life as we know it

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I told Nick last night I was going to write about my love affair with Ethiopia tonight. He was disappointed; he wrote about his love affair with me, and I'm writing about my love affair with Ethiopia. Sorry, babe :)

Africa seems like a cool continent to everyone, right? Exotic animals, rich history, beautiful lands. I think everyone wants to visit Africa, but I sure wasn't thinking I would have the opportunity at this point in my life. Besides, I was going for the safari, right?!

I was a graduate student at Duke University and was in class what seemed like all the time (because I was). I had heard a woman was coming to speak about developing your own non-profit organization, something I thought was pretty interesting. I had to duck out of class early to make it to the discussion, but I'm sure I got permission first :)

It turns out, Janet Fink was the speaker for the evening. She had graduated from Duke University with her Bachelor degree and it turned out, her non-profit was Superkids, an organization that sends therapists (physical, occupational, speech, play) and other volunteers to orphanages around the world. I introduced myself afterwards because I really felt like the vision of Superkids perfectly aligned with my values and how I saw (or at least how I always hoped) my life unfolding.

We kept in touch and we figured out that me traveling for a few months after I graduated from Duke was a great option; I already had a job lined up that I could start once I returned and it's pretty easy to understand that once you're a "working girl," you don't get time off like that very easily. I was in. I assumed I was traveling to China because that was the only country Superkids had sent volunteers in the past. Janet had some other ideas, though, when she told me she really thought they could use my help in Ethiopia setting up some new programs. It only took a few months to convince my husband that it was a good idea for me to go (coming from a military background knowing the countries that surround Ethiopia made him just a bit nervous).

Eight days after I graduated with my doctorate, I took off from Raleigh, North Carolina with stops in Boston, London, Amman, Jordan and then on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Seriously, who booked those plane tickets with that many layovers? This gurrrrl.

We arrived in Ethiopia in the middle of the night so we didn't have the opportunity to take much in. My first trip was two months and I lived in an Ethiopian home on a compound with another house, where an Ethiopian family lived.

Those first two months in Ethiopia were, well, life-changing. My second trip, more life-changing going on. When you have a chance to be in the darkest of the dark places, including overpopulated orphanages where diapers are rationed and there isn't enough food to go around, the garbage dump where people are dying from the diseases they contract from eating rotten garbage and where families have considered taking their child and dropping them off in the countryside because they can't afford to support them, you can't help but be changed.

A lot of people ask me what do we do in Ethiopia. Well, whatever needs to be done. I'm a physical therapist by trade but a Christ follower which means I do my best meet people's needs by serving in any way. A few of our projects...

we've built custom adaptive chairs to assist with children's positioning and during feeding

we've done caregiver education programs surrounding child development, medical issues, hygiene, feeding, daily schedules, the importance of play, infant massage and other various topics

of course physical therapy intervention

taken kids to doctors appointments, CT scans, for brace fittings, to the hospital

assist with some of the orphanage organization

create safe play spaces for kids to provide stimulation and encourage development

create weighted blankets for children (shout out to keely o'dell!)

create binders outlining proper positioning and interventions for specific children

taken, set up and trained caregivers with specific equipment

we've had our eyes opened

We've assisted with shoe distributions, helped with wound care at the Mother Teresa Home for the Dying and Destitute, created daily schedules to encourage child development. We will do anything we find that needs to be done. What will we do on our next trip? Well, we'll be going to court. And the trip after? U.S. Embassy. Our next few trips will be adoption related, but you know that doesn't mean they'll be able to keep us away from Kebeb Tsehay and Kechene (two of the government orphanages where we spend a lot of time) or from Hands for the Needy, the organization our dear Ethiopian friends created in order to serve the people of Korah, right? Ethiopia is literally a part of me. Pieces of my heart are in that country and always will be. I'm just lucky God sent me somewhere so beautiful with the most generous and friendly people I've ever met. <3 Ethiopia.

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