Yesterday was our first full day in Ethiopia. In the morning, we hopped on a bus that took us away from the bustling capital city of Addis Ababa and into the valley region near the river of Zeway. In this rural area, plagued by difficulty with soil and lack of crops, Food for the Hungry has identified over 1500 at-risk children to be in their program. These children are chosen by local community leaders, and some are placed in the Child-Headed Household program, which offers even more support than the typical child sponsorships. I want to tell the story today of one of the Child-Headed Households we met with. This family involves Etensh, and her two children Rediet and Berket. They live together in a small 8 x 8 room. You may be wondering why a family with a mother is enrolled in the Child-Headed Household program. I was confused by this initially, but as Etensh shared her story with us, it became tragically clear.
Etensh invited us into her humble home graciously. I could see that she was anxious to tell her story. She spoke of the health difficulties that she had been experiencing a few years ago. She is a very young mother, and her health was beginning to fail. She finally went to the doctor, who tested her for HIV. She tested positive for the virus. Her family was enrolled in the Child Headed Household program because it is likely that this sibling set may be orphaned.
Entesh spoke with such vulnerability to us. She talked about how her husband left her one he discovered she had the virus, even though she was certain it was him who infected her. She talked about her depression and how desperate she was before Food for the Hungry offered her assistance. She was sick, unble to feed her kids, and contemplating suicide. She spoke of how isolated and alone she felt, and the stigma she experienced as someone with HIV. It was clear that she was on the brink of despair when she was enrolled in Food for the Hungry.
Listening to Entesh’s story was incredibly emotional. As she was talking, my heart was breaking for her as a mother. I can’t imagine the feeling of not knowing how you will feeding your kids, and then finding out you have an illness that kills to many. Then, as her story ended, she disclosed that she suspected her son had mental retardation. I wondered this as soon as I met him. It was clear that he was not a typically developing 10-year-old boy. Entesh spoke of her grave concerns for her son, given her own prognosis. There are no programs for special needs children in Zeway, and despite having no medical prognosis, she doubts that her son will ever be able to live independently as an adult. She is very fearful for his future. Even now, she keeps him close to home for fear that he will be abused by other children, who can be very cruel to the mentally ill. She talked about how this furthered the isolation she already feels in the community.
In that tiny room, as Entesh told her story, I struggled not to sob. There was such sadness in her face, and I could not even imagine the stress she much live under on a daily basis, not knowing how her own health would fare, and not knowing what would become of her son if she dies. She has a younger daughter, and she worries about the burden that would place on her as well. As I listened, I was full of frustration at the injustices for people born into poverty. If Entesh lived in the US, she would likely be getting treatment to prolong her life. She is now receiving ARV treatment, but because it was detected so late, her viral load is very high. If Entesh lived in the US, she could also feel confident that social services would see to it that her son was taken care of. We take so much for granted living where we do. Entesh’s story made my own experience of stress seem petty and self-indulgent.
Entesh expressed gratitude for Food for the Hungry. While the program cannot mitigate all of her sadness, they are providing her with a place to live, food to eat, and the peace of mind that their needs will be met. It was truly humbling to see how this organization is meeting such tangible and important needs.
If you would like to sponsor a child in this community, you can click on the link below. We visited two other families yesterday, both with equally compelling stories to share. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.
On Thursday, please join our team as we have a Live Tweet Chat from Ethiopia at 1-2pm CST!
You can read the stories of other #fhbloggers at:
Alli Worthington: http://alli.visibli.com/share/7DRJxs
Emily Richmond Loerke: http://www.todaysletters.com/2012/07/ethiopia-day-1.html
Alece Ronzino: http://www.gritandglory.com/do-justice/