Elena in Ethiopia

Starting in January 2006 I will be going to Ethiopia on a Lewis Hine Documentary Initiative Fellowship. I will be working for and documenting the organization Hope for Children in Addis Ababa. HFC gives shelter, food, and education to children who are orphaned or disadvantaged by HIV/AIDS in their family. I will be giving updates from my experiences on this site for friends, family, and others to follow the progress of the project. More to come...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Latest Trip to Babile

When I came to Hope for Children I never would have guessed that I would become so attached to a place like Babile. I think it surprises other people as well. Before I even visited I told Yewoinshet that I was thinking about doing a project there and she said, “Really? They won’t let you walk down the street without stopping you every step along the way!” To some extent she’s right, but I think I’m used to that kind of thing since I’m from such a small town. When you know everyone you can’t walk 10 feet without seeing a familiar face. In this case I don’t know everyone, but talking to a foreigner walking down the street is something to do, especially when you’re chewing Chat.

This latest trip was the first time I traveled to Babile without Yewoinshet and others. I wasn’t completely alone because I took my friend Tezeta along with me to translate. I didn’t know her very well before we went, but I knew that her English was good and that I would feel very comfortable being with her everyday for a week. She was fabulous and the two of us got along really well. She is so much fun and has a genuine interest in Hope for Children and especially the kids in Babile. I am very sad that she can’t come with me again, but she is in school for computer programming and will begin a new session in a few weeks.

Every other time I have gone to Babile I have taken a contract minibus or rented Landcruiser. This time we were on our own and took a big bus which was a big mistake. What normally takes around 10 hours took us 13 hellishly hours on a hot bus with crying babies. We spent one night in Harar to recover and arrived in Babile on Monday morning. I needed to come back to Addis for a special counseling training this week so this first trip could only be for one week. I am planning to go back in a few weeks to continue what I have started. Given our time constraints we began working right away.

I am trying out several photography projects with various members of the Babile and HFC community as well as coordinating some projects that HFC is doing. Elsa, the Babile Project Coordinator (and the woman I stay with when I’m there) helped me identify some kids whose profiles have been taken and have not received support from HFC yet. I gave them all cameras and asked them to take photos of things that represent their own experiences associated with HIV/AIDS and problems they see within the community. I was really impressed with some of the things each child photographed, but unfortunately the cameras I have for them are very poor so I would like to get some better ones before my next trip.

Another group I am working with is made up of all HFC sponsored kids. We have decided to work together to create educational posters based on their own experiences to illustrate the status of kids in Babile who have been affected by the virus in some way. We met everyday to discuss the issues they faced or are facing and thought of ways to show those experiences through photography. During the week we had a chance to cover four topics: getting food when you have no one to provide for you, sleeping on the street, having to quit school (photo on the right), and caring for sick parents. The kids were very enthusiastic and I am very excited to continue working with them later this month.
The other group I am working with consists of female members of the community who are willing to stand out again Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In Ethiopia close to 80% of women are circumcised and in the Babile region it’s around 98% due to the large number of Muslims in the area. The practice has been illegal for 8 years, but people in both the Muslim and Christian community continue to believe in its value and do it behind closed doors. The group I started working with has members from both religions and we are going to make posters and banners addressing the practice from both perspectives. We only had time to do one photo session so we set up a scene in which a 6 year-old girl was to be circumcised (the age in which Christians target girls). It was pretty horrific from my perspective. I have never witnessed anything like that and it was hard for me to pretend. The women I worked with have all experienced such ceremonies so they seemed to cope with it fine. The next time I go we will photograph a Muslim scene. In that culture they circumcise girls at are 14 or 15 and then tie them up with rope for 2 weeks!

