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Care & Community in Ethiopia by Virginia Ambrosio

Voluntary care project in Ethiopia

Day one - 17th July – After my first night I woke up and was able to get a real feel for Ethiopia. I know it will be difficult to adjust to this new environment but at the same time it’s exciting! Everyone stares at me because I am foreign, there are shoe-shining boys on the streets everywhere carrying small sponges and wearing ragged clothes. For breakfast we had this specialty called ‘fatira’ which consists of crunchy omelet and honey - it was really good!

After breakfast, myself and the other volunteers were driven to our new homes and I met my host family: Esther (host mum) and my host sisters and brother. I also met Lilian (the other volunteer I will be sharing with) and they are all absolutely lovely. Lilian and I went to the internet cafe, the supermarket and then to the park with the kids and their father. I had given them a few pots of bubbles and a spongy soccerball which they had lots of fun with. I really enjoyed my first day and felt I learned a lot about my family and my new surroundings.

18th - Today I had my induction and I was picked up by Bikesegn, the Projects Abroad Social Manager. We exchanged money and visited the hot springs in the hotel and also the post office. We then went to the National Museum which was interesting. For lunch I had the strangest tasting pizza ever and once we had finished the tour, we went back to the office where we had an orientation with the lovely Projects Abroad team.

I learnt a lot about Ethiopian culture, for example; it is extremely rude to lick your fingers after a meal and that it isn't rude for someone from your host family to tell you that you've put on weight! When I got home, Lilian and I walked to the supermarket to stock up on chocolate and water. After dinner we had time for a chat and an ice cold shower before bed.

19th - Today I walked to our first placement Enat Alem 1. When we arrived we entered a room with tiny babies between 6-12 months old. We were told about why the babies had come to the orphanage, which was quite upsetting. The babies are usually hidden on street corners soon after they are born until they are found and reported. They arrive at the orphanage usually weak and ill. One boy for example, named Asnake, was found on a street in Addis and his mother (who is unknown), had taken drugs during her pregnancy which has caused him countless problems ranging from ear infections to not being able to move his neck.

Later on, I was moved to another room of slightly older orphans ranging from 1-3 years of age. They are absolutely adorable and extremely smiley! They do, however, require loads of attention and so it was a rather overwhelming first day. Work finished at 3.30pm and after a tiring day of work, we decided to go to Friendship which is a touristic square in the center of Addis. This felt like a well-deserved break!

20th - Today we went to an orphanage for older children called Enat Alem 2. When we got there, the kids flocked around us and we were dragged to their Taekwondo class almost immediately. They ranged from 5 – 16 years old and were all extremely keen to impress us. It became quite emotional when the kids started drawing pictures for me and continuously repeating that they loved me and thanking me for coming. They all hugged us and we taught them how to play the 'Hot Potato' ball game which lasted hours and seemed to amuse them for such a long time.

23rd - Today we went to the care center to paint one of the rooms. It was really run down and the paint was really runny, which made our task exceptionally difficult! After the painting, we had lunch and then made our way to the office for a volunteer workshop. When I came in, I was shocked as there were so many other volunteers, all of different ages and backgrounds and doing various other projects.

Voluntary Community project in Ethiopia

Weekend trip - 24th & 25th - We got up at 6.30am and had to endure a 6 hour trip to Hawassa. It was rather uncomfortable, as our means of transport was similar to a tin on wheels. We stayed at the Hawassa Inn where I shared a room with two others. The main activity of the day was a trip to a lake where we got boats and sang songs until we spotted a hippo! We then drove back to the hotel, had a nice dinner in the hotel altogether before going to bed. The next day was another early start to visit the zoo where we saw rather exotic animals such as strange monkeys and over-sized birds.

On the way to our next activity, we drove past devastatingly poor areas of rural Ethiopia. The springs were extremely crowded and filled with hundreds of people - all making the most of the natural warm water, as it was a rather chilly and rainy day.

On our way home to Addis I decided to ask for the car to stop in order to have a bit of a stretch mid-way through our journey. What was amazing was that when all of the volunteers got out the whole community and all the children ran as fast as they could out of their mud huts to come and see us. We handed them sweets and they were absolutely ecstatic to meet us! They all laughed at us as well and were overwhelmed by our cameras and digital equipment. It was extremely emotional, especially when we all got into the car and they ran after us for as long as they could.

29th - Today we visited the Fistula Hospital, a hospital for women (sometimes as young as 15) who have given birth in bad conditions. In some cases they have lost control of their bladders, and it is said that 25% of the women will have it for the rest of their lives. The women spend most of their spare time sewing and creating wonderful objects, selling them to tourists to make a profit.

After our tour of the hospital, we moved into a rather different atmosphere - one of business and noise, quite a contrast to the calm atmosphere of the hospital. We went to Merkato, the most famous market in Ethiopia. Here, we had the chance to buy African-style souvenirs and Ethiopian coffee to bring home. It finally struck me today that I will be leaving soon. Tomorrow will be my last day, and on the 31st I will be on my way back to London. Visiting Ethiopia has been an incredible experience!

30th - Today was my last day full day in Ethiopia. I'm going to miss everyone so much and I feel as if I don't ever want to leave!

I went back to Enat Alem 2 to say goodbye. It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life and many of the children were teary and they all started singing to me and asked me to come back in the future, and I really hope I will be able to return some day.

Virginia Ambrosio

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