Ethiopia - A LIFETIME, LIFELONG JOURNEY

In March 2004, after just turning 26 years old, I decided that now was the time to embark on my first overseas experience and what better place than a two and a half month summer in Ethiopia.

“Wow Hannah, talk about throwing yourself in the deep end” many have told me and basically that’s exactly what I did, and exactly what it felt like. I had all these preconceived ideas about third world country status, because of the continuous stories, but nothing can prepare you for a trip like this. Even my over the top imagination didn’t come close.

I joined a team of four from Edge City Church in Auckland, New Zealand who spent the next eight months preparing and fundraising for a trip destined for departure on Monday the 30th of November. I day that came like wild fire.

Journal Entry (Day 1): “I can’t believe this day has finally arrived. I’m standing at the airport and I literally feel sick. I’m heading into unknown territory with no idea what I’m doing when I get there – an unusual moment for a structured, organised person such as myself – oh heck I don’t want to get out of this comfort box!”

It’s so funny looking back on my words and I still remember exactly how I felt. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. When we arrived in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia), SIM gave us a run down of the different ministries they have and what we could possibly help out with. It was basically our decision what we wanted to do. I was willing to do anything – soak up the culture, meet people at a personal level, and help in ways beyond themselves, beyond myself, something like…….

“ENGLISH TEACHING”: Imagine hundreds of tiny black African kids running around in purple scruffy uniforms and you’ll get the picture of the school we officially became the most popular teachers in. With little, if any, teaching experience I began my two month journey as the grade 2, 3 and 4 English Teacher – oh the respect I have for teachers now. It was an interesting experience that if summed up in words, would be something like “arduously exasperating and enjoyable” – can you put those words in the same sentence? It was tough in so many different levels but there was nothing more exhilarating than seeing a smile on a child’s face who finally clicked. They’re hungry for a taste of education beyond anything I’ve seen in New Zealand and nothing inspires them more than someone willing to give it! With at least 50 kids in each class (crammed into a room as small as a bathroom), the huge communication barrier, and the tiny amount of teaching resources I had, I tried to be as creative as possible. Aside from the lessons, we played games, sung songs like “Jesus Loves me” (which sounded great in their really bad English pronunciation), and laughed a lot. At the end of my journey, although to be honest I was a tad happy to close the books, it was so hard to let those children go. Their huge smiles and excitement brightened the dullest of days. But there was also an even bigger challenge, an emotional challenge.

“MOTHER TERESA AIDS ORPHANAGE”: I was excited and scared all in one breath when the opportunity to help at the orphanage arose. But after my first day, I wasn’t sure if I could ever go back.

Journal Entry (Day 8): “Today was possibly the worst day of my life. We visited the AIDS Orphanage, A place which will become home for the next two months. Lord I’m not sure if I can do this. There are about 400 children of all ages running around at least 30 staff. I had to fight back the tears when we went into the babies’ room who were literally fighting for our attention. So many mother and fatherless, sick babies who will only know life as this, and then there are those who will never grasp life at all.”

I’m going to be honest and say that the kids we saw that day were not visually good looking at all. Their little faces covered with infected lesions and warts, blood running from their nose, ears, mouth, dirty smelly clothing covering thin bodies, and all they wanted to do was touch you…. and all I wanted to do was scream! “Lord, what can I possibly do in two months that can make a difference to these kids”? What can I possibly do? It’s so obvious Hannah, spend time with them, love them, and treat them how you think they deserve…….. at that moment all I can say was that I went from a scaredy-cat with lack of hope for these kids to a mother longing to hold her child, those children become our own. The more time we spent with our kids, the more the visual abnormalities simply dissolved. We forgot their illnesses and in actual fact, had to continuously remind ourselves. Our kids carried a joy and hope our western mentalities will probably never understand. They were so happy and content with life even through, what I would class, the worst of circumstances…….like Teddy for example. Teddy was a 12 year old boy I spent time with who in his sick, pain stricken, thin, lifeless body, asked me to write a Goodbye letter for all the staff at the orphanage – a letter which bought me to tears as I wrote the requested words “I now go into the hands of God, thank you for leading me to this moment. Thank you for treating me like a son, for being my mother, for helping me. I thank God for you!” A week later Teddy did go into the hands of God, on a day which should have been a celebration – Ethiopian Christmas day! But then again, it was a celebration. Teddy was so fulfilled in life that on his death bed, as a twelve year old boy, he praised and thanked God for his life. He had nothing but thanks even for the people who lead him in that direction. That would have been the last thing on my mind especially as a twelve year old and especially with what he was going through. What an honour it was to have written his letter and be surrounded by that. I think our kids had more of an impact on my life than I did theirs, and I do believe in those two months I made an impact.