The women in the group also had the idea to take a portrait of religious leaders who have agreed to stand out against the practice. There are only a few that are bold enough to do that because they receive a lot of grief and put their reputations on the line. We had a meeting with one Sheik to discuss the possibility of him posing for a picture. I made the biggest faux pas when I met him. Apparently no one is allowed to shake the hand of a Muslim leader, especially not a woman. Well, without knowing this I walked right up to him and grabbed his hand to introduce myself!! He was very polite and could obviously tell I was too dumb to know their tradition so he just balled up his hand and politely smiled and nodded Hello. I guess I learned that lesson the hard way. I will hopefully take his photo during my next trip as well.

The two HFC projects I’m trying to get going involve small business entrepreneurship. The first is a collaborative project we are doing with the Babile school. They have agreed to plant mango and papaya trees on their grounds and when they are fruitful (in about 3 years) our kids will each have one to look after. They can use the fruit to feed their families or to sell. We would like to use it as a way to help them learn about money and how to manage it. The rest of the trees will belong to the school and the profits will be used to provide uniforms and supplies for orphans and vulnerable children. The other project is to help a group of women start a business of making small cement ovens to make injera (the traditional staple food here that people eat for every meal). The ovens are fueled by coal and are designed to be twice as efficient as normal injera ovens. We think we have identified a donor to help us jump-start the project so I worked with the 10 women to get an idea of what they need.

One disturbing thing that happened in the last few weeks was the departure of one of our group home kids. Marta is about 13 or 14 and she decided that she needed to go back to the woman that helped raised her before she entered the group home. She said that the woman needed her help, but we found out later that the woman wanted her home because she wanted to marry her off!! Everyone is so worried about her, especially Hyminot (the GH mother) and her GH brothers and sisters. Some women in the community are trying to talk with her to help her reconsider, but I think it’s pretty hard to get to her. There hasn’t been a resolution yet, but I really hope she reconsiders. Early marriage is another big problem in Babile.

Half way through the week Yewoinshet told me that she would like to bring all the Babile group home kids to Addis to attend the month-long English classes being taught by a group of Americans. I really wanted Monsour (the boy that I have begun to sponsor) to be able to attend and luckily Yewoinshet agreed! Instead of leaving on Tuesday Tezeta and I decided to accompany Elsa and the kids back to Addis.

We arranged to travel overnight on a contract minibus. Unfortunately the ride was pretty traumatic for all the kids for various reasons. We loaded the bus on Friday afternoon. When Monsour got on board my heart broke. His luggage consisted of a small plastic bag with about 3 articles of clothing, all of which I brought for him at the beginning of the week. The other kids all had luggage, toys etc and he had NOTHING. I will get him a bunch of stuff from the HFC stash while he’s in Addis. As we were all loading the bus things were a bit crazy. Two of the kids entered crying because a bully on the street (who was obviously jealous that they were going to Addis for a month) punched them! He got away before we could catch him, but when we get back he’s going to get a talking to by me!!

When we started out the kids were really excited (see photo on right), but about 15 minutes into the trip they started to get sick and drop like flies. We only had a few plastic bags with us, but luckily they lasted the 31 km to Harar where we caught our contract minibus to Addis. When we got to Harar Tezeta and I ran around the market and loaded up on plastic bags, lemons, biscuits, bread, and tissues to get us through the night. We arrived in Addis at 3am and dropped the kids off at the group home that they will be staying at for the month.

Tezeta, Elsa, and I all went home for a few hours to sleep before getting up again to take the kids to breakfast and then to Saturday program. Even though we were all tired we couldn’t miss it! We took the kids to a pastry shop down the street and they were SO excited. They couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces as they tried the new exotic Addis pastries. We then headed up the road to the office where we took them to Saturday program. They really enjoyed the singing and dancing. I have ever seen Monsour so happy. He had a big smile on his face while he was watching all the kids perform. I was SO excited when he then got up and sang a song in Oromefa! (the main language they speak in Babile). He was so adorable.

