A MOTHER'S LOVE

Media Mission team member, Robyn Smith, shares her similarities as a stay at home mom for 20 years and her life changing experience with the  mothers of Selamta!

 
Photo by Media Mission Team Member: Allie Chandler

Photo by Media Mission Team Member: Allie Chandler


Story teller. I was called that by a friend on March 5, 2016. It was not a title anyone had spoken over me before. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. I grew up in a home with a father who is legendary when it comes to story-telling. But I hadn’t necessarily called myself a story teller before that moment. Although it made sense. I’m a documenter. I’m a photographer. Put those two together and what do you get? Yep, stories. Honest stories. Stories that document who people are on their journey to becoming who they will be.

The friend who called me a storyteller actually said it in this context as we met for coffee, discussing life and purpose and calling: “Robyn, you’re not a photographer. You’re a story teller. And you’re not going to be happy until you’re telling God’s stories.” If I had known how significant those words were at the time, I probably would not have had the courage to believe them. But ignorance is often bliss, so I tucked those words into my heart. Wrote them in my journal. Pondered them over the next few months.

I don’t have space to connect every dot of what transpired after that coffee with my friend. But in the course of some unbelievably “only God” kind of connections, here’s what I know. I was leaving Ethiopia on March 5, 2017 with a team of story tellers who have changed my life forever exactly one year after my friend spoke to me. And in the 12-months leading up to that moment, God stirred my heart and gave me the courage to say YES to the assignment. To get on a plane and travel 8,000 miles with complete strangers. To spend 10-days outside my comfort zone, eating and sleeping and experiencing life in a community that looks and sounds and smells entirely different than my suburban life in Tennessee. To be wrecked by moments and people who on one hand are entirely different than me, and on the other hand are exactly the same. Because over the course of the past 12-months I discovered The Archibald Project and their vision to change the world of orphan care through the power of stories.

whitney runyon, nick runyon, robyn smith, the archibald project

I came home with so many stories to share, but I must to start with the one that is unique to this particular aspect of orphan care: the significance of motherhood. I’ve been a mom for almost 24-years. Motherhood has been my calling. God took me out of the workforce very shortly after my youngest was born. I have only known adulthood in the context of being a stay-at-home mom. My greatest trials and my greatest joys have been wrapped up in my role as mom. And on this side of TAP’s Media Mission to Ethiopia, I am so grateful to have been introduced to the world of ethical orphan care in the context of Selamta Family Project. Their entire model hinges on motherhood, and witnessing the depth of love their moms have for their kids blew my mind!

Kids need to be nurtured. All kids. Orphaned or not.

And although I know the orphan crisis is real and big and overwhelming and many kids must remain in orphanages, that is just not ideal. Because when nurturing gets mingled with an institution rather than a family, it’s just not the same.

Selamta Family Project has a completely family-centered model of orphan care. They saw the need in Ethiopia, a country with orphaned children as well as marginalized women. And in their brilliance, they found a way to employ the women as moms or aunties and place 8-10 orphaned kids into a home with those women, creating a forever family. They did this with 11-homes! Over 100 kids are no longer considered orphaned. Over 20 women are no longer marginalized. They are forever families. All living within a suburban community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

 

Photo on right of the Selamta Moms making soap!

Photo on right of the Selamta Moms making soap!

And it’s the moms who keep the program family-focused. I didn’t get to meet all of these beautiful women. But thankfully I did get to spend time in some of their homes. And it was so obvious that the mom's love were no different than my mom love. They love their kids with passion. Their kids bring them joy. They love opening their homes to family, friends and even strangers. They provide abundant meals. They pray with their kids. They worship with their friends. They’re creative in their home décor. They work with their hands.

They do projects together. And they make the best coffee on the planet, treating us to the traditional buna ceremony every visit.

Although we had significant language barriers (Ahmaric is almost impossible for my 48-year old self to learn!), love and joy are universal. Even heartache is universal.

We had the privilege of getting some one-on-one time with a few of these beauties and as their kids interpreted for us we asked about some of the hard things they have overcome in life. Most had little to share about life before Selamta. But this moment is one of my favorites. My friend, Shannon, is asking Zenebech about life with her oldest being off at college.

