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Vasco’s Story on The Story with Dick Gordon

In 2009 and 2010,  Dick Gordon, host of the late, great “The Story” program on public radio, interviewed God Girl about how she first met the miraculous and magical boy Vasco in Malawi in 2007, how he came to Chicago for life-saving heart surgery in 2009, and then how Vasco became GG’s son by adoption in 2010.

It’s the best story we know. An astounding tale of crazy leaps of faith, twists and turns, divine reversals, and the power of “why not?”— with God’s fingerprints all over it. “The Story” went off the air when Dick retired in 2013 and the links to the episodes online went dead. We thought the recordings were lost forever.

But then a few weeks ago, a friend of Cathleen’s, the author and all-around mensch Melanie DeJonge, found the radio recordings downloaded to one of her old external hard drives and sent them on to us.

Bless you, Melanie!

So here they are, back by popular demand, Vasco’s story from American Public Media’s “The Story with Dick Gordon”:

Part One: Vasco’s Heart

 

Part Two: Vasco’s Heart (And Update)
Vasco’s story here begins at the 12:35 mark

Band Aid 30 Years On: Feed, Feel, Heal the World

Do you remember where you were on Saturday, July 13, 1985?

I do.

On that day in the summer of my 15th year, I sat in my pajamas all day glued to the television in my parents’ living room in Connecticut, watching the Live Aid concerts broadcast live from London and Philadelphia, determined not to miss a single second of my favorite bands’ performances.

While I watched the concerts unfold, something happened to me that, at the time, I could not have articulated the way I do now. But even then, I was cognizant of a change in my awareness of the world — a broadening of my horizon and expansion of what I understood my potential, as one person, to affect change globally could be. A seed of curiosity about my connection with and responsibility to fellow human beings on the other side of the world was planted and has continued to grow throughout my life and professional career.

Nine months before Live Aid, Boom Town Rats lead singer Bob Geldof — a few decades before he would earn his “Sir” — turned on the television one evening in October and watched the BBC’s Michael Buerk and Mohamed Amin deliver reports on the famine ravaging northern Ethiopia here below.

Outraged by what he saw in the BBC reports, a few days later Geldof hopped on a plane to Ethiopia determined to see for himself what was going on and what he and other Westerners could do to help alleviate the suffering.

A month after that, on Nov. 25, 1984, Geldof convened Band Aid — a gathering of some of the most popular UK and Irish pop/rock/new-wave musicians of the day — to record a song his journey to Ethiopia had inspired him to write: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Four days later, on Nov. 28, 1984, the Band Aid single hit record store shelves. A few days after that, I bought my own copy in a suburban New England mall, took it back to the stereo in my bedroom, and played it nearly nonstop for the next six weeks.

Until I heard “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I didn’t know anything about the famine in Ethiopia or where Eritrea even was. The music was the catalyst that led me to our Encyclopedia Britannica set in the family room where I read everything I could find about Ethiopia, Eritrea, and famines in Africa.

Thirty years later, I am a journalist who writes often about our collective spiritual, moral, and ethical responsibility to defend and support the poorest of the poor in Africa and elsewhere. As a journalist I have traveled to sub-Saharan Africa on several occasions to tell the stories of Africans who have and are continuing to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and disease. In 2012, I visited Ethiopia for the first time to witness some the progress it has made as a culture and a nation to combat the political, material, and cultural issues that led to that devastating famine in 1985.

I also am mother to Vasco, my 15-year-old son who was born into crippling poverty and disease in Malawi, Africa. He is almost the same age now that I was when Bono and Adam Clayton, Geldolf, Sting, George Michael, Midge Ure, Phil Collins, Bananarama, Paul Weller, Johnny Fingers, Boy George, Simon LeBon, John and Andy Taylor, Nick Rhodes, the guys from Kool and the Gang, and the rest headed into the studio in London in November 1984. And my lad is perhaps even more obsessed with music and world-changing than his mum was when she took the Band Aid LP from its plastic sleeve and popped it on her turntable for the first of thousands of times.

Now comes the scourge of the Ebola virus in West Africa and once again, American teenagers like my son are (re)learning their African geography, what being a citizen of the world actually means, and how it affects their responsibility to our neighbors — brothers and sisters, truly — from the other side of the globe.

