Friday, August 7, 2009

So long.... Farewell.... FINALLY!!!

Hi everyone, its Keely. I sit writing this last and final email in a very different place than the others: in the lazyboy in my parents basement in Colorado, my laptop in my lap and watching television. Welcome back to America Keel…
So sorry it has taken so long to post this message and I commend those of you truly loyal followers who actually read this blog. But there is so much that we never got to tell you all about in this amazing experience. First, I am going to paste our last entry from our “professional” blog that we kept for Superkids (if you have never checked this… it may be worth a trip because there are tons of awesome pictures on that blog:

We spend a lot of time throughout the weeks working individually with these kids… but this week was a little different. And very exciting!! We completed our caregiver education program and it was a HUGE success. Over 35 caregivers, axillary staff members and governmentemployees attended the 8 hour training session. We performed the program on Tuesday and Wednesday so that all could be in attendance. The director of the orphanage, Asenake, was thrilled with the information covered and we were thrilled with the interest and sincerity with which everyone approached the program. We can’t wait to share all the videos and pictures of these amazing days with all of you!

The morning began with the didactic session. We lectured on motor and social development with an emphasis on age appropriate sensory stimulation, positioning during sleep and play, language development, sharing, feeding, hygiene/illness prevention, bone health, and body mechanics during lifting. We also did a great role play activity to teach behavior modification with an emphasis on positive reinforcement. So much laughter and lots of learning too. After adelicious lunch and coffee ceremony (oh and of course a morning tea) we continued with our hands on learning session. In this session we brought several infants to the classroom and allowed the participants to practice swaddling, infant massage, positioning and playtechniques, and oral stimulation prior to feeding. Following the afternoon tea break, we finished up with a group conversation in which we encouraged caregivers to develop a consistent schedule that incorporated many of the recommendations including “out of crib time”, frequent repositioning of infants, outside time and lots of play. They were amazing participants and we had a lot of discussion, brainstorming and problem solving to arrive at an agreement that we are all very proud of. Next, the caregivers were encouraged to list the key elements learned during the class and discussion of how they want to try and implement this into their day. We were so impressed by their dedicated responses. The plan now is to create a white-board with recommendation reminders, schedule, and a place for caregivers and nurses to write notes to improve communication about children. Like we mentioned, an overwhelming success. We definitely want to thank our translator Bisrat and of course our backstage man Yemamu for making everything run so seamlessly, it could not have been better!

And what was even more exciting were the two days following! We walked in to observe increased caregiver interaction with the kids. Lots of singing and talking. There were infants out of their crib on the floor mats in all different positions and several of them were given massages…. and toys!!! The toddlers were taken out to play in the morning according to the developed schedule (which we had NEVER seen them do prior to the education program). We saw lots of toys (which also means lots of tears….sharing is REALLY hard with all these newexciting toys). But we were overall impressed with the attempts of the caregivers to address all these behaviors with several of the strategies we taught them in the program. We also saw improved positioning of feeding and oral stimulation for the children that have difficulty feeding. WE ARE SO PROUD!!!!!

Let’s see, the last big project. We are trying desperately to get ankle foot orthotics made for Elshaday, Baletta and Yordi. Our goal is to provide them with braces that will help prevent deformity and also allow weight bearing to improve the joint mobility, muscle extensibility and bone health. And hopefully…with time increased functional independence. The process is slow, but we are very hopeful that Monday we will finally have all the steps in place and be able to visit the orthotist for our official assessment.

The last week, even upon reflection, continues to be a sleep deprived blur. But we did so many amazing things! I guess I will start by telling you about the trip to the countryside that we took with the boys (Yemamu and Alex) to a city called Awasa. We contracted a driver with a sweet Nike-laden van. The drive to through the countryside was a shocker for me!! The landscape was so variant. We drove through flat barren grass and farmland with fields of crops and many workers tending to the land. Then suddenly there was a shift to this lush green almost tropical landscape with rolling hills. It was absolutely beautiful. We stopped and took pictures and met a young mother with three kids under the age of 3 and one more in the belly. Demonstrating again the enormous societal complexity surrounding the rapidly increasing number of children in this nation.

Arriving in Awasa, we found our hotel and got settled. We spent the first evening exploring, attempting to take a boat ride to see hippos and being rejected due to lack of gas and a rapidly setting sun. That evening, we had an awesome pizza dinner, went out to a cool nightclub and ended the night teaching Yemamu that art of Yoga. Hilarious and memorable!!! We woke up the next day and hit fish markets. Down at the edge of the lake is this huge gathering where you can get fish of all varieties. The boys insisted on starting with the raw fish—the girls watched as the fish came straight off the boat, was gutted and skinned, taken to buy sauce and limes, and lots of eating of raw fish. Next we ventured to the fried fish—this time the girls ate too. It was so delicious!! Literally gutted and tossed in a huge pan of oil. Yum Yum Yum it was so good!!! Then the guys ate some fish stew… the girls were fished out by this point. But the grounds the fish market was on was such an experience as well. There were tons of huge birds--- Ethiopia has over 170 species of birds. And monkeys that we got to feed. Kelly, with the help of Alex, found these cute fuzzy black and white monkeys that she got to sit on her shoulder. Very cute!!

