Friday, November 13, 2009

Back From Ethiopia!

I made it back from yet another, heart wrenching, heart warming and inspiring trip. A colleague of mine from Italy joined me for part of the trip and I do hope the experience of Fresh and Green Academy was as special for him as it always is for me.
We took a 2 day trip into the country side to see a national park and some animals we don't see in the city of Addis Ababa. It is also so interesting to see the people who live in other parts of Ethiopia. They have very hard lives and many are trying to get to the big city of opportunity, Addis. The children we encountered way out in the country all asked for pens to do their school work, not money. Wow!

I was able to get to know some of the mothers and children better this trip. I got a brief history of all the students and interviewed 5 of the mothers/care takers. I did that the last day of the trip and it really affected me, their stories broke my heart. At least 2 of our students are products of rape, many are abused and some have had both parents die. One of the siblings of our students was "given away"to work as a maid for a wealthy older woman who makes her living as a fortune teller. Her mother could not take care of her properly so she felt this would give her a better life. The girl lived in a proper home and had daily meals, but she also was abused. and has the scars to show for it. The mother found out but could not get her out of the home right away. Finally after a year of abuse the police stepped in and removed the girl from the home. She now lives with her mother and 3 siblings in a small room with dirt floors, attends the government school and does not eat regularly, but at least she is not being abused.

I also found out that children (hopefully not ours), inhale gasoline to curb their hunger.
Muday told me she over heard one of the children talking to her friend about how hungry she was a night but did not want to ask her mother for food because she knew they had no money. This from a 5 year old.
We are hoping to add a third meal very soon. We would like to have the students stay until 5:00pm and maybe provide music, sport, art or more English classes between 3pm and 5pm, give them another a meal and then send them home.

The school really is doing well though. We have rented an extra space to build an addition for the new upper grades and Muday got a Government loan to start it. We will need to raise more money to complete it but we are on our way!

I really miss the kids and look forward to seeing them in April! Care to join me?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Success Story!

I feel a huge part of helping our children and the academy is empowering their mothers. As I have stated before, the families a poorer than most of us can imagine through no fault of their own. Most of us in the First World see a different type of poverty. A lot, but defiantly not all, of it has been brought on by circumstances that could have been prevented. We see people in the streets who have substances abuse problems, mental illnesses or people who just want be there. (read "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Wells for a look into the latter) Fortunately most Western societies have government help for people who seek it out. Again I know this is not the case 100% of the time but in most African nations help is only available from NGO's (Non Governmental Organizations) and other small non profits such as ours.
Giving people a little boost can make all difference in the world to people and I am finding that is the case with the mothers in the cooperative at Fresh and green Academy. For the past year, along with making the jewelry that we have been selling for them in the US, they have been able to work in a small store front that had been rented for them by a very generous donor. They have been taking turns "wo"manning the store and I have seen first hand the sense of pride it gives them. While the store is not a huge money maker, it gives them something other than "where their next meal is coming from" to think about daily. Although many of the women are still struggling and some are sick and can not afford decent medical care, they have been empowered and that empowerment is priceless.

We just recently ran into the dilemma of the rent for the year bring finished and were not sure we could take on the expense of the store's rent and running the school. Fortunately we have a had new donor step up to take care of it! Thank you!
The women will be able to continue on their road to independence and show their children along way what it means to have purpose.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Final day of the road trip.

On the return drive from Lalibela a small boy ran up to our car to get us to stop. We were traveling with 3 locals, one being the driver so we had no problem with language, this boy of maybe 8 or 9 wanted a ride anywhere away from the country side he lived in. He had money and was willing to pay us to take him to a city or where ever we were going. He wanted a chance at an education and a better life. These villages or should I say small groups of huts are very remote, all be them many, and have no facilities. The people walk, who knows how many miles, to get water and supplies, and we only saw a hand full schools. Most of the children are shepherds or farmers. In fact, currently Muday has a 15 year old boy staying with her who did just what this young boy was trying to do. He left his life in the country, where he farmed, (and not with the farming tools and machines we know) and his family to live in the city to attend school. In exchange for a place to stay, he helps out at Fresh and Green Academy.
This country is in need of so much and I really think we should all support the organizations that bring water and education to the remote areas of the world. I have seen the need first hand. (Mmmm, maybe there is another project in my future) We did see some wells that had been obviously recently built by NGOs, but so many more are needed. The country side is so vast but so heavily populated and most just live off the land and if the land does not produce the people suffer greatly.