Click HERE for 5 Questions about Ebola, answered with infographics

Were it not for the superstar recording sessions, the music, the concerts, and the pop culture icons who created them setting my life on the trajectory that they did all those years ago, I doubt whether I would be Vasco’s mother today. Words of gratitude to Band Aid and its cohorts, then and now, escape me.

But I can’t help wondering where the seeds planted in the hearts of teenagers who hear “Do They Know It’s Christmas? 2014″ will take root, how the might grow and bloom between now and 2044.

Thirty years from now, may poverty, preventable diseases, and all plagues natural or man-made be but a faint memory.

And may each of us do what we can to feed, feel, and heal the world.

Below are the lyrics to Band Aid 30′s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

It’s Christmas time – and there’s no need to be afraid

At Christmas time – we let in light – and banish shade

And in our world of plenty – we can spread a smile of joy

Throw your arms around the world

At Christmas time

 

But say a prayer – pray for the other ones

At Christmas time – it’s hard but while you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window – and it’s a world of dread and fear

Where a kiss of love can kill you – and there’s death in every tear

And the Christmas bells that ring there – are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you

 

No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa

The only hope they’ll have is being alive

Where to comfort is to fear

Where to touch is to be scared

How can they know it’s Christmas time at all

 

Here’s to you

Raise a glass to everyone

And here’s to them

And all their years to come

Let them know it’s Christmas after all

 

Feed the world – Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Feel the world – Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Heal the world – Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Where the Heck’ya Been, God Girl?

OCRCollageSo …. yeah.

About, oh, NINE months ago, I started a new gig as the Faith & Values columnist for the Orange County Register in Southern California. No, I never expected to return to writing for newspapers. But not unlike Don Corleone, the Register‘s editor made me an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. My first day on the job was the day before Pope Benedict XVI retired and a week or so later, I found myself standing in St. Peter’s Square staring at the same smoke stack on top of the Sistine Chapel that I had spent many hours surveilling for signs of white smoke eight years earlier when they fella who had just ridden off into the sunset (by helicopter and not figuratively this time) had been elected Pontifex Rex.

A few days later, the world met Papa Frank and, well, as some of you have read or heard me say a million times, he had me at Buona Sera. I LOVE HIM.

And then about a month or so later, I went on assignment to Africa – South Africa, Malawi, and Zambia – with the ONE Campaign and brought Vasco (my son) with me. Epic trip resulting  in a seven-or-eight-part series in the Register and on ONE.org.

I write a couple of columns a week for the Register and my columns usually appear in Monday’s Faith & Values section, although occasionally elsewhere. Then often, though not always, my ol’ pals at Religion News Service pick up my columns and make them accessible to the rest of the free world. Thanks, Kevin. I love you long time.

As some of you also know, the Register has a PAY WALL. Dun-dun-duhhhhhh. I know. I KNOW. Stop kvetching at me, I KNOW!

But here’s the thing: You can pay $2 and get access to the ENTIRE ARCHIVE – i.e., you can see everything I’ve written for Register since I got there. So that’s option A.

Option B is to wait for the (shorter) version of my column to (usually) move at www.religionnews.com and read it there for free (but you may not post it in full or the RNS clandestine forces will knock down your door and seize your laptop, tablet, and your Bible/Quran/Book of Mormon. So don’t do that.) You can quote 250 words and add a link to read the rest. That’s the common fair use these days for blogging, as I understand it.

I’m about to add a page up above at the top of the blog’s home page with all the links to all my columns at the Register and via RNS since the end of February 2013 and will continue to update them as well as post a wee excerpt and link when each new column moves at the Register and RNS.

Thanks for hanging in with me during this transition. I’m planning on getting back to regular blogging (see new feature @PONTIFEXCELLENT!, which will, insh’allah, be a daily thang, and look for other new stuff, too.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I’ve got a new book coming out next fall called DISQUIET TIME: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels, co-edited by Jennifer Grant (my homesizzle) and yours truly (and Eugene Peterson wrote the foreword – SQUEEE!) Learn more about it HERE.

It’s great to be back in my own space. I’ve missed The Dude. And all y’all.

