9-24-14 / Erica Usher’s Story

erica_omoDear Friends,

Erica Usher is Chair of the Project Matrix Group, a sub-group of the Diplomatic Spouses Group of Ethiopia.  Currently on leave from the Canadian diplomatic service, Erica has lived in Addis Ababa for two years.  Erica is a great friend of supporter of Omo Child and recently travled to both the Omo Child home in Jinka as well as witnessing part of the Hamer tribe end Mingi in the Omo Valley.  She recently wrote about here experience and we would love to share it with our supporters.

“Erica, take a look at this website, can you help?”  It took a couple of more emails from my friend Abiy urging me to follow the link to the Omo Child website before I could sit down to do it.  Although I had lived in Ethiopia for one year already, I still had not explored much of the south, including the Omo Valley, and I was not familiar with the tribes of the south and their traditions.  Mind you, when I shared what I read about Omo Child with my Ethiopian friends in Addis Ababa, they too had never heard of “mingi”.

I was appalled.  It took no time for me to contact the Foundation to see how we could help, and to have its request for funding approved by the Diplomatic Spouses Group.  I was able to hand over the cheque personally to Lale and John – Omo Child co-founders – and to hear more of Lale’s story.    One cannot help but be affected by the tenaciousness of this young man who is devoting himself to changing generations of tribal tradition.  When Lale then invited me to participate in the blessing ceremony at the children’s home in Jinka, my friend Abiy insisted on taking me so I could see for myself.

Ethiopia is a beautiful country.  The terrain changes dramatically from one region to the next, and after travelling for two days by car from Addis to Jinka I could see there was something distinctive about the Omo Valley that I had not experienced in other parts of Ethiopia.  There was beauty in the banana plantations and cotton fields, in the weaver bird nests and the woven beehives hanging in trees, and in the hills terraced with small fields by generations of farmers.  Further south the acacia trees, dry riverbeds and scrubland gave a more stereotypical African appearance.  It seemed that every few kilometres the dress and the hairstyle of the people I met on the road changed; there are so many different tribes. There was a uniquely different “feel” to the south.  Yet this “feel” does not betray the south’s dark secret – the killing of innocent children believed to be cursed, and the dedication of one man to reveal the secret and bring this tradition to an end.

In Jinka everyone at the children’s home was very welcoming.  The pre-school aged children were happily playing games supervised by caring nannies.  One would not know these children had once been rescued from the arms of death.  The home itself was clean and fresh and bright.  I was shown the children’s beds, the water tank, generator and the washing machine that were purchased with the funds from my group.  I had no doubts that our donation to help support these children was well spent.

The blessing celebration brought together kings and respected elders from the Hamar, Bane and Kara tribes with the children who had been rescued by Omo Child.  I hoped that when the kings and respected elders saw that these “mingi” children were healthy and happy they would realize their mistake, and it would fuel Lale’s efforts to convince them to stop.

At the meeting of the kings and elders prior to the ceremony, I saw Lale at work for the first time.  Diplomatic, but forceful – being an educated member of the Kara tribe and having been personally affected by the practice of “mingi” through the killing at birth of his two elder sisters, Lale was listened to with respect.  Each king and elder was invited to speak his mind.  Regional government officials spoke.  Two women from the Hamar and Bane tribes who had had “mingi” children who were killed, each courageously shared their regret in front of the elders.  Two of the three tribes represented at this meeting had ended the “mingi” practice in previous years, and were putting very vocal pressure on the Hamar to do the same.  I was impressed by the animated finger-pointing and name-calling between the tribal leaders, but left the meeting unsure of the results.

Later at lunch the common language between me and the elders at my table was the very broken and limited Amharic with which each of us struggled affably to communicate.  (I learned that in the south two wives are better than one because of shorter life expectancy and that large families are the norm, and that most of the children are not sent to school because they are needed to tend to the livestock which is so important for the survival of these pastoralist families.  Girls, in particular, are rarely sent to school as educated girls are worth fewer heads of cattle at marriage.)

The meeting ended and we all returned to the children’s home for the ceremony.  The kings and elders sat amiably in the ceremonial circle sharing roasted meat while simultaneously uttering responses to the blessings offered by elders from each of the three tribes.  I understood not a word of what was said, but it seemed clear.  The rescued children at the Omo Child home were being blessed by those who had abandoned them.  Not cursed.

