29 Jul 2011

Why I Became a Mediterranea Member

When I didn’t have money I thought that the best thing would be to share what you have left over with people who don’t have money.  But as I was growing up and did have money I became mistrustful of NGO’s.  I had heard over the years that NGO’s were a business and that only a small part of what their members gave reached those it was intended for.  This wasn’t only rumours, some very well know NGO’s had been exposed by the media.  It seemed that there was no way to support people in far off countries without the probability of being conned.  I ended up thinking that the only thing to be done was share with people you know and look on as a passive and resigned spectator as those people in far off lands suffered from hunger, illness and bad luck.

In this way I reached my early thirties and decided to become a mother.  I ended up being the happy adoptive mother of my son who was born in Ethiopia.  The motivation I had always felt to participate in bringing a better life to those in need I now directed towards those in Ethiopia.  It was no longer a resigned and passive desire to help, I now felt an urgency to do something concrete and no longer allow time to pass, slide away, disappear.  I didn’t want to reach my end and repent all those things I had not done.

Even with this renewed motivation I continued to search but could not decide what to do.  Another Spanish mother of an Ethiopian boy told me that she had sent money to the orphanage from where she had adopted her son.  However during my trip to collect my son, I may have been paranoid but I didn’t trust the Ethiopians working in the adoption agency and I didn’t trust the director of the orphanage of my son, so for me to send money to that orphanage, to that director, was not an option.

I found over the web some NGO’s working in Ethiopia.  Some were religious and although I believe that many Ethiopians need help I didn’t feel that they should have to adopt a new religion in order to receive it.  I suppose if I would consider myself Catholic then I would think differently.  Other NGO’s gave the impression of being lost, trying to do things from a great distance in a country very different and unknown.  And when an NGO speaks of the ‘great friendliness of Ethiopia’ and it being ‘a fascinating country’ it grates on my ears.  All countries and their people have their charm but also their defects, and it is these that I like to hear about because if you ignore these then it is impossible to move forward.

This was my situation when I discovered by chance the blog of Mediterranea.  An NGO with projects in various parts of the world focused on people who need help.  And based close by in the Baleares.  I read and read and began to have the sensation that perhaps it would be the NGO that I would choose.  I liked many things: first that by reading the blog I could learn a lot about Ethiopia, the good and the bad, not only the wonderful things about the country and it’s people.  I understood that the mistrust that I had felt during my trip to Addis Ababa probably wasn’t all paranoia brought on by the exhaustion of my trip but that it could have been a real intuition of a level of corruption in a society where many times it’s difficult to get on without it.  I read that Mediterranea had faced this reality not once but many times in its efforts to fulfil it’s projects.  Some, like their cooperation with Birhan School had to be stopped because they would not accept corruption and the loss of money to people who take advantage.

Secondly, I liked that they gave not only the good and the bad but also the evolution of the projects in which the money of their members was being spent: the difficulties, the achievements and even the failures.  It is difficult to part with your hard earned money if you can’t see what this money does but here in the Mediterranea blog you can see and it gives you a lot of pleasure to spend your money in this way.

Thirdly I liked the flexibility and creativity of the NGO: if they reach a dead end with a project they leave it and use all the resources and materials on another project.  An example of this occurred recently when they were unable to move ahead with a new school for the blind when everything had been prepared, including volunteers already travelling.  They switched and reoriented immediately to an existing school that was in need of help, Sebeta.  This flexibility is possible because Mediterranea is a true NGO, ‘Non Governmental Organisation’; different to most NGO’s they receive no money from any government office and so are not ‘tied’ to projects.  They don’t have to respond to or be accountable to anyone except their own members and so are able to change course, as needs demand without having to follow long bureaucratic paths. 

Finally I liked the projects that the NGO takes on: not the sad projects of filling stomachs today that will be empty again tomorrow; not the building of classrooms that will decay because there are no teachers or books or students because they are hungry, or because there’s no one to maintain the buildings but the simple bringing of help – and if needed the filling of stomachs – to people who will be able to look after themselves when the help ends.  Collaborating with schools, where in addition to educating the children they provide food to ensure that the children can attend school, they create kindergartens as in Abugida so that mothers can work instead of begging with their babies…In addition they give work in the projects to Ethiopians that need it and not to Spanish.  The NGO has no employees; every member gives their work freely as a volunteer.  They take time and effort to make sure that the Ethiopians employed in the projects learn to do things well and later frequently supervise them to ensure that the good work continues and that the money of its members is used well and that things function properly. 