And suddenly through my lens I see the same universal sorrow mommas feel when kids leave the nest. It’s that combination of joy and pain. Thrilled that kids are spreading their wings and taking steps towards independence.  But knowing in the secret places of our heart that some things will never be the same again.

Only after returning home do I comprehend how powerful love is. Shannon and I are both birth moms to 20-ish year old kids who have recently left our nest. But not so for Zenebech and her college-aged daughter. She is not birth mom. And she has not been there for every moment of her daughter’s life. But love creates a forever bond. And I suddenly realize that motherhood is a calling and for those who embrace the call...

Forever love allows you to make up for lost time and be the nurturer you were designed to be for kids designed to be nurtured. And as your home is filled with joy and laughter of younger siblings, a momma’s heart always feel the void when one has left her nest.

I am so new to understanding the world of orphan care. I won’t begin to suggest I have answers to the big, looming issues others have spent their lives advocating for. But for my first experience on this journey, I am forever grateful that God saw fit to introduce me to Selamta Family Project and witness the power of FAMILY to end the orphan crisis for these amazing kids in Ethiopia.

 

 

~Robyn Smith, TAP Ethiopia Media Mission Team Member
Instagram: @abideinhimrobyn

Their stories should inspire others to adopt similar models all over the world, so that story-telling will change the world and fewer kids will ever be called orphan.

HEALING LOVE

After meeting a 4 year old orphan girl I began to understand the powerful healing of a mother's heart

 

“Mommy!!!”, Rediet shrieked as she ran into the arms of a woman she did not live with 5 months ago. 

The Ethiopian woman bent down, scooped the 4 year old into her arms, picked her up and hugged her tightly. 

Both Rediet and Mommy beamed from ear to ear. 

5 months ago Rediet lived with her biological mom and sister in their own home. Her mother was dying from a terminal disease that claims far too many lives in developing countries. 

When Rediet’s mother passed away, Wude, a forever mother of Selamta Family Project welcomed Rediet and her sister, Elshaday, with open arms. During the first weeks of becoming their mom, every night Wude would lay in a twin bed with the 4 and 8 year old sisters, hold them close as they fell asleep and helped heal their mourning hearts. 

Now, 5 months later, 2 young girls, orphaned and headed for orphanage life, now know the redeeming love of a safe forever family from Selamta. 

This blows my mind you guys!

Because Selamta exists, over 100 children in Addis Ababa do not have to live in orphanages! 

Let that sink in. 

Most orphanages are incredibly unhealthy and produce horrific outcomes for those who make it to the legal “aging out” age.

But Selamta places orphaned children in real homes with loving families. Selamta provides education and pysco-social support to children who know deep grief and suffering. 

Selamta is raising up the future generation of Ethiopia. We met future doctors, nurses and presidents…all who will succeed and have a chance at accomplishing their dreams because they are in a healthy family, loved by mothers and the whole Selamta staff (which really is a giant family).

I know children can grow up to become successful adults even if their home lives aren’t healthy, but the sad reality is that that is rare. Most children who grow up in orphanages in developing countries have severe issues as adults and can often end up on the streets, in gangs or prostitution. 

Selamta is changing the future for over 100 orphaned Ethiopian children and I’m so excited we were able to witness their work.

I know that I am forever changed by meeting Rediet and Elshaday. My faith is stronger after hearing about their past pain and yet seeing their current joy. I can’t wait to return one day and see how they’ve bloomed into beautiful young women…Beautiful young women who have a hope and a future because Selamta Family Project exits.

With passion + thankfulness,

Whit and Nick

 

To learn more about Selamta and how you can get involved, click here. They are always looking for more people to become a part of their community and if you’re lucky, maybe one day you can travel the 8,000 miles and meet these amazing people too!

DISCOVERING
ETHIOPIA

Our search for holistic orphan care in one of the oldest countries in Africa...

 

I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived in Ethiopia. All of my senses were off. It wasn’t the Africa I was used to...

Instead of sweat pouring down my face as we stepped off the plane, I reached for my zipper and secured my hoodie: it was much colder than I expected. 

We were greeted at the airport by an attractive Ethiopian man, who must have been around 24. He cheerfully helped us with our bags and beamed with pride for the organization for whom he worked. What we found was beautiful...

Selamta Family Project. 

