I cannot believe that today is my last full day in Mekelle. The week has gone by so quickly. We had an early start this morning and began the trek to Samre where over 100 of our AGCI sponsored children and families collect their sponsorship funds each quarter. Similar to the trek to Tembien, the roads are mostly gravel and the journey is about 4 hours of driving roundtrip. However, the journey by car, as bumpy as it is, is not nearly as draining as making that same journey by foot, a feat that many of the sponsorship recipients in Samre do every three months. Given that we started the program in Samre around 9 am, that means many of them were up by 4 am just to prepare and embark on foot to make it in time to receive their funds.
Along the road to Samre men, women and children are carrying grain, salt, water and hay while others herd sheep, goats and mules. Today, I actually saw my first camel caravan in Ethiopia! They were also being used to help to transport goods from the countryside to Samre where they can be bought and sold. I’m always astounded by the heavy loads I see even small children carrying as they travel from one location to the next on these long winding roads I have seen so much joy while I’ve been here, but life is definitely hard for a majority of the population in Tigray.
We arrived in Samre and then walked to the social affairs office in order to meet the sponsorship children and their guardians as well as to distribute their quarterly funds. I have been wondering how to blog about my experience today because in the end, it really is so hard to convey, in written form, how impactful being a part of the sponsorship distribution has really been for me this week and today especially . I could talk about statistics and data about orphaned and vulnerable children and even the sponsorship program, but I have such an ache to just share with you all the magnitude of this outreach for the people in Samre. Along with our AGCI staff in Mekelle, I interviewed every guardian that came to Samre today and that oversee the sponsorship funds for a needy child in their care. I talked to grandmothers, mothers, uncles, neighbors and siblings, but every story was common in the sense that the school children this program serves are in great need. Honestly, nearly all of the children supported by our sponsorship program in Samre are full orphans. Story after story, name after name, child after child. Sadly, this is the reality. There is still such great need and the orphan crisis is unfortunately very much alive in remote corners of the world. So many children still need alternative support services, like the sponsorship program, in order to have hope and to reach their full potential in life.
Tragically it can feel too easy to forget that the people and children we serve are real and that they have real needs, real lives, real joys and real struggles. So I guess for today, my heart in this blog is simply to share some of the real faces we have had the privilege of serving in Samre through our sponsorship program and to hope you can catch a glimpse of how special it has been to be in the same space with these children and families this week.