The children we saw often on the side of the roads with their animals or just walking and playing, always waved at the car as soon as they saw us coming. I am guessing that not too many automobiles travel through there. (the roads are terrible) The kids would also run to us saying "Highlander!", which is the name of a bottled water. They know that if someone is driving through they must have bottled water, and they were happy to get our empty bottles although I am sure they would have preferred a full one. We also gave out most of the food we had with us and they we all very appreciative.
I am so thankful to be fortunate enough to experience all that I have. I am constantly learning and having my eyes opened. The more this happens the more my heart is opened, though it does pain me often that I can not do more. But like I have said before if we all just do a tiny bit to help others and our world we will have a huge impact.
Tanks for reading.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Road Trip continued

Yesterday we traveled very far across Ethiopia. The land is so diverse. Up oneside down the other. Cold up top warm down below. We stoped on what felt like the top of the world, because the roads are so bad we must constantly check for flats (so far only 2) Some children came out to see what was going on and they just stood and stared. When we approached them they backed away. Usually children who see us are very friendly, I guess these particular children were not used to strange faces. We did give them sugar cane to break the ice only long enough to get some pictures. As we were leaving a woman approached us to say she needed a doctor. She was pregnant and had been so for over 10 months, she said she had had still births in the past. My heart was broken for there was nothing we could do but drive away the nearest hospital was days away and we were not going in that direction. How I wished I or someone with us was a doctor. This was my first big cry of the trip.

We did get to the churches at Lalibela and it was amazing. We were able to stay in a brand new hotel with flushing toilets and hot water ( would not have wanted to go near the shower at the first hotel even if the water was hot)

Had a great dinner of soup and grilled cheese. Even met some American tourists, very rare.
We awoke early this morning had a hot shower and headed back to the churches with our great guide. Today was the day of the cross so all the priests gathered to chant and dance at various churches. It was quite moving and I was brought to tears more than once.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ethiopia July 09

Ethiopia July 2009

Arrived on Sunday morning after traveling for 2 days to get here.  We left on Friday evening and then had a 12 hour connection time in Brussells Belgium.  We had to go that route because my mother is traveling with me and she does not get a discount on KLM which would have only given us 3 hours between flights.  We were able to spend the day in Brussells,  and got here at 6am local, Muday and Atenah were at the airport waiting.  It is always so wondeful to see them when we first arrrive.  We had a nap and then went to Salem's, Mudays cousin, house for coffee.  They are always so hospitable.  I must explain a bit about having coffee in Ethiopia.  It is quite special to be invited to someones home for coffee.  The coffee ceremony is an Ethiopian tradition and consists of food, in our case dinner, you must eat before you drink coffee, and the making of the coffee.  Being that Ethiopia is the birth place coffee, the preparation is quite elaborate.  The coffee must first be roasted over a small fire, then the beans are ground by hand while the water is boiling over that same small fire, which by the way usually has some incence burning in it as well.  The coffee is then added straight to the boiling water which is in a beautiful clay pot, and then poured into small cups with sugar in them.  We usally have about 3 cups each.  I take coffe home with me and try to add it to straight to the hot water but is some how is not the same.  Maybe drinking it with my Ethiopian friends just makes it taste better.

Things at the school are going relativly well.  The kids had their kindergarten graduation last week and were many people were there to enjoy the festivites.  The kids got their diplomas and report cards, did some traditional dancing and some dialogue in Engligh for all who attended.  There is a Saturday afternoon group of teenagers that Muday teaches values, morals and ethics to, who preformed as well.  The whole ceremony was video taped so we were able to see what we missed.  Their parents were so pruod and thankful to Muday and all the teachers for giving their children a chance at an education and better life.  

I am lying here awake at 4am listening to the rain. I can not stop thinking about all the children and their families sleeping in their home with roofs that leak, no electricity and not enough blankets to keep them warm.  I think of everything that needs to be accomplished
We stand to raise up to $60,000.00 from a festival we will be participating in this September.  I thought that would be the answer all of our needs.  

I will explain:

The school building and land is only rented.  The owner has quite a large area and rents to other businesses as well.  Muday has been operating in this space for almost nine years.  As recently as 6 months ago the space close to the school was rented by a brick maker.  The equipment used to make the bricks is quite loud nad when a government official was doing one of the many checks it does on the school he heard the noise and told Muday she can not operate a school next to the disturbance.  Muday relayed this information to the landlord and she was told that the she did not care who was there as long as she got her money, but she would not tell the brick maker to leave with no one to replace his rent and if the school had to move that was fine too, she would rent to someone else.  So we were able to talk the landlord into letting us rent the space and the brick maker was told about the government policy but for him to leave before his contract is up he wants $500.00.  The government says he must be gone by September but the contract is up in May.  Delimma number 1.