All these good things however could just have been fictional, a story created on the blog to make us members feel good and make those who have created the story rich.  But the difference to the other NGO’s is that I found on the internet and without having to look very hard the full names of the people responsible for the NGO and where they can be found in real life, everything is very clear: the person responsible for Ethiopia in Mediterranea is called Victoria Baldo, and the office that has no employees or expenses is the medical centre where she works.  She makes her living as a doctor and her trips, pleasures, sorrows in Ethiopia are not her business but something she does for free because she loves to.  And members who want can visit Mediterranea’s projects, not only finance them.  They can also participate in them as volunteers.

My search for an NGO working in Ethiopia that I liked and could trust in coincided with my search for the mother of my son.  I only had her name and didn’t know how to find her and yet had an ever-increasing urge to find her.  I wanted my son to know the mother who bore him so that he could grow up without that feeling of emptiness.  At a loss as what to do it occurred to me to write to Victoria even though I didn’t know her.  I didn’t know anyone else who knew the country and who could advise me.  Thus, very embarrassed to bother her with things that she has nothing to do with and were completely unconnected to Mediterranea, I wrote her an email.  Almost immediately she replied!  I had been thinking to become a member of Mediterranea but to discover not only that Victoria was a real person but that I was able to contact her so easily and that she was prepared to help us without knowing us was the final push that made me fill in the membership form and finally become a member.  Since then I have read with ever more interest the postings on the blog and I am very happy to form a part of Mediterranea.

Lurdes Escario - Mediterranea Member

27 Jul 2011

Diary of Ale, Abugida 4, 10 July

It is Friday and as with all Fridays the mothers of the children come to the school, according to a rota, to help with the cleaning.  At 8am they were already washing sheets, bibs, carpets…  In this way they contribute to a project that looks after their children and they themselves.  And, as you can see from the photos they do it with good humour!  As for us we continue sewing coloured belts on to the uniforms to identify the groups.  Last year it was me who insisted on individual tutorials in the kindergarten, in this way each baby identifies with one carer and each carer takes responsibility for the child and for attending, informing and listening to its families.  This year it is them that are demanding this type of organisation: lists, groups, numbers, classifications by colours…I’m delighted that they have seen the benefits of this system.  And so we continue sewing.  It is lovely, while we sew, organise, prepare the classes for the course, make lists of materials that we need…in our ‘centre of operations’ which now is the storage room, the children come to see us and eat us with their kisses.

A new boy has arrived.  His father is a beggar who is crippled with a badly formed leg and walks on crutches.  This boy, because of his age, has entered into straight into the infant’s class; thankfully the carers were able to arrange things so that he could fit into the class.  He arrived as all the others on their first day, very very dirty, in rags and with emphysema on his head.  We gave him a bath, put lotion on him, and gave him two new uniforms and also some clothes for home.  Now he looks very handsome!  In addition he had breakfast, elevenses, lunch and tea.  And of course he played, sung and made friends…

Today was the last day of school for the teachers.  Starting tomorrow they enjoy two months of summer holidays.  However, in Abugida the children don’t only learn but also receive food, sanitary care and a roof over their heads while their mothers work, this paradise never closes!  As there are two teachers in each class one of them goes for holidays and the other stays and receives double pay.  The teachers organise this between themselves.  The teachers that will be staying organise a coffee ceremony to say goodbye to the four teachers who go on holiday.  After giving today’s course we went to the market and bought baskets for the children to leave their shoes in at the front door of the classroom (there’s so much mud that we do not allow them to wear their shoes inside) and potties for the babies.