We walked through the gates of Selamta (pronounced: Sa-lam-ta) to find a white poster board taped to the concrete wall reading,  “Welcome #Archibald Project." We were welcomed by a peaceful staff of Ethiopians. 

As everyone went around and shared their names (that I was convinced I wouldn’t remember in 5 minutes), I realized just how incredibly holistic and needed this place was.

Selamta is a holistic orphan care organization. They have around 100 orphaned and vulnerable children living in 12 homes, each with a full time mom and auntie. 

And what struck us immediately was that each home is in an actual neighborhood. The homes where Selamta families live are not on a compound, walled off from the rest of the world. Each family lives amongst traditional families in neighborhoods where no one even knows the children were once orphaned!

As we got to know the staff, we interviewed them about what Selamta does for their children and families. They provide an education that is tailored to individual needs. This means that if one of their children learns differently than the school they are

zoned for, a driver will pick them up and take them to a different school every day…even if that school is across town…because Selamta believes that every child should receive the best education for their individual brain development! 

Secondly, they provide psychosocial support for families! If a vulnerable family in the neighborhood, who doesn’t have to be a part of their 12 Forever Families, is in need of family counseling, or trauma and loss therapy, Selamta has trained professionals on hand to help walk these families through the care they need to stay together! Amazing, right?! 

But the main reason we came to Ethiopia, the main reason we fell in love with the idea of partnering with Selamta is…

their forever family homes. Check back tomorrow to meet some of the most amazing children AND women. Each one will humble your heart and instill redeeming hope that the orphan crisis can be

With passion + thankfulness,

Nick + Whit

eliminated and show the possibility that all children could live in a safe and healthy home environment!

MISSION LAZARUS

Educational, medical, agricultural, and spiritual outreach in the mountains of Honduras

 
the archibald project, orphan care, adoption, honduras

Journey with me (Kendyle!) to the mountains of Honduras – right on the boarder of Nicaragua. There lies an incredible organization, started by Allison and Jarod Brown, called Mission Lazarus. A few weeks ago, I was given the privilege of spending a week with the staff, children, and the community to learn more about their Children's Refuge. While there, I discovered the many other

programs Mission Lazarus has to care for vulnerable children and adults and completely fell in love.  While their family-style Refuge for children is incredibly done, that is only a small part of what they do. I wanted to write this blog to share about both the Refuge and the many other programs throughout the community. 


Mission Lazarus Children's Refuge

I am so passionate about holistic care for orphaned and vulnerable children and visiting Mission Lazarus' Refuge only reinforced that passion. I saw children that have undergone traumatic experiences (loss, abandonment, abuse, etc.) have a healthy family environment and dreams for their life. 

They are intentional in how they set up this care to ensure a secure, loving, and stable environment where children come to restore and grow in to adults. There are currently 6 homes with 5 – 8 children in each of them. Each home has 3 caretakers but only 2 are in the home at a time – this allows for caretakers to take a week off to be with their families that live in the city.

I had the chance of visiting a few of the caretakers homes when off-duty. I met their families and asked them a few questions about their job and couldn't help but notice the unanimous joy and thankfulness each one of them had. Some of the women would have to travel so far to find work that they could only see their families a few times a year, others were barely being paid, if even at all. Mission Lazarus has allowed for these women to make a fair wage that pays enough to expand the size of their house, or buy

 

good shoes for their children; they have allowed women to move back home with their family after working for years in Costa Rica. On top of that, these women get 1 whole week off every 3 weeks to spend quality time with their children, parents, friends, and husbands. 

The house mothers love their jobs and they love the kids in their house. It is not a job to them, it is motherhood

As for the children, they love it too. They receive individualized attention because they are not in a giant orphanage where caregivers have to split their attention between 80, 100, 200 kids. They live in a normal house with two parental figures that cook dinner, help them with homework, and tuck them in at night. They are allowed to be their own person, to dream big and take steps towards those dreams. Some of the kids have their own gardens, some take care of horses, bunnies, and other animals, some paint pictures to decorate the house. 

These children, who were a overlooked, get an opportunity at a life full of love.


Mission Lazarus Vocational Training

With 3 vocational schools, both near the grounds and up further in the mountains, Mission Lazarus allows for youth to develop practical and useful skills for a better life. 

