A nurse’s perspective on a trip of a lifetime to Addis Ababa (Part I)


 “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”[br]~Ernest Hemingway~[br]

When I booked my trip to Africa through Canadian Humanitarian I had many misconceptions of what the people of Ethiopia would be like. I pictured a life of poverty, sadness, and despair.  I was mistaken! The people in Addis Ababa were some of the happiest and most welcoming people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. The people in Addis Ababa are genuine and authentically true to their culture, beliefs/faith, and have love for their country. Although the residents of Addis Ababa are happy and peaceful the raw truth is most Ethiopian residents live below the poverty line. It was apparent during my expedition to Ethiopia that extreme poverty does exist and the living conditions were unfathomable to me. Many of the houses in Ethiopia are made from sticks for the structure, with mud walls, and tin for the roof. The houses were no bigger than what most North Americans would use for a shed in our backyards. In many of the homes there is no running water, no bathrooms, and most of the stoves used in the homes have no ventilation. If smokeless stoves are not used in the home the family members often present with respiratory illness and disease. Some of the houses I saw in Addis Ababa had two rooms in the home. The second room in the house is usually used as a market store to sell items to the community (drink, souvenirs, clothes etc.) in order to provide an income for the family. To put that in perspective, there is a mud hut with one or two rooms occupied by a family usually consisting of 5-8 children.  [br] [br]

With over three million people in Addis Ababa there is a major concern regarding overcrowding and overpopulation. Overpopulation can affect a country in many ways: increased spread of disease; increased scarcity of jobs; increased demand for resources such as food; and increased human waste. Many of the residents who do not have a latrine (hole in ground to use as bathroom) will void and defecate outside. The areas outside where children are playing can be littered with human and animal waste. This is a concern as with minimal access to sanitation/personal hygiene products such as toilet paper, soap, and water the spread of disease and sickness is increased.  Many of the citizens of Ethiopia already suffer from malnutrition and poverty, which makes them even more vulnerable to illness. This is a health care concern, as with a yearly increasing population the amount of people living in extreme poverty will increase.  [br] [br]

After spending a few weeks in Addis Ababa I was able to see how daily life is for many of the residents of Ethiopia. I felt culture shock within days of being in Addis Ababa, as the living conditions were unspeakable. It affected me as a mother to see women who survive on the streets begging for money to feed their children; to have seven-year-olds coming up to your vehicle begging for food. I wondered how “we” as humans sleep at night knowing an entire country lives like this? Most of the citizens in Addis Ababa, including orphaned children, have to find daily work by shining shoes, selling random objects (bracelets, necklaces, gum etc.) to get some sort of income. The jobs that are available in Addis Ababa would be offered to those who have an education. People who live in poverty do not have the opportunity to get their education, as they often go to work at a young age doing agricultural or domestic work to help their family survive. Until your basic needs are met (shelter, food, water) there is no way to strive towards higher goals until the most basic necessities of life are met.  [br] [br]

One of the main and special objectives of Canadian Humanitarian is the strong belief in providing and supporting children in attaining an education. One of the priorities of this organization is to get the children in their programs to complete school and go on to get technical certification or a college/university degree. What is so special is that Canadian Humanitarian forms relationships with the children when they are first enrolled into the program. They support the children through school right up until they are graduating from university and entering into their careers. This is one of the many reasons that after my eighteen-day trip to Ethiopia I felt hope for these children. In fact, while visiting children who are a part of these programs I was able to witness personal testimonies in how these programs have impacted their life. Many of the children expressed how they can see a bright future and are able to openly discuss their dream careers. [br] [br]

During my group of home visits I was lucky to have met a boy from one of the centers who did not have a sponsor yet. I had the opportunity to meet his mother whom was very ill with AIDS. I was shown his tiny home, in which only three of us could fit in at a time. His daily living conditions were shocking. His home did not have running water, did not have a bathroom, and the only meals the child and his mother ate were the leftovers the restaurant next door had given to them when they closed each night. This child has so much potential and this program helps him be able to see a future and have a chance to overcome the obstacle of severe poverty. I am grateful that my family and I are able to support this child and program by becoming his sponsor. I must say that for anyone interested in going to Ethiopia through Canadian Humanitarian regardless of your career background it is a trip you will never regret.  It was one of the most eye opening and surreal experiences of my life and I am so happy I was able to have this journey! For anyone who may not be able to make it to Africa please consider supporting the amazing work this organization is doing, it is truly remarkable. Sponsor a child, donate money towards providing education supplies or food, fundraise or invest, however little or large it does not go unnoticed by the beautiful children and families in Ethiopia!  [br]

 

~Colleen Bakke (Registered nurse, Regina, Sask.)