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Children Are A Gift: Tyler moms impacting orphans with art

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TYLER (KYTX) -- Lori Knight has three biological children. A few years ago a fourth child would join her family through adoption. A 2-year-old boy named Mezekir, from Ethiopia.

"It was realizing that for this one child who's life I thought I was going to change, but instead he absolutely re-scripted the future for our family, and for our friends and those around us," explained Lori.

Those changes began in November, 2010 when Lori and her friend Paula Brookshire traveled to back to Ethiopia, where there are about 4.3 million orphans.

Paula said, "When we came back home we couldn't get it out of our minds and hearts. We had to do something, but what do you do?"

While in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Paula and Lori asked to see the city dump. "Thanksgiving day we climbed the mountain of trash, and really there are just no words to describe what we saw," Paula said, still stunned.

At the top, they found dozens of children, most without parents. "It has ripped my heart out. It's unacceptable." The mountain of trash is where the children call home. They dig in the garbage for food.

"It was for me as though God put an arrow, just pointed an arrow and said this is the place you can help because there is no one here helping these people," added Paula.

They came up with a plan to buy Ethiopian artwork and leather jewelry and bring it back to the United States to sell. All of the proceeds are returned to Ethiopia to help the orphans on the trash pile. Lori said, "We aren't paid. We fly on our own dime. We stay over there on our own dime. Everything goes to Ethiopia!"

Paula, Lori and another Tyler mom, Lindsey Andrews, created an organization called Lopa Art. The artwork, exclusively from Ethiopian artists and artisans, began to sell and soon their passion become reality.

"It has now grown into that we are able to feed 60 kids twice a day, send them all to school, we purchased all their school books and their uniforms... and provide some minor medical care," explained Paula.

These Tyler moms also raised enough money to built them a community center with a kitchen. "Where they hired five moms from the dump and were able to pay them and they are able to cook all the food for the children," said Paula.

Over time, Lopa Art became dual purposed helping improve the lives of the Ethiopian artists as well.

[One artist] had no bathroom, no kitchen, just a single room with a bed in it and painting supplies. He now has a bathroom." Lori goes on to say, "Another, worked in a small tin building. Over the past two years, he has been able to go into business with five other artists and actually rent a studio."

These Tyler moms are answering the call to help orphans and doing it through beautiful artwork that is leaving a lasting impression.

Paula said, "What I see is hope where I didn't see hope before and that makes all the difference in the world I think."

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