Just A Little Bit More, Part I

We’re back from a most amazing trip to Adami Tulu, Ethiopia. There’s so much to share and tell, which I hope to do in the coming weeks as I process and unpack all that we experienced. But there’s one story which must be shared right now. This story, and the surrounding events, became our theme for the week. And it was clear that God had brought us together for this work.

New School Building

We spent the mornings hosting a Children’s Church in Adami Tulu (I’ll share more on that in another post), and each afternoon we went to the Adami Tulu school to paint the new building. On Wednesday afternoon, a few of us had taken a break from painting to walk around the school grounds and discuss future projects. As we were breaking up, Cacey Klein and I noticed a few kids hanging around the fence behind the school. Kids had been hanging out there and calling to us every afternoon; usually we would just wave, or holler “Selam” as we continued our work, but for some reason we were drawn to these kids. “Let’s go invite them to Children’s Church tomorrow,” I suggested to Cacey. She agreed, so we grabbed our faithful friend and driver, Tsegaw, to translate for us.

As we approached the fence, we noticed that the group of kids included a mother with two small children. Tsegaw proceeded to invite them in Amharic to our Children’s Church the next morning. Cacey and I smiled at the children and waited patiently for Tsegaw to finish. But soon it was clear that Tsegaw and the mother were no longer talking about Children’s Church.

“She wants her son to come to school here,” Tsegaw eventually told us in English. I nodded sadly. She was just one of hundreds who had wanted their children to be enrolled at the Adami Tulu school. Even with the enlarged capacity of the new building, close to 200 children had to be turned away at enrollment. The need is extensive, and Gary and Peggy Ifft, the missionaries we are working with, had warned us: no matter how big the school is, there will always be more that want to come.

“Did she come to registration?” I asked, figuring she was one of the many losers in the enrollment lottery. Tsegaw asked her in Amharic. “No. She had to work that day.” After a further exchange, we learned that she works every day, seven days a week, so she had missed the two days of registration. As a daily laborer in the fields surrounding Adami Tulu, she can’t risk staying home and losing work for a day. We also learned that her husband had divorced her and did not support the children in any way. She rented a small dirt room in a compound across the street from the school, and worked every day to support her three children. When she worked, her 15-year-old daughter stayed home with the younger kids. She had to drop out of school and was doomed to a life of poverty, just like her mother.

Entrance to the compound across the street from the school

 As we learned more about her situation, my heart was broken. This woman’s children clearly qualified as “highly-vulnerable,” and all vulnerable and orphaned children were given the first spots at the school. If only she had made it to registration, her son surely would have been enrolled, but now all the spots were full. She continued pleading with us.

Finally, Tsegaw turned to me, “Can you not enroll him?” I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. Even Tsegaw, my good friend, whom I love and respect so much, was now pleading with me. Didn’t he understand that I had no power in this situation?

I looked at this woman, dressed in rags, with her hungry children at her feet. And I knew, if in her situation, I would have done the same thing. I would have begged and pleaded too. I would have done everything possible to find a better life for my children. There we stood, a chain-linked fence between us, but what felt like a chasm separating us. I had the means and the will to help this woman, but I didn’t have the power. I felt helpless.

Dirt compound where Aynalem rents a small room for her and her children.

“What if we write down her name and her children’s names?” Cacey suggested. I agreed, so we ran back to the school building to find a notebook and pen. While we were there, Cacey grabbed an apple from her bag, and I grabbed a bag full of snacks. We returned to the woman and gave her the food while Tsegaw wrote down her information.

“Tsegaw,” I finally mustered, “please tell her that we care very much. We are mothers, we have children, and we are hurting for her. Please tell her we will try to help her, but we don’t know if we can.” Tsegaw translated and I reached my hand through the chain-linked fence to hold hers. Cacey took her jacket off and gave it to the woman. Her t-shirt was in tatters and was tied at the shoulders. Then the tears started. We said goodbye and walked away before we all started weeping.

Cacey and I returned to the others as tears streamed down our faces. I felt that the situation was hopeless. As we explained the woman’s story to our husbands, Aaron gave me the tiniest bit of hope. “We’ll see what we can do,” he promised.

And still the tears fell. I was overwhelmed by this woman’s story and the knowledge that in the village of Adami Tulu there were hundreds of stories just like hers. The need is great, the problem is huge, and what I have is so very small. Our Ethiopian friend Solomon tried to encourage me, “God sees her,” he promised.

More in the next post.