Herb Leventon of Epic Photo Tours has been a long time supporter of Omo Child and we are very pleased to share his testimonial. Thank you Herb for all that you do raising funds and awareness for our children!
HERB LEVENTON, TOUR LEADER EPIC PHOTO TOURS
In early January of 2017 the Epic Photo Tours group of seven very well traveled photographers put their cameras down for over two hours and visited the Omo Child residence in Jinka, Ethiopia. Every year we include a visit to the residence and to watch these kids grow up has been quite a life affirming experience. Needless to say the visit was an eye opener and a moving emotional experience for all. The group visit started when we went to the local school where the kids study. The headmaster brought us into each classroom where we were introduced to the kids. They radiated vibrancy and had a strong desire to practice their basic English language skills with us. The kids were in matching uniforms of gray vests, dark pants and white shirts. Based upon their appearance they could have been in any western prep school.
From there we went to see the residence and was was hosted by Lale labuko. He gave us a grand tour and filled us in on the workings of this life changing, non for profit agency. After traveling for two weeks in the Omo Valley and immersing ourselves in the culture it was quite evident to all that these are the healthiest, cleanest, most vibrant kids in the Omo. The average weight of the kids appeared to be about 8 lbs heaver than the other kids we met. This estimate was given to us by a California based physician who was in our group. As most kids in the Omo have dry, chalky skin these kids clearly had well moisturized and healthy skin. Not an eye infection, runny nose, cough or skin infection in the bunch. Throughout the Omo we encountered kids with pink eye, hacking coughs and constantly dripping noses. The Omo Child boys all had fresh haircuts and the adorable girls were wearing hair ribbons. The group of fifty kids were exceptionally well groomed.
The excellent care they receive was evident to all. One person in the group commented that the caregivers all seemed to be smiling and actively involved in nurturing the children. Just home from school we observed kids having their feet cleaned in soapy water, another child reading to his caregiver, a few girls having their hair done and other children changing from their school uniforms to after school clothing. The amount of clothing available to the kids was ceiling high, freshly laundered and in excellent shape. The kids had clean slip on sandals in excellent shape which is quite rare in this profoundly poor country. The residence was immaculate, walls freshly painted, floors clean, everything in its place and the dining room was inviting and welcoming.
The children in the Omo Child residence seem to coexist as siblings. Some were playing basketball, some coloring and others were found in a room that presented as a library. I have been to the Omo Valley nine times and have never seen a library, no less one that is stocked as well as this. Definitely on the level of any you would find in a leafy suburb in the United States or Europe. These kids are thriving and they pulled the group members in with them to partake in whatever activity they were doing. Their sense of self esteem high, their ability to connect with strangers left a strong impression on the group members. The Omo Child residence is a rare jewel in the Omo Valley. These children are happy and thriving and you can feel the positive vibe in the air.
To interact with 50 happy, healthy children who are flourishing really was a special experience for the group. Some group members made financial donations, one member hailing form Ireland left twenty art supply kits. Each child had his/her photograph taken on an instant camera and received their picture. The visit was so full of joy and spontaneity. The group started an Epic School Fund and we hope to raise money to offset the school fees. These kids are being groomed to be leaders and we hope to help them be the best they can be.
Contact Herb at Epic Photo Tours for information on cultural photographic trips to the Omo Valley which include a visit to the home.
STEVE McCURRY, WORLD RENOWNED PHOTOGRAPHER,”TO SAVE A CHILD” BLOG POST
“It was a privilege to go to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia with my friend, John Rowe, to photograph the work he is doing with Lale Labuko…READ THE ENTIRE POST HERE.
NANCY NENOW VISITS OUR OMO CHILDREN IN JINKA
OMO CHILD supporter Nancy Nenow, an experienced world traveler and Chair of the San Diego Chapter of the Explorers Club, visited Jinka, Ethiopia last summer. She wrote her impressions about visiting our children:
“On my visit to the OMO CHILD home in Jinka, I was amazed to see how clean the facility was. I guess I was surprised, mainly because none of the hotels or restaurants in that part of Ethiopia had been very clean. I was greatly impressed by the cheerful atmosphere in both homes. At the home with the smaller children, the nannies were holding one or two children and playing with others. No child was being ignored. The children were clean and curious and friendly.
The older children were particularly impressive. They were clean, well dressed, and happy and engaged in the activities led by their teacher. I was very impressed by how the older children interacted with and helped the younger children. The group was all smiles and curiosity.