When the invitation came from Lale in late June for me to attend the ending “mingi” ceremony with one  Hamar tribe (the largest – 21,000 strong) I was delighted to hear of this achievement and eager to participate even though it was occurring just days before I was due to leave the country for the summer.  And to sweeten the pot, John Rowe invited me to join his group while he and Sebastian shot more video footage for his documentary.

This time the celebration was not in town, but off-road in Hamar country.  When we arrived an ox had been slaughtered and was being roasted by Hamar men who were stripping the nearby trees to feed the fire. Hamar women were brewing coffee-bean husks in huge cauldrons which would be served later in calabash gourds as tea.  Although most of the proud Hamar people were guarded in my presence, I felt pleased to be recognized and greeted by some of those I had met in Jinka at the blessing celebration in April.

Slowly the elders gathered under the shade constructed the previous day on the dry riverbed.  The youth watched from the bank where I also was seated, and the women, until invited to move closer, watched from a distance.  It was curious to see the kings and elders in western dress topped with colourful hats, while the married women wore skins and cowry shell belts and the young men and women wore beaded head-bands and woven loin cloths or skirts.  I would have thought it would be the other way around – with the elders holding on to traditional dress.

Despite the numerous discussions and meetings leading up to the celebration, it was not clear until the very last minute that the decision by the king to end “mingi” would be accepted by the elders.  The day before the celebration we were told that many of the young men were not in favour of changing tribal traditions and were not helping with the preparations.  On the day itself a Hamar respected elder stood up during the meeting to disavow his support for his king’s decision.  The young men sitting near me, when I asked them their views, told me they have no say – no opinion. They will follow the decision of the elders.  I wondered then whether all of the preparations had been for nothing.  I wondered just what power or influence the Hamar king actually had if his tribal elders will contradict him so publicly.  I wondered why the Hamar woman who spoke so courageously in Jinka did not get up once again to speak.  I wondered, dumbfounded, how anyone could justify a tradition which takes an innocent child’s life?

In the end, after hours of talking, berating, accusing, warning, finger-pointing – approval to end the “mingi” practice in this Hamar tribe of 21,000 was agreed, the roasted ox was eaten, blessings were offered and a lamb was slaughtered to seal the deal.  I felt a few sprinkles of rain, but more did not come.  Was this seen as a sign?

Comments were later made that the ceremony was not properly finalized: the slaughtered lamb was not roasted and consumed so the “mingi” practice in this tribe was not really officially ended.  It remains to be seen.  The king’s proclamation remains to be delivered to each household.  And the other Hamar tribes remain to be convinced.  But this day was nonetheless a significant step toward finally ending the “mingi” tradition.

Although an outsider and a “farenj”, I feel privileged to have witnessed this historic event in the Hamar tribe and to be able to contribute – even in a small way – to Lale’s work.

Thank you Erica for all that you have done for Omo Child!
The Omo Child Team

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9-24-14 / Busy Summer at Omo Child

Dear Friends,

The extraordinary journey of Omo Child continued through the summer with the children growing and developing in a secure home.  In addition to our work to care, nourish and love the children of the Omo Child Home there were other critical issues challenging us.
Tragically the killing of “mingi children” continues in one last tribe, the Hamer in the Omo Valley.  The reality of this tragedy and working to end the killing is very difficult. Lale Labuko and staff from Omo Child have been involved all summer in conjunction with the local Ethiopian government to bring awareness and to end the killing.  In July, I joinedLale and some special friends in the Omo Valley to support and witness their efforts.

king bonkoOmo Child and its staff have been working in conjunction with the local government to end mingi in the Hamer tribe, a tribe of 57,000 people.  After many discussions and negotiations King Bonko of the Basheda clan decided to take the courageous steps to end the mingi curse and the killing of children in his clan of nearly 21,000 people.

Meanwhile, Omo Child has worked with partners to bring clean water and medical care to thousands of people in remote tribal villages.  With help from the Italian government and their embassy staff in Addis, a cleanwater project is being designed and built for the three main Kara villages on the Omo River. This project, funded by the Italian government is an amazing achievement, which will bring clean water and prevent illness to thousands of people.

When we were in the Omo Valley, Erica Usher, a Canadian diplomat, accompanied us during our visit to the Hamer tribe.  Mrs. Usher has been a generous supporter of Omo Child and she will be writing a short story about her experience in an up-coming email.

This summer has been long and very challenging.  Fundraising has not been our primary focus but now we look towards the needs of 2015 and the start of our fall fundraising season.  Clearly the focus is on Omo Child’s 44 rescued children who require our continued love and support.  Our budget requirements for next year will be approximately $200,000 and we will need to raise this money.  Together we can continue to provide the miracle of life to these very special children.  Please remember our kids and their needs as you plan for your fall charitable giving.