It turned out to be a nice ending to a pretty up and down week. I think the work has started off on the right foot, but it’s never easy to absorb the things I see and hear in Babile. I just hope all the work that HFC does will have a long-lasting positive affect on the community.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Babile Revisited

During the first week of June I traveled to Babile with Yewoinshet Masresha (the founder of Hope for Children) and Jacqui Gilmour (the founder of Hope for Children Australia, one of HFC Ethiopia’s largest support networks). Babile is HFC’s second office located in the Eastern Region of Ethiopia. It was opened last year and is in the beginning stages of developing programs and HIV awareness. When we arrived in Babile we were met with very sobering conditions. We were told that there have been funerals every week mourning the loss of community members who have died from the virus. Through informal inquiries HFC has found that many community members have not been tested or are tested very infrequently leading HFC to believe that the mortality rate from HIV/AIDS is much higher than previously thought. Although there aren’t any reliable statistics on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Babile a few HFC employees estimated it may be as high as 50 - 60% of the population there. During our time in Babile the dire circumstances of the town presented themselves in several ways.

Upon our arrival we were told about a woman who was dying of AIDS and in need of direct assistance. The woman was unemployed, homeless, and dropped off in an alcove just inside the gates of the town administrative compound. Yewoinshet and Jacqui cleaned her, gave her new clothes, and arranged to have her transported in our car to a hospital in Harar (30 Km away). This situation has tragically become commonplace in Babile. This woman was one of the many women who had been infected while working as a cook or maid for the military men in the area surrounding the town. The presence of military is one of the major obstacles that Babile faces in the fight against the spread of AIDS. At the end of our trip we visited the woman in Harar, but unfortunately her condition had worsened and she had passed away that evening.

Another example of Babile’s desperate state is the skyrocketing number of children and families seeking sponsorship support from Hope for Children. HFC’s biggest program is sponsorship of children by individuals in Ethiopia and abroad. When a child is sponsored their family receives monthly support to cover food, shelter, and educational expenses for the child. Since Babile is such a small community the news of HFC's presence and financial support had spread fast. HFC currently sponsors close to 30 children sponsored, but in the few days we were in Babile we collected 60 more profiles for sponsorship. (This photo is of a staff member collecting profiles). We eventually had to turn people away so as not to collect more profiles than we can possibly find sponsors for. This will prove to be one of HFC’s biggest obstacles with their work in Babile. Yewoinshet, who grew up in Babile and still has many ties there, has described her own her personal struggle to balance her sense of obligation towards certain people in the community and those who are most desperately in need of support.

My and Jacqui’s presence as foreigners also caused some confusion among some of the community members. Since we were helping collect profiles and photos of each person some people believed that we were intending to take some of the children back to Australia and America with us. Once we were informed of this misconception we had to explain to everyone that no one would be taken from the Babile community.

The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS is apparent everywhere in Ethiopia. HFC is a great haven in the Addis Ababa community and helps children deal with being shunned by their neighbors and relatives. Since HFC’s work is relatively new in Babile most of the focus has been on getting children off the streets, and providing them with food, clothing, and education. Attacking the problem of stigma is one the next challenges. For instance, we were informed this week of a decision made by some community members that get together to discuss HIV/AIDS related issues. They decided that the best thing to do with children who have the virus is to take them away from Babile because they believe the children will be killed if they remain in the community. We were all saddened by the severity of the stigma in Babile and distraught at the thought of subjecting these children to further trauma by shipping them away. The committee hasn’t taken any measures to begin to remove HIV children and HFC is hoping to find an alternative before the committee begins the process.

The events of this week were quite heartbreaking for everyone on our trip. Yewoinshet and Jacqui have been doing this work for many years and have heard countless stories of poverty, disease, and desperation. It was clear by their distress that witnessing circumstances like those in Babile does not get easier with more exposure. On the other hand they have also seen and created many changes and are able to see potential that I am just beginning to understand. Talking to them made it much easier for me to process my experiences and think positively about the future of Babile and Hope for Children.

