Tag Archives: street kids

A Soccer Ball, A Rock, and a Hard Place

20 Aug

An old acquaintance from undergrad came through last week; she happens to be in Peace Corps Cameroon. Turns out, I don’t want to go to Cameroon (central Africa), and after a long conversation with those volunteers I walked away with a new appreciation of Ethiopia. But the one thing that apparently Cameroon doesn’t have that Gondar certainly does: homeless kids.

Big cities. Economic growth. Tourism. There are so many positive things about those three phenomenon, but it is also the perfect storm for poverty. Many of the children who come into Gondar came from rural villages in order to make money in the biggest city in the area. Many of them have lost their parents to disease or worse. Many of them make their money selling gum, or begging. So what happens during low season, when the rains come, and the tourists flee? You get a lot of kids living on the street.

These OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children as they are known in the industry), are at the highest risk for HIV, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, and general hard times.

So with the help of a local NGO, a flock of Israeli volunteers in town for a short period, and a lot of soccer balls, we put together a summer camp over three weeks. I provided the programming, they provided the space and the food (yes, free food is an international language).

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The program goes through 11 sessions of HIV prevention techniques – life-skills, understanding the disease, stigma and support, gender issues, the ABCs of protection (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms), and avoiding risky situations. We are one of the first programs in Ethiopia, though the SKILLZ curriculum is currently done in about 25 Peace Corps countries in Africa and South America. It comes from the Grassroot Soccer organization based in South Africa (Cape Town), and was founded by former Zimbabwe soccer players, one of whom won Survivor: Africa in 2002.

We ran three concurrent programs with 63 street kids (about 20 per team). I trained two local NGO workers from Yenega Tesfa who run the mobile school for street kids, and brought in my trusty co-worker Edward who had already been trained on the program in May.

We were lucky enough to have six soccer balls donated from USAID for our Camp GLOW program, which I appropriated for a few more weeks.

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The entire program was done in Amharic, so having trained myself out of a job like a good volunteer, I got to take photos. One of our challenges, however, was the fact that many of these kids are illiterate, having been to school off and on over their lives. We worked around that with conversations, games, and an oral pre and post test (gotta have that Monitoring & Evaluation).

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Know how to assess a risky situation - RED CARD!

Know how to assess a risky situation – RED CARD!

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.

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We also didn’t really have a budget, so goals were done with rocks, props were pieces of paper, and limbo sticks were brook poles. But that’s the great thing about this program, it doesn’t need much to implement. The fact that we had balls at all was pretty great, and every time I brought the big sack from my office, I looked like a strange Santa walking the streets of Gondar. But we had new kids joining all throughout the first week as word got around about the program.

HIV Limbo - The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

HIV Limbo – The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

Christmas in Gondar

Christmas in Gondar

I was afraid at first that some of the topics would be too advanced, too sensitive, or that the giggling would override the message. But this is a real issue in Africa, and the kids understood that. I had to take my notions of 10th grade health class off the table, and I was thoroughly impressed by the participation and seriousness of the kids, between the fun.

juggling multiple sexual partners (and mutliple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your "goals"

juggling multiple sexual partners (and multiple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your “goals”

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a little gymnast

a little gymnast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall the program went well. The kids all said it was “arif naw!” (awesome), and that they really learned things (especially about condoms). But I think the most rewarding part for me, is after living in Gondar for almost 8 months, my name is known. The kids recognize me, they sing my energizer on the streets, and give each other “kilos” (a version of praise) outside the program. The lessons were in important, but the community created was exceptional.

At graduation to hear 63 kids whooping and hollering about certificates, chanting my name (literally) was almost overwhelming. But then somebody started a song, and it all continued on.

Graduation

Graduation

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Here are some of the Kilos and energizers the kids loved, as well as some more photos:

Energizers – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153986665523

Kilos – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153985320523

Photos – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10153153998840523.1073741830.640805522&type=1&l=119c599546

Equal and Opposite Reactions

7 Feb

Life comes in waves here. I can feel incredibly happy, excited, everything is lucky go la-dee-da, and not ten minutes later come crashing down as I literally fall into a ditch. Understanding the roller coaster of emotions volunteers can go through within even a single day, I try to practice prudence and flexibility in dealing with both the good and bad. Even when things go awesomely, it can be dangerous to let my emotions swing to widely to either side of the pendulum less Murphy’s law comes to take its vengeance.

Usually these periods come in bouts of days, weeks, or even months before emotions change. Check out this long range volunteer life cycle [future blog post], but a few days this past week showed me how quickly events can change, and if something bad happens it will usually be outweighed by a touching experience later.

