On 3 January 2007, I travelled with ten family members, including my husband and two sons, to the Melka Oba School with exercise books, pens, rulers and Christmas treats for the 150 children now attending the school. Unfortunately, attendance has gone down because parents have left the area in search of better farming opportunities.
It was an emotional journey for me because during the four years of coordinating the task force and the fund-raising, I had never had the opportunity to visit the school and to see the children first-hand. The children were lined up waiting to greet us with flowers, red cross and welcome banners and lots of applause.
I made a short speech asking the children to study hard and to always remember the importance of sharing and giving back to their society. It was translated in Oromiya and Amharic. Many students only speak Oromiya. We also had enough supplies to pay a surprise visit to the Sodore Elementary School. We were able to give to 80 destitute orphans attending the school.
Much more is needed to support the Melka Oba School – for example there is no library and very few books available to teachers and students alike. Teachers work and live in very difficult conditions and the children lack clothing and shoes. There is no electricity or running water and not enough desks.
The Ethiopian Food Appeal also contributed to a wonderful new effort called Artists for Charity, an organization that has created ahome for 16 HIV positive orphans who lost their parents of AIDS. The founders of the charity are young artists who support the home through the sale of their artwork.
They live with the children and have become their surrogate parents. The children (ages 7-14) are disciplined, talented, socially aware and absolutely a joy to be with. I visited their home four times and at their request bought them a VCR player, CD, DVD and a library of Amharic and English books.
I also asked each child to provide me with their Christmas wish list. I spent a full day shopping for requests ranging from new bedsheets and pyjamas to backpacks and sketching books. On one of my visits, the children performed their own original songs and dances.
On another visit, I brought 12 of my family members with me and it was beautiful to see the children’s eyes light up with the joy of our visit and the opportunity to describe to us their home, their routine, their life with HIV, their hopes, their dreams.
We all left exhilarated and full of energy. My wish is that thousands of homes like this could be established in Ethiopia and across Africa.