by Christian Santelices
That’s how we feel in Ethiopia. Everywhere you go, people wave to you from the road, kids surround us, wanting to see what we are about. It can be overwhelming at times—having a crowd of people jockeying for a better view, to get a handshake, or to hear what we have to say. But when I think about why they are there and why we are there, all I can do is bask in their smiles, knowing that it’s all curiosity, a willingness to help, and a grand sense of welcome.
This year marks the second trip that I have done with the non-profit imagine1day and I feel much more in tune with the local people. I’ve had the chance to really contemplate our impact on this beautiful and fascinating country from the perspective of the communities that have benefitted from imagine1day’s efforts. It’s both profound and humbling.
Ethiopia is a country of smart, resourceful, hard working people. And with us, they’ve shared an insightful glimpse at how they view themselves and what they want to accomplish. An elder in a green sweater, talking to a group of gathered villagers in the remote community of Gonzilla, spoke animatedly and passionately about how glad they were to have a new school in their community. Of course, they are elated for their children to learn and have more opportunities. But it also benefits the adults. “This is an opportunity for us to learn [too]!” he exclaimed, opening his arms to the elders and adults assembled in a canvas tent, protected against the downpour outside. “This is our chance to improve the lives not only of our children, but for us—individually— as well.
Another woman told a story of wanting to go to school as a child, but not being able to muster the school fees or energy for the 4 to 5-hour walk each way to the closest school. Her everyday chores of fetching water and watching over her family’s livestock took precedence. “We have so much to share with the world,” she said, referring to the generations of knowledge about the land, “we just can’t read and write, [so we’re unable] to share it.
The president of the Women’s Association spoke to the gathered crowd about what the new school would mean for the girls in the community. Having the choice to go to school and learn to be productive for their family and community will provide a brighter future, hopefully deterring rape and/or early marriage. They can envision a future where their worth is measured with the businesses they start, rather than their current role in subsistence farming.
A mother offered her unique take on the scholarships for secondary students. She mentioned how the loan of 3500 Ethiopian birr (about $200 US), and the business-skills training from imagine1day, transformed the lives of her whole family, not just her daughter, Azeb (a bright 16-year-old who wants to be a doctor).
Azeb’s mother (close to tears when asked what the scholarship meant to her) said the loan allowed her to buy a cow and use the profits from the milk and a calf to save money for Azeb’s school fees. And she still had money leftover to buy grain during the harvest and sell it for profit at the local market. Because of her new knowledge of business and savings, and her newfound confidence, she is intent on eventually moving to town and buying a house. This would allow her other children to focus on school, as opposed to farm work. Once again, imagine1days work has changed the paradigm from subsistence farming to investment and wealth creation, from working day-by-day just to make ends meet to a hope for a better life, and from a place where crop failure equals hunger to having the resources and foresight for a sustenance cushion.
Everywhere we go we are shown Ethiopian hospitality and people share their stories. I’m overwhelmed, at times, by my good fortune to be given the opportunity to impact peoples’ lives. At times, the work here at home—recruiting and fundraising—is stressful. Those are the times I reflect back on what we’ve accomplished and how my small efforts have impacted amazing individuals. There’s no question that this is one of the most important jobs I have.
We’re recruiting now. Come join us in 2014, and experience for yourself how giving others a leg up will change your own life and perspective. The people of Ethiopia are waiting to welcome you.
We are proud to call Christian Santelices a Kate’s ambassador. As a certified mountain guide, public speaker, writer, and activist, he dedicates his career to adventure team-building and empowering educators. Check out Christian’s personal guide service, Aerial Boundaries, specializing in custom adventures and corporate team-building.