When I found out that I was traveling back to Ethiopia with Addis Jemari to see the AJ Family Empowerment Program for the first time, I was thrilled! I had been an advocate for the program and had been talking about it with so many of my family and friends for several months. I was ready to see the place with my own eyes. God laid it on my heart to give the kids an experience of some kind. I wanted them to be treated to a day that they would never forget and neither would I. Since one thing that we wanted to do was share the gospel with the kids, I felt like a relationship-building experience with them was an important component to doing that since Ethiopia is such a relational country. I reached out to Cindy and asked her for ideas and for an idea of what the cost would be. We decided on a trip to Unity Park, a brand new state-of-the-art park in downtown Addis Ababa. After finding out the amount of money needed to take 23 kids to this park, along with the AJ staff and ourselves, I reached out to my friends and family to help raise the money. Within 2 days, the whole amount (plus more) was collected, and plans were made to go on July 30. It’s neat to see the support of so many come together for a project like this. #bettertogether
The morning of the trip day, there was a buzzing excitement when we reached the FEP Center. The kids were dressed nicely because it was a big day and they were so thrilled to be going on this adventure. Prior to us leaving, Cindy (the Executive Director of Addis Jemari) told the kids that this was THEIR day. She wanted them to “forget all that you worry about and enjoy the day.”
She then surveyed the 23 kids. We discovered that most had never gone out of their neighborhood, none had been to that park, and most had never eaten at a restaurant. These things are hard for an American mom to fathom. After a prayer for safety by one of the older boys, 23 kids and six adults boarded either a coaster (larger van/bus) or a regular-size van and headed to the park. I boarded the bus with the kids and couldn’t stop smiling the whole 45-minute drive because of their pure joy!
When we arrived at the park, we went through security and had a tour guide give the kids a run-down of the park, complete with fold out maps that the kids tried to understand, but mostly used for an umbrella, because it started to down pour rain during our visit. We were able to tour the palace and prison and learn so much about Ethiopia’s rich history. We even were able to see live animals, such as the Black Mane Lion, which is only found in Ethiopia. The kids had never seen an aquarium and thought it was a TV screen. All the new experiences enriched both our lives as well as the children’s lives. There was a playground in Unity Park which the kids enjoyed but then it was time to leave and get lunch. We walked the kids down the busy streets and went to WOW Burger and everyone got a large burger or veggie sandwich with a big pile of fries and a coke bottle to drink. We all ate until our hearts and bellies were full. It was a fun, exhausting day for everyone that none of us will ever forget. I was so blessed by the kids’ laughter throughout the day. It reminded me of how resilient kids are to their current circumstances. They deserve to still be innocent kids and enjoy all the best things that make up a childhood.