Thank You,
John Rowe
Co-founder of Omo Child

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7-16-14 / Breaking with Brutal Tradition: Ann Curry Reports on NBC Nightly News

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A few months ago Omo Child founders John Rowe and Lale Labuko sat down with Ann Curry for an interview at 30 Rock in New York City.  We are very excited to share Ann Curry’s report which aired on The Nightly News on July 13th.  It is so wonderful to have our story told by Ann and her team at NBC.

We think it is beautifully done and are so thankful to have their support!  Click here to see the full 16 minute piece which is exclusive to the web.

A huge Thank You to Ann Curry and everyone at NBC for helping to raise awareness about Omo Child!

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5-28-14 / Kara, Hamer, and Bena Tribe Elders Bless the Children

A few weeks ago,  on April 19th, elders from the Kara, Hamer, and Bena tribes came to the Omo Child home in Jinka, Ethiopa for a very special event.  The elders came to meet, visit with and most importantly bless the children of Omo Child.  It is important to put into perspective just how incredible it was to have the Hamer elders, who still believe in the curse of Mingi, touring the Omo Child home and visiting with the children. Many of our children were rescued from the Hamer tribe and were declared Mingi by the very same elders.  It was an important and significant day towards the goal of ending Mingi in the Hamer tribe as well as continuing to strengthen Omo Child’s relationship with elders from the Kara and Bena who have already ended the practice of Mingi.

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What an amazing day. Everyone at Omo Child would like to thank the elders for coming to the home and blessing the children, as well as all of you for your continued support.  We hope one day soon the Hamer tribe will follow in the Kara tribe’s footsteps and forever end Mingi in the Omo Valley.

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After the elders gave speeches and ate, the children sang songs for their visitors.  Here they are singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.”

 

Spirits were high at the end of the day and everyone posed for a group photo.

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2-28-14 / Book Publisher Phaidon

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photo: John Rowe

 

Wow… It was great to see this on Phaidon’s hompage today!  Thanks to Steve McCurry and Phaidon helping to tell our story.

The Omo Child Team

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2-26-14 / Lale Labuko: Cultural Superhero by Laura Grace Weldon

omo Laura Grace Weldon wrote a wonderful piece on her blog about Lale Labuko and Omo Child. Thank you Laura for helping raise awareness and helping to tell our story!

Laura Grace Weldon is an author and editor.  She’s the author of “Free Range Learning,” a handbook of natural learning and “Tending,” a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She’s working on her next book, “Subversive Cooking” (subversivecooking.com)

Thanks again,
The Omo Child Team

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2-24-14 / Steve McCurry’s Children of the Omo Blog Post

Steve McCurry Omo Valley

Please take a moment and look at Steve McCurry’s latest blog post about Omo Child and Lale Labuko!  Thank you Steve for continuing to support the work of Omo Child.

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2-23-14 / A Huge Thank You to our Supporters

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 photo: Nadia Salameh

Dear Friends and Supporters,

All of us at Omo Child could not be more grateful for all of the support we received this giving season. The goal for our Creating Big Smiles Bright Futures campaign was to raise $30,000 to support the day-to-day operation at the Omo Child home.

In just 2 months, with your help, we raised $74,788 for the children!  With your support, we DOUBLED our year end goal!

As you know, Omo child is completely donor funded. With your generous donations, Omo Child is able start off 2014 for the very first time with money in the bank – an incredible achievement for an organization as small and as young as ours.

With the funds raised, Omo Child will be able to maintain the loving and caring environment we have so thoughtfully created for our 37 children, including the nannies (or “mamas”, as the children call them), the maids, cooks and security, all of whom are necessary to run the house, as well as all the food for the children, diapers for the little ones and their schooling and medical care.

But like children everywhere, ours are growing quickly and we still need a great deal to provide for them, including new clothes and shoes as they outgrow their old ones, school supplies for the younger children and, of course, healthy food to keep our girls and boys growing strong! In addition, the children simply need more room than our single family house can provide.

As these costs steadily increase, our children need the stability and peace of mind in knowing that Omo Child will not run out of funds – that our loving and caring friends will always be there.  So even though the year end campaign is over, please consider making a monthly contribution – big or small, it means stability and security for our children’s futures.

Thank you for making this our most successful campaign yet. Though the campaign is over, the Big Smiles and Bright Futures have just begun in the lives of those you’ve impacted.

