The day we walked through the dump I knew we were going to give food to the boys who lived there. But you just can't prepare yourself for something like that. You can't understand the stench, the filth, the grime that these boys live in until you see it. Until the smell hits your nostrils and turns your stomach. Until you try to scrape off layers of muddy filth from hands that have been searching through the garbage for unfound "treasures".
Until you struggle to see what's in front of you because of the hoards of flies buzzing all around. Until you step in the excrement that is everywhere. Until you take in the faces of the ones who live in it all day every day.
My friends Yemamu and Sisay who grew up scavenging in this dump, intentionally continue to walk through it to find children just like the ones they met above. They want to bring them into the feeding program they run and help provide for their basic needs and education. Understand that NO ONE goes into the trash dump if they don't have to. But Yemamu and Sisay choose to go. They no longer have to, but they are compelled. Much like Jesus who went to the forgotten, the outcast, the people deemed worthless - the least of these. He sought them out. There was something precious Jesus saw in the people that the world had turned their backs on. And let me tell you, there is plenty that is precious about the boys above too.
We took these 12 boys who live in the garbage dump back to the Hands for the Needy center to profile them for the program. I want to protect their exact identities, but here are just a few snippets from some of their stories...
Boy #1: Not in school. He and his father live at the trash dump. Mother was murdered. His father had to relinquish his other 5 children to government orphanages because he could not afford to care for them. This boy wants to go to school and be a doctor.
Boy #2: Not in school. Has a mother but is not living with her because she is a beggar and lives on the street. He wants to be a pharmacist.
Boy #3: Age 16. His parents died when he was 5 and he lived on the street. He lives at the dump now and from what he makes from the metals he collects there, he pays for himself to go to school. He wants to be a teacher.
Boy #4: Age 14. He stopped school last year. He has a mother who lives in Korah but he left to go live at the dump because she was abusive, but he wants to go back home and live peacefully with her. He wants to be a teacher.
Boy #5: Age 11. Not in school. His parents died when he was a young child. He has had no one to care for him and has lived in the trash dump ever since. He wants to be a doctor.
As we heard from these boys, each of their stories was more raw and painful than the last. Yet the way these boys cared for each other was beautiful and amazing. Talk about a sense of community and brotherhood...these boys had it. But as a mom I just wanted to gather them all up and hug them and never let go.
The boys find everything in the dump - including their clothing. They find clothes, wear them for two weeks, then throw them back in the dump once they find "newer" clothes. It's disposable clothing in the truest sense of the word. And their shoes...
NONE of their shoes fit them, and few of them actually matched. They just used what they could find. I think about all the sharp things I encountered in the dump and I look at the flimsy plastic boot on the boy above and I cringe. Everyone on my team did. So, we decided to do something about it.
We decided to pack up all twelve boys into a taxi along with our whole crew for a total of 22 people in this small "bus". It was hilarious...you can watch a video of us piling everyone in HERE. And we took all 12 boys to the Mercado to buy good, sturdy shoes that actually fit them. On the way, some of the boys from the dump discovered the wonders of my iPhone. :) By the end of the bus ride I got an error message from my iPhone that it needed to "cool down" because it was overheating from use. :)
We got to the shoe store. I'm not sure there are words to describe the looks we got when walked in. At this point, the boys were still in their clothes from the dump. It was their first time in a store ever to purchase something for themselves. All of us looked a little bewildered at where to start, including the staff. We did the boys by groups - youngest first then the oldest. It was seriously so fun to watch their faces as they waited to be fit. Let's just say we brought a special smell with us into the store. :) Because of that, the store owner made the boys wear plastic bags over their feet when they tried the shoes on.
Everyone walked out of there with a new pair of shoes. I can't tell you how big the smiles were and how much my heart wanted to explode at how happy such a simple thing made them. Meanwhile, it took so long to get 12 boys fitted for shoes that our taxi driver (Yemamu's brother) resorted to napping :).
We had brought some second hand clothing from the States, but quickly realized we didn't have anything for the majority of the boys, so we also took them to buy pants, underwear, socks and sweatshirts. Because there were so many of us and because the prices for things go up substantially when the shopkeepers at the Mercado see white skin, we girls stayed back in the taxi while Yemamu and Sisay bartered. Some of the older boys were with us in the taxi waiting their turn. I looked back and saw one of the boys taking it all in from the taxi window. He sat there gazing outside...
I wondered what he was thinking as he watched all the people scurrying into shops and buying the things they needed. I thought about how when he needed something, he went scavenging through a trash heap. He was usually one of the people who watched all the taxis drive by as they walked to their destination. Yet here he was sitting inside of one observing things from the opposite standpoint for the first time. I honestly can't imagine what was going through his head.
Once everyone had purchased all that they needed, it was dark. It had taken hours to accomplish all the shopping. My stomach was hungry and I looked around at the boys. Yemamu leaned over and asked if we could take the boys out to dinner. Um...YES!!! So we went...all five of us crazy white people and a trail of 12 boys from the dump. The boys hadn't changed into their new clothes because we wanted them to shower first, so they were still in their clothing that reeked of trash. The looks we got all filing into the restaurant were priceless. I'm quite sure they didn't know what to make of us all. I wanted to stop and take a picture of the people looking at us, but figured that would be rude. :) Here's the view from one end of the long table...
We ordered everyone Cokes, which was a big deal for the boys. Actually, scratch that. Just being at a restaurant was a big deal for the boys. For most of them, it was their first time. Can you imagine? So, after we ordered dinner and Cokes we did what any ignorant Americans would. We offered them hand sanitizer. I wish I had video of THAT! Ethiopians eat with their hands and often hand feed each other as a sign of respect and love. So, we Americans are thinking the boys could use some hand sanitizer considering they spend all day in a garbage dump. We pull out our bottles and start squeezing it into the boys' hands. Yemamu and Sisay start explaining that it's just like soap and like washing their hands. All the boys are smiling and laughing until...here's where the ignorant part comes in...all of the open cuts on their hands start stinging from the alcohol that's in the sanitizer. I'm sitting there watching all their eyes get really wide and they tell Yemamu that it hurts their hands. So we Americans show them how to wave their hands in the air so that it will dry quickly and the burning will go away.
Then they all promptly got up and went to wash their hands. So funny. :) We had a GREAT time at dinner, as you can imagine. The boys were smiling and eating. Sisay got up and was hand feeding some of the older boys rather large handfuls of food. :) We even talked a few of the older boys into showing us what traditional Ethiopian dancing looked like...
It was a fabulous day. It felt good to use our resources (which many of you readers generously donated!) to help provide for the boys in such practical ways and it was pure joy to see their faces have these first time experiences. There was so much laughter that night. I'll remember it for the rest of my life. Now, dropping the boys back off at the dump that night is another blog post altogether...