Walking home from work one day, I passed a group of children, of which I pass hundreds each day, near my house. The kids almost always ask for money or pens or a soccer ball or something, and I usually smile and keep going, sometimes I stop and talk with them, explain my job (penniless volunteer), and that asking for money just because I look different (like a tourist) is actually rude. It depends on my energy. On this particular day, the group of boys yelled at me “GIVE ME MONEY!,”, without a hello or any greeting at all. In addition, they were clearly not street children, had backpacks and school supplies, and their uniforms were suspiciously clean. So as I passed I yelled back “YALANYM,” which means “I don’t have any,” and kept going. Usually the kids laugh and giggle at my bad pronunciation, but one rabash (rude/obnoxious) kid in the group picked up a stone and hurled it at me, where it hit the back of my head.

I whirled around, pointed my finger at the kid and in my scariest teacher voice said he was extremely rude and he should NEVER do that again. Which in Amharic probably came out like “rude! Never! Bad! You!” or something embarrassing like that. The point came across though and an adult walking past who saw the whole thing walloped the kid up the side of the head. Not exactly what I wanted, but whatever, he deserved it.

As I turned away, holding back tears, I realized that it hadn’t actually hurt, it had just hurt my pride. After over a month of meeting people, integrating, and living in this community this was the first (probably of many) blatant moments where I was singled out like that. I was most frustrated with the fact that I had felt like in a moment where I let down my guard, a kid had found a crack and forced all my walls back up in 30 seconds.

Not 50 feet later, though, I ran into an older man who is my friend Morgan’s counterpart in her small town in Aykel. He had recognized me from a meeting and was walking down my road after visiting a friend in my neighborhood. While he works in Aykel, he said much of his family lives in Gondar and so he comes to visit a lot. In a moment where all I wanted to do was go home and eat chocolate and sulk, I bucked up and let him invite me for tea. I’m really glad I did. What would have been an awful afternoon was negated by this kind man only 10 minutes later. I’m also proud that I took advantage of a moment that I could have easily brushed off.

Another example a few days later, I left work and ran into a group of street kids who I am particularly fond of. Sometimes we chat; they are funny because they are clearly little con artists, but not quite good at it yet. On this occasion though they told me that the bread coupons an NGO had been handing out were not able to be redeemed at the bakeries because of some problem or another (it has since been resolved). Because it’s not my organization, but I know the program, I agreed to just buy the kids some bread, which is 1.25 birr for a loaf, or the equivalent of 7 cents USD.  Of course when we got to the souk, 3 kids had become 15 and bread had become donuts. I agreed to buy no more than five donuts (which are more expensive) and they could share however they wanted. Mistake. Some of the older kids ran off with a few of the donuts before I could do anything, and as I tried to extricate myself from the situation one of the kids yelled “I hate you!” as I was walking away. You’re welcome, kid.

But only a few minutes later when I walked up to the Post Office to find it closed, the package man recognized me, knew I had a package and opened up just for me and called me family. It also helped that the package had chocolate in it for me to eat when I got home : )

So even in the span of a few minutes I can have equal and opposite emotions competing in my brain, but taken as a whole, this experience, while difficult at times, will always have hidden gems of moments that make it all worth it.

Some Small Adjustments

18 Jan

Living in Gondar is 60% the same as America, 40% totally different. I still get up, go to work, have a social life, cook meals, exercise, chat with neighbors, avoid getting run over by cars (and donkeys!-difference), and generally go about my business. The differences come in the “hows.” Here are a few key adjustments I have made living in Gondar, which are certainly less than the adjustments some volunteers have made in the smaller villages.
Cooking

Sucking Peas

Sucking Peas

I still love to cook and experiment, but cooking entails a few different processes. My ingredients are most definitely not packaged and processed. Having shopped at farmer’s markets a lot, I’d say I’m pretty ingredient savvy, but every once in a while I come across some produce I simply have no idea how to cook/prepare. Of course, I haven’t even attempted to buy a live chicken or goat yet- maybe year 2.
Shopping

 

Spice Bags - Credit: Morgan Davison

Spice Bags – Credit: Morgan Davison

Oh the one stop supermarket, how I miss you. Shopping entails going to each individual souk or produce lady, looking at each individual item, bargaining over that item, being pulled away by the owner’s brother to introduce you to his mother, coming back, not getting a discount, walking away, getting a discount, explaining why I can speak Amharic, how long I will live here, why I’m not married, why I don’t want to give said brother my phone number, remembering I need another item, bargaining again, all while hopping between my feet so the kids don’t pickpocket me. Sometimes it’s really fun, other times it’s really exhausting.
Street Kids

 

Not in Gondar, but basically the same image all around, lots of youngins everywhere!

Not in Gondar, but basically the same image all around, lots of youngins everywhere!

