This day was special, no doubt about it. After hearing about Common River (www.commonriver.org) through another adoptive family, I knew it was a place we needed to visit. It is in a region of Ethiopia that is somewhat close to where Jones was born and where some of his family still lives. We wanted to get a better feel for what his village might have been like, but equally as important, we wanted to bring the books and school supplies we bought with our donor’s contributions. It’s an experience I will remember forever and I can’t thank our friends and family who donated enough for helping us provide for such a deserving organization.
We arrived after breakfast and were greeted by several children. Abraham carried our bin of books and supplies which easily weighed over 60 lb. He carried this, I might add, on his head, part of the way down a long stretch of the path leading to the school.
|Abraham carrying our donations|
If you haven’t read Abraham’s story yet, you simply must. I promise, it just takes a minute. Here’s the link….Go on, I’ll wait…..
…..Good, you’re back 🙂 Pretty incredible, huh? This child, I am happy to report, is thriving. He is considerate, helpful, intelligent, healthy, and from what I’ve been told, has a heart of gold. He has every right to be bitter, to throw a pity party for the cards life dealt him and how he was treated, but instead he has chosen a path of determination and resilience. We all could learn a few lessons from this child and I truly felt humbled in his presence. I think of him every day.
We were fortunate to visit during this week, as there was a flurry of activity on many fronts on the property. Tsegaye and Donna, the founders of this organization, were visiting and could not have been more warm and welcoming to us. Now I know you’re doing a lot of reading, but you simply must read the story of how Common River came to be and how Donna and Tsegaye met. Here’s the link. Trust me, it’s worth reading and one of those stories that makes you wonder about fate and destiny and how it simply must play into our lives….
….Welcome back….all the good that came out of that introduction is simply mind blowing. And I might add that neither of them has retired yet. This is what they do in their spare time. There are a lot of people who like to talk about activism and then there are the true activists in this world–Tsegay and Donna are the epitome of what this world needs more of. I was honored to meet them and will continue to advocate for their cause and the children and women of this village.
|Donna and Tsegaye|
They gave us a tour of the grounds and explained to us that they were currently housing over 20 guests in their “eco lodges” on site. Many of these guests were students from the University of Texas Medical School who were volunteering their time and services to give medical exams to the people of the village. They were accompanied by a faculty member who apparently comes each year with a new group of rising 2nd year students from the medical school. I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge (and compassion) they took back to the states with them after this experience. These are the kinds of doctors the world needs more of.
|The extremely labor intensive process of using the false banana root for the children’s lunch|
|Such soulful people|
|Cooking over an open fire|
|Part of the children’s garden|
There was also a group of teenage girls staying for five weeks on site. One of these girls is the sister to the siblings that were adopted from Aleta Wondo that sparked the inception of Common River. All of these girls are what I aspire my children to be like. I don’t know many teenagers who would give up most of their summer break to live in a mud hut in Africa for 5 weeks, volunteering their time and skills day in and day out. These girls will go far in life and I hope that my children reflect back on this experience and are inspired in their own adolescence one day to do something besides sit by the pool all summer and think of themselves (which is basically all I did as a teenager).
|I *think* this is the girl whose siblings were born in Aleta Wondo|
We toured the classrooms, the library, the eco lodges, the community center, and then were taken up to the small grove of coffee plants on the land.
|The eco lodges and community center|
|One of the children’s classrooms|
There is also a working barn and garden which we didn’t make it to. Tsegaye and Donna acted as if they had all the time in the world to meander the property with us, graciously answering our questions and educating us as to the needs of this community.
|The library where they were holding the medical clinic for the women|
|The children made these in their art class!|
|The women quietly and patiently waiting for their turn in the clinic|
We asked them how we could help Common River while we were there for the day and they directed us to the new community center that was near completion. It was in the process of curing but some of the older kids (and the teenage girls who were there visiting) were in charge of painting the walls to liven it up. We gladly joined in the fun and we had a ball slapping paint on mud walls and watching some of the other children paint. It’s really cool to think that those walls will bear our mark in years to come.
