Augusta, Kan. — When problems loom large it is easy to become discouraged and give up hope.
In Ethiopia, poverty can be found around every corner. Poverty – which is on the rise due to almost constant double-digit inflation in the oldest independent country in Africa – is one of the main causes of another pervasive problem.
In a country of slightly more than 80 million people, there are more than 5 million orphans. One of those orphans has found a home with my family. During our travels to meet and take custody of Dawit, we got to know two women who were on the same path of international adoption.
Carrie Neel-Parker of San Diego, Cal. and Anja Wood of New York each have a new family member. But little did they know that the path they were on wouldn’t end when the adoptions were finalized.
A year after coming home with their young daughters, the pair have joined forces with Danielle Schmidt and a few more friends to create and manage a full-time charity that is affecting permanent change in a distant land they grew to love.
Neel-Parker encountered delays in her adoption of Bynake. Rather than waiting out the delays in America, she chose to stay close to the daughter who she would soon bring home.
During the long days, she spent a great deal of time at the local state-run orphanages trying to get to know the children and help in any way she could.
It was during one visit to Kechene – an orphanage for girls in Addis Ababa – that she found a calling and put a name on it. She befriended a young girl named Lelt and became close to her.
While at the orphanage, Neel-Parker discovered that the mattresses that Lelt and the other orphaned girls were sleeping on were nothing but moldy, foam remnants.
She knew something had to be done.
That’s when she called her friend, Anja Wood, who she had met on her first trip to Ethiopia. The two discussed the mattresses and what might be possible.
“All of this started as a tiny fundraiser to buy mattresses,” Wood said. “In two days we had raised enough money for all of the mattresses.”
However, before they could get the mattresses purchased, poverty and other problems pushed the number of girls in Kechene from about 185 to 280.
But when the need became known, another family stepped up to meet it. When Neel-Parker returned to the country, she was able to take the funds and purchase 300 mattresses, sheet sets, blankets and pillows – and they still had a small amount of money left over.
Soon, they received an additional $5,000 and were left with almost as much money as they had started with.
“It felt like a message that we were supposed to continue,” Neel-Parker said. “It was like the story of the jars of oil.”
While Neel-Parker was back in America, Lelt disappeared from Kechene. No one knows if she ran away or was kidnapped.
But she is gone.
When Neel-Parker and Wood decided to make their charity a permanent endeavor, they named the organization in her honor.
The Lelt Foundation is now a fully functioning 501c3 charity.
The women have each adopted an Ethiopian orphan.
However, while that act is incredibly important to those two girls and their American families, it was only a drop in the bucket compared to the larger problem.
“It bothered me how large the orphanages are,” Neel-Parker said. “You could add to that the number of kids who live on the street or suffer horrible abuse.”
While in country, Wood and Neel-Parker were introduced to a couple named Girma Amdie and Wubit Ashenafi. They were already pursuing a dream of helping people in one of Addis Ababa’s most poverty-stricken areas and needed help with funding.
The neighborhood is called Kara Kore.
When searching for solutions, the group had a vision of bringing widows and other women in touch with some of the orphans. They didn’t want to create smaller orphanages. They wanted to create a non-traditional family situation that could become sustainable units.
A partnership was born.
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