By Julie Salwasser
On Saturday, after celebrating Ethiopian Christmas with the children at Hannah’s Hope, our team had the privilege of visiting the Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Addis Ababa.
The Rehabilitation Center houses 145 boys and girls, many of whom are orphans, who have been sentenced to several months after breaking the law. You just have to wonder what these kids have done to end up in this place. Most lived on the streets before being sentenced — they have no family and no way to support themselves. That does not make any sort of crime acceptable, but these kids have few other options.
Considering that this is the only facility of its kind in Ethiopia, you might assume that these kids must be some of the most hardened criminals and dangerous youngsters in the country. In fact, the Rehabilitation Center is an amazing place because all of these kids, between the ages of 8-15 are always ready to talk, connect and play!
As we first walked into the dark, crowded dining hall we heard an explosion of clapping and song! They were singing for us! Then, six of the older boys started doing the cultural dance. Two of the younger boys joined in and gave it their best shot. They were all very cute and it became a great celebration! They had cut down a tree branch for a Christmas tree and used some toilet paper for decorations.
We were able to give out Muze (bananas) and some candy to the children. Then it was time for the main event. We gave each boy and girl a brand new pair of awesome athletic shoes! Many of these kids did not have any shoes or were just wearing a pair of flip-flops that were falling apart.
It was so wonderful to see each child receive a pair of shoes. We expected that they would practically explode in excitement. Instead they quietly picked up their shoes, held them closely and silently walked away—with the sweetest little smile. It was almost as if they did not believe the gift was really theirs to keep. These shoes were amazing too! They were purchased with an incredibly generous donation and they were top of the line—bright colors, shiny and ready for some serious soccer (football) playing!
While the shoes were being handed out, I talked with one of the older boys named Eyob. He was one of the guys who danced for us. He was 14 years old and his mom and dad had passed away a long time ago. I asked about siblings and he sadly shared that he had none. In that moment I saw all the sadness of his life in his eyes. I tried to encourage him, sharing that his friends at the Rehabilitation Center were his brothers and they needed to care for each other.
I also asked Eyob what he hoped to do with his life. He said he wanted to become an engineer! He dreams of someday engineering whole towns. I told him that Brian, one of our teammates, was an engineer and he insisted on meeting him. Brian was busy giving out shoes so we had to wait. As we talked about other things Eyob kept saying “Meet engineer? Meet engineer?” Later, although the language barrier made it hard for the guys to have a deep conversation, Eyob was thrilled. He acted like he was meeting a celebrity!
I just love talking with these kids and hearing their dreams. If a child can dream, see that their life is special, and realize they have the ability to do what they want to achieve, then hope will always be theirs! I will take our conversation with me and treasure it always!
- Thursday – For the children at the Youth Rehabilitation Center in Addis – the 145 kids, ages 8-15, who have been placed there for street crimes – that our visit will remind them that there are people who care about them
- Friday – For the new library and sports fields at Hedase Elementary – that the children will grow in mind, body and the Spirit of God because of our efforts
- Saturday – For safe travel home for the whole team