The government also does not alow upper grades (1st on) to be in the same building as the kindergarten and pre-K.  The school had first grade for this past school year so when the kids could continue to eat.  (Free education 1st-10th grade but no food available)  We are planning to add a grade every year so we can keep the current students fed and educated.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity.  We now have extra rented space to build a new building and we will have enough money to do this.  Problem is we don't want to build something nice because it is rented and it could be taken away or the rent raised.  We need to stay in the neighborhood because the children severd are here and we dont want to abandon them and the other problem is we do want to build something nice, with electricity and possibly plumbing.  There could be a solution:  The land and building right next to the school are for sale. For $50,000.00.  There goes all the money whe thought we would have to build a new building and run the school for a year without worries and invest for the future of the school.  If we could raise $100,000.00 we could be set for the time being.  Delimma number 2.

I have 3 more hours I can sleep but it has stopped raining and the dogs are now baeking and the religious chanting over the loud speaker has begun.  We will see.  Thank you ear plugs Good night!

Trish Hack-Rubinstein

President & Co Founder
Friends Of Fresh and Green Academy  

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Leaving tomorrow

We are leaving tomorrow for Ethiopia and I am far more optimistic! While we still don't have enough money to cover all the costs this month, I have received some very good news. We are going to be an official charity in the Eathdance Austin Festival! We stand to benefit greatly from this blessing from the Universe. Our future is looking bright, thanks to all of the wonderful people who believe that we really can make a difference.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Going back to Ethiopia in July

I will be going back to Ethiopia next month and I am worried we will not have enough money. It is harder than I thought it would be to raise money consistently. I have been a volunteer for as long as I can remember, but always for pre-existing organizations. I have worked on various fundraisers, made some money and then did not worry about how that particular organization gets its money the rest of the year. I was not seeing the big picture. I am constantly trying to think of new ways to raise money. While prospectively we don't really need a lot of money to run the school (it will be $2,000.00 a month soon), it is not easy for a small organization like ours to bring in that amount monthly.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Every day I thank God for all I have and how lucky I am.
At this moment I am on one of the many vacations I get to take every year. I have been in Cape Hatteras for the past 6 days just living it up in the sun and surf; eating and enjoying life with my husband and some of our closest friends. I do think of my friends and the children at Fresh and Green Academy every day though and I feel it is so unfair that don't get to enjoy the same things I do. Maybe I am being presumptuous thinking they would even want to, but I do think they would like to know they will be eating every meal every day and will have a warm bed to sleep in without the rain coming in through the cardboard walls. There is a little girl I think of often who is in the hospital. She has been badly burned and has been there for over 2 weeks now. They say she will be ok but I wonder what the public hospital in Ethiopia's idea of ok is. Please keep her in your prayers and be thankful for all you have.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I know Times are Hard Now Here but Times are Always Hard in Ethiopia

Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the right thing. What have I gotten myself into? I then look at the pictures, the faces of the children, their eyes show me a glimpse of their soul. They are innocent and must depend on others for not only their future but their present survival.

I know I am doing the right thing.
We started this endeavor not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. We knew nothing of incorporation, non profit, 501c3; we only knew our hearts had been touched and there was no turning back. Only just a bit over one year ago I a was volunteer hoping to make a little difference in the lives of some African children, now I lose sleep sometimes wondering how we are going raise enough money for them to eat 2 meals a day.We all know times are hard around the world right now and people don't have extra money to give away, so "Friends of Fresh and Green" must work even harder.  People are always reminding me of this fact but I can not tell the children "do you mind not eating for a few years the economy is really bad right now".  This is the time we have to really remember things could be a lot worse.  We can still help others.

There will always be people less fortunate then us and if they can smile, so can we.

Thank you for your help in feeding the children.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Are We Really Helping? I think yes!

Traveling to third world countries can be extremely overwhelming for many of us who are fortunate enough to be part of that 28% of the world that lives above the poverty level. We tend to forget that many people in this world don't know where their next meal is coming from or when it will even be. When reality is thrown into our faces, by choice or circumstances, we can be taken by surprise in our reactions. Some of us go into denial, turn a blind eye, others of jump right in and try to help and still some are overwhelmed with sadness and a sense of uselessness.

No matter how we feel and weather we choose to ignore situations or not, they still exist. Where we are born does not dictate our worth as human beings. Whether we are rich, poor, light skinned, dark skinned, male, female, or anything in between, we all have the same universal needs. Love, food and water are only a few of those needs that should not be hard to obtain but some how they are for many.

If I can help just one person in this world to achieve some of those basic needs, I know I have made a difference. I am learning that I can not save the whole world or even one small community, but I can do a little, and sleep better (sometimes) knowing I have tried.

I once read a quote that went something like "The biggest mistake was made by the person who did nothing because he was afraid he could only do a little"

So just do a little and feel good about it. And don't forget to thank your mom.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Successful Trip

We returned on Saturday night from our most resent trip to Ethiopia. The kids seem to be doing well but some of the mothers, not so much. We went to visit 2 of the mothers at their homes who were very ill. They had both been in bed for 2 months and one is HIV pos. We took them to the hospital the very next day after our visit. I just cant let someone lay sick in bed when I have the means to care for them. Some of our very generous volunteers left them money for their rent ($10.00 & $15.00 a month) and food also. One of the mothers will be alright and was given medication the other, (HIV pos) was told to go home, rest and eat well. I was told that was a bad sign and she may not make it. Her husband died last year of AIDS and she has 4 children, 2 of which attend Fresh and Green and 2 older children who take turns staying home from school to care for her. Please keep them in your prayers.

