Thursday was our departure day, but we were all given the option of visiting an orphanage that many of our children came from before entering Hannah’s Hope.
Everyone ended up taking the opportunity to go, so we crammed 23 little people and big people into the van and puttered our way across town. It’s amazing how your safety standards change in a different country – babies on laps, no seatbelts, adults sitting on the floor and chaotic driving.
We finally pulled through the gate and unfolded ourselves from the vehicle. We ducked under rows of drying laundry and entered a playroom full of children waiting patiently at tables for their lunch. They covered a broad span of ages, from around two, up to eight or nine years old.
The kids were shy at first, until we started shaking hands, giving hugs and taking pictures. Many longed for hugs and eye contact, and would take your hand and not let go.
While the orphanage was smaller than Hannah’s Hope, it had its own feeling of care for children who needed help. However, you could tell that the children here were earlier on in their lives as orphans. Many had recently come to the orphanage, and some from very desperate circumstances.
They took small groups at a time up to the children’s rooms because there were so many of us. While we were waiting our turn, I stood in a patio area and tried to picture what this place would be like for Abby, coming from a village area – or for older children that had a better sense that their life had significantly changed.
A young man passed by, later I would find out he worked in the office there. He shook my hand and asked if I was an adoptive parent. He then thanked me, and thanked all of us, for our willingness to come here to help these children, who so desperately needed homes.
We then met the director of the orphanage. He seemed to be the male counterpart of Almaz. As the families came up to shake his hand, he remembered each child’s name and their circumstances. He hugged each of us, and asked God’s blessing on us.
This was an amazing man. He was a former marketing executive who felt called by God to serve orphaned children. And while he ached for them in their need, he had the joy of a person who was doing what he should be doing, not for money but because it is the right thing to do.
When he met Kristi, he took Abby in his arms and remarked at how well she looked. He said he hardly recognized her, from the state she was in when she arrived at the orphanage. This was hard for us to hear. We didn’t realize that she was in such bad shape, and to hear Almaz call her the “miracle baby,” then the orphanage director say he was amazed to see she was in such good health now, made us realize the extent our little girl suffered in her journey to us.
I went up to the rooms, but Kristi stayed behind. They were smaller than those at Hannah’s Hope, but had the same beautifully painted walls with flowers and inspirational quotes and verses. They told us that Julie from All God’s Children came and painted the rooms, and we found that Hannah’s Hope often provides resources to help improve service to the children there.
The director had just taken a trip with Almaz to the southern regions of Ethiopia, to visit the government-run orphanages that first receive the children. Hannah’s Hope works closely with this orphanage to transport the children to Addis Ababa for better care. The orphanage also works with other US-based adoption agencies, including Adoption Associates, based in our hometown.
It was a bittersweet visit, and we all felt a little heavy seeing so many orphaned children there. One of the other dads asked the director what the orphanage’s biggest need was, and he mentioned a washer and dryer set. Currently they were using the sinks in the kitchen to clean clothes, but an industrial washer and dryer would cost upwards of $5,000 US dollars.
Just before we got on the bus, we collected money from anyone willing to chip in. Many of us had extra Birr that we would have to convert, and just threw it all in for the cause. In about five minutes, we collected nearly $900, and while the bus idled, a couple of us ran back in to present it to the director. In his quiet office, we prayed for him and the children at the orphanage.
The remainder of the day was packing, saying goodbye, and getting our children ready for the long trip home. A few couples would leave in the next day or two, but several of us were on the same plane out of Addis. It would be the first flight heading to Europe since the volcano, and many on the flight had been stuck in Ethiopia for nearly a week.
We waited in long lines at the airport, and everyone was quiet, tired, ready to go home.