Saturday, May 17, 2014

HOME

Being a world traveler by profession for more than half my life (aka, flight attendant), many times "Home" has been were I hung my hat, or uniform if you will. But what does home mean? The place we sleep at night, where we live, where our family and friends are, where we feel safe.

As I was riding the subway yesterday after having been out all day in the pouring rain with a huge load of items needed for our upcoming "Dancing With the Stews" fundraiser and feeling like I couldn't get home fast enough, a man rushed to the subway and said "I am always rushing to get home, I can't wait to get home".  I couldn't help but think about the homes our children at Fresh and Green Academy don't rush to get to.

You see the children, when they are at school from 8am to 5:30 or 6:00pm, are safe, fed, and happy. It's when they go home and are not under the watch of Muday and her caring staff, that the kids are at risk.

I spoke with Muday earlier in the day and she told me one of our little kindergarten boys had been raped by a man in the neighborhood. It turns my stomach and fills my whole body with pain just to write this. This is not an isolated case either. We have a 9 year old girl who is in constant pain and has trouble walking due to her recent fistula surgery because she was raped by a worker in the home she and her mother and sister were staying. The mother worked there as a domestic.

The majority of the homes our children live in are not like the homes most of us know. There are no windows, no electricity, no pluming, or indoor toilet, and no sturdy locks on the door. It is basically, flimsy, 12 x12, corrugated tin walls and a roof with a mattress that the whole family sleeps on. If the mothers are not part of the cooperative at the school, they are usually out trying to make money to feed themselves and their families in anyway they can, which often leaves young children alone and vulnerable to rape. If that is not bad enough, often the rapist is a family member!
So it can really be hard to keep the children safe.

Muday has taken in several children who were living in such unsafe situations but we don't have the resources or finances to guarantee the safety of all the children after school hours. This is why a big part of the Friends of Fresh and Green vision is to build a new school with a boarding facility.

Boarding schools are not permitted inside the Addis city limits, so to build our dream school it will have to be done far from the current school. We had hoped to purchase the land the school currently sits on but the deal fell through. I do feel everything happens for a reason and I always felt if it were meant to be it would happen, it was just very disappointing when it didn't. So maybe the boarding school can still happen. It will take a lot of money to relocate but I believe nothing is impossible.

I will continue to dedicated my life to giving these children a safe home on top of the food and education so many of us have helped to provide already.

One day the children will be safe and happy at "Home".

Friday, March 22, 2013

Four Years of Darkness

Can you imagine being in the dark for the fist four years of your life?

That is exactly how Yesuneh Aserat spent his first years.
Yesuneh may have been born with a learning disorder and his uneducated mother did not know how, or want to deal with it so she left him in their one room dwelling, which has no electricity, plumbing or windows. Being malnourished herself, she had little to offer in the way of nourishment to any of her children. She did not take him with her outside so he literally was left alone in the dark by himself until the age of four. That is when he came to Fresh and Green Academy.

Unfortunately, Yesuneh’s story is not that unique. There are millions of children in Ethiopia who are malnourished, abused, homeless and unloved by anyone other than God. This is why Muday has answered her calling turn her school into a haven for these children and I have found my calling to help her. Muday Mitiku started Fresh and Green Academy in 2000 as a private kindergarten but soon turned it into free school for some of Addis Ababa’s poorest children.

On a volunteer trip in 2008, I fell in love with the children, their families, Ethiopia, and Muday so I founded Friends of Fresh and Green Academy Inc. In those five years the school has grown to serve 140 children age 3 to fifth grade and provide three meals a day. We also help their mothers through the promotion and sales of their hand crafts made at the school.

But back to our story. Because of Muday’s generosity, people in the community are seeking her out for help and are constantly trying to enroll their students in the Academy. (If we took in every student who’s family asked, and was qualified, we would have thousands of students by now.) While we would love to admit every student that approached the school, we just don’t have the funding. (We are  a small grassroots organization that provides all the funding for the school.) Muday usually has her staff tell the destitute families who come by, that she is not in and there is no room. Her heart breaks every time she turns someone away, but the day Yesuneh’s aunt brought him in, and she heard the story from her office, she could not turn her back on him.

So now we have the added expense of a full time nurse/therapist, diapers and the extra food he needs to bring him back from what the neglect has done to him.
He does not see although he has been to doctors who say that physically, there is nothing wrong with his sight, it is a mental problem.
He is learning to walk but his muscles have atrophied, so this is not an easy task either.
We now have an added $300 month expense on top of the $4,000 we already must raise each month to feed the 140 children three meals a day and run the school.

The great thing is, he now receives love and attention that is priceless.

video

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fresh Water Comes to Fresh and Green

Water
A basic necessity most of take for granted every day is a luxury for the majority of people in Ethiopia.
Drought and politics are two leading causes of water shortage. A study conducted by Water.org found that "42% of the population has access to a clean water supply" and only "11% of that number has access to adequate sanitation services"

Many of the students at Fresh and Green Academy suffer from intestinal problems due to the quality of the municipal water at the school and the stream water many of the families use at home. There was also a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A at the school that was thought to be caused by contaminated water.
This should no longer be a problem, thanks to the generosity of "A Child's Right" and their donors, Fresh and Green Academy now has clean drinking water, triple purified to kill 100% of harmful bacteria. The students will drink clean water at school and will also be taking water home for the rest of their families.

