2008 – Kiki Lawal

Kiki Rebecca Lawal of Nigeria is a member of the Ethiopian Food Appeal Advisory Board.

I came across a poster appealing for food for the Poor Ethiopian Children in September 2008 in Geneva, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it. The empty stomachs, hungry minds initiative, founded by Ms. Jo Butler, known as Ethiopian Food Appeal (EFA), changed my life. Within four months, I had become an Advisor of the Ethiopian Food Appeal Board; I had helped to raise money at the November Bazaar, and I had accompanied Ms. Butler to Ethiopia to deliver food and supplies to some of the poor children under her auspices. The discovery of these children made the arduous trip worthwhile, and it changed my thinking.

On the second day after my arrival in Addis Abba, we filled the vans kindly provided by the United Nations with the supplies, purchased on the Ethiopian market, which we were to deliver to the children.

{mosimage}The journey from Addis Ababa to the delivery places was both exciting and nerve racking. As we moved further away from Addis, the roads seemed to get worse and worse. Lack of infrastructure made the road bumpy, dusty, and, sometimes, very unsafe. What fascinated me was discovering that cattle, donkeys, horses and people all walked on the same main road.

After five hours that seemed to be forever; we arrived at the first school, which was situated in a very remote, dry place. The natural landscape was so picturesque that it took my breath away. I couldn’t help thinking, despite the pitiful state of the children, that the environment is nothing like I had ever seen before, in all of Europe and in the few places I had been in the U.S. The children in the primary school ranged from five (5) to 15 years old. There were about 250 children in six classrooms, with approximately one (1) teacher to 50 children. The classrooms were dark and furnished with the very basic equipment such as blackboards, chairs and tables.

The children welcomed us with singing and dancing. In addition, they had a special message for Jo, who tried very hard to fight back her tears. Almost all the children were barefoot, and they wore clothes that were close to rags. Almost all the children appeared to be malnourished, and some even had eye infections. Despite these afflictions, they all wore big smiles.

The EFA team members, of different nationalities – American, British, Ethiopian, German, and Nigerian then went swiftly into action. We distributed individual packages of school supplies, and another package of Sweets and Biscuits to each student to mark the Ethiopian Christmas. In addition, we delivered 25 kgs. of wheat per household, which were collected by the most common form of transportation in the area – donkeys.

Axel, a German musician, gave a concert for the children, and Jo sang as well. The children really enjoyed themselves, and some even sang along with the music.

I participated in interviews with three children ranging from seven (7) to 15 years old. The 15- year old girl touched me the most. At age 15, she was already married; she had a little child, but she was still attending school, for she wanted to become a teacher. She said that she loves her country and her environment very much. I was so proud of her. I told her that she could become whatever she wants to be and that the world was hers. I shared with her my experience that being an African, educated woman has not hindered me at all. On the contrary, it has as allowed me to have more choice. And, I said that the fact that she had decided to pursue her education, despite having so much responsibility, could only open more doors for the future. She listened intently, and I felt so happy afterwards.

What struck me most was that, although the children were poor, they were not miserable.

My reflection: I recalled the Bazaar that we had organized in November at this very moment of seeing joy and appreciation from these children, their teachers and their parents. I thought to myself that I would not swap this experience for anything in the world.

A secondary school was approximately three kms. away from the primary school that we had visited. The school was next to one of the many Orthodox churches in the region, which were well kept in spite of the country’s past history of communism.

Once again, the ratio of a teacher to a child was similar to the primary school, but somehow, it felt more crowded. There is still a lot to be done, for this school didn’t have any form of library, and, to top it all, a bad storm had destroyed one of the classrooms. The secondary school children, however, were in a better shape than the children in the primary school.

The EFA team also distributed the following: school supplies in individual packages and Sweets and Biscuits to mark the Ethiopian Christmas.

On the Ethiopian Christmas day, we paid a visit to a home for HIV positive children in Addis Abba. I was rather anxious because, unlike the children in the primary and the secondary schools, these children were sick. If they don’t have proper care and medical support, such as medication and vitamins, they may die. However, I was impressed by how well this home was kept and by the love that was imparted to these children. Each child knows fully well the condition of his or her illness, and he or she even knows not to touch another child when he or she cuts him or herself without wearing proper gloves. However, no one would guess that these children are HIV positive. The Home had three dormitories; however, each child had his or her own bed. There was one principal room, which is a combination of library and television room. The children speak, read, and write English perfectly.

The children performed a play, showing their previous lives on the street as orphans with HIV Positive infections. They were excellent, and I couldn’t help but cry. I thought about my own life, and how lucky I am. These children, regardless of the fact that it costs the home at least $ 4,000 a month to keep the home going, are the privileged ones. What about millions of other HIV Positive orphans in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa? There is so much to be done, and I felt completely handicapped. Although I know our presence meant a lot to these children, I felt that it simply was not enough.

The children had written their Christmas wish list for Jo Butler. After the play, Jo explained how she was so happy to see them doing so well. Father Christmas then gave them something from their wish list, and we all hugged them. As I hugged each child, I tried to fight away my tears, but, at times, the tears were just unstoppable. I said a few words of encouragement, and afterward, one of the girls said to me, “Please don’t forget us”, I knew then that all those people who had come to the bazaar in Geneva must have been very special individuals and that the girl was talking to them, too!

Who would have guessed that the poster of the EFA that I saw last September would take me to Ethiopia! Furthermore, I could never have predicted that the experiences I had there would shape my life to the very end. I thank my Glorious God for having provided me with such a wonderful opportunity and for also allowing me to seize it despite the financial constraints I had at the time.

My last words to all the people who contributed to Ethiopian Food Appeal in some way or form – by attending the Bazaar, by contributing financially, and by offering their time- are that it was not for nothing. God will remember them and their families as they remembered others in their times of need.

Yours truly,

Kiki Rebecca Lawal (Geneva, Switzerland)