Today’s course for the carers (which was also attended by the director of the school) covered hygiene (avoiding illness, reducing contagion, making work more pleasant and keeping us more healthy) and baths (utility, groups, the way to bathe a baby, how to use bathing as an opportunity for education, precautions, gels, creams, oils, the bath and the emotional component).  We shall have to continue with this subject on Monday, as there wasn’t time to finish.  It is a long but important subject (even washing hands, cleaning the classrooms and control of nozzles…) and takes longer because we are explaining in Spanish and Zerihun has to translate everything into Amharic.  All the carers are still attending the course and showing interest with their participation, their questions and suggestions.  I am able to tell you 1000 more things from this single day, it seems that days here in Abugida last 48 hours, but it’s late and I’m tired and tomorrow I have to get up early as at 8am a little girl will come to the school who I have to take to the ophthalmist in Addis Ababa.

26 Jul 2011

Diary of Ale, Abugida 3, 9 July

Look how lovely my small E is with her mother. They are all happy! Permanently smiling! I adore Abugida, passing the day receiving hugs and kisses from everyone. Her mother is very beautiful and strong. Who could imagine it has changed their lives. No, life has arrived for them at last! It is obvious that here ‘VIH’ (HIV positive) signifies ‘Vive Intensamente Happy’ (Live intensely happy).

The new babies cried when they arrived and for some time afterwards, especially the smallest. It is normal as they have spent all their lives stuck on their mothers backs all hours of the day and we are not able, nor should we, take them in our arms too much. Bit by bit they calm down and very slowly start to investigate some of the toys… soon they will master them. The carers handle them all very well with us following behind them helping them be the best they can be. We have already marked the tracksuits in order to form groups. Red group finished! The carers told me that last summers organisation was very helpful and they achieved some good results, so we will do the same this year. I still have to number them, put photos and names on their baskets, put lists on the walls… but we are interrupted by a group of mothers of my babies from last year. They have come to give thanks to the carers of their children. You cannot imagine how moving this is. In the patio of the kindergarten they have prepared a coffee ceremony with popcorn and bread for the carers. They have made a present for each carer and even the cleaners. For Kebebuch, Beza, Selemawi and Zinash a painting. For Mulu a luminous cross! The details made by one of the mothers who hardly has enough to live on. Each one of the carers said a few words thanking the mothers for their gestures. I loved it when Kebebuch said that it had been a long time since her heart had felt anything like this and that she wasn’t expecting anything like this and that this gave her a big surge of energy to carry on working well and even better. Well, all the girls said something very beautiful. Perhaps it was that all the teachers of the school were present applauding and saying that they had never seen anything like this before. Imagine how motivating this was for the carers. I told them that for me this was more valuable than a thousand emails telling me how good they are. Today I knew for sure that they work well, that the children in the kindergarten had been happy, healthy and cared for because if the mothers thanked them (even beyond what they could afford) it was because they excelled in their work. The girls were all delighted.

More positive things. Oh what a lovely day! After the classes we started with the training course for the carers of the kindergarten. What a dream this is! As I have already mentioned we are putting on an hours training each working day to help them learn and improve. I remembered from last year that spending only ten minutes together after classes to review performance wasn’t enough so this year we have made an hour obligatory. Well, they were not only happy to attend but we also had other carers and even cleaners attend. There are six carers in our classes but we had thirteen attend the training! It was particularly satisfying that the two carers from the older classes also attended. Today’s session was about the timetable. Carol and I explained and Zerihun translated into Amharic. The carers took notes in their workbooks and also made suggestions, offered ideas and asked questions. At the end they all decided to create their own versions of the timetables using cards and felt tip pens which they will put in the classrooms. In this way they make it their own and will respect it more. It has been great to see their desire to learn and their positive attitude towards their work. It made me very happy.
As for the rest of the day, it rained intensively but at least not for the whole of the day. When it stopped we were able to go to the market in order to buy some material. If any other volunteer is thinking of coming in July or August don’t forget to bring a kagool and wellington boots. The roads are covered in mud and to get to the market is a test of balance trying not to slip and also of strength in lifting boots clogged with mud. ‘Kiremt’ is what they call the rainy season. At the market we bought some milk for the babies, some paper for the new classroom, some buckets to fill the baths, some plate scrubbers and a washtub. All of these needing some intense and not always successful negotiation, starting with ‘Senteno?’ how much does it cost? And ending with ‘Mecherreso!’ is this the last price? In between yes Messi, yes Xavi, yes Iniesta. They love to talk about football and they love Barcelona and what we like to do is make conversation to arrive at a good price! Little more to say about today, except that they all look after us very well. At all hours checking to see if we are alright. Feeding us well, today we ate pasta and tomato with the little ones, it was delicious. Alem is a phenomenal cook.

