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American, 25, postpones life to save abandoned children of Ethiopia

November 3rd, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

By Mackinzie Hamilton
Photo by Matthew D. LaPlante
Reprinted from The Oregonian

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—It’s lunchtime at the Yehiwot Reay compound, in the Megenagna District of Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city, and a mob of gangly boys scrambles for seats at a wooden table. They dive into plates of injera and shiro, 12 hands ripping at the food. The room buzzes with dinner-table chatter in three languages.

Jason Burton, an Oregon native, works with Ethiopian boys in an Addis Ababa home he rents for himself and 20 local youths. Matthew D. LaPlante photo.

They are as young as 6 and as old as 20, though most can only guess at their age. And like boys anywhere, they push and scrap, argue and pout.

One of the youngest, Tareku, plays music videos on a laptop computer, a technological incongruity in this meager brick and plaster home. The skin on his forearm is cracked and disfigured—an 8-inch sleeve of scars. He glances away from the screen and to his arm. “Fire,” he explains.

Jason Burton does his best to piece together the painful facts of the lives once lived by these boys, who have come to him off the streets of one of the world’s poorest cities. Some have been abandoned. Others came from far-off villages intending to support the families they left behind.

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Now they are part of Burton’s family. And like families everywhere, this one has its struggles. But after five years, Burton can’t walk away, even though he’s put many aspects of his own life on hold.

As lunch winds down, the 25-year-old Hillsboro, Oregon, native looks across the table at his motley gang.

“It’s time to get to work,” he says.

See Mackinzie’s full story at The Oregonian.


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