The week I visited, Ethiopia was in the throes of a years-long drought. For an agrarian society in which 80 percent of the population lives by subsistence farming, such a stretch can be devastating. When I was there, 6 million Ethiopians were facing starvation, 1 million of whom were children under the age of 5. Needless to say, that week in February of 2008 changed my life forever.
SATURDAY, my first day in-country, I saw the little airport and a sprawling un-cosmopolitan city that, in some ways, looked more like a large shanty town. That night I experienced a tiny, windowless room that was the rented living space for an entire family of 5. With little more than a long necked black coffee pot on a tiny brazier and a large mesh mat filled with popcorn I was introduced to the incredible warmth of Ethiopian hospitality.
SUNDAY I saw active worship, real joy, and leprosy. I watched a miracle in the form of a medical clinic, the first of its kind in this area, dedicated and given to a tiny community and the hundreds of thousands populating the hills around it.
MONDAY my stomach rebelled against a breakfast of goat stomach and intestine and I learned the Ethiopian word for ‘one more’. I met a teacher who had studied to become a priest but decided instead to walk 3 hours one way to teach middle school children English.
TUESDAY I saw beyond the next hill and, as I watched a young boy drink from a stagnant ditch and a melee break out over an empty plastic bottle, realized that water is the most valuable resource in the world. I saw hope renewed and how far ‘a little’ goes in a place where there’s nothing.
WEDNESDAY I saw the face of true human suffering in the form of skeletal babies and hopelessness in the angelic face of a teenage girl bent and broken by a spinal cord deformity caused by malnutrition. I came to appreciate simple pleasures like a shower and a can of Spam. I experienced serious illness and genuine gratitude for American trained medical professionals.
THURSDAY I said goodbye to my new Ethiopian friends and my sheltered idea of discomfort. I treasured the luxury of luxury for the first time and appreciated the fact that I could just get on a plane and return to my comfortable life.
FRIDAY I saw in the shell of an orphanage under construction what a little conviction and a lot of determination can accomplish. I saw young girls being transformed from trafficked and exploited to triumphant and productive and I left Ethiopia with a strong determination to lead those blessed with resources to a greater awareness of their power to make a significant difference in the world. Find out how at www.crisisaid.org