Give a Gift with Purpose from the ONE Shop

598430_509984075689869_726163983_nThere is still time to order #GiftsthatGive for Christmas and Hannukah from the ONE Campaign’s Shop — including the gorgeous scarves made by fashionABLE in Ethiopia exclusively for the ONE Campaign pictured above.

Read about the women weavers from fashionABLE who make them HERE.

Happily, fashionABLE is completely sold out of their inventory for the year (which means, among other things, the organization/company has been able to hire three more women since I visited their factory in Addis Ababa with ONE Moms in October!)

So the only place you can still order fashionABLE scarves in time for Christmas is the ONE Shop. Woot!

Please enjoy a special ONE Moms | ONE Dads | ONE Mums Friends and Family discount of 25%. At checkout, use code: ONEFRIENDS25

*Discount expires 12/21/12 at 11:59 pm ET
Ground=$6.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/19
2-Day=$10.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/20
Next Day=$18.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/21

CLICK HERE TO ORDER.

Ethiopia: How Foreign Aid Has Helped a Generation

A local woman walks past a field of corn, in a village near Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

LALIBELA, Ethiopia — You know the images you have in your mind of Ethiopia from 27 years ago? The ones from the nightly news reports on TV about the famine in the Horn of Africa as the death toll and horror stories grew.

Scorched, cracked earth. The carcasses of emaciated, dead cattle lying in the baking sun. Hundreds of thousands of stick-thin refugees wandering in the dust, hoping to have enough strength to make it to a camp that might have water and food. The babies and children with orange hair and distended stomachs — indications that they were in the advanced stages of malnutrition and starvation.

I am happy to report that the Ethiopia of 2012 is not the Ethiopia of 1985.

Thanks to global efforts (Live Aid, etc., back in the day), foreign aid, and the very real efforts of the Ethiopian government and people themselves, the land I saw earlier this month looks nothing like those old images in my mind. In fact, parts of the country that we traveled through were so verdant and lush — farmlands rolling out in various shades of green like a St. Patrick’s Day quilt  — that if you’d blindfolded me when I got on the plane and taken the blind of when I stepped of the bus in the rural area outside Bahir Dar near the Sudanese border, I might have thought I was in Ireland’s County Kerry rather than Ethiopia’s Amhara Region.

Ethiopia is beautiful. In every way. Its people. Its resilience. Its ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. In the way it cares for its land and its people, and the way they care for each other and their visitors. There is a spirit in Ethiopia I’ve experienced elsewhere only rarely.

In a word I’d call it HOPE. But it’s a hope not based on daydreams and fairytales. It’s a hope based in hard work, smart planning, and forward thinking.

The ONE MOMS/ONE MUMS group I traveled with to Ethiopia this month spent a few days out in the northwest of Ethiopia, visiting hospitals, clinics, agricultural collectives, demonstration farms, and a remarkable group of women bee keepers (but I’ll save that for a future post.)

What those few days in the Amhara region put regal faces, calloused hands, quick minds, strong backs, and busy feet to the statistics we hear so often about foreign aid to the developing world — Africa in particular — and what financial resources from the U.S., U.K., and the rest of the G8 (and their posses) can and cannot do on the ground half a world away.

Let me tell you what I saw: A lot. Epic change. Hope for the future. Plans to avert disasters — “natural” or human-made.

In 1992, the proportion of the Ethiopian population that was undernourished was 69 percent. Today, the percentage of undernourished Ethiopians is 41 percent. That’s still a lot of hungry people, but it’s a dramatic decline in 20 years. Infant mortality in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world (68 per 1,000 live births) — but that rate dropped 39 percent between 1990 (when the rate was 111 deaths per 1,000 live births) and 2010, according to UNICEF.

Ethiopia also has reduced the under-five mortality rate by 47 percent between 1990 and 2010.

“These achievements are largely a result of Ethiopia’s investment in a community health system and a cadre of 35,000 health workers who provide front-line care,” Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), wrote in the May/June issue of Frontlines magazine. In a nation where only 10 percent of births occur in health facilities, community health workers — skilled in birth attendance and equipped with affordable tools to save the lives of mothers and newborns — serve a critical role.

“But despite this significant progress, one in 11 children in Ethiopia do not live beyond their fifth birthday,” Shah wrote. “Development is full of problems we have few ways to solve. Helping children reach their fifth birthday is not one of them.”

