The Project Mercy Compound is an oasis in the middle of a very difficult and challenging part of the world. Yetebon, Ethiopia is the name of the surrounding area, but it's not even on the map. Butajira is the nearest town, about 6 miles away on the worst little dirt road imaginable. The local people are dirt poor - literally, and I'll go into that more later. But inside the compound walls things are clean and cared for, everyone has enough to eat, and there's a constant bustle of activity. Everyone helps, and everyone is busy, productive, and friendly.
In only twelve years, Marta and Deme have taken on, and completed, an astonishing number of projects. The school is central to the daily life of the place, with about 70 "house kids", many of them orphans, living in the compound, and over 1,000 more who come from the surrounding area each day. Some of them walk two hours from their homes on the mountainsides. Education is valued because there isn't room for everyone them to attend, and the two meals that come with a day at school are a big draw too. Marta tries to choose one child from each family who applies, in hopes that the rest of the family will benefit from that one student's education, sometimes being introduced to the basics of proper sanitation, hand washing, and family planning for the first time - things that are so normal to us.
Watching the kids line up for school in the morning is wonderful. They mill around for a few minutes as they arrive through the gate, and are always eager and curious to chat with visitors and show of their English language skills. They know two key questions - What is your name? and How old are you? The average life expectancy there is about 48 years, so they never believed me when I told them my real age - 51 is ancient. I finally started telling them I was 10, and they'd laugh and shake their heads, saying, No.... you're.... 27! Gotta love that.
While the kids are in school, others are busy making beads and bracelets, weaving baskets, embroidering, doing woodwork and metalwork, gardening, tending cattle and sheep, cooking, doing laundry by hand... the list goes on and on. Then just outside the compound is a clean, modern hospital, a huge worship center, and a big new high school under construction.
I know I'm repeating myself a little bit. Jet lag is a beast, and I'm not getting nearly enough sleep. But I do want to give you a relatively clear idea of what life is like at Project Mercy. Here are some favorite pictures of compound life. Later I'll take you "outside".