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A week in Addis Ababa: a trip report of a different sort

A week in Addis Ababa: a trip report of a different sort

Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 12:06 PM
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A week in Addis Ababa: a trip report of a different sort

I have been a lurker on the Africa board for years. My first trip to Kenya in 2000 was a wonderful first taste of the continent, and I have been trying to find a way to go back ever since. While I expected that my return trip would be safari, my travel plans took an unexpected path in November when I read the “There is No Me Without You” by Melissa Fay Greene, about the orphan crisis in Ethiopia that has been caused by spread of HIV.

As a result of reading the book, I felt I wanted to do something to help, and I found the website of an organization called AHOPE (AFRICAN HIV ORPHANS: PROJECT EMBRACE) that cares for HIV+ orphans in Ethiopia. I thought I would just make a small donation, but then I noticed a post on their website about a volunteer trip to their orphanage in February. I looked at the dates; it was only a one week trip and coincided with a work holiday for me. I have always wanted to do volunteer work in Africa, but have never been able to find something shorter than a few months, so this sounded perfect for me. I was soon I touch with a small group of enthusiastic people (happened to be all women, ages 30-80) who were also going on the trip.

Flash forward just a few weeks, to February, and I was at the airport with 150 pounds of supplies and donations (clothes, shoes, craft supplies, toys, puzzles, books, etc) which KLM kindly let bring, without an excess baggage charge. Upon arriving in Addis at around midnight, I was driven to the small guesthouse owned by the orphanage, and shown to my very small $20 per night room at the back of a walled compound. While my initial reaction was to hatch an escape plan to the Hilton, I took a deep breath and remembered why I had come to Ethiopia.

The next morning everything seemed better. The weather in Addis was great in February: 70-80 degrees during the day, cloudless sky, no humidity and cool in the evenings. And I was put in a great mood by the Ethiopian coffee the housekeeper had ready for me. Now came the exciting part: I got to walk over to the orphanage and meet the younger kids.
(AHOPE maintains 2 facilities: 1 for kids under 7, and 1 for older children. Each facility has about 30-40 kids).

Well, in a word, the children were just lovely. Warm, exuberant, polite and cheerful….all the more amazing when one considers all the heartbreaking loss they have experienced in their short lives. Thank to the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, the children at AHOPE are now receiving life-saving antiretroviral drugs and many of them are thriving. All of the children learn English. And thanks to a rather recent change in US policy, several of the children are now being adopted by families in the US. (It’s amazing to think of all of the positive change that has occurred at AHOPE and in other places in Africa in just a few short years. As of 2 years ago, a few children per month were losing their lives to HIV/AIDS. That is thankfully, largely in the past thanks to the ARV drugs.)

To sum up, my week went by in a blur of activity. Since I don’t have any real volunteer to skills to speak of (such as medical training, etc). I focused on doing crafts with the kids.
We made puppets, painted, made racecars and baked cupcakes. I also worked with the older kids to decorate their rooms with wall stickers that a great company kindly donated.
Our group of volunteers also took the children on 2 field trips. With the older children we went on an all day trip out the Sodere hot springs and went swimming, and the younger ones were taken to the Addis Lion zoo (the most depressing zoo in Africa??) and to a little amusement park.

The week went by way to fast. But I will not soon forgot these wonderful children who seem to have been dealt a rotten blow in life, but whose warm spirits changed a small part of me in a big way. I am already planning a return trip next February (but I will tack on time for a safari on this next trip)

If any Fodorites are interested in a short term volunteer opportunity at AHOPE, please feel free to contact AHOPE directly www.ahopeforchildren.org or send me an email at [email protected]. As you can see by my example, you don’t need specific skills to volunteer….that being said, they would welcome visits by dermatologists, dentists, grief counselors ,etc.

I only had a small amount of free time to go shopping and out to eat, but if anyone planning a trip to Addis needs shopping tips, I’d be happy to advise.
cruisinred is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 12:14 PM
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Thanks for posting!! Running out the door to a meeting now but can't wait to read when I get home this evening.
maxwell is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 05:48 PM
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What a great thing you did cruisin! Such joy you brought to those poor kids for such a short time you were there. I'm sure you were appreciated every minute.
matnikstym is offline  
Old Mar 3rd, 2008, 07:23 PM
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Very interesting--thanks for posting.
Leely is offline  
Old Mar 4th, 2008, 05:05 AM
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Yes, you have been lurking and planning for a while. Needless to say, I was as so glad to see your screen name attached to this report. And, what a wonderful opportunity to cross your path. You did good!
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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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What a great thing to do!
I bet Melissa Fay Greene would be thrilled to know it. I heard her speak last month and enjoyed listening to her story very much.

I need to read the book!
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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 09:08 AM
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cruisinred, I emailed MFG a link to your thread. Her response = "awesome".

I think so too! Kudos to you for spending your week there volunteering.
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Old Mar 19th, 2008, 11:36 AM
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awww, thanks starrs!
cruisinred is offline  
Old May 31st, 2009, 04:37 PM
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Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this info! We have been looking for something like this in Ethiopia and 1 week is a perfect time frame for us. I might be sending you an email, if that's o.k.!
siena1 is offline  
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