By Merve Sebnem Oruç, Daily Sabah
I’m back from my dreamlike Ethiopia visit. After a one-week break from chaos in the amazing country, I am still trying to get used to my old life. I am in Istanbul now but I think I have forgotten my heart and my mind there. If someone told me before I would never have believed that I would get so inspired. I don’t know if my country’s politically unrestful situation makes me more emotional and if Ethiopia is an escape for me. Following six days without Internet, telephone and sometimes electricity, finding Turkey in a more stirred position made me a bit depressed, of course.
But no, Ethiopia is more than that. Ethiopia is a magical chamber that made me have so many feelings. From the first moment I stepped out from Bole International Airport, the weather me. It was fascinating when I traveled to a rural area the next day. All the hues of green hypnotized me. I remember that I couldn’t believe that I was not in Ethiopia and I had not come to New Zealand by mistake. I also questioned how such a fertile country that could feed all of Africa be so poor. A few days later, when I visited the orphan homes, it was stunning. I met the beautiful children of Ethiopia, desperate but lovely orphans, and they melted my heart with their big smiles and bright eyes.
I have to say that I am not a person who loves taking photos or having photos taken of me. Indeed, I really get annoyed when people start shooting next to me. But there I couldn’t put down my camera as all of the scenes I saw needed to be recorded and never forgotten.
Believe it or not, I am not someone who loves traveling, going to the countryside or walking on the earth. As I injured my leg recently, I have pain even jogging. But in Ethiopia, I really enjoyed those activities and never felt pain. In fact, I am known as being a cold person. In Ethiopia, I was surprised with myself as I couldn’t get enough of hugging the children and couldn’t take my eyes off the beauty of the orphans.
According to a UNICEF report, Ethiopia is home to one of the largest orphan population in the world with 4.6 million orphans from a population of 90 million, which is 5 percent of the total population. Ethiopia endured a massive draught two decades ago and conflicts left thousands of children orphaned. Facing famine, hunger and untreated diseases, approximately one in six Ethiopian children die before the age of five, statistics say. The hardship and the needs for volunteer programs can easily be seen in the villages of Ethiopia. But the adoption practices in the country carry a threat, as organizations like UNICEF have long point out since, as adoptions have become an international market. Keeping children together with their siblings, single parents or other relatives should be of primary importance for volunteers. Raising children in their own country, connecting orphans with their families and supporting families with education as well as financial support double and triple the recovery.
While I was visiting some of the around 2,500 orphans’ homes supported by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation under the orphan sponsorship program conducted in cooperation with IHH’s regional partner, Charity and Development Association (CDA), I witnessed that local programs have vital importance. I met with single parents who survived by begging and now send all of their children to university, with single mothers who started to look after two other orphans after they secured the future of their own children. I heard that a female neighbor of an orphan family said, “I need my husband died for the sake of my children,” making a point of the success of IHH and CDA’s orphan sponsorship program.
That’s how those orphans melted my heart with their smiling faces. That’s how they made me burst into tears of joy. That’s how I saw that sharing saves lives. That’s how I experienced that true love and true mercy is the way of hope and happiness. That’s how I can say what CDA and IHH do in Ethiopia is saving lives, connecting families, maximizing opportunities and providing happiness.
By Merve Sebnem Oruç, Daily Sabah