Monday 8 October 2012

Journey to Ethiopia - Day 1 Full of Joy!

I'm sat here in front of my laptop desperate to do a brain dump and to share all the information I have learnt in the last two days but to be honest I don't know where to start. I'm wondering how I can ever do these amazing people justice with just my words. Of course the pictures I'll be sharing that our group photographer Karen Walrond aka Chookooloonks has taken will help, as they are truly awesome - but me, who am I?

Hang on, we have been through this before, haven't we?  I am just ONE Mum but a mum with a voice and a story to tell and when all of us mums (and dads) with voices come together we become pretty deafening and people start to listen and changes happen and the world becomes just that little bit better.  So I'll get over any silly fears I have of not being worthy to share these stories, that goes without saying but here I am and immensely privileged to do so.

So after we all finally arrived in Addis Ababa about lunchtime on Saturday we headed straight out to our first site visit at the Mary Joy Aid Through Development organisation and I have to say that after no sleep for about 36 hours I was very weary and wondered how on earth I would get through the afternoon without napping or yawning.  Boy, I so did not need to worry! As we pulled into the centre we were greeted by loads of women and children dressed in traditional white and singing and dancing for us and these people can move, I could do with some dancing lessons from them. Now Jen Howze, she was a different story and was literally getting down and having a boogie! I had heard about Ethiopian dancing being about shoulder movements but actually it was about moving every part of the body all at the same time - high energy!

On arrival every women was presented with a beautiful flower and as we walked all the children wanted to hold our hands and be our friends. I was not expecting that, I suppose I should have been, I have seen enough pictures of people visiting developing countries but I would consider myself to be quite reserved and a bit shy in new situations really and it took me by surprise and a little while to realise that it was OK to reach out to the kids and to hug them.

By the end of the visit I had learnt that life in Ethiopia is very different to the UK.  In the UK we bring up our children as a small insular family and if we are lucky we have extended family or very good friends that we call on.  In Ethiopia the village or neighbourhood bring up the child and they all look out for each other. There is a proper sense of community and at the Mary-Joy organisation the peer mothers are all assigned families to keep an eye on and to reach out to. When someone is missing from the centre, it is noticed and they take action and that is the way it should be. I pray they never lose that as the country develops.

What I am loving hearing whilst I am here is that these organisations or projects are being initiated by someone in the community and not by a Westerner who just dropped in without much local knowledge and forced a project to happen. One person (often a woman) has a big idea and they are brave enough to pursue it and then they find another like minded person who joins them and the idea grows and gains momentum and so on and just like all us #ONEMums and #ONEmoms joining together on social media and enjoying the synergy of our collective efforts they are finding the same there. When people work together with and for each other it is powerful and life changing.

In the case of the Mary-Joy Aid Through Development organisation it was Sister Zebedir Zewdie, a nurse who had the idea to form this NGO and to reach out and help those in the community who need it. Now Mary-Joy works in 63 neighbourhoods and in the time since it formed in 1994 it is estimated to have impacted the lives of 1,580,475 - isn't that just massive? I can't even comprehend such a number of people.

The wonderful lady director we met yesterday kept emphasising that Mary-Joy takes a holistic approach and they tackle prevention and treatment for a whole variety of issues. Some of which include low levels of literacy, HIV, children becoming carers at a very young age, children living on the streets with no family, poor living environments and a lack of food. I was thrilled to see the joy as the children showed us their skills learnt in circus and dance youth group.

Mary-Joy operates a child sponsorship program so that they can help some of the orphaned children in the city.  Their scheme works in much the same way as the big charities but the difference is that it costs just $10 a month. Can you imagine being able to spend £6 or £7 a month to ensure that your child was fed, clothed, schooled and had a roof over their head.  Puts our excessive spending into perspective, doesn't it?

I'd love to be able to share with you all day but sadly I fear I have gone on for too long already, so until tomorrow. God Bless, Mich x

But lastly I am trying something new and I have recorded myself taking about my day 1 experience of being here in Ethiopia.  I wanted to use my blog and my written words to share what I find here and to tell the stories of the people but I know that some of you also want to hear about me and how it has been from my perspective, so this sound recording is the more personal Michelle experience - enjoy!

 If you think others will enjoy taking this journey with me, then please share this and my other ONE Ethiopia posts and don't forget to sign up to ONE and offer your voice. I am taking this journey with Jennifer Howze of BritMums, so do follow her journey too and follow #ONEMoms #ONEMums on Twitter.

I am currently in Ethiopia travelling with a group of 11 other inspirational Mums and Moms as part of an expense paid trip courtesy of the ONE Campaign. Our trip is about success – Living Proof -- of what is working and why it is important that we continue to support projects that are making a huge, measurable difference for less than one percent of the entire US budget. It is about letting more people know what a tremendous difference the US and UK are making in the lives of millions around the world.  And it is about adding thousands more voices to those already letting their elected officials know they support these life-saving programs.

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