'This Is a Soul: This Mission of Rick Hodes' by Marilyn Berger

Within two months of being rescued from the streets, Danny was enrolled at "Holy Angels," a Christian school that, like all schools in Ethiopia, does not teach religion. He loved his classes, and all shyness disappeared as he announced his daily achievements.

"Attention everybody," he would shout at the top of his lungs.

"Attention . . . 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6," he would start counting and continue up to the hundreds, demonstrating his proficiency in arithmetic.

"He comes home and walks around the house counting to three hundred in English," Rick says admiringly.

Mostly he thrived on being the center of attention. Whenever Rick came home from work, Danny would jump in his arms and that's when the horseplay began, with lots of laughs all around. Rick started giving some thought to finding a family in America that might want to adopt Danny, and I asked how he could possibly give him up. Rick, in his typically cool and noncommittal manner, said only, "He's happy with us."

Danny was, indeed, instantly at home at Rick's, a perfect fit in a busy household filled with chaotic high jinks, fiercely competitive Monopoly, rowdy card games, serious homework, and stand-up dinners. Everybody crowds into the cramped kitchen where they fill their plates from large bowls of vegetarian grains and rice, vegetables, and pasta. At night, after a bit of CNN or the BBC or a soccer game (or MTV if Rick isn't around), the mattresses get rolled out, the stained couches fill up, and everyone retires for the night.

On any given day you can find these kids in the sunlit garden/playing field/rumpus room outside the three-bedroom bungalow that Rick shares with all of them. The day I arrived was particularly bright and beautiful—Ethiopia calls itself a land with thirteen months of sunshine—and the kids were all outside. Dejene (fully recovered from back surgery) was tossing a soccer ball to Mesfin (being treated for a growth-hormone deficiency) who smashed it to Mohammed (who lost a leg to cancer) who tapped it to Tesfaye (awaiting particularly complicated back surgery for TB of the spine). The passport into this group may be a life-threatening disease, but this is no rehab facility. In this one-story ranch-style house, Rick has made a home for these children and more than a dozen others. He treats them, feeds them, educates them, gives them shelter, and prepares them for a productive future.

These Ethiopians playing in the yard seem like fairly ordinary kids, but if it weren't for Rick, they might not be alive. They might be living on the street, like Danny was, or, if they were very lucky, inhabiting a dusty corner in one of the tin-roofed one room shacks that are the main form of housing in the city or one of the conical thatch-roofed, windowless tukuls in the countryside.

Bewoket, now twenty-four, was near death when Rick saved him with hours of dedication and $10 worth of medicine. He was so gravely ill that Sister Tena at Mother Teresa's told anyone who would listen: "Dr. Rick is going to heaven no matter what he does in his life because no child was ever as sick as Bewoket was and survived here."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...