Here are a few statistics (because I know some of you have an easier time getting your heads around numbers than stories) that speak to the challenges Ethiopia (and elsewhere in the developing world) still face:

  • In 2011, Ethiopia’s under-five mortality rate was 88 child deaths per 1,000 live births (and childhood mortality is higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas.)
  • 29 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 44 percent of all children in Ethiopia are stunted
  • Only one in every four children 12-23 months old has been fully vaccinated (according to 2011 statistics) — but that is a 19 percent increase since 2005.
  • Ethiopia has a high maternal mortality rate — 676 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2011.
  • In Ethiopia, 30 percent of all deaths of women ages 15-49 are pregnancy related, and only 34 percent of pregnant women receive post-natal (or antenatal, as they call it in Ethiopia) care from a skilled provider after their most recent birth
  • According to 2011 figures, the most significant barriers in Ethiopia that prevent women from seeking adequate pre- and post-natal care are the distance they must travel to the nearest health facility (66 percent), the availability of transportation to the health care facility (71 percent), and a lack of money (68 percent.)
  • 7.6 million children worldwide under the age of five die every year because they don’t have access to basic life-saving interventions such as vaccines and bed nets
  • 370,000 children are born every year with HIV, transmitted to them by their mothers

OK. So that’s the bad news.

But there’s good news, too, and lots of it, from what I witnessed in person across Ethiopia.

There is a new program, run by the Ethiopian government and funded by USAID, called the Integrated Family Health Program (IFHP). It’s a five-year program (begun in 2008) that ultimately is expected to reach half of the Ethiopian population with training and services to improve health practices both in individual households and in communities at large. One of the program’s big pushes is to get young children fully immunized. So, for instance, when a mother or parents come into a health center or outpost to discuss family planning — Ethiopia is encouraging the use of long-term contraception such as Depo Provera injections or sub-cutaneous contraceptive implants — their child or children can be immunized at the same time.

The USAID’s IFHP works side-by-side with an innovative program of the Ethiopian government itself called the Health Extension Program. The Ethiopian government had trained and salaried more than 35,000 health care providers — the vast majority of them women — and dispatched them to 286 districts in the country serving approximately 32 million people. Most of the people served by Health Extension workers live in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are few and far between. They go out to the villages and make old-fashioned house calls, providing services from prenatal exams and post-natal follow-ups to immunizations and basic health care needs.

I had the privilege of meeting some of the Health Extension workers and they are an extraordinary bunch. Young, ambitious, and seemingly tireless. Their work has been credited with the 28 percent decrease in under-5 child deaths, literally saving the lives of 560,000 children since 2005. Amazing.

MADERA WOREDA HEALTH OFFICE AND NBESAME HEALTH CENTER

Listen to one of my traveling companions, the marvelous British ONE Mums blogger Michelle Pannell (aka @michelletwinmum) talk about our visit to the health centers below as you view the slide show of my photos from that amazing day in rural, northwest Ethiopia.

At the end of 2011, a severe drought began in the Horn of Africa, leading Ethiopia’s neighbor to the east, Somalia, officially to declare a famine in June. The drought is believed to be the worst in more than 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people — echoing the emergency and images of the famine that struck Ethiopia in the mid 1980s. But this time, in Ethiopia, the story unfolded differently because of a safety net. After a severe drought hit the country in 2003, with the help of USAID and other foreign donors, the Ethiopian government launched a food security program — the Productive Safety Net Program.

This safety net “ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families,” Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, told Frontlines magazine earlier this year. “The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public works projects designed to improve communities as a whole.”

Watersheds and irrigation systems were built. Canals were dug, and schools and health clinics were constructed or rehabbed by workers who were at the risk of becoming food insecure. According to USAID, today, because of Ethiopia’s safety net program, 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way, and crises — like the famine of the 1980s — have been averted.

Our group visited a USAID-funded project — Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) — that compliments the Ethiopian government’s food safety net program in Lalibela, a rural district about 150 km from the urban center of Bahir Dar. The program, focused on women and their children, strives to improve nutrition and financial stability by teaching new agricultural and nutritional skills.

