One of the most amazing opportunities during our week was meeting Jirigna, our sponsor child. He's been a part of our life since earlier this year. We've prayed for him, talked about him, and written to him. But, he still seemed so far away. When we arrived at Kind Hearts we were overwhelmed with the dozens of children scrabbling for our attention. I scanned the little faces in the crowd and didn't see the one that I had become familiar with. After the chaos died down, we found out that Jirigna goes to a school for older kids during the day and comes later to Kind Hearts.
Later in the afternoon some of us went down to the polluted river that acts as a boundary for the care point's property. The property is dotted with acacia trees and in the distance you can see rolling hills covered with fields of teff. The once beautiful river is now black because of pollution from the local tannery. The tributary coming into the blackened water along the other side of the property comes from the alcohol production factory. As we discussed the director's hopes for a self-sustaining care point, I saw one lone child playing soccer in the schoolyard. I couldn't see the little boy's face, but I immediately recognized his sweatshirt. The sweatshirt that Jirigna is wearing in the photo on our fridge at home. And here he is, nine months later, still wearing that shirt. I was thrilled to see him, but he was standoffish. After talking to the translator, he posed for a photo, still uncertain.
The next morning we arrived at the locked gates. Children ran alongside the van and a crowd had formed in the alleyway. As the guard unlocked the gate, I saw Jirigna's face in the crowd. When we got out of the vans, I could see that he was still outside of the gate, his face peering through a hole in the fence. He watched me as I spoke to our translator, who took me to the guard to open the gates.
A moment later, Jirigna was at my side, fiercely holding my hand and fending off children who might try to get my attention. I had made a friend. The afternoon was busy with activities for the children, but Jirigna would catch my eye and wave whenever he saw me. Late that day, it was my turn to give Jirigna his care package.
I was emotional looking at the care package. It signified a little piece of home for me. It was such a small bag, no sacrifice at all for us to fill it. We made an afternoon of picking out things we thought he would like, then crammed it all into a gallon bag with a letter and pictures. I teared up as I introduced our family to him and read the letter explaining that we pray for him and are proud of his hard work. He smiled and nodded. As he held up our family photo for a picture, he grabbed my face and kissed me on the cheek.
"Thank you, thank you!" he said.
On the afternoon that we were saying goodbye, I brought Jirigna the picture that we had taken the first day that we met. He protectively held it in the air, away from smaller hands and I carefully slid it into his pocket. A little later, he held it out to me asking me to keep it safe as he played. The time passed quickly and we gathered to say our final farewells. Jirigna stood before the entire group and asked, "When will you come again?"
I left a little piece of my heart standing on a sandy schoolyard in Addis Ababa clutching a photo of a smiling American mom and an uncertain Ethiopian boy.