A blog by Tess Lundy
This year has been one of those crazy, uncertain, grace filled years—but oh so good.
My story with Selamta started at the end of August when I had a meeting with the U.S. Executive Director Marisa Stam. She offered me a quarter time position as the Social Media Coordinator (something that got pushed on the backburner with the staff’s crazy agendas running a nonprofit with 3 people U.S. side)!! My plans I had for the year had changed, and I believe that God has knowledge that surpasses my understanding so my answer was an easy YES, and I just trusted that He already had this all planned out.
Fast-forward to the end of November and I said YES again. This time it was to go to Ethiopia, to see with my own eyes the work Selamta is doing. We left on November 28th for Africa.
I really didn’t set any expectations for this trip.
All I can say is that I left with my eyes opened and a heart full of love for people I just met.
Hollywood and Disney have definitely given me skewed visions and fears of what the country would look like.
To my surprise there were no lions walking down the roads and it was not hot—I actually had to wear my winter coat most days. (Side note: I’m from Florida so when you can’t wear shorts the weather is considered frigid.)
I was pleasantly surprised with the visuals I immediately saw. Ethiopia was a lot cleaner than I assumed and I felt like I was stepping back into time. Even though no one said it, I know our van was playing a mix of Mario Kart and Frogger with the other cars and pedestrians. As we were zooming through the city you would see donkeys and horses carrying materials down the road with all the busy traffic. Hiya Horsey!
Most buildings that were under construction had wood scaffolding instead of metal (this is how I imagined Pyramids were made, so it just seemed like such an ancient technique). Altogether I can see and gather that the men and women here know what hard work is, and their laborious tasks could be seen.
We finally made it to the Selamta Community Center!
If you know me, you know that I am quite the talker, and whatever is in my head I just ask or say.
One of the most comforting things in Ethiopia was that English was a widely common language. This made it extremely easy to ask questions and understand people on a deeper level so much faster.
My first BIG eye-opening moment was when were carried our bags up to the third floor where our rooms were. There was a little balcony and we all walked out to take a peek. Looking around I was no where short of the word baffled.
Soaking everything in, it all suddenly made sense.
I quickly spit out, “so like all the homes aren’t connected in a certain area because this definitely looks like a normal neighborhood to me.”
There may or may not have been a slight chuckle but the answer was “YES, they get to live in society and be “normal”.” Even after working with Selmata for several months their family based model literally at the moment just hit me. These kids get to grow up in a normal neighborhood, in a normal home not separated behind some compound orphanage wall.
I practically heard this almost every week and I still didn’t get it. (insert mind-blown emoji)
If you're not familiar with the Selamta model…
Each family is fully integrated and active in their COMMUNITY, breaking social stigmas about orphans. No child ages out. Independence is determined by readiness, employment and self-sufficiency, not a birthdate. One size does not fit all. We focus on the needs of each individual child. Real Family. Real Love.
Soon after, I went downstairs and it was as if God was making sure I really did grasp what was happening here.
There were four little kids playing by the kitchen, and I thought they were all Selamta kids visiting the community center. Wrong. Only two of the kids were actually a part of Selamta, and the other two were their best friends in the neighborhood. Like seriously my brain neurons were making all the connections. I was in love. These kids get to be kids, have friends, go to school, not feel separated. Apart from overcoming trauma these kids have experienced, they get to do it in such a loving environment. Wow.
My mind was blown and heart overwhelmed.
Each night we had the privilege to go meet different families and eat dinner with them. I think they might have to create a new word for hospitality because their friendliness and generosity towards us was off the charts. Being in the homes was an intimate time to see how they do life together. Coffee, cards, food, laughter, and stories. Hearing hope from these kids with their goals and accomplishments were moments I cherished. I am thankful for people who shared their stories and shaped my life by inspiring me, yet they don’t even know their impact.
With all the love and good that was happening in the lives of the kids at Selamta my eyes were blind to the orphan crisis that is taking place in Ethiopia. Our last weekend there really helped me see what the flip side of not being in a home looked like.
We decided to go hike a mountain with some of the Selamta kids. This is where it hit me. Our kids came from experiences just like what I was starting to witness. The base of the mountain had lots of chaos happening. I am not sure if every child there was an orphan, but there were kids without clothes and ones you just wanted to hug and wipe their noses. I was told that some of the kids were holding water bottles containing gasoline, that they would smell to try to stay warm and curb their appetites. It was a broken mess. It made me so thankful for the kids that are a part of Selamta and now get to experience freedom.
The moment that was the tip of the iceberg for me that day was from watching a little princess who just joined the Selamta family named Kalkidan. Kalkidan was rescued from the country side. She is only twelve and had been working as a house maid in an unsafe environment. If she went back to the countryside, she was going to be sold off to be married and who knows what else could have happened to her. He biological brother is in a Selamta home and after they found her, they brought her to Selamta and are now reunited.
I believe that God hides His most precious treasures in difficult and painful experiences.
Kalkidan was a treasure to watch climb that mountain. It was her first time and she had a ball. She would go on running spurts and get farther ahead of me and turn around and hand me a chunk of wild flowers she collected. She would skip off, giggle, and grab my hand. I broke into tears when she playfully dove into the barley field, just rolling around and laughing. I just though to myself, you deserve this. Kalkidan gets to experience being a kid and the innocence of that was beautiful.
I don’t know why she had to lose her family, and experience the hardships of her past, but all I can see is something beautiful being born now. My heart ached and wanted that for all the other kids in the world, who are just like her, to experience love and freedom. Seeing kids reach their mountain top changed me.
The work of Selamta is beautiful and redemptive. Taking kids from a place of being hopeless to rescued is such a crazy thing to witness. God’s hand is at work and I cannot wait and see what is to come. Jesus is in the business of changing lives.