We did get a floor put in the kitchen and some long needed stairs added to the entrance. Again, thank you to our most generous volunteers. Thanks to their donations we had enough money to cover the school costs for April and catch up on rent we had fallen behind on due to lack of funds and take care of the school maintenance.

To be continued............

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Rio Grande Ate My Gucci

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted more than I have had.  When I passionately wanted something, I would work as hard as could to get it.  But most things I just wished for.  I had only wants, rarely desires and never real needs.  I am not sure where those feelings came from.  I grew up in the upper middle class and attended private schools with some extremely wealthy families, I became an International Flight Attendant and have traveled to many places people only dream of and I live in New York City.    I have seen the "good life". (although I know now, money a good life does not make.)  Through luck and circumstance I have stayed in 5 star hotels and eaten at fine restaurants.  Are these the reasons or is it just the American way to always want more?

I do believe God, the Universe, a higher power or something is trying to tell me (and the rest of the world) something.  Fortunately, and just in time, my way of thinking as changed.  Thanks to my involvement in Ethiopia, as I have stated before, I realize I don't need so much.  We also are witnessing at this time how greed can hurt us all.  
And last week one more message was sent to me.  I had purchased a pair of Gucci sunglasses 2 years ago (they were half price) and was wearing them on my head while taking a picture on a bridge 650 feet above the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.  Well they fell off my head and down, 200 meters!  

The Rio Grande ate my Gucci and I am happy to have made the offering!

Monday, February 16, 2009

My thoughts for today

I just returned from an amazing 10 day ski trip in Utah! We had great snow, 2 feet of powder!
As we paid our $60 a day for a lift ticket I could not help but think of what that money can do for the kids and families of Fresh and Green Academy. ($60.00 is two months salary for a teacher at the school!) I often feel guilty for what I have when approximately 72% of the world lives in poverty. How did I get so lucky? (and I am hardly wealthy) For most people living in poverty, their only aberration was being born in a certain country. I know I am doing what I can to help and that is really all that is expected of me, but I look around realize I have so many things. I have purchased items frivolously that I have no need for and I feel ashamed. My friends in Addis Ababa seem to only need food, shelter, and a means to take care of themselves and their family. They have little in the way of material possesions, but they have dignity. (I ask myself, Do I?)

I try not to judge, but in theses times when the US is not quite on the high financial horse it was once ridding, I can't help but think that our priorities became marred somewhere along the way. I hope we can soon revert back to simpler times, when $10,000,000.00 apartments and private jets were not what was needed to make us feel like somebody. We should be proud of what we do, not what we have. I would like to see us look out for one another, not just our bank accounts. We are in a global crisis and we need to take stock in what really matters in our lives. We need to realize that we are not on this earth alone, and we should all do what we can (every little bit counts) to help our neighbors throughout the world.

Well that is my two cents for today. (which will buy a piece of gum in Ethiopia)

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A New Year

I am really looking forward to a New Year. Things got so bad for so many in 2008 that I believe things can only get better. I do still feel like we are so very lucky for all that we do have. So many people here in New York have lost jobs and that is terrible but I at least we have a right to education and a means to eat. We still have soup kitchens and welfare. I think of the friends I have in Ethiopia who do not have access to any thing like that and have to rely on hand outs daily.

I am so proud of the mothers that have formed a cooperative. They are volunteering at the school, (cooking and cleaning) making jewelry and working in a store that was donated to them to use for a year. They take turns selling items such as sugar, soap, water, and other nnecessities to the neighborhood residents. Their jewelry making is improving all the time and I have been selling it here in the US. I have been able to send over $600.00 back to them. The director of the school, Muday, has had them all (22 mothers) open bank accounts and she pays them in salary form instead of just giving them all the money at once, so they can budget. Most of them have never had a steady income in their lives.
On my last trip we brought about 250 small sets of sheets donated by an airline. What was not used on beds was made into clothing by the moms. I was so impressed!

The children are doing well. My partner Tim is on his way there now and a friend from Rome is there now as well. We got a donation of a mouth model and they will be using it to teach them how to brush their teeth. The traditional way to clean teeth in Ethiopia is with a special stick they have there, but the kids are now drinking powered milk that contains sugar so I am afraid the stick is just not enough any more.

I am planning to go back in April and can't wait. My husband will be going with me and I couldn't be happier. I am so excited for him to meet my new friends there and see what has become such an important part of my life.