Already the work that HFC does is having a tremendous affect on the communities it works in and each individual within it. This is reflected in a quote by one of the children in an Addis Ababa group home. Earlier this year Jacqui interviewed several of our beneficiaries to see how they are doing. When she asked one particular six years old boy his age, he claimed that he is only four. He said, “I am only four because my life didn’t start until I came to Hope for Children.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Alem

The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of the family members.

Hope for Children goes to great lengths to allow children who have been orphaned to remain with their extended families. HFC understands that in addition to losing their parents, many children are subjected to further trauma when they are placed in orphanages away from any remaining family members. When at all possible children supported by HFC are placed in familiar homes and surrounded by loved ones. At first glance this would seem an ideal situation, but this week I witnessed a terrible example of how children can be neglected even within their own family.

Alem, one of our beneficiaries, is 10 years old and lives with her aunt Genet. Alem’s parents both died of HIV/AIDS when she was very young. She and her two siblings were left without guardians and Genet took the responsibility of looking after them in addition to her three children. Genet used to beg on the street, but now receives support from HFC to care for her two nieces and nephew.

A few weeks ago Alem took a fall on her way to school and broke her arm. Genet did not address the injury right away and allowed Alem to suffer for three days before taking her to a doctor. By then the wound, which was protruding through her skin, had become gangrenous. Genet and the doctor immediately decided to amputate Alem’s arm without seeking a second opinion or advice from Hope for Children. The incident was not reported to our office until after Alem’s arm had been amputated above the elbow.

Since most Hope for Children caregivers are close family or friends, Hope has assumed thus far that these individuals will do everything in their power to look after the children in their care. Alem's terrible situation has been a wakeup call to everyone. In response, the staff arranged for the community committee (a group of older women in the community who have been elected to solve disputes) to conduct a meeting for every caregiver within the organization. In the meeting they stressed the importance of each caregiver’s position and the responsibilities that go along with it.

At the end of the meeting Alem’s story was told without naming names to protect the family. However, Genet eventually came forward to take responsibility for her mistake. Following her emotional acknowledgment, the community committee consulted the entire group about how to handle the situation. The caregivers unanimously voted to have the three children taken away from their aunt and put into a group home. The committee announced that the children would be picked up on Monday, but several women demanded that they be taken right away. Five minutes later two community committee members and myself followed Genet to Alem’s home.

After our arrival we spent several hours in the family’s room discussing the situation. My understanding was a bit limited due to the language barrier, but I gathered that once Genet returned to her home she was not eager to give the three children up. After several phone calls back and forth with the office, Genet conceded. Alem was in tears, she was not happy about being taken away from her family. Her older brother and sister were gone and therefore not given any input in the matter. Genet tearfully dressed Alem in her nicest clothes and we returned to the Hope for Children office. The discussion continued involving various staff, concerned community members, and some of our sponsored children. In the end it was decided that the three would temporarily go into an existing group home until the seventh one opens.

Despite the seemingly unanimous support for this decision, I and a few other staff members have great concerns over the way this situation was handled. The committee failed to consult Alem or her siblings and their future was decided by a group of outraged caregivers with little information about the situation at hand. Community perspectives concerning Hope For Children matters are extremely valuable in many circumstances, but in this case I feel that intense emotions overwhelmed the group and caused them to make a rash decision that might have harmful consequences on the children in the future. These are children that have previously lost their parents to HIV and the act of being ripped away from their aunt by the entire community may prove just as traumatic.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

New Beginnings

Hello all,

I thought I would share this rather sobering, but hopeful experience with you. When I went into the office on Friday April 28 I learned that Hope for Children was going to be accepting two children, a brother and sister, who had been abandoned. Yewoinshet is intending them for the new group home HFC will be opening in the next few months. She heard about them through a friend that provides social services for children in Addis.

Salem is seven years old and her little brother Groom is 10 months. They have been living with their mother on an income of 47 Birr per month, which is less than $5.00. When their mother was unable to provide for them she lost her mind and disappeared, leaving her two children. Several families in the neighborhood looked after them after she left.