25 Jul 2011

The Messi Room at Sebeta Continues to Develop

Resumen of the first week at Sebeta for Chaveli and Conchy.
Email from Sebeta.
The truth is that the experience here in Sebeta is very intense but we are very content.  This week we have dedicated ourselves to:
-       Unpacking, making an inventory and placing all the material that we brought with us (the table football has been an outstanding success and not just with the children!)
-       To get to know the children and organise them into groups so that we can work better with them.  We have organised for each group to attend the work shop twice a day in the morning and the afternoon.
-       To form a plan of different activities for each week.  Creating small work groups for each session (for example: on the red table board games, on the yellow games of classification, on the green of series…)
-       To explain to the monitors the rules of the different games.  In this way to supply a diversity of activities so that the children acquire some basic abilities.
-       Provide the monitors certain norms of methodology.
-       Repair the notices that indicate if the workshop is open or not.
-       Create individual folders for each of the children to keep their work in.
Photo: The music teacher, who is one of the monitors who we have contracted for our workshop.

24 Jul 2011

Diary of Ale, Abugida 2, 6 July

 Today my ex babies changed classrooms, they will move up to the “melon class” which is where our room is located. So we are now neighbours. You should have seen them, they are such a scream! I hope my new pupils give me a morning off so that I can spend a day with them.  

The day has got off to a good start as Jonás, who looks after the storeroom, has decided to take care of us. He turned up in the classroom with hot water for tea or coffee and bread rolls. Very enjoyable!

Anyway, finally the NEW LITTLE TODDLERS ARRIVED!! As it was the first day I didn’t expect many would come, not until the news got around. However there was only one missing! A total of FORTY THREE sweet little children!
When I saw so many mothers with so many children I nearly fainted. We hadn’t thought about using the new classroom as we didn’t think many would turn up and we had to urgently relocate to our former “operations office” which just about says it all.  Zeri took the register at the entrance and the mothers left their children with their teachers.
Then the bawling started! Bawling multiplied by forty three. They were extremely dirty, the poor things. And they were dressed in rags. Hygiene was our first priority and we bathed them ALL. What an ordeal! They were completely scared but they gradually calmed down bit by bit. Warm bath, cream, massage with oil and clean clothes. You can imagine how good they started to look and smell.

I just could have done with a bottle of Nenuco cologne! I instantly fell in love with one of those children who attach themselves to you as if they were pieces in a game of Tetris and cry if you leave them. I almost tied her onto my back! I don’t know her name yet. Nobody knows what anybody is called! We had clothes for about 80 children so you can imagine the chaos. I kept hearing “GIRL SMALL!!, BOY BIG!!”. And if it was Carol who was asking, I would hear “GIVE ME CLOTHES FOR A PRINCESS!” Ha ha! We distributed clothes amongst the children, trying to get things to match, putting nappies on, dressing them and... mission accomplished! They looked gorgeous and really smart! 

Afterwards we gave them food and most of them wolfed it down. We didn’t do anything else with them that day, they are still in the settling in period. The mothers were delighted to find them so clean and fresh smelling, well fed and happy (they had stopped crying by then!).  I have really enjoyed seeing such lively and efficient carers who were really absorbed in their work. Of course there were some mistakes but we all make them and we will correct them as we go along. It was nothing like last year. Nobody felt stressed out, they all know that the crying only lasts for three days. They sort out the bathroom, the food, they help one another. The cleaners and cooks also came to the babies’ classroom to help out as we were carrying two little ones at a time and we couldn’t manage to hold three.

