Well…the day we have been waiting for has happened! The Strong Families Care Center is officially open! Whoah! We had months of preparing, hiring staff, screened almost 200 families for 40 open slots and now we have started! So how was the first day? That may be what people are wondering. Well, not how I had it in my head, exactly, because well, I’m American. So therefore, everything should have been in perfect order, nicely organized and just tears of joy, right? Actually, when I walked inside the gates of the compound Monday morning, I really did have to fight back tears. Here were all the families we had been praying about for months. I was so humbled that we are even here doing this. So I choked back the tears and went directly to the check list in my head—did the bottles make it here and were they clean? I can run through a whole list of things in my head that I wanted to make sure was in order, but I will spare you those details. It was a hectic morning, all day, really. Figuring out who went where, trying to get the right names on the right kids. And geesh, there a lot of crying! It was loud.
The Sullivan kids and Mark came about an hour after the moms came. They walked up the stairs and kind of looked at me with a “wow—this is chaotic and loud!” and they might have even said that, frankly, but I didn’t really hear them. They all helped where they could. Even the little boys wanted to play with the kids, but quickly found out that these kids were not really in a playing mood at the moment, so they had a great time when it was tea time and they got cookies. It’s all about embracing the culture, right? The Sullivan girls however, are really great helpers and have a gift with the little ones! The kids woke up Monday morning super early like it was Christmas morning…anxious to get to see the kids at the center! I helped out where I could, getting new clothes for kids that needed it, dug into different bins for various things, greeted moms that came during lunch time to feed their babies, and had my fill of cuddling babies. Mark even held babies (that loved him, by the way!) but was more the main photographer, errand guy and transporter of our own kids. Even though these kids were upset since they had probably not spent much time off their mother’s backs…they were so cute! One little boy in the baby room makes these cute, manly grunting noises with his big smile that cracks us all up. Another little boy just bounced around on the mattresses (that are really for taking naps), as others in his room were crying up a storm. A sweet baby girl would softly lay her head on my chest, just wanting to be cuddled…and I was happy to oblige! The moms, dads, and sisters came even before 4:30 pick up time to get their babies. Yes…there are more than just moms. Mostly moms, mind you, but we have some dads that pick up and drop off their little ones, as well as some older (maybe 10 years old?) sisters that must be caring for these little ones.
We have had only 2 days open, and the second day went smoother than the first. We expect it to continue to get smoother with our experience, in how things will run at the center. For now, we know that we have some awesome staff. There is one baby that still had to be medically cleared from having TB, so we had to keep him separated from the other children. Our fantastic guard took a turn with this little one, as well as various caregivers. At the end of one day, a caregiver was finishing up washing the diapers by hand, as some of us hung them out to dry. The cook was in charge of feeding some little ones a snack on the front step outside. Everybody just pitches in where they are needed and what is best for the kids, regardless of the position they were hired. The staff already work really well as a team. They amaze me in their patience and laid back attitude in the midst of what most of us would perceive as chaos. The caregivers do not seem frustrated by any of it, but just add another child to their lap, tie a baby onto their back, so they have a free hand to deal with another one, or any such variation! Amazing.
Then when it is tea time, the staff somehow make the time to take a moment, have their hot tea and not spill it on a baby that is crawling around. I finally had to concede and have tea (2 times!) on Tuesday. Just relax and enjoy my tea for a moment. Oh how much I am trying to embrace and learn here! I just can’t wait to get things done and organized sometimes. However, I am learning how things will get done (maybe not the way I would like it) and truly, it is the friendships that we build with one another that matter in the long run. I may be rushing up the stairs on my way to get something, but if somebody just enters the building, I must take the time to greet them and not just wave “selam” and scurry past. It is one thing to read the books like “Foreign to Familiar” and be here for a week or two and realize yes, this is how this culture really is here. But when trying to actually run a program and live here….it is taken to a whole different level! There are definitely things on both sides of our cultures that we can both benefit from. It is that balance between them that we are still figuring out. Not sure that we ever will, really! It is hard to be raised with one way and then switch to another, automatically. We are thankful for our eyes being opened to this new way of living, and building relationships, even when it seems so unnatural to us. I can’t wait to see the families on Monday. We cannot wait to start to get to know them. For now, I see their kind faces, some big smiles and some shy, but so many are saying “amaseganalah” (thank you) as we tell them “ciao ciao” to get them to leave and assure them their babies will be ok. Again, just so thankful that we are here doing this. Families like these have got to stay together. They want to stay together, but they are in difficult circumstances that make life very difficult to get by and provide for their family with the resources they currently have.
We hope to soon have profiles and pictures up on the website so you can sponsor a family. This is the means that we are using to keep the program funded and running. All of the money that you put towards the sponsorship go directly to the services that help families. The Sullivan family is supported separately by Christ Church. Of course there are always going to be needs (especially right now, as we start up and see what we really could use and did not budget for!) that come up for the center, so one-time donations are great as well! We will keep our donation list updated so you can donate money towards an item, or purchase items to get to Ethiopia. Donations can always be dropped off or shipped to Christ Church and they will coordinate getting things over here. Or, if you are travelling over to Ethiopia—we would love to meet you, show you what we are doing here, bring supplies, or give us a hand with the kids! You can always contact us through our facebook page, or email us directly.
Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement!