Our Visit to Mary Joy

Our Visit to Mary Joy


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Photo Credit: Karen Walrond, chookooloonks.com

The best way to explain how I’m going to dissect my trip to Ethiopia is to say that I have to write to understand things. I filled an entire journal on my visit with thoughts and facts about what we were learning and seeing, but there’s so much life and energy left over that my body hasn’t fully recovered. Everything is sort of buzzing for me at the moment not the least of which is how many friends and family members and blog community readers simply cheered us on in different social platforms. We saw the comments and “likes” on Facebook and the retweets of what we writing on Twitter and they felt like warm, tight hugs every time.

There is a common theme to the questions I’m getting and there are four of them:

What was it like?

What did you do?

What did you see?

How are you changed?

They seem like simple questions, but I have too much information at the moment to take it apart and give a one paragraph answer. I feel like I’m all over the place when I try to respond. So, to everyone to whom I’ve spoken in the last two days, I’m sorry. I wish I could do a better job of it. How about I tell you about one place at a time? Yes? Good, because that’s all I can handle right now. A number of people told me they couldn’t wait to see Ethiopia through my eyes, but for now, I’m going to let the pictures of Karen Walrond do most of the talking.

Mary Joy Aid Through Development is an organization that works to help build capacity in communities by working with underserved groups and making a home for them in a myriad of ways. They invited us to see their work and gave an overview of how they work with families that are affected by HIV/AIDS and improving opportunities.


One of the things we were honored to do was holding children who just wanted some tender affection, even if it was from a stranger. Even the youngest of children understood that we were there to learn about them and support the work that’s happening there. It was miraculous to see them crawl into laps and hold hands and generously give hugs.


We celebrated our first coffee ceremony with the people at Mary Joy and got to experience it several other places as well. At first, I didn’t understand how the ceremony worked. I thought it was going to be somber and something to watch and, in a way, it was. But the Ethiopian people take it very seriously and slowly. It was very PolePole and they even hand over cups to you in a revered manner. They light the coals, roast the beans, and begin pouring hot water into one cup. That cup is used to rinse out the next cup and so on and so forth. There are usually mats of grass or flowers underneath the whole setup and it takes almost an hour to complete. It gave me pause as an American who is used to ordering a complicated drink at Starbucks and getting it handed over so I can drink it as I go do other busy, important things. That is a practice I will stop doing because of this. I am going to enjoy it more and give the act of enjoying coffee with others the respect it deserves.


Since many children are motherless or fatherless, Mary Joy uses elder women of the community to serve as support to these children. After having coffee handed over to us we got to watch the joyful dancing from these elder women when they began to play live music.

The children provided entertainment at Mary Joy for us to show us what they’re capable of and it was pretty cool. Not exactly what we offer as after-school activities at my school because, you know, fire. But, hey, when in Ethiopia…


These are some of the faces that I wanted you to see. Girls are supported at Mary Joy, but they also have tea ceremonies of their own that they hold out in the community. That word struck me more than anything: community.


One of the things that my own school wanted to do was share some of themselves so I brought artwork from our students to give to them as well as a book about our school with pictures of students in class, learning new things, and highlighting some of the projects we do. They were gifts from America for our hosts and as I passed out several pieces of artwork the children started flocking toward me to get one. It felt like such a small gift after they performed and presented for us, but I know my students were excited to share their creations. Thank you, students.


Besides using a lot of shoulders in Gurage dancing we noticed that a few moves are made with what I can only describe as “praying hands”. Oh, and there is a lot of clapping. A lot. Everything seems more joyous that way.


Maya knows the director very well and it was such a pleasure to watch them reconnect. This was one of the places where tears started to fall from my eyes and she reminded me, “No crying. Only joy here.” I stopped doing that, but also realized how important wearing sunglasses was because they can hide them if you can’t help yourself. Honestly, they were tears of joy for watching this powerful collective work hard to repair communities. It’s not something I see a lot of in the United States. At least, not as holistically as this.


I mentioned on Facebook as I shared part of my journey that they serve popcorn with coffee. Popcorn. You grab a handful and sip your coffee between bites. Think coffeecake or bagel.


There were always hugs to go around, especially from Maya. In fact, it was her idea that we visit here because she adopted 10 children that get care here.

Mary Joy has a website you can visit if you’re interested in sponsoring a child. If our school or your child’s school or your club or group (whatever you may belong to) did a fundraiser, they could sponsor a child for a year for only $1 a day. That gets them clothing, an education, and healthcare. One dollar goes a long way at Mary Joy. But I suspect that our hugs went a long way, too.


I just returned from Ethiopia courtesy of ONE, a nonpartisan advocacy organization fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, especially in Africa. Won’t you add your voice with me? Please sign up at the ONEMoms blog.

Photo credits to ONE/Karen Walrond


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