Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ethiopia Day Seven -- sadness and hope

A good night's sleep at the Addis guest house, a good breakfast, and we were ready to go by the middle of the next morning.

The first stop was the Addis Fistula clinic made famous in the documentary "A Walk to Beautiful". If you haven't seen this film, which is very moving, and won a 2009 Emmy, you can purchase it by linking to the website here. Or keep your eye (and DVR, if you have one) on your TV guide, as it still airs fairly regularly -- definitely worth the time to watch.

Most Americans are unaware of fistula's -- a birth related injury to the mother which can cause her to be incontinent, among other issues. The condition is brought about by a number of factors not normally seen in the U.S., but fairly common in Ethiopia, where an estimated 10,000 cases occur each year. The injury is repairable with relatively inexpensive surgery in 90% of cases, but since most women are unaware of this, they don't seek treatment. Instead they become ostracized in their villages, often retreating to a hut to live out the rest of their lives in isolation and misery. It's a terrible situation. In the 1960's, an Australian couple founded the Fistula clinic in Addis to perform the repair proceedure free of charge. The scope of the clinic has since been expanded to include physical rehabilitation and social assistance. The clinic even finds a place for the 10% of women who's fistula can not be repaired. It is wonderful and inspiring work, having helped some 35,000 women since it's founding. I'm humbled by the enormous human impact the founders have had on so many lives. Lives that would have otherwise persisted in physical and emotional pain.

After a quick lunch, we made our second stop at the Beza Entoto Outreach Center (BEOC). This is a much more recent NGO (started in 2007), providing aid to a community of people living in abject poverty on Entoto Mountain in the outskirts of Addis, most of whom are HIV positive. Most of these people, also social outcasts because of the stigma attached to their disease, live under deplorable conditions with no real means to meet their daily needs for food, water or shelter. The Outreach center was set up initially to feed the Entoto residents, but quickly expanded to a job creation project, teaching women to make jewlery from coffee beans and scrap metal. Their plans extend to additional job training, and other product production as well. BEOC also provides a child development program, adult education and health care as well. While not as well funded as the fistula clinic, it was inspiring to see so many of these outcast and socially discarded people happily at work producing jewelry and interacting. Another amazing effort on the part of a few motivated and giving individuals.

After a short rest back at the guest house, we went to Yod Abyssina, a cultural restaurant (the best I've sampled so far) in Addis. Their program included traditional food, drinks, dancing and music. It was wonderful.

The night was essentially a repeat of prior one -- piano bar, followed by a Raggae club. I again bowed out after the piano bar, knowing my cold was getting worse, and realizing I'm just not a night owl anyway.

That night I couldn't stop thinking about the strength and generosity it would take to drop your life in Australia (or the U.S.), and dedicate yourself to helping the poor and suffering in distant Ethiopia. How does a person make such a decision for themselves and everyone else in their lives, I wondered as I drifted off to sleep.

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