We visited what is called a “demonstration farm,” nestled in the verdant rolling hills and farmlands, where goat, sheep, and cow herders passed by on their way to and from pasture land. At the farm, ENGINE workers have planted new crops — such as beet root, cabbage, carrots, chard, and other greens — that are rich in nutrients and vitamins in the hopes of getting local mothers to introduce them into their everyday menus.

Women from the surrounding villages come to the farm for classes, learning about cultivation, nutritional values of the new foods, and, perhaps most importantly, how to prepare the vegetables ways that preserve their nutritional content best. This led to one of the more enjoyable outings of our sojourn in Ethiopia: a food demonstration where mothers (many of them with a toddler at their elbow and an infant nursing at their breast) watched as ENGINE workers showed them how to prepare the traditional porridge — a starchy staple in Ethiopian diets, particularly among children — with a nutritional and protein boost by adding legumes to the grains, and then stewed or chopped carrots, greens, beets, etc., to the mix to give it flavor and more vitamin power.

Baby food! It was so simple and yet so brilliant. By adding a handful of ground beans and a soupcon of Swiss chard and mashed carrots to the porridge, children would receive a complete protein in one dish.

At the end of our visit to the farm and baby food cooking demonstration, I was asked to say a few words to the villagers — mostly mothers and girls, but a few men looking on from a safe distance, too. I told them (in English, as a USAID guide interpreted for me) that while we may look different and sound different than they do, we are essentially the same. They are our sisters. Their children are our children. And we care for them, want them to be healthy, and succeed, just as we do our own children.

I said it was an honor  — a blessing, realy — to meet them, that we would share their stories with the rest of the world so that other mothers in other countries who are struggling to make ends meet, feed, and care for their children, would be encouraged.

And I told them that we would remember them and pray for them.

I hope you might join me in that effort, praying for their continued strength and tenacity, and giving thanks for the same. I also hope you will join me in reminding our politicians in this election season that U.S. foreign aid does make a difference. It saves lives. It changes whole communities and can help transform a whole generation.

Let’s do what we can to make sure foreign aid stays safe and that our budgets aren’t balanced on the backs of — or by mortgaging the lives of — the poorest of the poor.

Below you can see a few images from the farm and cooking demonstration.

They are such beautiful people — in every way.

USAID/ENGINE DEMONSTRATION FARM

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

What Americans Think About Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

What Americans Think About U.S. Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Children outside the Anbesame Health Center in rural northwest Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

In an OpEd that appeared on POLITICO Monday, Mike Huckabee, the former Republican governor of Arkansas, and Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas — who together co-chair ONE Vote 2012, a non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in the 2012 presidential election, wrote about the importance of maintaining U.S. foreign aid to the developing world that has helped make significant improvements in the health and sustainability of myriad nations, including many on the continent of Africa.

They wrote:

We recognize that Americans today are suffering at home from one of the worst economic recessions in modern history. We understand that there might be temptation to cut back on U.S. humanitarian programs and investments abroad. However, the cost of cutting back on such programs is not worth it. Not even close. It would affect too many peoples’ lives and damage American economic and national security interests at a time our world is more interconnected than ever.

It might come as a surprise to learn that less than one percent of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign assistance. It might even be shocking to discover that, despite this relatively small amount, these funds are literally saving millions of lives and improving the lives of many more millions of people.

For example, American investments in cost-effective vaccines will help save nearly 4 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea over the next five years. We’ve also helped to deliver 290 million mosquito nets to Malaria-stricken countries, and put 46 million children in school for the very first time. And thanks to the leadership of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, 8 million HIV/AIDS patients now have access to life-saving treatments, up from just 300,000 a decade ago, making an AIDS-free generation a real possibility within our lifetimes.

A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us.

Read the post in its entirety HERE.

Our friends at the ONE Campaign spent 48 hours asking everyday Americans what they thought about US Foreign Aid.

(Source: The ONE Campaign)

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Ethiopia: The Face of God

BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — When I posted this photograph of a beautiful little Ethiopian girl holding a daisy a few days ago, my friend  and fellow author Christian Piatt responded on Twitter with a four-word comment:

 

“The Face of God.”

Christian’s remark stopped me in my tracks … because it’s absolutely true.