From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!
The Omo Child Team

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6-07-13 / Omo Child + PCI’s Walk for Water

_I6A1301It was an honor to be invited to Project Concern International’s 5th annual “Walk for Water” event held at Mission Bay Park.  PCI is an amazing organization here in San Diego that operates all over the globe.  Their mission is to prevent disease, improve community health and promote sustainable development worldwide.  PCI works in vulnerable communities to improve health and create long-term change by helping people help themselves.

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At least 2.6 billion people, 41 percent of the global population, do not have access to any sort of basic sanitation system. The lack of access to clean drinking water leads to disease, absence from school and work, sickness, and death. In fact, waterborne diseases are responsible for more deaths annually than war and are the leading killer for children under the age of five.

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It was a great to be there and to have an opportunity to spread the word about Omo Child to all the participants.  Over 500 students from 30 San Diego area schools, along with high-profile sponsors like Hoehn Land Rover helped raise nearly $70,000 breaking previous event records!  Huge success!  Thank you PCI for having Omo Child we are already looking forward to next year.

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2-27-13 / Max and his Contest Winning Essay!

A Young Boy named Max recently wrote an outstanding essay that won a contest on behalf of OMO CHILD. We wanted to share his essay:

Thank you Max! From The OMO CHILD Team

Lale with Kara children on the Omo River in the village of Korcho

Once upon a time there was a boy named Lale Labuko who lived in the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia, Africa. At the age of 12 young Lale was sent to school. This was a big deal. Lale and some of his friends were the first kids in his tribe to attend school.  They had to walk.  The walk was about 60 miles and took about 3 days time. Because it was so far away, this school required students to live there, sort of like boarding school today. When Lale was 15 years old he came home to visit his family and he saw a baby being taken away from its mother and the mother was crying. Suddenly Lale wondered why that was happening.  So he asked his mother.  His mother explained to Lale that the baby was declared mingi wich means ‘bad luck’ or ‘cursed’ to the tribe and the baby had to be left to die. After that experience Lale thought that they should not do that to little kids.  So from that point on Lale Labuko vowed to change the tribal law and save the babies who were being abandoned.  Later he started OmoChild.

OmoChild Foundation is a non-profit charity that cares for the children that Lale and his organization save from being abandoned or sacrificed.  Instead they are loved, educated and are given a safe environment to live in. There are many types of Mingi, such as when a baby is born out of wedlock or when a child’s top teeth grow in before their bottom teeth.  Also, in these tribes twins are considered bad luck so both babies would be considered Mingi. Once children are considered Mingi, the tribe will not take them back into the tribe because they believe that it would bring bad luck and hurt the whole tribe.  Having a Mingi child is like having a child with an incurable disease.  It is a tragedy for the families. OmoChild picks up Mingi babies and educates them with the hope that one day they will become the leaders of their community.  Then they can explain to the tribe that no children are bad luck and that parents do not have to suffer the trauma of losing a child to Mingi.  As a result of Lale’s hard work, last summer OmoChild successfully convinced the Kara tribal elders to stop the practice of Mingi.  He continues to work to stop Mingi in the other two tribes of the area.

OmoChild has successfully saved 37 children.  Here are a few of the children they have saved:  Kero at the age of five was determined teeth mingi because her top teeth came in before her bottom teeth.  She was rescued by OmoChild in 2008. Kero is a friendly, young, intelligent girl and because of her maturity Kero often helps take care of the younger kids. Terefe was rescued at the age of two in 2009 and is now living in the Omo child home. Terefe was extremely dehydrated when he was rescued but was brought to the hospital immediately and overnight he gained weight and is now safe and sound in the hands of OmoChild. The last child I will show you and tell you about is a child named Lale Chicha. Young Lale was rescued in early November of last year.  His mother was forced to leave him out to die in a hut because he was born out of wedlock. Lale was rushed to the hospital because he was starving, and after a three week stay in the hospital he was finally healthy again and brought back to the home. OmoChild deserves to be donated to because this charity does not have the advantage of being publicized or the benefit of a wealthy company backing it up like other charities do.  OmoChild gives pretty much all the money it raises to the care of the OmoChild kids.  They are a small charity that has one paid part time employee and a handful of volunteers.  Both my Dad and my Mom are volunteers.  It costs about $270 a month to support each child.  So, any money that we raise from this garage sale will help this charity immensely.  Just think, by selling our old stuff, we can help 37 children get an education and grow up to change the world.

 

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