Then we had a meeting of the teaching team with Zeri and all the carers.  The day was given a positive evaluation and they all said that the time had flown by.  Good to hear! They are asking us for nappies, cups, curtains for the classroom, waste paper baskets, buckets for the bathroom, socks... We will buy what is necessary and will ensure that our little babies grow healthy and happy in the safe haven of Abugida. We have told the carers that they must attend a compulsory training course for nursery school helpers in Ethiopia every afternoon until we leave. And the response has been... can other school teachers come along too? I am amazed! Where have they got so much enthusiasm from this year? We have promised to give them a certificate in exchange. Ha ha!

When everything was finished one of the carers of the new babies (Kebebuch) went to see the melons (my little ones from last year, who have been her pupils this year). They showered her with kisses! It’s such a lovely thing to see and just shows that the little ones feel happy and secure and are growing up healthy and happy in this delightful little school.

A shower is an absolute necessity (after getting covered in so much baby pee) with cool water (the water heater is broken) and then we have to wash our clothes. It’s now raining, what a nuisance. It means that we haven’t been out, it was getting late (more than late, night time, the night falls early here), everywhere was muddy... We fancied getting some fresh air but it wasn’t possible. We stayed in and used the time to plan our duties, shopping lists and to organise the classes.

Apart from that, we’re healthy, the bugs have started biting me again so I sprayed myself with insect repellant (the bugs don’t even go near Carol ...once they’ve finished with me they’re not hungry anymore), we have a good meal, we sleep well and we are well looked after... and we know that the time, money and effort invested last summer and this summer really is productive.
Sweet kisses to you all

Diary of Volunteer Alejandra from Abugida, 3 July

Today I couldn’t get an internet connection so I just copied and pasted to what I had written on Sunday. Let’s see if tomorrow I have more luck. In general it is proving difficult to get a connection, mobile coverage and hot water. But at least it’s not raining and we are eating very well. Today, as we had foreseen there were smiles and tears. We explained to the carers that we had to change the groups, there were tears of separation, some protests and some happiness. We didn’t achieve 100% of what we had intended but took a step in the right direction. By Wednesday we had to have all the babies and infants organised into their classes with their correct carers because the course is starting. I went to the infants classroom and there found my children. I don’t think they recognised me and I still couldn’t recognise all of them. They are all lovely though, healthy, clean, happy, calm and chubby. Elizabeth is the queen of the class and is charming. My Miguel didn’t come today because he had his circumcision, poor little one! In addition there were the two pairs of very small twins that are starting the course but who we have had at the school for a while already to feed and care for them as we were worried they would not survive. Also we have the new small baby boy with cerebral paralysis who is very disconnected from his environment. As soon as the kindergarten is up and running, and I think that this year it will be easier, I shall concentrate more on this boy and the other little girl with cerebral paralysis. I am optimistic of course.

After all the confusion of the new groups we were able to do the interviews for the new carers. We saw 16 in total. Dear me what a lot we had to check: age, studies, family situation, children, experience, ideas for work in terms of activities, attitude towards HIV positive children, ability to fulfil hours of work, availability to attend training course after the classes finish, relation to the families of the children… we had to take into account a mountain of factors. Even making them sing or play on the floor with Carolina who was pretending to be a child, in order to see how they felt being on the floor and if they knew how to use the toys and if they could use them in an educative fashion… Last year we noticed that the carers were adept at providing assistance with meals, nappies, etc. but few were motivated to sing, play or teach. For this reason we were particularly looking for carers who could demonstrate these abilities. It was difficult though because they themselves had lived their childhood without toys. However amongst all of these we found two girls who we believe will be fantastic.

In the afternoon we went to Sebeta, the centre for the blind children which is half and hour or so from Abugida. The two girls from the Canaries who arrived last night, Virginia, us and Zerihun travelled over.  I was a little overwhelmed by Sebeta. The environment is nice, even better than Abugida, but the school is a horrible ghetto for these blind children, some without eyes, in a lamentable state of hygiene. The two Argentinean girls had been creating a playroom/workshop which is beautiful. The Canarian girls will remain here in Sebeta to continue with the work of Virginia and Debora. I have suggested that they prioritise hygiene before play if not the infections will create big problems (you cannot imagine how these children smell).

Returned to Abugida, ate well, prepared my report regarding the selection of the new carers and then to sleep to face another day tomorrow.