The Bible even tells us so.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27

When I look into the eyes of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve met, given high (and low) fives to, fist bumped, hugged, and waived to in the last few days, my thought is always the same: Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

What I didn’t recognize Christian’s profound four words is that Oh my God, they are so beautiful is also a prayer. A “wow” prayer, to borrow an idea from Anne Lamott.

Since Christian called my attention to the face of God, I haven’t been able to look at any of the remarkable souls I’ve spent time with here in Ethiopia without thinking about God’s face.

That Divine Spark reflected in our eyes. Our faces and bodies, hearts and souls all beautifully and wondrously made in the image of the Creator.

Nowhere is the face of God more evident than in the faces of children. They haven’t learned to cover up their divine face with masks yet, like so many of us adults have. Their joy is pure and unfettered, as is their fear and pain.

Below you can see for yourself what I’m on about — the face of God in the faces of a few of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve been immensely blessed to meet on my journey to their truly sacred land. (More on that last bit in a forthcoming post.)

Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Cathleen is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

~ Proverbs 31:8-9

ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.

I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.

And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.

Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.

The verses that follow Solomon’s charge in Proverbs 31 are well known. He goes on to describe the ideal woman, mother, and wife — the one who is “far more precious than jewels.” She is industrious, good with money, makes beautiful things with her hands, tends to the needs of her children (and those of others), has strong arms (here I picture Michelle Obama), rises early and works late, spins and weaves and sews.

“She opens her hand to the poor,” Solomon says. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

And her children “rise up and call her ‘blessed.'”

As we alighted the bus at the gates of Mary Joy, dozens of Ethiopian mothers and children — from babes in arms to older teens — greeted us with flowers and mega-watt smiles that would light up even the darkest of places. They embraced us, kissed our cheeks, shook our hands, and then they broke into exuberant singing and dancing.

Our welcoming committee were those “Proverbs 31 women” that, as an evangelical Christian, I’ve heard so much about over the years. Such women are precious — and scarce. I have met only a true few in my lifetime. That is, until Sunday.

You see, the mothers at Mary Joy (with a few fathers as well), have heeded the words of Proverbs 31: 8-9 by reaching out to orphans, widows, the elderly, and others who are struggling to survive amidst poverty and tragedy such as the loss of the family matriarch or patriarch and breadwinner, disease (often HIV/AIDS), or some other cataclysm that has left them bereft, voiceless, alone on the margins of society.

Mary Joy, which is a non-religious, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) has, since 1994, been working tirelessly to assist and empower women, children and families through a host of educational programs — from HIV/AIDS prevention and hygiene to nutrition and other vocational training — and by assembling a small army of “peer mothers” who act as stand-in parents for children who are parentless.

ONE Moms got to know the Mary Joy organization through one of our own members, Maya Haile Samuelsson, a model and native of Ethiopia who, with her husband, Chef Marcus Samuelsson, supports the education and wellbeing of 10 children at Mary Joy. (Maya’s even more beautiful on the inside than she is out — and she’s absolutely stunning; the picture of grace and a generous heart.)

UNICEF estimates there are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia — about 650,000 of them having lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Of those orphans, more than 2 million live below the poverty line, which in Ethiopia is about 80 cents a day. Many thousands end up living on the streets.

During our visit with the mamas and children of Mary Joy, we were briefed officially by executive director about the work the organization does. But we learned so much more just by being with the mothers and kids as they celebrated life and welcomed us into theirs.

A group of adolescent boys performed acrobatics, juggled brightly colored bowling pins and blazing batons — one boy even filled his cheeks with lighter fluid and spit flames into the air as we collectively gasped the way mothers do.

And we danced. Some of us more gracefully than others, some of us with a child on our hip, or the hand of new friend in ours. But we all moved with joyful abandon.

We sat in a happy heap on blankets on the ground, flirted with babies, smiled at each other — affirming one another in that motherhood-is-global-and-mighty-powerful way that doesn’t need a common language to be understood. It just takes a look. Straight in the eyes. Deep into the soul. We see each other and we know.

It was a glory day. And it was the perfect the beginning of a journey here in Ethiopia, a land oozing with sacred spirit and beauty at every turn — perhaps most vividly in the places where people have the “least.”

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the faces of the mothers from Mary Joy and a few of my traveling companions from ONE Moms.

The journey continues with blessings, lessons, and audacious grace.