Friends of Fresh and Green Academy, along with the help of others is making the Keteme neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia a better place to live.







Thursday, October 6, 2011

Human Trafficking Hits Home

Being an international flight attendant brings me many opportunities. One being my calling in Ethiopia. Another perk of my job is the exposure I have to a multitude of hotel rooms around the world and in those rooms I often watch CNN International. Currently CNN is running a campaign on stopping human trafficking. I have to admit, I was not aware of the many means humans are trafficked. I was under the impression it was mainly women and children being kidnapped and forced into the sex trade. I have learned that it is so much more than that and that some of our mothers in the "Friends of Fresh and Green Mothers Cooperative" have fallen prey to trafficking.
We work very hard to sell the Mother's goods and we send the group, which consists of fifty women, 100% of the money made but it is still not enough for them to feed their children who do not attend Fresh and Green and themselves and pay the $20-$25 a month rent. So a few of them have gone to work in Yemen and other Gulf countries to work as live in domestic help. They feel this is the only way to provide a better life for their children, who are left behind in Ethiopia.
Unfortunately four such children have had to leave Fresh and Green to stay with family outside the area of the school. These children may not be attending school or eating regularly the way they were while with us.
The other major issue with these women leaving is the abuse many suffer.

While I was told stories of abuse I thought they were isolated situations, I did not understand how wide spread and severe the situation really is. Human trafficking is hitting very close to home!

If you would like to donate to the Mothers Cooperative visit our website. We will also be featuring some of the items the mothers create on our site very soon.

www.friendsoffreshandgreen.org


Below is an excerpt from a story by Marina de Regt of the Netherlands, that explains the situation well.



Ethiopian women increasingly trafficked to Yemen
by Marina de Regt

Few know about the large numbers of Ethiopian women who migrate to the Middle East to take up domestic work.

“May what happened to me not happen to you,” begins a letter sent to Gebetta, a magazine for Ethiopians in Yemen. Many women have written to Gebetta with testimony of how they were trafficked to Yemen to be employed as domestic workers. They speak of deception, isolation, maltreatment, heavy workloads, unpaid salaries, confiscated passports and physical and psychological abuse. Many regret ever deciding to leave and advise other women not to follow in their footsteps. But the flow of young Ethiopian women desperate to improve their lives and those of their families continues to grow.

Until the early 1990s few Ethiopians – except those of Muslim/Arab origin – were interested in going to the Middle East. After the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Mengistu Haile Meriam in 1991, Ethiopians were given the right to free movement. Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have subsequently become major destinations for Ethiopian women in search of a better future.

Even a relatively poor country such as Yemen attracts many female Ethiopian migrants who take up paid domestic work. Changing family structures, the increased educational levels of Yemeni women, the growing number of employed women and changing attitudes towards domestic work explain the increased demand for domestic labour in Yemen. Socio-cultural constraints prevent Yemeni women from working as domestics – so migrant women meet the demand. Wealthier Yemenis prefer to employ Asian women but middle-class families predominantly employ Ethiopians because they are available and seen as good domestic workers. Somali refugee women also work as domestics but, unlike Ethiopians, do not generally ‘live in’.

Many Ethiopian women come to Yemen on tourist visas and find work via relatives and friends. Those illegally recruited by agents and employed on a contract basis are particularly vulnerable. All of the many recruitment agencies that arrange Ethiopian women’s employment as domestic workers to the Middle East are non-registered, they can be considered traffickers. Women are approached by the traffickers themselves or are introduced to traffickers through friends, neighbours and relatives. Trafficked women themselves are sometimes even involved in recruiting other migrants. Traffickers are often either of mixed descent – having a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother ­– or areYemenis born or brought up in Ethiopia. The Yemeni authorities lack the capacity to control the activities of illegal recruitment agents and it is often the case that traffickers are able to use influence with people in power to ensure that any legal actions against them are halted.

Women who have borrowed money from the agent or broker may end up in debt bondage, required to work long periods before they are able to pay off their debts. Many women have great difficulty leaving their employers and agents and physical abuse is common. Employers and agents often confiscate the women’s passports and forbid them to leave their place of employment unaccompanied. This makes it impossible for women to look for better jobs, to escape or to have contact with other Ethiopians. Trafficked women may, however, become aware of their rights and decide to run away and find better jobs. Some families therefore prefer to employ young rural Ethiopian women as they are thought to be more malleable and less likely to leave. As a result, traffickers in Ethiopia are purposely recruiting young uneducated women from poor families in rural areas, convincing them with stories about high salaries and educational opportunities. 