“THE BUILDING PROJECT”: It was time to get out of the city and we jumped at the chance to spend a week in beautiful Langano, 5 hours south of Addis Ababa and definitely what you would expect African scenery to look like. It was hot, dry and barren with wild animals running everywhere.

Journal Entry (Day 47): “I’m sitting in a treehouse meters above ground in this beautiful big old acacia tree. Families of Colobus Monkeys nest around me while the Baboons fight in the distance. Cute little squirrels play in the branches as the magnificent giant eagles fly past, you can hear them coming from miles as the wind passes through their wings. The sun is streaming through a cool refreshing breeze. This is Africa as I’ll always remember, the smell and scenery is everything I dreamt but the beauty is beyond my imagination.”

Our week in Langano was spent building (well the girls painted) “The Beach House” situated on the lake water front, and a house for short term nurses who come to help at the local village clinic. On our last day the clinic was run off their feet and in need of help, so with my basic health science knowledge and a quick lesson from Kim the head nurse, I officially become a midwife for the day. My role consisted of checking Blood Pressures (for all you doctors and nurses out there, Ethiopians BP’s are a normal 60/40), measuring the size of baby using a tape measure over the stomach and listening for baby’s heart beat. I loved it so much I think I need to continue in this field, just quietly.

“THE MIRACLE”: Not only was Kim a fantastic nurse at the clinic but boy would her cooking impress the best of chefs. One night while helping prepare dinner, we were informed that the water well was empty. I asked Kim what we would do, and as calm as she always was, she simply said “Hannah, It would be fine”. Within hours, after not seeing a single drop of rain since leaving New Zealand, we saw more than I had possibly seen in a life time. The next morning I was unbelievably excited and completely blown away by Gods provision after hearing “Hannah, the well is full”!

“THE STREET KIDS”: Not a day goes past when I don’t think about these kids. You couldn’t help but attached yourself to a young group of kids who are homeless, mother and fatherless, braving the cold dark nights alone and hungry. These kids slept right outside our compound gates and soon became our friends. We loved hanging out with them and they loved hanging out with us. Again we lacked in communication but just being there was all the communication we needed, they needed. It makes a huge difference if someone paid a little attention and we decided to pay a lot. My favourite memory was of Yared (one of the boys we grew to love) who spotted us coming from miles away and ran to meet us with a huge smile on his face. You begin to bond with these kids and they with you, so when it came to leaving, knowing that no one was going to continue in our footsteps, it was unbearable. Well that was until we heard about “Love One Another”, a ministry run by a group who use to be street kids themselves and now with the same heart people gracefully had on them, have set up an organisation helping the street kids of today. After deciding to financially support this ministry, our last updated email read “Yared’s going to school!” EXCITING!

“TWO AND HALF MONTHS” came and went and although it was exciting to be heading home to see friends and family and share our stories, it was also a sad 32 hour flight as we thought about who and what we were leaving behind. Our children at the Orphanage who we may never see again, the beautiful street kids who became our friends, our purple scruffy classmates, and the beauty of a country that didn’t take us long to fall deeply in love with. A piece of ourselves was left in Ethiopia, a piece that I know will one day be reclaimed!

HANNAH DONALD – April 2005

Journal Comments

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