Councilwoman works on African orphanage - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Councilwoman works on African orphanage

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Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 6:06 pm | Updated: 1:55 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

"One birr for bread. Mother dead, father dead," a sign held by a young boy begging for change on the streets of Ethiopia's capital city said.

Chandler City Councilwoman Trinity Donovan recalls the image from her recent trip to the country to help build an orphanage for children who have lost their families.

"It's hard to see," Donovan said.

Addis Ababa, the capital, sits in the heart of Ethiopia. It's a poor nation - slightly less than twice the size of Texas, situated in the Horn of Africa just west of Somalia - where the average life expectancy is 55 and women bear an average of more than six children apiece, according to the CIA World Factbook.

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About 25,000 orphaned children in Addis Ababa have no homes, Donovan said.

"As kids lose their parents, many of them have to go to the streets because relatives are unable to take care of them," she said.

In October, Donovan and a dozen other Arizonans spent nearly three weeks stacking rocks for a fence and chiseling holes for windows at an orphanage established just outside Addis Ababa by Hope for the Hopeless founder Rev. Surafel Gebretsadik, the Ethiopian language pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Phoenix.

"It's a much more country setting vs. the crowded streets of Addis," Donovan said.

Gebretsadik immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia in 1989, but returned to help homeless children like a boy named Gasheau, 16, who ran away after witnessing his father's murder and then seeing the murderer marry his mother, Donovan said. Or a 15-year-old boy named Henock, whose parents died and whose grandparents couldn't afford to care for him. Or another young girl who had been left destitute and raped.

The orphanage gives them a home, an education, cares for their health and helps them eventually find a job, Donovan said. Some of the children are not used to rules and have had no real socialization, she said.

"You've learned to survive by yourself," she said.

The children eventually are placed with families of the same religious faith, Donovan said.

Volunteers also provide community HIV/AIDS education. There is a stigma associated with the disease there, she said.

"It's a barrier for people to even know if they have HIV because they don't want to take the test," she said.

Ethiopia does not have much of a tourism industry. When most Americans think of Ethiopia, the famines of the 1980s are foremost in their minds, Donovan said.

"It didn't seem like a place people want to go," she said.

While poverty is still rampant, she said famine does not appear to be a severe problem now. Donovan, a vegetarian, said she enjoyed the food, like concoctions made from chickpeas, beans or lentils and served on a large piece of flatbread called injera.

"They're really stews that you eat with your bread that's also your plate," she said.

One can also find Italian dishes like spaghetti and lasagna, Donovan said, a holdover from the conquest and occupation of Ethiopia by fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini from 1936-1941.

The group found time to visit a couple of the country's ancient landmarks as well, like the churches of Lalibela, carved in one piece from solid stone and set down into a stone plateau; the castles at Gonder, from which the country's emperors ruled in the 17th and 18th centuries; and Axum, where the Ark of the Covenant is said by some to be housed.

Donovan also encountered large wild animals like zebras and hippos.

"There are so many amazing treasures in Ethiopia," she said. "To be able to see how much beauty is in Ethiopia, I'm really grateful."

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