their carers, family members and friends, so I’ll just say that we loved every moment, felt very much at home and a part of each family group, and we’ll never forget it. In fact, we hope we are able to travel to Addis again to spend more time with everyone and to see more of Ethiopia.
As mentioned, dinner was great fun and the wait staff was most helpful in translating for us and our guests. It was a Middle Eastern buffet night, so there were many dishes to try. Although we had delayed the start of dinner until the Muslim fasting time ended and we hadn’t known about the Christian Orthodox fasting, but wait staff helped arrange for pasta and other appropriate meals to be served to those new friends.
In the morning, Danny picked us up and delivered us to the drop-in centre for our loom band bracelet session and pick-up sticks lessons. What a fantastic, funny, memorable, crazy time! We so loved being with all the kids and had such an amazing morning, and we think they loved it as much. One of the very touching moments was seeing the blind boy, Biruh (who we now co-sponsor) master making a loom band bracelet, just by feeling the bands as they were placed on his fingers. It was also touching to see Stefo’s face after he completed his bracelet. And a little fellow with a BIG voice, whose frustration until he mastered the technique was so endearing! He’s such a funny little guy. I’m sorry that I hadn’t mastered the looms, though, as some of the kids progressed to those, and we tried rather unsuccessfully to make bracelets that way. I told them that was their ‘homework’!
After our morning at the drop-in centre, we took all the kids to the Addis Ababa Pizzeria — another very special, fun and funny time that we will never forget. Danny’s table was the noisiest and funniest, partly because the little guy with the big voice was there and he was having a ball, but all the kids were just amazing and it was so very special to have been able to give them this experience.
A touching moment was when Stefo sang for us and the other kids quietly joined in as background singers. Any leftovers were wrapped in paper napkins (nice and messy and probably soggy) for the kids to take home to share. On the last day, Danny took Temarr and Sebi and George and I sightseeing around Addis. We visited a couple of markets, as I really wanted to buy an Ethiopian coffee pot – Temarr helped me select one – and a few other small souvenirs. We visited the National Museum and saw the famous Ethiopian artefact, “Lucy” (well, her bones, anyway), then we stopped for drinks and cakes in an outdoor café.
On our last evening, dinner with Temar and Sebi was bittersweet, as they were a bit sad (so were we). There were lots of farewell hugs and a few tears, but we’re all left with many, many happy memories and love in our hearts, not only for our Temarr and Sebi, but for Danny and Martha and all the kids and indeed everyone we met.”
By Sharon Marshall
If you would like to become a child sponsor like Sharon and George find out more here.
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