A week ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Simon, the communications director of the Elshadai Child Development Organization. Elshadia by the way is the name given to God as revealed to Abraham in Genesis. This is why the title is “Give and Receive Kindness Like Abraham” for Abraham found his blessing first by receiving the love from Yahweh then passing it on forward to his children and the generations that came after. It is this same love that continues to give to this present day; as irony would have it I met Lisa through kindness as she extended an invitation to me and two friends to her house to have Ethiopian food. The shock that I felt when I realized that Lisa was not ordering food from a restaurant and was instead making Ethiopian food from scratch in her kitchen. An American who can cook doro wot (chicken stew) and gomen (cooked cabbage) authentically like an Ethiopian in Addis Abeba.
It was kindness that led to Lisa’s journey to Ethiopia so she could do her part to give to other. It was kindness that was given back to her as Lisa was nourished by new friends in Ethiopia and they taught her to cook. And it was kindness that opened the door for me to meet Lisa as I was able to eat authentic Ethiopian food. Kindness goes full circle as I now use my gift to convey the story of Lisa and Elshadai which has kindness built into its core mission. The following exchange is an interview I conducted with Lisa as I was initially eating a feast she provided to my friends and me and then continued through email as I got to learn about this amazing organization named Elshadai.
1) Tell us a bit about Elshadai, when was the organization started, what is the core mission of Elshadai and what need is the
organization tackling in Ethiopia.
Elshadai Child Development Org, Inc. is a nonprofit with a mission to free children from poverty in the name of Jesus by supporting their physical, academic and spiritual development. Many children in the Akaki-Kaliti sub-city of Addis Ababa are living in poverty. They don’t get enough to eat and their parent lack the financial resources to send them to school or take them to the doctor when they get sick. HIV/AIDS is a huge problem in this area; many children have parents who are sick and unable to work. Too many children only have one parent and others are orphaned and live with relatives. Elshadai’s desire and mission is for these children to stay with their families so we make it our aim to support guardians who are able to provide for the needs of these children. From the beginning, we have felt that learning about the Bible is crucial to these children’s well-being. We believe it is vital that each one of them knows that they are uniquely made and have a unique purpose. Children are encouraged to attend a weekly Bible lesson to learn more about God.
We have been doing this work for 8 years and became a licensed Ethiopian nonprofit six years ago. A year ago, we became a registered 501(c)3 charity here in the US.
2) What moved you to initiate Elshadai and what served as your conduit to Ethiopia, why did Ethiopia capture your attention?
Ethiopia fell into my lap. I had just finished graduate school and my dad offered to give me a mission trip to Ethiopia as a graduation gift. I spent a week there and immediately was drawn to the people. They were very warm and caring. During my stay, I met a man who asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to help others and he told me about his wife’s heart for helping impoverished children. I didn’t think too much of it at the time but when I returned back to the US, I felt the Lord putting it on my heart to go back and help this woman help others.
Friends and family supported me to go back and shortly thereafter, I was back in Ethiopia six weeks after returning from the short-term mission trip. I met the woman I had heard about, Adanech Janka, and volunteered at a school where she was helping impoverished children. I immediately connected with the children and felt like it was the exact place I was supposed to be. More and more parents and children came to us inquiring how their children could go to school as well. I went back to the US with profiles of children that were in need of sponsors in order to start their formal education. People were eager to sponsor them and thus, Elshadai was given birth through the kindness of many. Once we got a couple dozen children sponsored, we noticed that many were going to school without lunch. Many more were struggling to stay awake in class because they were so hungry. We added a feeding program to the sponsorship process to fulfill this need. Many were also coming to school sick because their parents couldn’t afford to take them to the doctor. We then added the medical component to the sponsorship as well. What started off with a small seed thus grew into Elshadai as we know it today.
3) The biggest obstacles to getting more people involved in making a difference is the sheer scale of the problems we face as a society and as a nation. You decided not to look at the end goal but to make a difference as you are able, can you talk about this notion, how all of us doing our part can make a difference in the lives of others?
This has been such a struggle for me on this journey. Living in Ethiopia is not easy. You are surrounded by need. I felt immersed in an environment of “not enough.” Nevertheless, I found the people to be relatively joyful. I think God gave me a special love for the children I was working with so that I could focus my attention on them and not on the thousands of others who also needed help. Though it was not always easy, I had a growing sense of peace as I learned to be obedient to what God was asking me to do. As I learned more about God, I learned that He would empower me to do exactly what He wanted me to do. Of course there were days when I felt overwhelmed by the complexity of poverty and the sheer number of those in need, but I tried to focus on the needs of the children in our organization and how we could better serve them. I think that’s what God put on my heart and entrusted to me.
4) Can you share with us some of the success stories that you’ve witnessed at Elshadai?
Elshadai has been around for 8 years so we have been blessed to see the fruit that has come from the support these children and their families have received. One thing that stands out to me is how much healthier the children look after being in the program for just a few months. They get sick less often and their cheeks look fuller. Their eyes are also brighter. We are able to see hope in them that we were often unable to see at the beginning. They also become more social with other children and are more free to express themselves.
In 2009, we came across a family that was in dire need of help. They had been moving from house to house since they were not able to pay rent. They didn’t have enough food and they only had the clothes they were wearing. The night I met them, this family of nine was getting evicted again from their one room house. I remember the house had no electricity, dirt floors and virtually no furniture. Elshadai stepped in and first found a home for this family and provide some food. The children were soon sponsored and able to go to school. The oldest, Tsegaye, is now in his first year of college studying engineering, which is something he says would have never happened with the help of Elshadai and his sponsor.
5) How can people get involved with Elshadai and why is it important to have a broader community be a part of the Elshadai journey?
I think we often think of poverty as something that is completely insurmountable. However, as more and more people get involved and support relief and developmental programs, the number of people in extreme poverty is decreasing, despite our ever increasing population. It is something that could be eliminated in my lifetime.
We are always looking for more sponsors so that more children can benefit from this amazing program. You can visit our website at www.elshadaicd.org to learn more about Elsahdai. If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can make checks payable to Elshadai Child Development and mail to:
Elshadai Child Development Org, Inc.
2269 Talon Pkwy
Greeley, CO 80634 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Lisa for feeding me with the most amazing Ethiopian food but most important nourishing the hopes and dreams of children in Ethiopia with kindness and love. This is how we change the world; when we impart love to others and give love to the less fortunate, we will reap fortunes back by way of receiving the love of God within us. #ElshadaiLightLove
Kindness is a blessing that keeps blessing back when we are open to give it and receive of it back.
Meet Lisa and her husband Atkeltsion
Click on logo to visit Elshadai
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.