A few days ago I got a letter from one of the children we sponsor in Addis. Mesaye. We get a letter from him every three months or so and he always updates us on how well he's doing in school. This letter proudly reported he's first in his class in school...and that his mother had just died. That news, although it wasn't completely unexpected, made my limbs go all hot like they do when you get some horrifying news that your brain can't fully process.
We started sponsoring Mesaye about 2-1/2 years ago when he was 15 and we were still in the adoption process. Meeting Mesaye and his precocious younger brother, Anwar, was one of the highlights of our trip when we traveled to pick up Dawit. We had gone out with a driver early in the day and as we returned to our guest house compound, Spence spotted Mesaye standing on the street amid a sea of unfamiliar people. He was so overcome with emotion at seeing the face of this boy whose picture had hung on our frig for 2 years, I thought he was going to lose it. We spent a few hours with him and his brother. We laughed and talked through an interpreter. It was silly and wonderful and awkward and heartbreaking. I wanted to ask a million questions about his life and his situation and his hopes and dreams, but we mostly kept it light. We did not get to meet his mom (in hindsight I wished we'd arranged this), but after our trip he kept us up to date on her. She had HIV, so we knew that Mesaye would likely be on his own soon. Each time we got a letter, I prayed she would be okay. That Mesaye would have a little more time with her. Time to be a kid. To be a big brother.
He's 17 now and, though his days of truly being a kid ended a long time ago because of his mother's illness, his childhood is over. Mesaye is the head of a child-headed family. He is his brother's sole caregiver. He is one of 20 child-headed families in the Yezelalem Minch program. And one of who-knows-how-many in Ethiopia.
I know this is reality for many Ethiopian children. I know Mesaye had been preparing. I know he's a strong, smart, resilient kid with a beautiful outlook on life. But my heart breaks for him and his brother. 17 is too young to be in charge of life...and someone else's life.
Now I have a million questions. Will they stay where they're living? Will he be able to continue school? Will he have to work? Does he shop, cook, clean and do all those household chores that keep life marching on? Had he already been doing those things because his mom was sick? Does he have extended family to help? Does he feel alone? Does he have someone to hold him while he grieves for his mother? Will he stay in the YM sponsorship program? If so, how long? What happens now? What can I do?
I'm at a crossroads in my relationship with Ethiopia. The desire to adopt led me there, but my love for the people will keep me forever connected to my son's birth country.
Dawit is here because he did not have the option to stay. Mesaye's life is in Ethiopia and always will be. He has fared better than many others living in poverty in Ethiopia because he had a program like YM that gave him a chance to go to school and excel, and to be a kid for a bit longer than his life otherwise would have allowed.
Mesaye and children like him who have the rare opportunity to go to school are the future of Ethiopia. They desperately need programs like YM because it's often the only chance they have to rise above a life of poverty and desperation. And even with programs like YM, life is not easy.
Mesaye may not be coming home with me, but he is my son. Maybe you have a son or daughter in Ethiopia too.