Being a big city, Gondar has many children who come from rural villages and big families to hawk the streets and make a living. While there are homeless children in America, it just doesn’t compare to the 100s of kids you see running around Gondar. In general, Ethiopia has a huge (unemployed) youth bulge (like many nations on the continent- cue Arab Spring). Many of them are very nice, lovely children, and others of them (adolescent boys) are the ones I get the most lewd comments from. Walking up through the piazza area, sometimes I tend to shut down and ignore most of what’s happening around me. From the “Hey mister!” to trying to sell gum or Kleenex or whatever’s in the boxes to getting my ass grabbed to just the general extra attention I get in that area I tend to blanket ignore. But every once in a while you have a really sweet moment with a kid. Most of them now know that I live here and I won’t be asking them to tour me around the castles. But what is amazing is the entrepreneurial spirit of some of these kids. Chalking themselves up as tour guides they learn English, French, Spanish, German in an effort to entice tourists to pay them to be their guides. I actually had a full Spanish conversation with a kid just to mess with him before I switched to Amharic and told him I lived here. (Gotta get your kicks somehow). Then the other day a little girl (probably about 4 years old) ran up to me, remembered my name, gave me a big hug in the middle of the street and tried to figure out why my toenails were painted blue. Some of the children meet tourist families, and get “sponsored” by them to go to one of the better schools in the area. And it really does mean they get a better chance. In fact, some of the best English, most clever kids I’ve met here are basically working the streets. I’m hoping to do some work with an NGO here that runs a few street kid orphanages and a mobile education program.
The Shint Bet
Ah, the latrine toilet. Shint bet literally translates as “urine house.” What a love/hate relationship. Squatting to do your business is just one of those things that every person not in America does. You deal. What I find incredibly amusing is when there are “fancy” shint bets that are porcelain holes and have flush mechanisms! Ok, if you’re going to put all that effort into the latrine, install a toilet! (Though I understand plumbing problems are more of an issue) I am lucky enough to have a western toilet on my compound, the difference being I have to go outside my house to get to the bathroom and I share it with everyone in the compound. It’s fine, I think my favorite bathroom mate this week was the chicken waiting to be slaughtered for Timket (Epiphany). Yesterday I went in to use the toilet and the chicken was sleeping… and snoring. I think it was one of the top five cutest things I have ever seen in my life. It almost made up for it waking me up at 4am crowing. I bet you will tastes delicious in the doro wot (chicken stew).

Doro Wot for Genna- yes, you did taste delicious chicken!

Doro Wot for Genna- yes, you did taste delicious chicken!

Water

Washing my dishes at the spigot

Washing my dishes at the spigot

The point is, I don’t have indoor plumbing. Yeah, yeah you’re in Peace Corps we get it. So there is a spigot/tap outside my house but inside the compound that I get my water from. So I go outside every morning and evening to brush my teeth, wash my face, wash my feet etc. Can’t wait for my solar shower! Hot water wahoo! (It’s a black pastic bag that you fill with water and sit it in the sun- ooh technology… ) I really have it pretty easy. I fill up a big bucket with water that I use for cooking and leave in my house and I’ve never had a day yet where the water has been off. My good friend Morgan lives in a small village about two hours from Gondar and the only water source in her village is in the middle of town, so she has to stand in line with jerry cans and stalk up for the week. Peace Corps also issues every volunteer a carbon filter, which I fill up and then have a big bucket of drinking water.
Public Transportation

Peace Corps chartered this one :)

Peace Corps chartered this one :)

The city “bus system” is a system of line taxis that run, well, lines. They are mini buses that seat 12, and fit 25. They run from the market to piazza, down the hill and out of town, on a few different routes. Each stop is about one birr or two. Only 3.50 to the Dashen Brewery! If you don’t want to take a line taxi, like if you have a lot of stuff to hold (cut to me lugging 2 giant crates around the market, don’t ask), you can pick up a bajaj.

 

Bajajs - 3 wheeled scooter "taxis"

Bajajs – 3 wheeled scooter “taxis”

A bajaj parade!

A bajaj parade!

These guys will take you wherever you want to go door to door like a taxi, but they will probably pick up more passengers along the way. They are also more expensive, especially if you want the whole bajaj (again the crates) and you look like a tourist (you’re white). If you’ve been to India or know what a tuk-tuk is, that’s what these are.

For bigger items, or in more rural places, there are also horse drawn carts or “garis.” I used one the other day to get my kitchen counter from the top of the hill to my house. In Iteya we rode in them a few times to out of the way places (no paved roads).

Gari

Gari

So like I said, a lot of the same, a lot different. I’m doing the same things, I’m just getting them done in different ways.

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