You're riding in a blue taxi van through the crowded streets of Addis Ababa. The driver turns right onto what seems in your American mind to be nothing more than an alley. In reality, you've turned onto one of thousands of unmarked, unnamed streets that make up the city with 4 million inhabitants. No rhyme or reason for where these streets lead. No master city plan. Just a series of corridors that dodge in and out of the rough-hewn structures that people call home.
The street is brimming with life. Buyers. Sellers. Animals. Children. No more than a half block of zigzagging to avoid people and potholes, the driver veers right in order to line up the hard left turn onto yet another street. This street has every marking of an alley - wide enough for only one vehicle and not a front door in sight. You soon realize that these are homes. And there are doors. Front doors. People live here. This is where the missionary told you the middle class reside. One or two rooms made of scrap metal. Home sweet Ethiopian home.
One block later you arrive. A large steel blue-gray gate announces your destination. Kid's Care Children's Welfare Association.
You're about to meet your children for the first time. They've lived behind these walls for the past 4 months.
The driver gives the horn a quick tap. Barely audible you wonder if anyone hears. Within seconds, a middle-aged man wearing a white stocking cap peeks through the small door. Recognizing the driver, both gates swing open. There are no marked parking spaces. Several cars are already blocked in. Your blue taxi van takes the last available space effectively preventing the escape of every vehicle.
The sound of children fills the air. Happy children. This is not a place of sadness. Mourning and grief are locked outside the gates and kept at bay by a small army of loving caretakers. Although grief and loss are familiar travelers for the fragile young souls that inhabit this compound, this place has become place of hope and healing.
Healing begins the first time a child passes through the gates. New clothes. Regular meals. A touch. A hug. Being known by their name. Hope.
Not much larger than a middle-class American house, seventy children now call this place home. Tight living quarters can do little to squeeze out their anticipation. This home is only temporary. Better than what was, this place is only a glimpse of what is to come.
Your arrival is largely overlooked until one of the children notices the color of your skin. As your foot hits the playground-turned-parking lot, a tiny whisper incites a giggle. Then another. One child points shyly. Another catches your eye and nervously smiles and looks away as if nothing significant has occurred. As curiousity outpaces apprehension, some of the more seasoned residents venture outside for a closer look. Windows and doors are lined with tiny peering eyes. Caretakers steal an inconspicuous glance - or two. Piles of dirty laundry and unmade beds take a momentary break.
The last link in the chain of healing will become reality soon. Someone's family has arrived.
A moment of awkward introductions is quickly replaced by a sense of awe at the significance of what is happening. Apprehensions begin to melt away. A family is formed.
Children begin singing and dancing.
Once again, hope has found a home.
(Scene repeats daily)