Ethiopia service trip reflections: Lanier, Fox moved on day 1

This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Kate Lanier and Kaelon Fox share their experiences from their first day in Ethiopia.

Kate Lanier (women's tennis)

Wow, what a first day in Ethiopia! My first thoughts are how different the country is compared to the US and how spoiled we are. As we drove around in our bus, you witness that the grounds are extremely muddy and the streets are crowded with cars speeding by and honking with not much organization. You see goats and stray dogs and tons of shops side by side.

Our main destination today was visiting the church and discreet houses in which mainly widows and single parents live with their kids. Mark, our host for the trip, explained how their goal consists of a three-year plan to help those who are struggling. They are given some essentials such as food and some other needs so that the mother and kids can focus on more than just survival. Some are granted $400-600 loans which include those who are the in the greatest need. They can then start a business such as bread-making and begin to support their families.  One woman bought a fridge and then her trade was to sell beverages and she is now paying back her loan.

Before learning the basics of the organization and their goals, we first introduced ourselves. Then the women of the group stood before us and introduced themselves, which was one of the most impressive and impactful things I thought we went through today. Each one had a different story, but for example one widow had seven kids to support but two of them had mental disabilities. Some of the mothers had disabilities themselves such as being paralyzed or dealing with a broken hand, but all of them had in common that survival was a struggle, especially with kids. What impressed me so much about these strong women was that after each introduction they always said how Christ made them stronger and how thankful they were for us to be there. They said that their only family was God and us, which honestly had me on the verge of tears every time. To see these people have barely anything but still be so thankful was so impactful.  We were told that Ethiopians cherish relationships more than structure, and it was clear after hearing them speak and seeing them pray and sing. I feel Americans cherish the opposite, which is sad considering all the opportunities and essentials plus so much more we are blessed with.

We then proceeded to separate out a type of flour they use along with spices, oil, bedding and mattresses for three different families. I helped carry some of the supplies to two of the women's houses down a couple streets.  We had to be careful whom we helped though, because we learned that if a landlord sees tourists helping then they will raise the rent of the living space. Walking alongside the roads was very eye opening, because it is so different than the states. People are sleeping and often barefoot. Most are trying to sell some type of item such as gum or vegetables or doing a trade such as fixing or cleaning shoes. The women's houses we went to were small and muddy and laundry hung on lines, but it was so rewarding seeing their faces glow once we delivered the goods to their houses.

While we were at the church we also handed out bracelets that Sam's pastor from home had made which say NIKAO on them, meaning in short terms, to conquer through faith. The mothers and all the children loved the small gift and put them on immediately. We then took many pictures and the kids loved being in the camera. As one of us was about to take a picture with one kid, seven more rushed over to be in the picture so I had to take the picture just to fit them all in the shot. You could just tell how happy they were for us to be there which is an amazing feeling.

Later in the day after lunch, we went to an even poorer area in which the housing is built overnight, because it is technically illegal. The mission was to deliver one of the mattresses and pillows to a mother who we met at the church. I helped carry in the mattress and my first thought was how muddy and what close quarters the housing was. All of the housing here was connected to one another and very, very small.  The walls were mostly made out of mud and scrap metal. It was crazy to me how they survive there. We learned that the government plans to destroy the homes in this area since it is illegal, so I can't imagine the stress of the parents who reside there and who will not have anywhere to go if their homes are destroyed.

As a whole, today was already was such a great experience, and I could not be happier to be on this trip with these amazing people. Wario and Girma, two of our leaders who are from here, were so informative and friendly. Seeing the kids in the streets wave to us constantly and the women at the church giving us such thanks and welcoming us was rewarding to say at the very least. I can't wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.

Kaelon Fox (men's soccer)

This morning was an early one. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I felt fully refreshed. I took a GoPro video of the city in daylight and from my hotel room. The city looks amazing and it is still hard to breathe because of the high altitude, but I am very excited for today and cannot wait to see what it is like in Ethiopia.
 
We just got back from a very eye-opening day. We traveled to Nifas Silk and went to a community center to distribute and meet people in dire need of help. We met our local translators Wario, Girma and Addis.

On the way to the village we went through the nearby towns and some of it was hard to look at. Adults and even children were on the streets asking for any type of money and food that we may have had. When we finally arrived at the church we introduced ourselves to the families that were there, and they did the same in return.

The stories and struggles they shared were incredible. Some had husbands that had left them with children to take care of, some were mentally handicapped and had children that were also, and others were born with illnesses that they had to treat while trying to feed their children with barely any income at all.

Following the introductions, we helped distribute pillows, bed coverings, mattresses, cooking oil, spices and teff (a flour-related substance used in Ethiopia). All of the familes expressed how thankful they were that we were helping them. They sang for us while we got the supplies ready for them. We helped a woman carry her mattress to her nearby village and when we all got there she let us look at her home. It was smaller than I anticipated, with dirt floors and barely any room to walk in at all. There was hardly any room for three of us to fit in to put the mattress on her bed. Just thinking about how someone would live in such a home like that is mind-blowing.

She was so happy that we were there and seeing the smile on her face knowing how hard her life is is remarkable to see. Walking back and seeing how everything worked was really cool. Lunch was next and most of us got pizza, but others got pasta and vegetables. We had some leftover food so we took it in a plastic bag to give to people who needed it. When we walked out we gave the food to some kids and they all fought over who was going to eat it all. I had never seen such a thing and it made we want to do more for those kids. They were grabbing and pushing to grab the Ziploc bag with food in it. It just makes you wonder and realize how good our lives are back in the US.

The last stop of the day was going to another woman's home in a van to help were with bedding. She led us into her house and this one was bigger than the first one. It had three beds, but the space was nowhere near big enough for those three living in that home. She was also every happy that we were there and prayed and hugged us multiple times. The people that the Ethiopian team has met have been extremely nice to us and been very happy and blessed that we are here for them.

We are back at the hotel now and will have dinner in about an hour. This day has exceeded my personal expectations and I cannot wait for what tomorrow holds for us. The team is getting a lot closer now. After dinner we all went to the rooftop and then played cards for an hour or so. Now it is time for bed. Early breakfast at 7:30!