The women who had been looking after Salem and Groom had been crying for two days before we arrived. They were distraught at the situation and upset that they weren’t able to provide for the two children. They obviously cared for them deeply. Salem carried her little brother the entire time we were with her, not wanting to let him go. She made it clear that she did not want to be separated from him and told her caregivers that she wants to be the one to raise him. When Yewoinshet asked her what his name was Salem went quiet and said she had forgotten. Memory loss is a common symptom of shock and grief in children who have gone through traumatic experiences.

Before we brought Salem and Groom back to HFC we went to the house they had lived in with their mother to collect their things (see photo). The house was a tiny little shack with barely enough room for one person to stand. They had very few possessions and what they did have was not worth salvaging. It was obvious the place had been neglected by the tray of onions on the floor that looked like they had been sprouting for months. Salem located all of her mother’s official papers and passport photos, but left the rest behind. She and Groom were dressed in filthy clothes and neither of them had shoes.

On the ride back to HFC Groom sat on Yewoinshet’s lap. By the way he was clutching at her chest it was clear that he had been not been weaned off breast-feeding. Salem sat in the back seat with me clutching a scarf that had belonged to her mother, the one possession she brought along of hers. Yewoinshet had brought along some toys for her to play with; eventually curiosity got the best of her and she began to play with them a little bit.

Before we placed the children in a temporary group home we brought them to the office to get clothes, shoes, and blankets. Salem showed her first signs of delight as she was given new and clean things to wear. As we walked out of the office she was no longer barefoot and had a new confidence about her. We then drove them over to a group home where they received a very warm welcome from all the children and caregivers. Salem began to smile.

One week later:
Salem and Groom have been in a group home for one week and are adjusting very well. Salem has completely come out of her shell and is extremely playful and outgoing. She has been running around with the other kids and has started calling the group home mother, “Mama.” These are photos that I have taken of of her in the last few days. I hope this message finds you all well.
Elena




Saturday, April 22, 2006

Babile Exhibit

Hi everyone!

A few weeks ago I went with a group of people from HFC back to Babile to help with Eric Gottesman’s traveling photography exhibit. For the last six years he has been collaborating with kids from Hope for Children to document their stories and experiences. The exhibit is designed to be outside with large banner-sized photographs in metal frames that create a circle. Inside the circle is a display of smaller photographs and text. The exhibit was first shown in Awassa and it has been interesting to see how it takes on a different life in each location. Since Babile is such a small rural community it had a significant impact on the town. HIV/AIDS education is relatively new in the community (of which HFC is one of the only providers) and this was very apparent in some of the comments received regarding the exhibit. One man was outraged and demanded that he meet “HIV” to ask them why they are making these children suffer. We had to explain to him that HIV is a disease and not a group of people.

The highlight of the exhibit was the first evening after the sun went down. The exhibit officially opened with a traditional coffee ceremony around 4:30 pm. When the ceremony began there were dozens of children running around playing, not paying attention to the content of the exhibit. When the evening started to become dark we turned the coffee cups over and put candles on them to light up the photos inside the exhibit walls. This action changed the entire atmosphere. The kids settled down and began to look at the photographs and ask questions. When the questions subsided we sat in silence and enjoyed the ambiance and each other’s company.

The exhibit was up for a week, which gave us a lot of time to interact with people in Babile. Yewoinshet is a very well respected figure in the community and we were invited to meals, tea, and coffee each day. One invitation in particular was very touching and personally significant for me. We were invited to the home of two of our sponsored children. With a few of their friends (who are also sponsored by HFC) they prepared a lovely afternoon. The kids, who are between 10 and 14, had pride written all over their faces as they served us coffee, bread, and popcorn (traditional coffee ceremony food). They had a rug and pillows outside for us to sit on and brought out all the flowers and decorations they had in their home. They are at the beautiful age where they are growing into adults, but still very much children. It reminded me of the excitement I had at their age and my desire to be an adult before my time. The sad truth is that these kids (especially the girls) will, in fact, be pushed into adulthood and adult reality well before their time.

