Media Mission team member, Robyn Smith, shares her similarities as a stay at home mom for 20 years and her life changing experience with the mothers of Selamta!
Story teller. I was called that by a friend on March 5, 2016. It was not a title anyone had spoken over me before. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. I grew up in a home with a father who is legendary when it comes to story-telling. But I hadn’t necessarily called myself a story teller before that moment. Although it made sense. I’m a documenter. I’m a photographer. Put those two together and what do you get? Yep, stories. Honest stories. Stories that document who people are on their journey to becoming who they will be.
The friend who called me a storyteller actually said it in this context as we met for coffee, discussing life and purpose and calling: “Robyn, you’re not a photographer. You’re a story teller. And you’re not going to be happy until you’re telling God’s stories.” If I had known how significant those words were at the time, I probably would not have had the courage to believe them. But ignorance is often bliss, so I tucked those words into my heart. Wrote them in my journal. Pondered them over the next few months.
I don’t have space to connect every dot of what transpired after that coffee with my friend. But in the course of some unbelievably “only God” kind of connections, here’s what I know. I was leaving Ethiopia on March 5, 2017 with a team of story tellers who have changed my life forever exactly one year after my friend spoke to me. And in the 12-months leading up to that moment, God stirred my heart and gave me the courage to say YES to the assignment. To get on a plane and travel 8,000 miles with complete strangers. To spend 10-days outside my comfort zone, eating and sleeping and experiencing life in a community that looks and sounds and smells entirely different than my suburban life in Tennessee. To be wrecked by moments and people who on one hand are entirely different than me, and on the other hand are exactly the same. Because over the course of the past 12-months I discovered The Archibald Project and their vision to change the world of orphan care through the power of stories.
I came home with so many stories to share, but I must to start with the one that is unique to this particular aspect of orphan care: the significance of motherhood. I’ve been a mom for almost 24-years. Motherhood has been my calling. God took me out of the workforce very shortly after my youngest was born. I have only known adulthood in the context of being a stay-at-home mom. My greatest trials and my greatest joys have been wrapped up in my role as mom. And on this side of TAP’s Media Mission to Ethiopia, I am so grateful to have been introduced to the world of ethical orphan care in the context of Selamta Family Project. Their entire model hinges on motherhood, and witnessing the depth of love their moms have for their kids blew my mind!
Kids need to be nurtured. All kids. Orphaned or not.
And although I know the orphan crisis is real and big and overwhelming and many kids must remain in orphanages, that is just not ideal. Because when nurturing gets mingled with an institution rather than a family, it’s just not the same.
Selamta Family Project has a completely family-centered model of orphan care. They saw the need in Ethiopia, a country with orphaned children as well as marginalized women. And in their brilliance, they found a way to employ the women as moms or aunties and place 8-10 orphaned kids into a home with those women, creating a forever family. They did this with 11-homes! Over 100 kids are no longer considered orphaned. Over 20 women are no longer marginalized. They are forever families. All living within a suburban community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
And it’s the moms who keep the program family-focused. I didn’t get to meet all of these beautiful women. But thankfully I did get to spend time in some of their homes. And it was so obvious that the mom’s love were no different than my mom love. They love their kids with passion. Their kids bring them joy. They love opening their homes to family, friends and even strangers. They provide abundant meals. They pray with their kids. They worship with their friends. They’re creative in their home décor. They work with their hands.
They do projects together. And they make the best coffee on the planet, treating us to the traditional buna ceremony every visit.
Although we had significant language barriers (Ahmaric is almost impossible for my 48-year old self to learn!), love and joy are universal. Even heartache is universal.
We had the privilege of getting some one-on-one time with a few of these beauties and as their kids interpreted for us we asked about some of the hard things they have overcome in life. Most had little to share about life before Selamta. But this moment is one of my favorites. My friend, Shannon, is asking Zenebech about life with her oldest being off at college.
And suddenly through my lens I see the same universal sorrow mommas feel when kids leave the nest. It’s that combination of joy and pain. Thrilled that kids are spreading their wings and taking steps towards independence. But knowing in the secret places of our heart that some things will never be the same again.
Only after returning home do I comprehend how powerful love is. Shannon and I are both birth moms to 20-ish year old kids who have recently left our nest. But not so for Zenebech and her college-aged daughter. She is not birth mom. And she has not been there for every moment of her daughter’s life. But love creates a forever bond. And I suddenly realize that motherhood is a calling and for those who embrace the call…
Forever love allows you to make up for lost time and be the nurturer you were designed to be for kids designed to be nurtured. And as your home is filled with joy and laughter of younger siblings, a momma’s heart always feel the void when one has left her nest.
I am so new to understanding the world of orphan care. I won’t begin to suggest I have answers to the big, looming issues others have spent their lives advocating for. But for my first experience on this journey, I am forever grateful that God saw fit to introduce me to Selamta Family Project and witness the power of FAMILY to end the orphan crisis for these amazing kids in Ethiopia.
~Robyn Smith, TAP Ethiopia Media Mission Team Member
Their stories should inspire others to adopt similar models all over the world, so that story-telling will change the world and fewer kids will ever be called orphan.