I’ll have more stories to share soon. (Dear St. Isidore, patron saint of computers and the Internet, please put in a good word for this weary traveler).

Thank you for joining us on this adventure.

If you’d like to learn more about Mary Joy or consider sponsoring one if its children, please click HERE.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Mommyhood, In Six Words

Imagine writing your memoir — a story that encapsulates all of who you are, what you’ve experienced, wrestled with and loved — in six words.

That was the challenge posed by Larry Smith and Tim Barkow, founders of SMITH magazine, back in 2006. They took their cue from a literary legend about Ernest Hemingway who is said to have, as the answer to a bet, written a six-word short story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

A few weeks ago, the folks at the ONE campaign — the international non-profit grassroots organization, co-founded by Bono of U2, that aims to mobilize supporters to work against extreme poverty and global disease — asked me to write a six-word story about motherhood.

As part of its new campaign to empower women worldwide (70 percent of the 1.8 billion people living in extreme poverty are women), Women ONE2ONE, ONE commissioned a few prominent women — actors, artists, advocates, politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and the odd ink-stained wretch — to write a six-word story, a la SMITH magazine, about mothers.

Yikes, I thought. I’m a novice at this whole mommy-hood thing. I’m not sure if I’m fully qualified.

I’ve been a mother for just a year now. In fact, it was on Mother’s Day 2009 when my son, Vasco,  then a terribly sick, not-yet-10-year-old African orphan we had helped bring to the States for life-saving open-heart surgery, climbed onto my lap, for the first time, in the middle of a church service and fell asleep.

Vasco chose me, even though I didn’t realize it in those emotional moments, mid-sermon, tears pouring down my face. Only in hindsight did I understand that it was precisely then that I became a mother for the first time.

Surprised by motherhood, you might say. I’m still surprised, reeling and indescribably honored by the 180-degree turn the trajectory of my life took last year.

My own mother, thankfully, is still with me and, in her late 70s, fiercer than ever. In crafting my six-word story, I thought about her and the other women who have mothered me throughout my life. And then I examined my own, wobbly-kneed foray into motherhood and all that I’ve learned about being someone’s Mom.

Here’s what I came up with:

“Agape dispenser, grace holder, fiercest advocate.”

Motherhood and grace are inextricably intertwined in my mind. A wonderfully wise man told me, while we were discussing grace a few years back, that many of us first experience God’s grace—that unearnable gift of unlimited, unmerited love, compassion and mercy—through our mothers.

We see grace first in our mother’s loving gaze. Agape is the Greek word for unconditional love and although mothers aren’t the creators of grace, we are, in a very tangible sense, its dispensers. Grace moves through us.

Not long ago, I asked another wise soul, the author and mother Annie Lamott, if she thought we could be grace for another person. She thought for a moment and answered, “I think we can hold space for one another.”

In that sense, I believe I held space in my heart for the child that would become my son until he arrived. I hold space for him still —grace space—for untold lessons learned, challenges met, and hurdles soared over—until he’s ready to move into them. It’s what mothers have done throughout human history; part of the job description.

Fierceness is the first quality that comes to mind when I think of mothers. I was blessed with a mother who is unfailingly fierce in her love for my brother and me and, now, her grandson. She is like Esther, the wily and faithful queen from Hebrew scripture. Daring. Brave. Wise. Strong. Dangerous, in the best sense of that word. And she, like Esther, is an advocate for her tribe and beyond, giving a booming, unwavering voice to the voiceless.

ONE has invited mothers and children around the globe to write their own six-word stories about motherhood at http://www.one.org/women/sixwords. By Wednesday morning, nearly 6,000 stories had been posted on the site.

This Mother’s Day, take a few minutes to craft your own story and lend your voice to a creative effort to empower, embolden and elevate women worldwide.

In the words of another ONE six-word author, Pam Cope, co-founder of the Touch A Life Foundation for exploited children:

“End poverty? Empower moms globally. Solved.”

