I have learned a great deal being a military wife. One of my most coveted and admired of the acquired skills? My ability to cram an inordinate amount of stuff into the teeniest of containers. I am competitive by nature, so when the USPS drops the phrase, "If it fits, it ships", I take it as a waving red flag. I remember taking several care packages to the USPS counter and receiving the "What in God's name is in here, woman?!" look as the clerk hefted the box onto the scale. Whether it was being sent to my husband, a friend's husband or a service member we'd adopted, but had never met, I packed it TIGHTLY.
Next week, my care package for a completely different purpose will be headed to Ethiopia. Much different than others we've sent there, but as significant in my heart as any we've every packed.
Meet Feleke and her sons.
I am almost positive I wrote about beginning our affiliation with this organization, but I couldn't find it for the life of me when I reviewed my archives.
Feleke is a mom in Ethiopia who is the head of her household. In Ethiopia, that is a precarious position for a woman to find herself. It puts her and her children at risk for many things and none of them good.
I learned of an organization called Because Every Mother Matters (BEMM) through an adoption blog ages ago. Later, I saw them on Facebook and "liked" their page. I began watching the updates coming from this group and when they launched a sponsorship program for Moms, I was intrigued. We took the leap in the fall to sponsor a Mom in the program. When I saw Feleke's story, I knew she was the Mom for us.
Feleke's husband left when their youngest turned one. She lives on the side of a mountain in a remote spot. The BEMM sponsorship program aims to find families to sponsor moms like Feleke who need to find some way to support their families. When they first visited Feleke to orient her to the program, she was not yet sponsored. The program was able to provide her with the equivalent of half a month's worth of sponsorship funds. She told them she wanted to start her own business of selling vegetables to those in her vicinity. To have vegetables, her neighbors have to go down the mountain and come back. By removing that step for her neighbors, Feleke hoped to capitalize on her willingness to go and return with the goods.
Two days later, when the organization's in-country staff were headed back down to their offices, they made a return visit to Feleke. She had already started her business with part of the money they had given her! The following month when we received our first update on her, she had made 200 Birr (the Ethiopian currency) in profit and had purchased two chickens with that profit. Her early success touched me so much that I cried.
Deep in my heart, I believe that if our youngest daughter's mother had been in touch with a program like this, she never would have married the abusive stepfather that started our daughter down a dark path of abuse and trauma. I don't think she would have ever felt that her only choice was to put her daughter up for adoption. And, I don't think it would have ended with a very broken little girl fighting tooth and nail to destroy the happiness in this family only to find herself moving on to try and find someone she could bond with productively.
I couldn't save my daughter while she was in our home. Whether or not our decision to relinquish her to a second family will be the best decision remains to be seen. I don't want any other mother to face the decision her birth mother did. Moreover, I don't want any other family to find themselves in our situation either. I would much rather support Feleke and raise awareness of other families' abilities to do so than sour on helping anyone anywhere. For so long we felt so helpless to be heard or do anything, but now? I feel like we are making a difference in a way that could be felt in Feleke's family for generations to come.
The organization's founder and others travel to Ethiopia twice a year. They are headed there this month and we are allowed to send a care package. All we send must fit in a gallon Ziploc. Now...they are talking to a lawyer, so the fact that they didn't say the Ziploc had to zip? Well, that provides me some leeway. Normally, I wouldn't buck that system, but I have things I want to send and I just can't get it zipped.
First, I am sending bowls. I want these collapsible ones, but I could not find them tonight. I will drive to Cincinnati this weekend to the Container Store and pick some up--I will call first, of course--but that would make a huge difference in my ability to zip! They seem like they are a nice size when opened and, when closed, I might be able to get them in there (especially if I can put smaller ones inside larger ones).
I like the idea of her being able to collapse them and put them inside something to carry them down the mountain, fill them up with her veggies and then tote them back up the hill. It could also help her collect water for her chickens or store things and keep bugs out of stuff.
Second, I am sending her one of these awesome RuMe (Reuse Me) bags. I discovered these on Zulily last year and I don't know what I'd do without mine. They are awesome. They fold down to be smaller than a pair of socks, they are washable and they hold a ton!
I use mine every day to carry my books, my umbrella, my planner, my Mac & cord, and anything else I need to lug to the office.
I thought Feleke could use this for any number of things. Not the least of which would be toting her bowls full of vegetables up her mountain. You could even put your next live chicken purchase in there, I bet. Or, carry all the things aside from the chicken so that you could keep a good grip on the chicken's feet and lug it upside down or under your arm(for some reason, that's one thing I remember about Ethiopia). They are made by a fair trade shop in Korea, so it's a doubly good bonus sending this on to another mom.
I also have a rubber scraper for her to use. I thought that would be handy for any number of things--everyone needs a good rubber scraper. With the bowls, it could help her with food prep and any number of other things.
There is a small notebook and mechanical pencils for her to keep notes or business records for herself. I also socked in over a half dozen wash cloths.
For the boys, I sent some colored chalk and two packs of crayons. If I can get the collapsible bowls, there is a very good chance I will be able to put in one of the two doodle pads I purchased for them so they have somewhere to use their crayons.
I loved Ethiopia when we had a chance to go there. After everything fell apart in our home, I never thought I'd have a desire to go again. Ever. But now, with Feleke there, I feel like I would have a wonderful reason to go again. To lay eyes on her, to kiss her face, to hug her & her kids and to see her making her way would mean so much to me. I would hope it would mean something to them as well.
At 40, I'm much better equipped to do it. I can be dirty, smelly, unshowered and still feel pretty okay. I can pack lightly. I can eat strange food with the best of them. And, I could go into that mission with a deep understanding of how very important supporting these moms and their at-risk families truly is. I think before our three year commitment to Feleke ends, I will find myself on a plane to Ethiopia again.
Once again, a person should never say "Never."