I am fundraising to build more clean water wells in Ethiopia! After a trip to a small village outside Gondar, I have been inspired to help.
Recently, I took a trip to Ethiopia with 19 fellow University of Maryland students. We spent 9 days visiting the country, meeting its people and participating in community service work. We helped deworm children in the JDC's clinics, built a part of a high school and spoke with nursing scholarship women.
Our trip leader, Ellie, told us in an orientation meeting before we even left to be prepared to reach a healthy level of uncomfort. I didn't understand what she meant.
As I walked through the largest open-air market of Africa, uncomfortable cannot begin to describe the feeling that took over my body. Never before had an entire city stared at me before. I was the first white person many of these people had ever laid eyes on.
The uncomfortable feeling never left my body during the 9 days. We would drive around the city and people would stop to wave. It was the feeling of being a celebrity, but never in a truly positive light. Children would beg for money, pens or water. Mothers would walk up saying "sister, help." I understood that the work we were doing was more valuable than handing over a few Birr, but it never made the feeling of saying "no" any less uncomfortable.
One of my last days in the country, I found comfort in one of the most uncomfortable scenarios. For the last 3 days, we had spent mornings helping to physically build a high school in a village.
During our lunch breaks, many of us spent time playing with the children in the village. Their English was minimal while our Amharic did not go beyond “hello,” “what is your name?” and “thank you.” I had befriended a little girl named Mestar. She couldn’t have been older than three, didn’t speak a word of English, & felt comfortable rattling off stories to me in Amharic even though I didn’t catch a word of them. I would chase her around the site, climbing piles of cement and bricks, only to catch her and tickle her into a fit of laughter. Two days in a row, I would leave her with my half empty water bottle so that by the third day, she felt comfortable walking up and taking it out of my hand. She wore the same brown Mickey Mouse shirt and green ripped skirt every day I saw her. But the outfit only matched her gleaming smile any time I spotted her.
On our last day, I hadn’t seen Mestar. I had spent the morning helping some of the construction workers lay more cinderblocks with cement in order to help build the library of the high school. Our trip leader had called us together and introduced us to the principal of the school. He explained that students had to walk 15 miles one way to the closest high school, reinforcing that our work was important. He offered to take us over to the current school, that only goes until 8th grade. As we began the short 10 minute walk, students began swarming from everywhere. I stopped to shake a hand of a boy that asked me in perfect English for my name. By the time I had finished my brief conversation, there must have been 300 children around. I had lost sight of my fellow Maryland students. I looked around and could not spot another white person. Where had everyone gone? I became slightly overwhelmed by the number of children begging and yelling.
Someone grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. When I looked down, Mestar was leading me to the school. She looked up with a smile and kept proudly walking. Suddenly, I was at ease. Suddenly, I was comfortable.
We did not speak the same language. We were different ages. We had completely different socioeconomic statuses. We had met four days ago. But it didn’t matter. We were just human.
Clean water wells in Ethiopia may be the key to bettering the lives of individuals such as Mestar. Drinking from unclean water sources increases health risks for people, leading to serious stomach issues and diarrhea. Unfortunately, diarrhea is a large killer in communities as it dehydrates individuals. If these health concerns do not kill Mestar, she will face other challenges. As a girl, Mestar will have to walk ten miles to the closest water source as soon as she is old enough to carry the canister. She will be sent to collect water for her household twice a day. Chances are, this walk will consume hours of her day and limit her ability to attend school. If she does find the time for actual class, her time for studying will be minimual. With a clean water well nearby, Mestar will have the chance at a real education. With a higher education, she will be able to receive a job paying enough to support her family. She will not have to be economically dependent on a male and be forced to marry at a young age. She will have the chance at a life so many of us are simply handed.
Thank you for your support!