Please spread the word, tweet and post to your Face Book page. We can not ignore what happens to our fellow humans, we are more connected than we realize.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Soul Server

Time and time again I talk about how fortunate I am to know I am on the path that was intended for me. It may get old, but I truly feel it to be.

I just watched the movie "Soul Surfer" for the second time. (The first time was in Ethiopia) It is a very inspiring movie. The true story of a 13 year old girl who had her arm bitten off by a shark and how she found the strength to return to surfing and carry her message to the world. This girl happened to have a very strong Christian upbringing and an emense faith in God and Jesus.

I too feel I have a very strong "spiritual" side and it is getting stronger every day. I do not necessarily believe that there is any one religion, or maybe any at all that will "save" me or bring me to heaven. I feel our higher power will take care of us regardless because he/she/it is good, not because we are. I also believe that all religions are based on goodness and it is people that get confused. I know my Higher Power has led me to Ethiopia and I am doing the work not for myself but for the greater good. I am just a vechiel for that good.

I often struggle to do the job the universe has assigned me to the best of my ability. It is not always an easy task, but that is the way of the universe, life is not always easy. I am sure Bethany Hamilton (The "Soul Surfer") did not think her job of loosing her arm and carrying God's message was easy either.

I sometimes find it hard to believe that I have been trusted with such and awesome feat. But somehow I have, and I do not want to let the children, Muday, and my HP down. Many days I am stressed to the point of stomach aches worrying about how I am going to get the money to feed the children each month but somehow it always works out. Fornutatly, the Universe has sent the help of some very special people as well.

I believe we are all working as one to make the world a better place and I am happy to do my part.


Friday, July 15, 2011

How Peace Came to Be

by  Trish Hack-Rubinstein

I am blessed and honored to be able to help the wonderful children at Fresh and Green Academy. I have grown to love all of them and their families as well. I consider the director, Muday, one of my closest friends, the sister I never had.
Recently I was given the highest complement I could ever receive. I was asked to be the God Mother of Muday's newest baby and apparently that means naming the child as well.  I was so touched but at the same time pretty stressed out. (I actually thought, and kind of hoped she was kidding about the naming part.) Gregg and I do not have our own children so I have never had to contemplate what it takes to name a child.
I, of course, wanted the name to be meaningful and beautiful while respecting culture.
I looked up Ethiopian names, and enlisted the help of friends and family. I sent a list to Muday to choose from and in return, I got am email saying "you have to choose, even if it is an English name".
The stress mounted, I could not sleep. At this point the baby was a few days here on Earth already and she had no name. I wanted it to be perfect of course, I did not want to let my friends down.

Sooo... I turned it over to the Universe/God/Higher Power, if you will. I wrote a request for a name on paper and put it a very special box. Two days later, while getting on the subway to go to work an amazing feeling came over me. I started to cry and knew I had her name.
Shanti!
The word is Hindi for peace. I also offered my middle name, Lynn, which means waterfall in Gaelic. It was also the name of my Grandfather and Uncle who have both passed, as well as a childhood friend of mine who passed when we were teenagers and whom I believe to be one of my Guardian Angels.

I am so grateful for where I am in life and for the friends I have.

I have found "Peace" in Ethiopia.


With my great friend Muday, while she was pregnant.
Shanti!

With two of my great loves, Shanti and Gregg.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Shift in Consciousness

Friends of Fresh and Green Academy Inc. has been in existence for over three years now and the change I have witnessed has been unbelievable. The change in my life has been pretty amazing too.
We have gone from three Flight Attendants who did not have a clue as to how to run a non profit to a small board of professionals with the connections to help us with what we have yet to learn.
I have read lots, attended seminars, done research, asked questions, and have received tons of advice. I am also currently taking a course on non-profit law and ethics by some highly respected people in the non-profit world.
I have finally learned how to ask for help and what kind of help actually is needed. 


I have begun a daily meditation and yoga practice that has truly helped center me. I still stress out a lot but I am better able to handle it. I can only do so much and as long as I am doing the best I can, the Universe will take care of the rest.


I have had some very spiritual moments lately.
-While at the school, I felt a moment when everything was in perfect order.  Dr. Gregg was adjusting the children, Lyuba was teaching yoga to the pre-schoolers, Elyse was working on a press release and Muday and I had just gone over the books.  I walked outside and I had an overwhelming feeling of joy.  All was right with the world at that exact moment.
-While on vacation in the Outer Banks of NC, I was making a point to not check my email before my morning routine. (when I do it seems to throw off my whole morning) So I went for a run, meditated, and did some yoga.  After my morning self care I finally checked my email on the iPhone.  I received the best news! We had done an online interview with CNN Online and the story was out!  We had such great response. I was answering emails for the next two days and watching the donations roll in. This was great exposure for us and it has gotten us some more child sponsors and a proper water purification system will soon be installed!


Things are going wonderfully and while it would be great to get that one big donation to take our worries away, I am very happy with all the support large or small. I trust that things will be what they will and am enjoying the journey.