While in the city of Addis we had seen many families and children living on the streets. However, never had we seen such a dense population of young street kids as we did at the fish market in Awasa. Alex explained to us that this city has one of the highest street children populations because it is the largest city in the eastern countryside so children throughout the countryside who’s parents die, often walk into the city. We were all struck by the young age of many of these kids. Kell fell in love with one little girl about 3 years old and she bought her a fish… a few of her little friends joined in the feast. They ate every bit of food off those bones. It really made all of us think about what can be done, how we can begin to advocate for these kids, this society to decrease the number of parentless children in Ethiopia. As I mentioned above, it is so complex and multifaceted… leaving me to believe that if many people would address the issue from their angle and chip away at the problem, we could make an impact. Again, it made us realize just how incredible Gladney is as this organization is involved in helping fund multiple organizations that address this issue from various angles. For gladney is really seems to be about the children.

That night we finally got to go on our boat trip to see the hippos. It was pretty hilarious… I can say that as I was the only person on the entire boat who had a dry seat. The rest of the gang, especially Alex and Keely, got totally soaked—but due to the fragile balance of the boat, the driver would not let anyone move. I have never laughed so hard!! We were really excited to see the hippos—our one and only ‘African” animal that we got to see.
On the way home we stopped at this beautiful natural springs pool. It was so hot!—there were the trickling falls that you could “shower” under and then there were two really warm pools. My favorite part however was watching Yemamu and Alex swim. For those of you who know me… know that swimming is not part of my athletic prowess--- I am a land animal. Compared to these guys, people may have mistaken me for Micheal Phelps. Keel and I tried to give them swimming lessons but never came to fruition…. Lots of laughter though. It was an amazing vacation and such an opportunity to see a small glimpse of what this country has to offer. I know that it made us really want to see some other countryside locations throughout the nation…. Next time I guess 

Back home we had 2 days to finish those… pardon my French but this is extremely warrented: damn chairs!! We faced multiple delays in the creation of these 3 supportive feedings chairs. None of them more blatant than when we arrived to pick up our freshly drilled wood after our vacation to Awasa…. To find that the ENTIRE shop where we had left our wood was GONE!! I mean walls, roof, wood and all. Finally after questioning everyone within a 500 yard radius, we found a 12 year old boy who said that he knew where the shop had been moved. While frustrating to us for sure, even this experience proved to be a moment proving how comfortable and lucky we are here in the US. What had happened to this small shop owner you ask? The government came one day and told him they needed his land and that he needed to be gone in 2 days. The land, was owned by this man. But at any moment, the government can seize land. Now, instead of owning is building and shop, he relocated about half a mile away and was renting a building. It was difficult to be too frustrated with this shop owner--- as you can imagine he was a little busy deconstructing his shop and moving his wood and didn’t have time to cut our wood. Putting us one more day behind. We spent the remainder of the next day ALL day and night finishing those chair. On Monday, the day of our departure, we finally took them to the orphanage and fit them for Yordi, Elshaday and Baletta. It was so much fun to see them in those chairs. Little Elshaday was finally able to sit up and it will be sooo useful for feeding. Hopefully leading to less aspiration, weight gain and improved health for this beautiful little boy. It was pretty hilarious doing these “finishing touches” at the orphanage. We had LOTS of help and interest from all the other kiddos.

On Sunday night, we did take a quick hiatus from chair building to host a movie night for the kids. A few weeks ago a TV and DVD player was donated and we had been planning this evening since. We came in after dinner and surprised the kids by watching Bolt and brining a few other requested videos. Thank God that we had power on this night!!! It was so fun to cuddle up with them all and see the orphanage and all the kiddos at night time. Memories we will cherish forever.
After finishing the chairs on Monday, we had dinner and coffee with the caregivers. Spicy spaghetti, lots of laughter and hugs. And then goodbyes. I sit here unable to really use words to describe that night. It was such a mix of emotions of love, wishing we could have done more, feeling like we had helped so much and at the same time… as if we were letting them down. It was hope that they would catch a break, that they would find success, joy. It was one of the hardest days of our life. Letting go.

A long flight, both of us studying for and passing our board exams, packing and moving to our new homes, visits from friends and family… and finding a way to carry this experience with us everyday. To allow it to change us, and make us better. To try and spread this message and continue to fight for these kids even upon our return home. To think of these people, these kids, our friends everyday. To love. –That about catches you up to speed on our lives.

Thought of the day: I wish I was in Ethiopia right now...

With that I am going to sign off. Thank you for your support and prayers throughout this experience. We could never have done it without you. And the way that we all really continue to make a difference is to get people involved in the mission. We love all of you!!
Keely (and Kelly)

p.s. I made this video for my church… thought many of you would enjoy seeing it. Just a glimpse at the beauty and life of these resilient kids.