We stayed for lunch and I observed that the children automatically washed their hands and calmly found seats at the table and waited for the food to be served. Clearly, someone is teaching them very good manners. The food was simple but quite tasty and the children seemed to enjoy it. I am happy to report that Omo Child provides a very wholesome and healthy home for these beautiful and intelligent children.”
REV. DR. KATHERINE ELLISON, PH.D, M.DIV
Dr. Ellison has been a wonderful supporter and friend to OMO CHILD. She wrote the moving piece, “Walking the Talk” about Lale Labuko.
Walking the Talk
Let me tell you a true story. It’s about a young man from a very remote part of Ethiopia, the Omo Valley. It is a world removed from electricity. In the days when our story begins, there was no education or even basic health care. Even now, National Geographic has called this “Africa’s Last Frontier.”
This young man’s name is Lale Labuko. Young Lale’s life took a sharp turn when Swedish missionaries visited his village. They recognized in Lale a spark of curiosity and intellect beyond his years. They convinced Lale’s father, a man who had never been out of the region, to make his son the first person to leave the village to be educated. You may have heard the tall tales of parents who walked five miles to school, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. Well, this is no tall tale, but a true one. Lale more than “walked the walk:” he walked 65 kilometers to a school far from home and far from anything he knew. His eyes were opened to the benefits of education, and to Christianity. And he began to carry the messages he learned each year back to his village.
When he was 15, he returned to the village for a school holiday and watched as a child was torn from its mother’s arms and thrown into the Omo River. He stood, stunned, as the small body floated in the current and people returned to their daily activities. Later that day, his mother explained “mingi” to her horrified son. Mingi, she explained, is defined in certain tribes in Ethiopia, including the Kara and Hamar people of the Omo Valley, as being ritually impure.
MICHELE ZOUSMER VISITS JINKA / MEETS BABY TENSAI
I am a humanitarian photographer and artist. The day before I left on a photographic trip to Ethiopia, I was introduced to John Rowe of OMO CHILD who changed my whole view of the country and their fascinating people. John graciously offered to make contacts for me to visit the children while I was in Jinka.
The first evening in Jinka, I met with friendly staff members, Ariyo and Sofia, and they made plans to bring me to the OMO CHILD home the following morning. My visit was a life-changing experience for me. I was so taken by the beautiful faces of the children. The babies, the young children and all the nannies couldn’t have been warmer and greeted me with open arms. Everyone was clean and well-dressed and so well taken care of.
Baby Tensai had just arrived from being rescued from the Kara tribe. It was shocking to see such a weak, emaciated infant after such an ordeal. As a Mingi child, she was not fed more than water for two weeks while waiting to be rescued from certain death. I took a few photographs of her on that first day. Now, when I see pictures of Tensai as a chubby, happy little girl, I realize how fortunate it was that John Rowe and Lale Labuko came together to rescue Mingi children and put an end to this terrible practice.
This little girl has a special place in my heart. She was named Tensai which means “resurrection.” She is one of 37 rescued children being taken care of at OMO CHILD. These children are the future leaders of Southwest Ethiopia & the Omo Valley. After my time traveling in that area, I came back to the U.S. to share what I have learned – that even though these people may look and live so differently from us, we really are the same in so many ways . We all need love, family and cultural traditions to be happy in life.
PS- I was delighted to learn that Gude, one of the OMO CHILD staff in Jinka, named his new daughter Michele.
DR. STUART GRAUER, FOUNDER OF THE GRAUER SCHOOL, UPDATED BLOG POST
Some of you are already familiar with the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. The Omo Valley is named for the river that runs down its center. The Valley contains people that have passed along many ancient practices, one of which is Mingi (or “cursed”). By our standards these people, the Kara, live under primitive conditions. There is no electricity or cars. As Dr. Steven Wallace explains, “The people are semi-nomadic and live by raising crops, cattle, sheep and goats. They wear the hides of cattle and goats. The elders that run the tribe cannot read or write. They do not know their own ages and probably have not traveled fifty miles from their village their entire lives.” For generations, tribal elders determined if a child is Mingi. In general, children that are born to unwed mothers, children in which the upper teeth erupt before lower teeth, or twins are considered Mingi children. And for generations, these children were put to death. Enter Grauer School alumni father John Rowe (Kelianne, class of 2011). John, a world-class photographer, created Omo Child Foundation, after meeting Lale Labuko, a young and charismatic Kara man…READ THE ENTIRE POST HERE.