Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bright Future Academy Celebration!

Well, Wednesday was a day that I will always remember. It's nice, some mornings, to wake up to the simple sound of birds chirping instead of the priests down the street praying. Not that I don't love it, but quiet mornings are the best. For some reason it seemed like the guest house was more crowded than normal and a shower was apparently out of the question since there was so much to get done in one day. Of course, my solution was to wrap my head in a scarf and pretend like I knew how to wrap it correctly. When everyone was ready to go, we headed out for the day with high hopes and spirits. Thankfully, our bus driver took us to a bank that ended up exchanging our money! The team was very relieved, although most of my money is still in the ATM and I have no idea if I'll be able to withdraw any of it, which is a little disconcerting but worse things could happen right? Once again, the team stops for coffee and not just any coffee, more like pure shots of unadulterated adrenaline. Sadly, I had to pass because the first time I had it I became too energetic for people to handle. Naturally when our bus is stopped somewhere, men attempting to sell things line the windows, holding up their wares for us to examine, even if none of us want to buy. 

After the coffee run, we made our way to the Bright Future Compound to pick up some bread and a stereo for the celebration at the school. As soon as the bread was on board I pulled it close and inhaled. I'm sure it was the best smelling bread I've ever had the pleasure of smelling, perhaps because it was scented like a freshly baked donut. Then we made it to the school in celebratory moods, ready to get the show on the road. We made it inside, the children and men outside the school attempting to weasel the bread and other items that could be carried from our hands. I carried some bread on my head inside the school, since my transformation into a true Ethiopian wouldn't be complete without doing so. While inside, Danielle began explaining how things were going to be run, such as getting the children registered and then sending them to help tie-dye their new Bright Future Academy shirt and, most importantly, get their pictures taken so we can find sponsors for them when we get home. After that the children would be sent to have their hands painted to put on the mural on the wall, which really helped to complete the overall look of the school room. Since my attention span doesn't last very long, I was watching what was going on outside while I was listening to the game plan when I noticed some commotion out near the gate. It seemed like there was a small confrontation going on between the Bright Future older youth who had been helping us all week and some of the villagers. The situation quickly escalated and I called out that something was happening when it seemed like the gate exploded inwards as men rushed inside, one man going after one of our Bright Future youth, a young man who had been trying to get the villagers to go away. It seems they expected payment for offering their services in helping to carry chairs off the bus inside the school and the Bright Future man had refused to let them help in order to be paid because we had enough help already. A fight broke out that worked its way into the school yard. I heard our leaders tell someone to lock the door to keep us in, but when I saw the man from the village pick up a rock, I grew angry. The Bright Future youth was being pummeled, his mouth and head hit by a rock and as he was thrown to the ground to be kicked I knew I didn't want to be stuck in the school. I understood the need for the protection of the team members, but all I could think about was getting out there and bringing the children and mothers inside. Who am I to accept my own safety when there are those who have this new and promising future that could be so quickly stolen away by a rock thrown from a careless hand? 

I saw the situation was safely and quickly taken care of, but some of the team were still huddled in a prayer circle, asking for resolution. I was stuck at the window, torn between doing what I was told and running out into the school yard, my anger hot in my chest. This man who only wanted to help had been beat down to the ground, a place meant for nothing but the indentation of children's footprints. The aftermath felt stressful and slow, with men being recruited to help protect the school and have the young man who had been injured taken to the hospital, as well as some team members walking around trying to offer comfort to children and mothers, even with the language barrier. I made my way outside, too, while other team members began regrouping and figuring out how to get the day back on track. I stood, watching the children begin to play again and life seemed to return back to normal as if nothing had happened. It was a strange feeling, being furious at one point only to be completely confused the next. It was as if everything was all right, even though there was a heavy sense of aggravation still hanging in the air. I held a young girl as she cried, still scared from what had just taken place. I was stunned and angry, having no idea how a celebration was going to take place. 

Yet life does carry on regardless of the tribulations that we have. The team regrouped and began preparing the opening ceremony with blowing up balloons and decorating. I pulled at the tips of the balloons to create that high pitched squeak, hoping it might distract people and bring on a better mood. Mothers began laughing at my antics and Todd began a game of futbol in the yard. The atmosphere shifted and I found myself caught up in the festivities, even if the heavier images were still stuck in my mind. When the children started making their way into the school, they were followed closely by their mothers. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces and how proud they were to lead their child into the school. The kids all got tie-dyed shirts and had their hands painted. After that was done they were lead outside to be seated in the school yard, where after a bit of a wait they were all served bread and soda. A few heart-felt speeches were given in order to express the overwhelming happiness we all felt in opening the school and I couldn't help tearing up at the excitement that was clear on the faces of the children and their parents. It truly is a beautiful thing, knowing that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. Even as people began to leave, the sense of happiness and joy never left. It helped to cleanse the area of any residue of the pain that was inflicted earlier. 

Cara and Genet--one of our new, proud Bright Future students :)

On the porch at the beginning of the celebration ceremony

I thought the day was over, but then we were shuffled over to a Taekwondo gym to watch some of our Bright Future helpers put on a magnificent performance of skill and power. These kids could kick my butt and I admit that I felt both safer and less worried for these kids, knowing that they could high kick my face off if they wanted to. Skits were performed which involved amazing feats of twists and hits that left me stupefied. The best part of it all though was being able to give them their belts at the end of the ceremony, rejoicing as each bowed to me in respect as I handed them a new yellow belt and their certificate. It was humbling to be able to take part in a very important day of their lives. When everything was over, the girls I spend the most time with came running over to hug me and I told them they had done great. I felt like a proud parent, even though these girls are not much younger than I am. After a small dance party and a hasty exit (because many of us had not had the chance to "relieve" ourselves all day) we went out to dinner and ate a feast. When I say feast, I mean food was everywhere. After seven plates of french fries, Chai tea, and my own dinner (a fish burger?) were ordered we ate, talked, and laughed. It was a good way to settle down and relax. 

Bellies full and hearts content, we made our way to the bus. The ride back to the guest house was a smooth one and debrief is always a great way to bring people closer together. The testimonies I've heard have made me understand once again that we cannot judge a book by its cover and that you cannot truly know a person until you walk in their shoes. I've attempted to walk in the shoes of the villagers, but how can I when some feet walk bare? I suppose being here has its rough moments, but I know that if we focus on the bad, the good will never be seen. It's a broken balance of beauty and filth here in Ethiopia and I hope that I can somehow learn from both these sides. I continue to be a firm believer in the joy and hope I see here daily and it gives me the strength to "roll with the punches." 
Signing off for now, Katelyn Sarber

P.S. Totally saw my first hyena today.

Our whole team with Binyam in front of the mural

 Danielle handing out refreshments at the opening ceremony-
with her celebration face on (also notice the VERY proud grandpa in the 
background.  His little grandson is at Bright Future Academy this year).

Ephrem is a snuggler and one of our new students enjoying some
affection from Jolene. He is one of our older BFA kids as a 6 year old.

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