Birthday boy turns philanthropist
July 2, 2013
By Joe Grove
Spencer Blumenthal, 8-year-old second-grader at Sunny Hills Elementary School, turned his birthday party into a charitable event, raising more than $700 for charity: water. The nonprofit organization brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
Spencer “primed the pump” by contributing $40 of his own savings and started the money flowing by asking his friends to make contributions rather than bring presents to his April 1 birthday party.
Spencer’s parents, Cami and Ryan, helped him set up an online link for donations. The campaign closed June 21.
What would cause a boy of 8 years to turn his back on birthday presents in exchange for contributions to a water charity? It began when his parents adopted Etta, an infant from Ethiopia. Shortly after the adoption, they discovered Etta had a sister, Meskie, in an orphanage in Ethiopia and adopted her also.
Meskie came home just shy of her 5th birthday, Cami said.
“What’s been amazing is that she still had a great memory of her time in Ethiopia and could share these stories,” she added. “Where Etta was so much younger as a toddler, Meskie could fill in the gaps for her sister.”
“She had to walk a long way to the nearest river or stream to get water and the water was dirty and had disease in it,” Spencer said of Meskie.
When asked if he had ever had to go without water and what he uses water for, Spencer began listing the things, with a little prompting: drinking, laundry, toilets, swimming and showering, though he thought he might like to go without the showering for a few days. The one thing that jumped to his mind immediately was that life without clean water leads to diseases.
Cami said Meskie talks a lot about how different life was in Ethiopia.
“It is pretty neat to hear her,” he said. “She didn’t know any different, and she is in kindergarten this year. She did a presentation on Ethiopia and what life was like there. The questions the kids came up with shows they have a hard time. They can’t quite wrap their brains around not having water or even just what their life was like. Meskie had one set of clothes and no toilet” in the orphanage.
“When I was in the first grade, we brought in the type of food they (his sisters) ate and no one had ever tasted it, and didn’t like injera.”
Cami explained injera is a type of flat bread that they put various foods and spices on top of.
“They don’t have eating utensils, so they use the bread to take up the food,” she said.
“Meskie did not speak English and we, unfortunately, could not learn her language because it wasn’t the main Ethiopian language.” Cami said. “It is amazing, but we found a way to communicate, and she picked up English pretty darn quick.”
Cami said she was drawn to the idea of adoption for as long as she can remember. She said there were several factors in the choice to go to Ethiopia, but one of them was that Ethiopia didn’t have a requirement that Americans reside there before they could adopt. Another one was that there is a large Ethiopian community in Seattle, so they and the girls can stay connected to the girls’ culture.
“We also have friends that were in the process of Ethiopian adoptions,” Cami said.
“Etta came home to us severely malnourished, but she has thrived,” she added. “We thought our family was done at the time, and then we heard about her sister being taken to an orphanage and, of course, we would adopt her. We can’t imagine our life without both of them.”
Spencer said he thinks it is good to have two younger sisters.
“He’s a great big brother,” Cami said. “When I told him and the kids, we also have Blake, we are going to bring home Etta’s sister, Spencer said, ‘Three kids, Mom, I think I can handle it.’ Blake is 6, and they call Blake and Meskie the twins.”
Spencer said the more than $700 raised will provide clean water for 36 people in Ethiopia. Charity: water drills community wells and does other clean water projects in developing countries.