While we were in Babile Yewoinshet and I met with a group of community women to hear about the issues they and their daughters face in the community. Many young girls become pregnant or are forced to marry while they are still children. A significant number have become pregnant by traveling soldiers and are eventually abandoned when the soldiers change locations. The ones who are left behind or widowed have no other choice, but to prostitute themselves. This has become a serious problem because these young girls are working behind closed doors and are not given the traditional access to condoms and HIV/AIDS education that public prostitutes receive.

Because I always have my camera along most children ask me to take photos of them, which inevitably turns into an impromptu photo session involving many people in a variety of poses. I love these interactions because it is a way for me to connect with the kids even though I do not speak their language. During this coffee ceremony I was particularly struck by the photo exchange that occurred. The girls I was photographing were very eager to appear a certain way, which was reflected by their choice of clothing (including multiple outfits) and their poses. They posed like models and rockstars and at first I wondered why, but I eventually realized that I was doing the exact same thing at their age. I started to see myself in them, an experience that I haven’t had here in Ethiopia before. Growing up in a small Midwestern town is such a different world than their life here, especially for the children who are going through the traumatic experience of losing their loved ones. We forget that kids are also going through adolescence and the confusion and excitement of that time of life.

Although this was a small event during my time here I think it has changed my outlook on my work. Having realized that our lives aren’t as different as I thought, I feel closer to the community and a little less foreign.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hi All,

There’s not too much to report, but I thought I would write a little bit about my trip to Awassa in the Southern Region. A few years ago Eric collaborated with a number of HFC kids to produce a series of photographs and he’s now taking it around the country. The whole staff (roughly 25 people) and a bunch of kids all took a bus down there to attend the opening of the exhibit. Next week he will take it to Babile and I think I’m going to go along too:) What was supposed to be a 4-hour bus ride to Awassa ended up being 6 (due to random stopping and a long lunch break), so we livened up the trip with dancing and singing…

The exhibit was a huge success. It is made up of several large images held by metal frames arranged in a circle. Inside the circle are smaller photos and text. It was set up right on a main road and there was a constant stream of people coming to look at it. I think it really made an impact on the community. Here is a photo of a boy interacting with one of the photos.

Southern Ethiopia is gorgeous!! It is very green and luscious. There are monkeys everywhere, even outside our hotel window! I should remember all the species names (since I had to memorize them all in a bioanthro class), but I must have deleted that information from my brain for something more useful! Garias (horse-drawn carts) dominate the streets instead of taxis. They have bells attached to them, which makes for a wonderful jingling through the streets. I took one across town, but was pretty distraught by the end of it. The horses are all skin and bone and the drivers whip them so hard that they have bloody gashes all over their back end. The bus headed back the day after the opening, but I stayed an extra day to attend some meetings with Yewoinshet and Kristen. We are hoping to expand down there to conduct our HIV/AIDS education programs and open one or two group homes.

Two very poignant things happened this week concerning Hope for Children sponsors and the roles they play in the lives of those they help. We found out that a sponsor for one of our kids unexpectedly passed away. The child’s mother is HIV positive and works at HFC. She and her children had never met this man or even seen a picture of him, but when she found out that he died she broke into tears and was sobbing for days. She was telling me that she wasn’t crying because she was worried about finding another sponsor; she was crying for the loss of a man who had made such a difference in her and her children’s lives.

This week I have been helping Yewoinshet put together a sort of “visual survey” of grief reactions (guilt, sadness, fear, anger, etc) expressed by the kids. She wanted to be able to assess how they are feeling and photographs are a way to reach kids of all ages. I asked one of the drama classes at HFC to act out the emotions so I could photograph them. We then put the images on boxes and Yewoinshet has started interviewing the kids to see how they are feeling. We started with children around the age of 5 and with her second interview she got a very touching response to one of her questions. When she asked a child, whose parents had both passed away, if he felt guilty for any reason he said “No.” He said his parents lived in Sweden and they were looking after him…he was referring to his sponsors.

