“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”
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 of the Ethiopian residents live below the poverty line. It was apparent during my mission to Ethiopia that extreme poverty does exist and the living conditions were unfathomable. 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 made shack with one or two rooms occupied by a family usually consisting of 5-8 children.
With over three million people in Addis Ababa there is a major concern regarding overcrowding/overpopulation. Overpopulation can affect a country in many ways such as: increase in the spread of disease (TB, Resp influenza, scabies), increase in the 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 is littered with human waste and/or 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 become sick. This is a health care concern as with a yearly increasing population the amount of people living in extreme poverty will increase.
In most cities there is a division between the rich and the poor. However, the time I spent in Ethiopia I did not see this division. I saw families living in poverty or extreme poverty. One of the most shocking experiences of my journey in Ethiopia was taking a trip to the Black Lion Hospital. The government is who funds the Black Lion Hospital. This is the hospital where citizens of Addis Ababa and surrounding cities in Ethiopia are referred to when they can not afford a private hospital. I do not think I can explain the feeling or thoughts that were in my mind when touring through this hospital. From the time I entered the emergency doors until the hospital tour was over I was in disbelief! The Emergency room was overcrowded with people laying on the floor and stretchers all aligned almost touching each other. The initial observations I made was there was no isolation rooms, no gloves being used between patient to patient care, IV bags/blood transfusions were hung on a hanger attached to the roof, and the hopelessness spread across the patients faces was devastating.
The further we walked through the hospital the more a little piece of my spirit was taken from me. It honestly reminded me of what you would expect to see at a mass casualty triage scene where all resources have been exhausted and people are just trying to make it out alive. The services provided at this hospital was substandard, non-patient centered care. The most surprising to hear was that patients are only physically ambulated/repositioned, toileted, and fed if they have family members to come provide those services for them. If they do not have family the patient is at risk for starvation as food is not provided in the hospital. I was told there was no running water on the top two or three floors of the hospital. I saw raw sewage running between the hallway and the start of the pediatric ward. The pediatric ward was the last of the tour I could handle with the rows of mothers with such sick children laying in their laps with a ticket waiting to see an attending physician. With having the background as a Registered Nurse I could tell there were many of those kids who were not going to make the night, but their mothers were anxiously waiting their turn in line as if in a line at the bank. This trip made me feel very privileged to have access to the health care that we do here in Canada! If any child, adult, or seriously sick/injured person were to come into a hospital they would be seen immediately by an attending physician with a team of health care workers already inserting IV’s, assessing the patient, and investigations would start immediately, with patient centered care being of top priority. Let us be thankful!
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 felt how do “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.
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 a college/university degree. What is so special is that Canadian Humanitarian organization 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 with Canadian Humanitarian 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.
One commonality between the family members and children of these programs is they were all looking for an opportunity. Organizations such as Canadian Humanitarian makes these opportunities possible and the children have seized every ounce that has been offered to them. It is quite amazing to see these bright children excel and hear their laughter as they dance and enjoy being children. It is such an accomplishment to see children who were so poor and unhealthy become apart of a supportive family at the different centers in Ethiopia where they have access to fresh water, warm nutritious meals, hygiene materials to improve sanitation, education, medical examinations and medical interventions provided. Not only do the programs offer services on site but if a child or their family members need increased care needs or medical interventions they are referred to the private hospital (not government hospital) in which Canadian Humanitarian covers the cost so the children can get healthy and back to school. If it is a child’s family member who is sick the child then knows their family member will be taken care of and can continue to focus on school.
I was able to be apart of doing routine medicals for the children who are enrolled in Canadian Humanitarian programs. I really enjoyed being able to perform initial and follow up medical examinations to the children and their families during my time in Ethiopia. It was awesome to see the difference the program had made from a child’s initial assessment to how the child was doing now. I could see many improvements in the childrens’ health such as growth and body weights increasing comparative to the year before. I could also see a difference in a new child entering the program compared to a child who had been in the program for awhile. The new child presented with more health concerns/complaints than a child who had been in the program for over a year. It is a great feeling to see the statistics and hear the child express how much better they feel mentally, emotionally, physically by being given the opportunity to participate in programs that are offered through Canadian Humanitarian. From a health care perspective I was also able to see many things I would not see at home in Canada such as malaria, typhoid, secondary infections from HIV/AIDS, active TB, polio, untreated otitis media (middle ear infection) resulting in either a perforated ear drum to having no ear drum, tapeworm/roundworm, Chlamydia trachomatis (chlamydia in the eyes), and many other interesting conditions/diseases.
At the end of my trip I no longer saw the citizens of Addis Ababa as victims. I chose to focus on more than all the overwhelmingly negative scenarios and situations I had initially seen when I first got to Ethiopia. I am so glad I had the eighteen days to spend in Ethiopia because in the end I felt completely different. I was able to see the positive outcomes it can make to the child and their families future by participating in the programs at Canadian Humanitarian. Not only does education give a child a way to break free from the cycle of poverty but the program itself also offers children the ability to gain confidence and have a safety net. I was able to see first hand how these programs at each center became a second home to the children. It was a place they wanted to come to every day after school because it made them feel accepted, supported, and safe! Canadian Humanitarian has also begun to help the mothers of the children in the programs by involving them in activities that help them generate an income. Some of the activities the mothers are involved in are baking injera (flat bread) that they sell and also the women have a chicken coop. This is another great way to help support the family as a unit. The adults are able to then buy food for their family and pay for their rent or shelter and this allows the child to focus more on education. I felt lucky to have been invited into these childrens’ homes and to speak to their parents and hear about how proud they were of their educated children. Many acknowledged the importance of education and how they are going to support their child in school so they can have a bright future.
During my 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 inhumane and 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 to the beautiful children and families in Ethiopia!
Colleen Bakke (Registered nurse, Regina, Sask)