Next, we wandered back outside where all the younger children were playing soccer or trying to peek into the hut where we had just been to watch the progress. Donna explained to us that it wasn’t a normal day for the children with the doctors being present. They would usually be in class at this time but I guess it was like a field day for them with all the excitement! As soon as I brought my camera to my face, they started swarming towards me, all eager to have their picture made. They LOVED looking at themselves after I took a picture, as they should as they are all breathtakingly beautiful, inside and out. Here is just a glimpse of the many photos I took…
|This woman’s laugh and smile was truly one of my favorite moments in Ethiopia|
Buddy and Lou were a little shy at first with the kids. If I have ever wondered what it felt like to be a celebrity, I think I now know. That’s what we felt like in the midst of these kids. They couldn’t get enough of us and I was amazed at how much they just wanted to hold our hand, touch Lou’s hair, or have me sit so they could sing a song to us. So much potential, energy, and love in these little souls. If given the opportunities every child deserves, there’s no limit to how far they could go on charisma and charm alone. I was thrilled to have brought so many books for their school through our donors (a HUGE THANK YOU again!!). Through Common River, they have a much better chance…a chance to thrive and lead the lives they choose to lead versus the life they are limited to lead by their
|The girl to the left of me was so sweet–she would kiss me on the cheek as we sat and played!|
Buddy and Lou finally warmed up and I do believe my shy, reserved daughter had the most fun of all. The girls would pick her up and carry her, then she would break free and run, with them chasing her until she was caught and it would all start over.
|Even Buddy wasn’t immune from being carried!|
Buddy and L joined in the soccer fun as they were practicing their head shots (is that what they are called?!). AYSO doesn’t practice this particular move (!) so Buddy was a little overwhelmed with all of it and quickly started complaining that his head hurt 🙂
The children were eventually called to lunch which consisted of false banana root (enset) and beans. We were told that for many of these children, this is the only meal they receive all day. All of the children that attend Common River’s school, by the way, are either orphaned or vulnerable. There is also a literacy program at night for the women of Aleta Wondo. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I believe there are 130 something women in that program and 160 something children in the school.
We joined the medical students and the rest of the visitors up the hill for our lunch and again, we were so humbled and grateful to even be invited to join their meal.
As the afternoon wore on, we decided it was probably time to call Alex, our driver, and start heading towards Wondo Genet, our next stop. We didn’t want to drive at dark (it’s incredibly dangerous to drive in Ethiopia at night, not because of thieves, which I intitially thought, but because of the livestock and people you share the road with and the limited visiblity at night!) Before we left, the children were grouped together and sang us a beautiful song to thank us for the donations. I choked back tears the entire time because we gave them hardly anything compared to what they gave us. Their innocent and kind hearted spirits were the greatest gifts given that day that anyone could have received.
|Common River thanking us for bringing books and supplies|
En route to our next stop, we passed through a small group of homes where families were selling woven baskets and other things like hats and trays. Alex asked us if we wanted to do some shopping….duh! My only regret is that I didn’t buy just about every single souvenir we wanted on this tiny stretch. Everything was handmade and stunning (and insanely inexpensive when you took into account the value of the dollar here). I still can’t believe I didn’t buy more while we were there but at the time, I had no idea I would have a hard time finding these same types of things in Addis, or rather the same quality of things. More on that with the Addis days…..
Our next stop was Shashamane, a small town on our trip back north. This is where the Rastafarians were given land by Haile Selassie years ago to call their own in Ethiopia. Haile Selassie was a famous emporer in Ethiopia and he had quite an influence and story in this country. The Rastarafians (or at least a sector of them), belive that he was the returned Messiah. They’ve been hitting the ganja a little too hard, if you ask me 🙂 If you want to read more about him, go here. Alex told us that the Rastas are a kind and gentle group. They value knowledge tremendously and are a peaceful group of Ethiopians. He took us to his favorite cafe, owned by a friend of his, and we had the most incredible array of fruit juices. It was hard to decide which one we all liked the best so we ordered four different flavors and shared them!
After our refreshing treat, we jumped back in the car and eventually arrived in Wondo Genet, which is the home of a natural hot spring where there have been pools built to collect the water for people to swim in. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs of this place as I wanted to get in the pools and was nervous about leaving my camera unattended. There was one area where they piped the water directly from the springs over a ledge and you could “shower” in the water. Talk about piping hot!! The pools had cooled off over the course of the day (we arrived in late afternoon), so they weren’t as soothing as I had hoped, but we had a great time anyway.
The hotel at the springs wasn’t my favorite. The bathroom was dirty and the food in the restaurant wasn’t nearly as good as the others we had experienced along the way. I was thankful this was just a pit stop for one night since it was also a more expensive place to stay because of the attraction with the springs. The good news is that we could barely hear the call to prayer in the neighboring town so we all had a more restful night of sleep!
All in all, an incredible experience, whose magnitude I didn’t full realize until we returned home, that we will all archive in our hearts and minds as a day that gave us hope for the children and women of Aleta Wondo.
I end this day with a quote from a book I read while in Ethiopia, Cutting for Stone, a book I am so glad I saved for the trip as it’s story centers around Addis Ababa . It seems so fitting for the children in Aleta Wondo, who have now been giving a chance beyond this claim, thanks to Donna and Tsegay and the entire staff of Common River: “We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot.”