This last picture is of a bunch of the older HFC kids dancing at Saturday program. Many of them work for HFC or are involved in the dance and drama programs. They have amazing energy and enthusiasm for the organization and the kids.

Later! Elena

Monday, March 20, 2006

Babile

Hello!

I apologize for not getting this update out sooner. I wanted to wait until I visited our office in Babile. I was told that it is a very dynamic place and I was not disappointed to say the least! Babile is a small town in the Oromo Region (Eastern Ethiopia) where Yewoinshet was raised until she attended boarding school and where her family still lives. HFC has just recently started conducting programs there and opened its first group home a few months ago. This photo was taken as we were pulling up to Babile in our minibus.

When I was told about the town’s relationship to HIV my heart broke. Yewoinshet said that just about every family in the town has lost someone, and many have lost several. Everyone has been affected by it. To make matters worse there is a tremendous lack of knowledge and education about HIV/AIDS, but in the few months HFC has been present there has been a drastic change. Our volunteers said traffic is sometimes stopped along the roads because people are talking about HIV. This is due to the tremendous energy put forth by the peer educators and home based caretakers. Almost all of our volunteers are HIV positive and have made it their mission to educate their friends and neighbors. They go to the water sprigs, where people gather in droves every morning, set up coffee ceremonies, and begin to engage people in discussions about AIDS. In the last 3 months they have reached over 3000 people and they have just begun. Eventually they want to go out into the isolated rural areas with their message and inform as many people as possible. It was so inspiring to hear their ideas and see their enthusiasm.

While I was there I was asked to take photos of two peer educators who want to have posters made with a message about AIDS. One woman, Hirut, has two children and her message will say that you can still be a good mother even if you are positive. Another man, Mohammad, chose to have his poster say that you can still get AIDS even if you are Muslim (there is a myth that Muslims can’t become positive because they drink camel’s milk). It will be interesting to see the response from the community. These two were the first in the town to come out about being positive and they have taken a lot of heat for it.

Two of our Addis staff started a puppeteer group in Babile with some of our sponsored kids. Puppeteering is used as a way to get messages about AIDS, sex, etc across to a wide audience in a way that is engaging and entertaining. It has been a huge success in Addis and will no doubt be just as effective in Babile. The selected kids met everyday and started making the puppets from scratch. They were quite unruly at first, but by the end of the week they were completely different people. They had a tremendous sense of accomplishment from making the puppets, writing scripts, and performing them to the community on our last day. It was amazing to see how quickly they matured when they were given something meaningful to become a part of. Now they have the means and the skills to continue on their own and I’m sure they will do wonders for the community.

While in Babile I stayed with the program coordinator and this photo was taken in her compound. It was amazing to wake up to in the morning.

Babile is located in the heart of chat country, a plant that people chew to get high (from what I understand it is stronger than Marijuana, but less dangerous than Speed). Unfortunately the government encourages the growth of chat (for economic reasons) so the consumption is accepted as well. Almost everyone partakes, including local government officials and administrators. Yewoinshet is hoping to start more programs and activities in Babile that encourage people to take responsibility for their lives and bodies. She already has plans to start scouting and dance groups, two programs we have in Addis that are also very successful.

In the last week I have been busy taking photos of all the different aspects of HFC for visitors and for Yewoinshet’s various presentations. It has been a wonderful assignment for me. It is an excuse to go to different compounds and houses in Sheromeda (our area of the city) with all the peer educators, home based care givers to see what they do everyday. The peer educators go around from house-to-house to engage groups of people in discussions about AIDS. They bring bread and coffee and inform people about the virus. It is a really effective technique and the educators are wonderful. The home based care givers go to check on various HFC families and give care to those who need it.

This last photo was taken when I spent the night at one of the group homes back in Addis. Well, that’s all for now. I hope this message finds you all well!

Elena