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Care Placement in Ethiopia - Christina Coppola

Christina Coppola from America relates her experience working with female street children in Ethiopia on a gap year placement arranged with Projects Abroad.  Her time in Ethiopia certainly had an impact on her and she made a difference to the lives of the girls both inside and outside the classroom.

Christina Coppola, a fellow volunteer and some of the girls at OPRIFS in Ethiopia"I loved Ethiopia, plain and simple. This was my third volunteer abroad trip; the two before this one I experienced with a different organisation, so this was my first trip with Projects Abroad. I recommend Projects Abroad hands down. Through them, I was able to truly experience the culture in Ethiopia.

Without living with a host family, I'm positive I wouldn't have had the same experience and gotten to not only learn a lot about Ethiopian way of life, but a lot about myself as well. Ethiopia consists of a beautiful culture, friendly people, fun dancing, interesting foods, and the most loving children.

My care placement

This brings me to my placement; the organisation for Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Integration of Female Street Children, also known as OPRIFS. When I walked into OPRIFS Executive Director's office the day before my placement actually began, I knew immediately I would want to have a life-long connection with OPRIFS. I was immediately offered "buna" (or coffee in Amharic) and a grain that is often served alongside coffee - this is a common gesture of hospitality in Ethiopian culture.

She explained to me that the girls that end up in OPRIFS are from rural areas around Ethiopia, Christina kept the girls interested by being creative with her lessonsand they end up in the shelter by the local police bringing them there. These girls are victims of abuse - verbal, physical, and sexual - but they are the warmest and most loving girls I had ever met. They are aged 4 - 17 years old and they stay in the shelter until they are reunited with their families. Their families aren't the source of abuse, but rather the domesticated employers they may work for at such a young age. The families are often so happy to be reunited with their child, and it is a very joyous experience for all involved.

OPRIFS primary role is to rehabilitate these girls by providing them with individual and group therapy sessions with a licensed psychologist and social worker, to teach them trades such as knitting and other handicraft making, teaching them cooking and cleaning responsibilities, and also providing lessons in both Amharic and English (the role of the volunteer); because of all this, this place is absolutely wonderful.

A typical day at work

At OPRIFS the girls are taught a number of skills to help them make a living when they return to their familiesWhile the girls know very little English, it was a learning experience for both them and me: at the beginning knew very little Amharic. They first taught me words such as "daynadesh" (how are you), "konjo" (beautiful), and "widishalow" (I love you).  Every day when I would arrive at OPRIFS I would be greeted by all 40 girls. I had to travel to my placement by way of 3 different shared taxis - at first an intimidating experience but quickly I was comfortable and very intrigued with this system.  Each girl wanted to shake my hand, we taught them a nifty American handshake, kiss me, and hug me.

It would then be time for their warm ups. Towards the end of my stay, they had me leading their warm-up!  It was so fun - I would do jumping jacks, squat jumps, kickboxing and other aerobic moves we pick up here in the United States at local gym classes.

Daily we taught different levels of English - some girls knew more than others so it was awesome that OPRIFS had a system in place to arrange these girls in an appropriate level. The girls loved saying their ABC's, practicing writing English words, acting out English words, and having contests to see who could put the alphabet in order the fastest. Often, after they were done with their English lesson, they wanted to teach us Amharic! I think they were much better at learning English than I was at learning Amharic.

Every day at lunch the girls wanted us volunteers to join them for lunch. So sweet! I carried my lunch with me prepared by my host family so I never did partake in lunch time, but often I would partake in drinking shai (tea) with them. Ethiopian tea is so good!

After lunch we would have math lessons. We did a lot of interactive math games with them to keep the girls engaged. One time I drew chalk numbers 1-20 out in their courtyard, I would yell at the number in English and all the girls would have to run to that number. When they got good at that, I would call out "THREE PLUS FIVE!" and all the girls would have to run to the correct answer. They really enjoyed this!

The most wonderful time I spent with the girls was actually outside the classroom - doing things Christina with her newly braided hairsuch as playing American or Ethiopian games, jump rope, letting them braid my hair, talking with them about their lives, or even dancing with them; I also brought along my iPod and a travel speaker daily.

Outside the classroom

One day I taught the girls how to find a 4-leaf clover. It was difficult to communicate to them that four is the "lucky" number and you have to find one with four leaves. I told them - in Amharic mind you - that there are a million ones with three leaves, but there's only one with four leaves. Within an hour one of the girls found a 4 leaf clover. She was ecstatic and so was I! I was so proud that they could understand, and they were all determined to find one.

One afternoon, one of the other volunteers and I wanted to teach them duck duck goose, since that is a game loved by all American children. The girls loved it, and surely tired us out! It was so funny because with the girl's accents they would say, "DUCK, DUCK, DUCK..... JUICE!!!!" The other volunteer and I found this hysterical.

I am a regular practitioner of Bikram Yoga, and I wanted to share this with the girls. They had Christina teaching the girls yoganever heard of yoga before, so I introduced them to it. I taught them a series of 13 postures, and they were so serious about it! They wanted to practice every day, and would constantly ask me, "Yoga? Yoga? Yoga?" It was awesome to see their postures evolve over a short few weeks.

Giving the support needed

I thoroughly enjoyed being with these girls, even if no words were spoken. Some of the time, the girls would just want to sit on my lap or hold my hands and we would just lean on each other. Some of the time the girls would break down to us and try to communicate to us that they are so sad. It was heart breaking, but I can't express in words how glad I am that I was there to comfort them and just give them some support.

While my purpose at OPRIFS was to teach these girls English, I'm positive I taught them much more. I taught them confidence, yoga, happiness, mathematics, games, and much, much more. I am positive that I will be in lifelong contact with this wonderful organization, and I am sure I will be back to visit OPRIFS soon. One last word I would like to use to describe my time there - GOBAZ - or excellent in Amharic."<-->

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