They train in carpentry, leather-smithing, and sewing. Their programs are 3 years of extensive training in one of the areas along with a typical education. Children continue their studies while getting hands-on experience with a skill of their choice. 

The vocational schools are open to both the children in Mission Lazarus' Refuge and children all throughout the community. Some kids walk 3 hours just to receive this training and experience. I got the opportunity to walk the journey with 2 boys in the carpentry school and it is a long one. I wondered why their 3 hour hike to and from the school was worth it and then discovered why. These boys live in a remote village with no school and not a lot of opportunity. Typically, children in their village go straight to work for very

 

little pay to help their families in any way. With Mission Lazarus, these boys receive an education, vocational training, and get a stipend so that they can continue to learn instead of feeling the need to quit school for a job. Their families are also required to be involved so that they can feel apart and give back to these schools: 2 mothers, on a rotating schedule, come and cook lunch every day. 

I had the opportunity to speak with kids and instructors from each school and the confidence and excitement they had was amazing. A few of the girls from the sewing school told me about how they used to be incredibly shy and not believe much in their future but because of the training they have received, they are excited to graduate and continue their education or open a shop; they speak boldly to family and in front of their church. The vocational schools are giving children a chance to change the trajectory of their lives, their children's lives and influence those in their community. 


Mission Lazarus School for the Refuge

One morning I got to ride the school bus with the kids from the Refuge. The older kids were dropped off at a public school in town and the younger kids and I were dropped off at another school – one specifically for Mission Lazarus kids (at least for now). The school is new and only goes to the 7th grade currently. I walked around with the principal and learned about the horrible education system in Honduras – how teachers just don't show up or care to teach the kids, how kids with special needs are just known as "trouble" and no steps are made to help them learn. 

She started with Mission Lazarus only 2 months prior and has her masters in education. She has so many dreams for the school and for the future of education in Honduras but right now she is

 

focusing on small class sizes and individualized education. Some of the children have learning disabilities and, instead of ignoring that and teaching them the same way, they cater to their needs and teach on their level. 

The children from the Refuge are excited to attend school, they love their teachers and are incredibly interactive in class. The plan is to expand the school for other grades and children outside of the Refuge but they are currently focusing on quality not quantity. Honduras does not need more schools, it needs schools that are good. This seems to be the trend with all programs at Mission Lazarus and it makes such a difference in how successful each of them are. 


Mission Lazarus Churches and Clinics Building

One of the coolest things about Mission Lazarus is their outreach and impact out in the community and remote villages of Honduras. They are behind the scenes building clinics for more accessible medical care and employing locals in those clinics. They are building churches to spiritually grow a community and training a pastor to be able to lead those people. 

They are not an organization that people have to come to, Mission Lazarus is an organization that comes to people. Lives have been saved because of the placement of clinics in areas where

 

there were none. People have found new hope because they have heard the good news of the Gospel at the new church in their community. On top of that, they do not neglect or overlook their staff. There is a church and 2 clinics on the grounds for both spiritual and medical health for the employees and children of Mission Lazarus. A healthy staff means a healthy organization and Mission Lazarus has learned this over the years. Everyone cares so much and every program communicates with one another. This makes their outreach so much stronger because they are staffed with healthy and hard workers that care about the community. 

Birth Family Care

Today we are introducing our first topic of 2017:
Birth Family Care.

 
All this month we will be sharing stories from an organization that empowers vulnerable mothers as part of orphan prevention. We’ll also be debuting a brand new film at the end of the month featuring a domestic adoption which shares both sides of the story: the birth mother and the adoptive parents. Stay tuned!

All this month we will be sharing stories from an organization that empowers vulnerable mothers as part of orphan prevention. Well also be debuting a brand new film at the end of the month featuring a domestic adoption which shares both sides of the story: the birth mother and the adoptive parents. Stay tuned!


Throughout all of our travels and work in the world of orphan care, we have seen a lot of hard situations--one major issue is the care (or often lack there of) of vulnerable families who, out of desperation/lack of opportunities/lifestyle patterns etc., place their children in orphanages or for adoption.

Sometimes complex issues are more understandable when explained through a typical example. Imagine this scenario:

 

Woman: Impoverished upbringing, lack of opportunity, uneducated.

Woman gets pregnant.

Woman loves baby.

Woman has no money to feed herself or baby.

