Poverty Is Much More Shocking In Person
Today we served with Project 61 in Korah, Ethiopia. Project 61 is an organization that ministers to kids who live in the city dump scavenging for food. They get sponsors for the kids that enable them to go to boarding school and have food, clothes, and shelter in addition to education.
I had no idea what to expect from Korah. I had heard it would be very different from Rwanda, but I didn’t know how. Well, honestly until you can see pictures of it, you can’t really understand it. But here’s the best way I can put it….
Korah began as a leper colony where lepers would be exiled from society. It is now primarily just a location for those with leprosy, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis., as well as the poorest of the poor who are outcasts. They have no roads. Since this is their rainy season, it is a giant mud hole. The mud came up at least 5 inches deep in most places. The people have very flimsy, open-toed shoes as they slosh through the mud (if they have shoes at all). The buildings are made of tin panels, full of jagged, rusty holes. These people looked weary. Their faces had the drawn, sunken look of hunger. Many of them (probably the lepers) were missing fingers and limbs.
When we drove up, to be totally honest, I was scared. Not scared for my life or anything. Just scared. I had no idea what to say to these people, how to help them, or how to associate with them. When we first got there, people began gathering around to see the white people. Right when I stepped off the bus, children began asking me for food by signaling their hands to their mouths. Whoa. That was heartbreaking. I sort of made my way to a fenced off area with a couple of others and had to take a minute to process it. It was extremely overwhelming.
Once I came out, I was still a little afraid and stood awkwardly watching some other team members interact with the people. Then Sumer, the director of Project 61 gave us instructions. They are trying to build a few buildings for the kids to use for summer camp, which starts on Monday. The men helped pour concrete, and some of the women painted buildings and fences. The rest of the team had the task of “distracting” the kids. They played games and painted faces and had Bible story time.
Since I was still feeling nervous and afraid at this point, I volunteered for the painting team where we wouldn’t have to interact with people as much. Plus I love painting. Not long after we started, I noticed a boy, watching intently. We had painted the entire wall that we could reach from the ground, but the one ladder was being used elsewhere. This boy could see that we needed to reach up high so he went and found 2 benches (not very sturdy ones) he set one on top of the other and steadied it with rocks to make it even in the mud. Basically, he made a small scaffold. We thanked him and then as I climbed on, he helped the other 3 people hold it steady. I thanked him again, and he asked to help paint. Of course we let him help us, and he really was a big help!
This boy’s name is Blaina and he is 14. As we were still painting, a blind man came walking in with a cane. Blaina immediately went and led him through the mud into a separate small little shack. It was so sweet to see this boy leading him by the hand. Then he asked me, “soft. Soft.” I didn’t know what he meant until he pointed to a little piece of paper. It occurred to me that the blind man was using the bathroom and needed toilet paper. We gave Blaina some to give to him. And then he led the blind man back out of the muddy courtyard. Seeing the selflessness and kindness from this teenage boy just touched my heart. I hugged him over and over and thanked him endlessly. He loved being needed and feeling a part of the painting team.
I tell you all that to explain how I went from the nervous girl holding back when we first got there, to the girl with 8 children hanging all over her, kissing their lil heads and wiping their snot. Through Blaina, God showed me that these people might be outcasts from society, but they are still loved by a great God. They are not gross or weird or evil. They are beautiful and kind.
Later on, we went on a home visit. We went to a home, about the size of my walk-in closet, where 3 people live. In their culture, they make popcorn and coffee and serve it to guests. These people are the most hospitable people in the world. We were all crammed in there like sardines, but they brought in seating from outside. They stood so we could all sit. They apologized for the mud outside, as if it was their fault. They served us all more popcorn than we could ever eat! The boys held our hands as we walked through the mud so we wouldn’t slip. They even offered to wash our feet in their little spicket that the community shares. Incredible. These people have so very few material things, yet they were so proud to have us come and drink coffee with them.
The woman who was our hostess asked us to pray for her. She said that she has been bleeding for many years and is very sick. I was immediately reminded of the woman in the Bible, who had this same sickness, and was instantly healed upon touching Jesus’ robe. We prayed over her, and I will continue to pray that Jesus heals her just as He did the woman in the Bible.
Afterwards we just played with the kids in the street, covered in paint and mud and drenched from the two downpours we had today. The emptiness that was in their eyes when we arrived was replaced with a light and a hope, and once again, the cold and the mud and the ruined clothes were not even on my mind. I was just thanking God for the opportunity to make them smile.