You can call him Al(fred)

In case you missed it, yer man, Bono, had another of his fascinating (and entertaining) op-ed pieces in last Sunday’s New York Times:

AFRICA REBOOTS:

 I spent March with a delegation of activists, entrepreneurs and policy wonks roaming western, southern and eastern Africa trying very hard to listen — always hard for a big-mouthed Irishman. With duct tape over my gob, I was able to pick up some interesting melody lines everywhere from palace to pavement …

Despite the almost deafening roar of excitement about Africa’s hosting of soccer’s World Cup this summer, we managed to hear a surprising thing. Harmony … flowing from two sides that in the past have often been discordant: Africa’s emerging entrepreneurial class and its civil-society activists.

It’s no secret that lefty campaigners can be cranky about business elites. And the suspicion is mutual. Worldwide. Civil society as a rule sees business as, well, a little uncivil. Business tends to see activists as, well, a little too active. But in Africa, at least from what I’ve just seen, this is starting to change. The energy of these opposing forces coming together is filling offices, boardrooms and bars. The reason is that both these groups — the private sector and civil society — see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face. So they are working together on redefining the rules of the African game.

Entrepreneurs know that even a good relationship with a bad government stymies foreign investment; civil society knows a resource-rich country can have more rather than fewer problems, unless corruption is tackled.

This joining of forces is being driven by some luminous personalities, few of whom are known in America; all of whom ought to be. Let me introduce you to a few of the catalysts:

John Githongo, Kenya’s famous whistleblower, has had to leave his country in a hurry a couple of times; he was hired by his government to clean things up and then did his job too well. He’s now started a group called Inuka, teaming up the urban poor with business leaders, creating inter-ethnic community alliances to fight poverty and keep watch on dodgy local governments. He is the kind of leader who gives many Kenyans hope for the future, despite the shakiness of their coalition government.

Sharing a table with Githongo and me one night in Nairobi was DJ Rowbow, a Mike Tyson doppelgänger. His station, Ghetto Radio, was a voice of reason when the volcano of ethnic tension was exploding in Kenya in 2008. While some were encouraging the people of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, to go on the rampage, this scary-looking man decoded the disinformation and played peacemaker/interlocutor. On the station’s playlist is Bob Marley and a kind of fizzy homespun reggae music that’s part the Clash, part Marvin Gaye. The only untruthful thing he said all evening was that he liked U2. For my part, I might have overplayed the Jay-Z and Beyoncé card. “They are friends of mine,” I explained to him, eh, a lot.

Now this might be what you expect me to say, but I’m telling you, it was a musician in Senegal who best exemplified the new rules. Youssou N’Dour — maybe the greatest singer on earth — owns a newspaper and is in the middle of a complicated deal to buy a TV station. You sense his strategy and his steel. He is creating the soundtrack for change, and he knows just how to use his voice. (I tried to imagine what it would be like if I owned The New York Times as well as, say, NBC. Someday, someday…)

In Maputo, Mozambique, I met with Activa, a women’s group that, among other things, helps entrepreneurs get seed capital. Private and public sectors mixed easily here, under the leadership of Luisa Diogo, the country’s former prime minister, who is now the matriarch in this mesmerizing stretch of eastern Africa. Famous for her Star Wars hairdo and political nous, she has the lioness energy of an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Ngozi Okonjo Iweala or a Graça Machel.

When I met with Ms. Diogo and her group, the less famous but equally voluble women in the room complained about excessive interest rates on their microfinance loans and the lack of what they called “regional economic integration.” For them, infrastructure remains the big (if unsexy) issue. “Roads, we need roads,” one entrepreneur said by way of a solution to most of the obstacles in her path. Today, she added, “we women, we are the roads.” I had never thought of it that way but because women do most of the farming, they’re the ones who carry produce to market, collect the water and bring the sick to the clinics.

The true star of the trip was a human hurricane: Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese entrepreneur who made a fortune in mobile phones.

I fantasized about being the boy wonder to his Batman, but as we toured the continent together I quickly realized I was Alfred, Batman’s butler. Everywhere we went, I was elbowed out of the way by young and old who wanted to get close to the rock star reformer and his beautiful, frighteningly smart daughter, Hadeel, who runs Mo’s foundation and is a chip off the old block (in an Alexander McQueen dress). Mo’s speeches are standing-room-only because even when he is sitting down, he’s a standing-up kind of person. In a packed hall in the University of Ghana, he was a prizefighter, removing his tie and jacket like a cape, punching young minds into the future.

For the rest of Bono’s latest op-ed, click HERE.