After a busy festive season Virginie Brouard, owner of La P’tite Folie and Le Di-Vin, has been able to reflect on her trip to Ethiopia in November.
For the last four years Virginie has been fundraising for the Daughters of Charity, a mission of 60 nuns who run orphanages in the Tigray region, as well as for The Missionaries of Charity Mother Teresa orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Thanks to the generosity of friends and customers of both the restaurant and wine bar, Virginie has raised close to £20,000 to date. This money goes directly to help orphans, single mothers and older people trying to survive in the third poorest country in the world.
“I started this trip, like many others, with a visit to the Mother Teresa orphanage in Addis Ababa to drop off another wheelchair I had taken over from Scotland. I was able to catch up with the sisters, many of whom have become friends, and see the familiar faces of the many children. Woody (pictured) has been in the orphanage since he was a baby, he was found abandoned, probably because of his disability, and was the recipient of one of the first wheelchairs I was able to fly over with.
I then headed north to Mekele where I met up with Sister Medhin, a dear friend and the co-ordinator of the Daughters of Charity. I was able to see first-hand what our donations have been able to do to help so far.
Mekele, close to the border of Eritrea, is a very impoverished and famine stricken part of the country. This due in part, to war but also to the climate which means the ground is extremely dry and growing crops is difficult.
Once a family has a roof over their head everything else in their life can start to improve so a huge part of the work the charity does is focused on improving living conditions for those who need it most – primarily single mums and older people. This includes masonry work and plastering for walls, corrugated iron roofs for houses surfacing floors with cement and installing doors, windows and gates.
The charity also helps to provide health services through the provision of clinics, care and support for children orphaned by HIV/Aids and education at kindergarten and primary level.
Some of the homes we visited…..
This disabled lady has just moved into a new flat bought with the Daughters of Charity funds. The flat is almost finished and she and her daughter are delighted to have a proper house. The family below has four generations living in one big room. The charity has fixed the walls, floor and roof for them so there are no longer any leaks.
This family will receive help from the charity very soon. The mother is very elderly and suffers from terrible asthma. The smoke from the fire inside her house makes it very difficult to breathe so she has to sleep outside. Her daughter had to stop studying and works in the market in order to provide for them. With our donations we will build a proper kitchen area so she will be able to sleep inside her home. We will also make sure that she receives proper treatment for her asthma.
I was lucky enough to spend some time at a kindergarten run by the Daughters of Charity in Mekele. The nuns look after 300 children everyday. As well as receiving education the children also receive one nutritious meal per day. The children were a real inspiration; they were so smart and eager to learn.
We saw one of the big storage units in Alitena where all the food is safely stored. The Daughters of Charity have to pay the government for 50kg bags of food which they can then distribute to those most in need. Grain, flour and sugar are all distributed however sugar is in short supply and coffee has become too expensive for the Daughters of Charity to acquire. The charity also tries where possible to provide families with items that enable them to be more self-sufficient e.g. chickens, fruit trees, coal for fires.
Sister Medhin also invited me to attend an HIV congress with her in Axum, Tigray. The Daughters of Charity received an award at the congress for their great work with people suffering from HIV. It is such an enormous problem in Ethiopia, particularly in the north where there is a constant army presence. I got to meet a number of government officials as well as the President of Tigray.
Do you remember Bereket?
Bereket was first introduced to me when he was 3 years old, you may recognise this photo from the website. I was lucky enough to see Bereket again on this visit. He is now 7 and is being educated by the nuns – he is a little star!
As well as my travels with Sister Medhin I also took some time out to visit a refugee camp near Axum even closer to the border. It was an extremely difficult trip and a very hostile environment. Lots of people arrive at the refugee camp from Sudan and Eritrea every week to escape from the wars. I met a number of young men and teenagers all planning to travel to Libya so they could reach Italy by boat. The levels of poverty and malnourishment in Axum were even more challenging than in Mekele and I hope to go back when I have more time to volunteer in any way possible with the paediatric unit there.
Every trip I take to Ethiopia is both heartbreaking and humbling. Every time I leave there is another project in my mind. As a business owner I am used to being able to take control and fix things but the poverty in Ethiopia is beyond anything you can ever imagine. There is so much work to do and it is impossible to fix everything but it was absolutely wonderful to see first-hand what a huge difference our small donations have made to peoples’ lives. I am eternally grateful to our customers and friends who continue to support this very worthwhile cause that is so close to my heart.”