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It’s Time for Africa!!! June 5, 2013

Posted by Marnie Williams in Travel Log.

Hello from Ethiopia! We just passed our 10 day mark of being here yesterday, but it feels like we’ve been here forever.  I’m living in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.  It’s a lot more built up than I expected but a lot less developed at the same time (I know that’s kind of contradictory).  The other day Brittany (the girl I’m with) and I were walking – we almost got hit by a van because we were moving out of the way of a donkey crossing the street.  It was pretty funny.

I’m here with Because of Kennedy (BOK) – a non-profit started by Dr. Rudy Gleason (a BME professor at Tech) and his wife after they lost a child, Kennedy, in the adoption process.  It’s been REALLY cool getting to learn the ins and outs of the organization by working with both the Gleason’s and the in-country staff.  One of my favorite parts of the organization is that BOK works with SVO (Stand for the Vulnerable Organization), so it truly is a partnership between Ethiopians and Americans to improve lives here.  The main program that we’re focusing on this summer is the Family Sponsorship Program – the SVO staff chose 100 of the “poorest of the poor” from 2 cities, Burayu (the 1st city) and Ambo to be a part of the program.  BOK then finds sponsors in the States for the families.  Being sponsored pays for micro-finance and life skills training for the guardians, one child’s school tuition and fees (per Ethiopian law, only 1 child in each family can be a part of a program), and some $$ for immediate necessities (some food, a pair of shoes, etc.)  It’s been amazing to see how hard both the Gleason’s and the SVO staff work to maintain transparency with their finances (they want the sponsors to know EXACTLY where the $$ is going) and how they revolve big decisions around the 4 pillars the organization was founded on. 

The first week we were here was a lot of housekeeping stuff (finding a house, getting internet, figuring out a driver, etc.), but yesterday we finally got to meet the guardians we’ll be working with this summer.  I didn’t know this before today, but there are 5 sponsored groups in Burayu (sponsored groups = groups that are sponsored), and 4 unsponsored groups.  The 4 unsponsored groups don’t receive any of the financial benefits of the program, but they are made up of guardians who found out about the program and wanted to receive training anyways.  That’s the biggest evidence to me that what we’re doing actually matters – people who have no obligation to the program and are receiving no financial benefits are still coming and participating because they believe that it will improve their lives.  Pretty cool. 

Biggest thing I’ve learned: I have no idea what the heck I’m doing.  But there’s a lot of freedom in that, because it drives me to rely on God. And this is gonna be summer of figuring out what patience means.

Biggest frustration: Not being able to communicate.  Amheric is the national language, while the people in Burayu speak Afonaromo.  Amheric is kind of like Arabic so it has completely different sounds and characters – I’ve never been in a place where I had NO idea what was going on, except for in Chinatown in San Francisco, and that doesn’t really count. I keep resorting to speaking Spanish, and the blank stares I get back remind me that Spanish can no longer be my default foreign language.

What I’m looking forward to: Connecting with college students.  We’re trying to get plugged into some college ministries – there is a university in Addis Ababa (where we’re living) and in Ambo (one of the cities we work with), so I’m hoping to get to know a couple students in order to better understand what college life is like in Ethiopia.

Coolest moment so far: Sitting with the guardians today and learning the days of the week in Amheric.  I’m trying to establish trust relationships before I jump into teaching them, because I think I will be received a lot better if I can better understand them, and they see that I’m learning with them instead of just trying to impose my opinion on them.

What I didn’t realize before I came: That I have a comfort zone.  And that comfort zone is where I can at least somewhat communicate with people and blend in.  I HATE sticking out, but it’s kind of hard to blend in (I didn’t tan enough before I came).  We walk into the schools and the kids just reach out their hands to touch me – I want to tell them that I have zero healing power, but that’s Level 4 of Amheric, and I’m still on Level 0.  I’m really excited for this summer to teach me different ways to communicate, how to form relationships with people I can’t talk to, and how to serve people without using words of affirmation.  This is gonna be cool.

p.s. I’m keeping a personal blog at http://www.marnieisaworldtraveler.blogspot.com that I’ll update with more details if you’re interested!

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