Monday, August 25, 2008

Volunteering Beyond Baltimore 

Posted by Sasha at 1:59 PM ET

One Ravens Cheerleader recently did some volunteer work well beyond city limits.
by Geoff Peckham
Baltimore Ravens
Aug 19, 2008

The Baltimore Ravens’ Cheerleaders are well known for volunteering around the Charm City limits. One member of the team, Erin K., recently decided to extend that spirit well beyond city limits.

This July, the second-year Ravens Cheerleader took a two-week mission trip to Ethiopia, where she taught English classes, helped build homes and spent a great deal of time bonding with the many children of the third-world country who needed it the most.

“It was something I always wanted do,” Erin offered, whose father travels to Honduras every year for mission work. She said volunteering with the Ravens really opened her eyes to how bad it can be in some areas, and if things were tough in Baltimore City, she couldn’t imagine what they were like in other parts of the world.

Erin knew she wanted to get involved with something, but wasn’t sure what or how. Africa had always held a special place in her heart, and after some research, she found Blessing the Children International (BCI), a non-profit organization based out of a church in Michigan. The program was organized, well established and devoted to making a difference in the lives of children, with partnerships with over 30 different ministries and orphanages.

As Erin puts it, “everything fell in place.”

She told her family the plans, and they were supportive, especially her father. There were still many things to do however − mainly funding the trip. The session Erin eyed cost nearly $3000. She also had to acquire an Ethiopian Visa in addition to her passport.

“[My teammates] helped me the most,” Erin pointed out, noting that they would often check on her and ask how the planning was coming. More significantly, they collectively contributed the most in donations. Erin set up a fundraising website for people to make donations, which helped her raise well over the price of the mission, nearly $4000. Contributors often left notes of encouragement, which helped keep the trip in her thoughts.

“Erin’s opportunity to travel to Ethiopia has allowed her to experience an entirely new perspective on the world,” said Ravens Cheer Director Tina Galdieri when asked about the significance of the trip.

Erin K. reads to the childrenFinally, after nearly a year of planning, Erin left for Ethiopia July 17th. She left three days earlier than the other volunteers in her group due to her cheerleading schedule, with the intention of coming home three days earlier, as well.

After a year of few reservations, Erin admits she was a little scared as she arrived in Ethiopia by herself. Her fears were brief however, as she quickly got comfortable in the country, taking advantage of her head start to visit some local towns and churches.

Once the entire team arrived, the volunteers would spend three days a week teaching English and Religion courses at the Adana Children Center, a ministry for orphans and widows. Its location allowed the children to stay at home and maintain their family environment.

With 180 sponsored children in five churches, the missionaries were required to split often. Erin was surprised by the amount of English the children knew, but even more so at just how many children there were.

“The streets were flooded with people, mostly kids,” Erin reminisced, saying there was rarely a moment when they were not with children. Many of them had lost their parents or had been diagnosed with HIV. She would often go with the other volunteers to assess homes and make repairs, while ensuring the children received proper medical treatment.

Every day was a new experience for Erin, and as much as she tried to prepare herself for what to expect, she ultimately couldn’t picture what she was going to do or experience until it was happening. What Erin wasn’t prepared for was how being with them would make a difference in her life. She bonded with was a group of children, Gellata, Tantoo, and Tigist, who had recently lost their father.

“For these kids, their emotional hunger surpasses their physical hunger. They cling to you, run to you, jump on you and kiss you. They want so much more than food, they want affection,” Erin said, noting of how some would even sprint across the street just to give volunteers hugs. Many people would come up to her and the other volunteers, reminding them of how much they were helping just by being there.

“You hear about the poverty situation in Africa through [sporadic] media coverage, however, no news story on the subject will ever truly depict the brutality and reality that these people are faced with day in and day out, struggling to survive,” she said. “While their situation is heartbreaking, being with them lifted my spirits; they were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

“This face-to-face experience changed her outlook of how she can make a positive impact,” Galdieri offered. “She plans on continuing her support of the country, and is looking forward to creating new ways here in Baltimore to assist the people she has met in Ethiopia.”

Coming home was hard for Erin, as she still dreams about those kids today. Being back in the United States, where there are still certain luxuries that the children of the Adana Center could never imagine, put many things in perspective for her. It hits her harder to think about them, and knows there is more she could do in the future. The support of her teammates helped her accomplish the entire experience, and she hopes to spread the ideals she learned and convince more girls to participate in these missions in the future.

“I went to Ethiopia to make a difference in the lives of these children, but they impacted my life more than they will ever know,” she said. “On our last day of English class they couldn’t understand why we were all crying. They couldn’t understand what they had given to us.”

“For me, it was a new perspective on life and memories much too vivid to forget or replace.”

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