Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ethiopian Tuition - the down and the dirty

I have had quite a few inquiries, all private, about the "terms" of our involvement with the young Ethiopian kids we met while traveling. One of the best parts about traveling with our teen children was meeting other teens - the kids are magnets for each other. I can't describe how much the kids set the tone for our encounters, and how they created the opportunities and connections that I could never have created....although I would have spent my entire traveling time wishing/hoping/yearning for kids just like THESE kids, to BE in our lives.

There are 4 of young people - Richard, Getnet, Getu, and AlemTsehaye. A year has gone by. Our exchanges have continued via e-mail and their needs have become clearer, well articulated, and ... we do the best we can to give them what they need.

The questions always come up:
"What do they need? "
"How do you send money - literally?"
"How much does it cost to send the kids to school?"
"What are their living expenses?"
"How do you know they don't spend it on things they shouldn't?"
"Aren't you afraid they are abusing your trust?" "How did you pick who to help?"
"Can you write it off on your taxes?" ...and there are more, but these are the biggies.

I resist giving specific details. Culturally, we Americans don't talk turkey in public spaces when it comes to real dollars. It's common for wealthy folks to claim they are middle class, and for people with means to understate those means. And, I don't want to create some sort of skewed impression of myself or my family. The truth is that we have a lot. We have more than we need. And, we do BELIEVE that it is our duty to be generous - thoughtfully, respectfully generous. We try our best to put that belief into PRACTICE. I bet most of you agree with the belief, but the practice of giving is more problematic, isn't it?
If the average American gives about 3% of their income to charity, then it is true that we are slightly above average in our giving ways. If it is true that generous giving is considered to be about 6% of one's income, then we've joined the club of generous givers. The truth is, I don't feel like I am generous. The truth is, that my giving, while it means I have to "give up" some things, doesn't create suffering for my family. We have given up some things in order to help others. But, if you were to look at our life, I don't think you'd see anything that looks like "going without." I've seen people with a whole helluva lot less give a whole helluva lot more. So I (we) don't deserve any special ^5 or kindness for the good deeds of our family. It's our obligation - and the truth is - we COULD DO MORE!!! I'm working up the courage to ask our family to do more. I am working up the courage to ask you to do more.

But, because I get asked these questions about the kids in Ethiopia- and because the questions typically come to me privately, I'm going public. Clearly, folks want to know. So here is the down and dirty as I know it. (Disclaimer - my down and dirty might be WAY different from yours - so I don't expect this to match the reality of other folks who are sponsoring kids without the help of an official charity organization).
1. College tuition costs about $550 in Addis.
2.Room and board in Addis - $100 month (includes all school supplies/material supplies as well)
3. We received the following accounting for the support of 2 brothers (verbatim as they wrote it):
House rent demands 450 birr
Food expense 830 birr
School fee 500 birr
For material needs 375 birr
In total of 2155 birr each month which worth $1795.833USD (by current currency) for the whole academic year.

I literally send the money using Western Union. It costs $114 to send $1800. I know, I just did this on Friday. We're looking into using a bank to bank transfer. It's a little messier than Western Union. You cannot believe how easy it is to use WU - you just put the destination as "Ethiopia" and need a full legal name of your recipient along with a test question they have to answer. It's so easy. So far, 100% reliable.

We don't know the kids don't spend the funds on things they shouldn't. (What shouldn't they spend money on? ) We do know that some money gets shared with their extended families. They tell us, "we took some monies to our family for the Easter." None of the kids have ever asked for us to support a sibling "after the fact."

We don't worry the kids are abusing our trust. We trust them. I tell them to be frugal, to be honest, to be thoughtful in their use of their time and their resources. They tell me, "We have been careful our whole lives." The truth is, they have HAD to be more careful than I will ever know how to be. Their lives depend on their FRUGAL use of resources. They depend on us to continue our sponsorship of them - and that creates its own sort of accountability. Finally, I tell them to be stewards, so that when they are finished with school we can find another student in need to carry on their legacy. These kids get it. If they are stretching their need dollars, it's not about creating any sort of ultimate luxury. I wouldn't call electricity and running water and a bed a luxury. Would you?

I do have a few strategies for accountability:
They send their school reports and end of year exam scores - they must give me their school headmaster's e-mail address - they have all had visits from travelers delivering something to them (t-shirts, ball caps, shoes, textbooks, even a donated lap top!).

We didn't pick them, they picked us. They asked for our help. They sent school scores to underline their hopes and dreams and they did this with polite and careful requests for assistance. Their gratitude is endless. We SAW how they all live - we could NOT NOT help. Sleeping on tarps with no blankets on the cold dirt floor, eating a small sandwich bag of oatmeal every day, only one change of clothes, no running water....for them, school is a life's dream. They were all supporting this dream on the barest of minimum - shining shoes to make a few cents a day to eat. They were wise to ask us to help. We didn't offer - we were asked. And, no, it's not tax deductible. And, yes, it is about $4500 a year to help these kids. We just do it.

Here is what they say in the e-mails I often receive. The kids go to neighborhood kiosks and write to me to tell me about school, to send greetings, to report school interests. They call me "dearest mom" or "dear mommy M". These are all quotes;

  • We would be lost without you. We longingly think about extra achievement that make you ever feel relief.
  • You do no more doubt about our thrift life. This is the habit we exuded since from we were polishing shoe for our earnings.
  • You see both tiny boys are growing to good men.
  • However you are beyond my eyes, but is there any other body have many and wonderful family like me? No body!!How God liked and gave me such kind of family (that is you).
  • After I succeed my dream I wish to help others those who lost their family by HIV AIDS and can not get education and health.
  • When you came for my graduation we will travel to lalibela together. Actually at the Christmas and epiphany time there is very good celebration than all over Ethiopia.

...when I go to Ethiopia for your graduation...THIS is why we do this.


Mindy and Baldwin said...

Golly, Meghan. You're my hero.

Shannon- said...

i'm all teary. I love those messages. The graduation got me.

Jean said...

Thanks for blogging about this, Meghan. You are doing such an incredible service to them, and being so sweetly rewarded.

The Dixon Family Adoption~Join The Journey said...

Wow! I am so encouraged by what you are doing and what you shared about bringing your children with you. We are planning on bringing our 6 children with us to ET when we adopt our sibling group. Hoping the flights will not be crazy expensive when we are traveling! We knew that it would be a life changing experience but I had not thought about how my children would draw other children and open doors that we would not have otherwise been able to open.

Thank you for sharing what you are doing for these older children to get an education and be able to live and make a way for themselves. I look forward to seeing God work in their lives and yours!