Out of love and hopefulness that her baby will survive, Woman places baby in an orphanage.

Baby grows up in an institution, often lacking quality care and the love of a family.

Baby sustains significant issues relating to attachment, failure to thrive, learning disabilities, etc.

Baby grows up.

Baby does not know how to function in society in a way that emotionally, socially or economically healthy and stable. 

Baby gets pregnant.

Baby loves baby.

Baby has no money to feed herself or baby.

Out of love and hopefulness that her baby will survive, woman places baby in an orphanage…

The baby turned orphan turned mother replicates the same cycle of creation of orphans...

 

....And on and on the cycle goes.

As mentioned previously, this is not always as cut-and-dry as we’ve described, but what is critical to understand is that just because a child is in an orphanage does not mean that they are justifiably “orphaned”. Many of these situations that led to an orphaned child could have been prevented.

So why are we addressing this issue? Why Birth Family Care?

If we are to truly get to the root of the orphan crisis, we must address and care for families and their children. To only care for children is putting a bandaid on a much deeper issue, and can even promote unethical adoption practices.

But how do you care for birth families? How do you help adults so that they are able to parent their children in a safe environment? 

You come alongside, in a number of ways, to these men and women to train, educate, empower, employ, extend psychological help and allow them to fail and succeed, but never to give up! 

2017: JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Everyone can care for orphans; follow us in 2017 and discover the many ways to get involved. 

 

The idea of caring for orphans is incredibly daunting and often overwhelming.

Orphan care.

Caring for orphans.

What does it exactly mean? 

As a Westerner, 5 years ago if you would have asked me what it meant to care for orphans I probably would have answered something like, ‘Well it means you adopt.’ But over the years, as we’ve dug deeper into and investigated a lot into those two giant words, Orphan Care, I’ve come to realize that there are numerous ways for one to care for orphans.

Let me take you on a brief evolution of The Archibald Project. I’ll spare you the details of how and why we began, but if you’re interested, (it is my favorite story [besides sharing how my husband and I ended up together]) you can read the full story here.

After we documented our first adoption in 2011 and saw the power of media and storytelling to get another orphan adopted, we felt called to use our art to inspire more people to adopt. We began using all of our free time traveling the world and documenting international adoptions and thought that the more adoptions we documented, the more people would be inspired to adopt! 

And then we went to Uganda. 

In Uganda we learned that a large percentage of children living in orphanages were not orphans at all. They had one or both living parent(s) and more often than not, those parents wanted their children. They did not want to place their child in an orphanage nor want to place their child for adoption. But often times, because of extreme poverty, families in developing countries, like Uganda, are torn apart and children are placed in orphanages. 

Our minds were blown. 

We then met person after person who had stories of being matched with a child for adoption and later found out that their ‘child’ had living parents and had been tricked or manipulated into signing their rights away from their children.

Or parents believed that the only way to give their child a future was to send them to the west through adoption. Our hearts were broken and we felt defeated. But then we learned that there are thousands of organizations out there working to empower and equip vulnerable children and families. And we realized, right there on the red soil of Uganda, that orphan care goes beyond adoption and we wanted the world to know! 

Next we traveled to Romania where children are not allowed to be adopted by non-Romanian citizens but the institutions are overflowing with children who desperately need families. So how do you help? It’s not always possible or healthy/safe for a child to be resettled with their biological family, so what do you do? How do you care for these orphans, especially when adoption isn’t an option?

And then we went to India, and China and the U.S. and we realized that there are so many reasons why children are orphaned and so many ways to pour into and build up these love seeking humans. 

But why are more people not involved? Why aren’t more people helping? 

We believe at our core, that people want to help, that people desire to extend love and safety to children. We believe in our fellow man. We believe that people do not know the issues OR where to help. 

That is why we are shifting gears this year. 

In 2017 and beyond we will be tackling core topics of unique ways to care for orphaned and vulnerable children. Throughout the next 2 weeks we will be releasing the 6 topics that The Archibald Project will investigate, educate on and expose the world to in the year of 2017. We believe that everyone can find a way to care for orphans. 

There will always be orphans, but it doesn't have to be a crisis. We need a mass amount of people to care for orphaned and vulnerable children so that, together, we can end the orphan crisis... So we’re starting a movement. 

This is the movement. It’s starting now.
Join us.

 

 


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