From a young age I used to be fascinated with learning about tribes and how other areas of the world worked. When speaking to my favioute uncle he asked why I did not volunteer abroad? A man who never lost faith in me, although I was ‘too young’ in my mothers eyes, I applied, applied and applied.
Never with any luck I found an amazing charity which suited best to my requirements, taking young people abroad to volunteer with other young children. It took a year of pestering them until my birthday came and the director came to visit me and my school.
I had to raise £1400, for a determined soul I never understood the true value, which I am glad I did not as it would have forced me to decline the challenge. I knew I would be working with children with special needs in the slums of Addis Ababa. Anyhow, I raised the money.
It was amazing, the first day we dropped off our stuff at a hotel, it was not glamourous to say the least, we was fortunate to have a toilet between 10 people, which was a hole in the ground. Showers were communal and only ran cold water for approximately 30 seconds before stopping. Our rooms had a mattress, and a blanket with bugs and crockroaches everywhere. I remember thinking then, what have I done? I didn’t have time to ponder, we went to the hilltops to visit a village to learn about the people. I was fascinated with how the roles of this small community worked. The older women farmed, and made food, whilst the men would go to work. Young girls jobs was to walk down the mountain to gather water multiple times a day for the community (1 hour and a half walk each way) and young boys attended school which was a 45 minute walk each way. Whilst everyone kept in small groups, I had to use the loo so the translator walked me as protection, on our way back i had noticed this young girl who followed us the whole time. The translator asked her something and apparently she said that she loved my hair, fascinated with how long and light the colour was and wanted to touch it. We got onto the conversation of her walking everyday, when she told us that her mother had passed, so she has to work the farm as well as do the walking to help keep her brother in education and do her bit in the community. That’s when I asked our leader if he could ask everybody to donate their water to the community as well as the water on the minibuses which were overloaded with water because of the heat and all the walking we had done. Everyone agreed and we all shared, a group of 20 a bottle of 3 ltre water till we got back to the hotel.
This is such a prominent memory of the trip for me, it was so interesting to learn how peoples roles in community was restricted and how it confined individuals. How their life had already been destined for them, without much opportunity. Little freewill and freedom that people preach.
Upon entering the school we worked with, we created an activities week. We learnt a lot on the first day, activites we planned would have taken 1 hour, took 2 minutes as they got bored, and activites we planned would take 2 minutes took 2 hours! Teddies for example, if you are planning an activites week in a deprived area, please take teddies and lots of them. Emptying the suitcase of teddies brought so much joy, it was just so suprising but gave me such a glow. Also, we had a young girl on our team who was very girly, she cried the first night realising she could not straighten her hair! She took out her mirror, and the kids went mad! To never seeing their reflection before they absolutely loved it. Even at the end of the week the mirror became a centre point.
The activities were great fun, the thrill of just letting go and hanging out with people who you had pretty limited conversation with. Allowed our group to communicate through actions, a universal form of communication. I did not even realise this till the end of the trip where our leader had promoted the true value of mankind, the true value of life is communication. Language is important but not compulsory, it is spending time with people and not judging, forcing yourself to communicate in other traditional forms.
This still makes me smile today. This boy here was called Ze-ghar. I remember he was the first one i saw when we enterered the school, he was bigger than I and walked over towards me. I felt slightly frightened, he picked me up and started laughing as i let out a little scream. He was the joker of the group. Every day when we did the activities, he wanted to dance. He attempted to teach me traditional dance within the area and it just was amazing. In my diary from the trip, my young self wrote how i was falling in love with him!!
It was a truly amazing experience. We even attended an event which the school spoke to the community and preached that disability (I hate that word) is not a disease, or a sin. An area based upon Islam, Christianity and even witchcraft- who believe generally that the family have committed a crime, or an immoral thought to have created a disabled child. The school do these events to educate the local people the science and nature behind, which I would love to know how the people think now that years have gone by. To know if they worked, either way I thought it was amazing to watch and feel part of the movement.
There really is too much to discuss on my travels to Ethiopia, Addis Ababa a concrete jungle filled with deprivated and juxtaposition. Deeply filled with beliefs, rituals and tradition.
A place I was supposed to go once, I have been twice, altogether a month has been spent there and it is still on my list of places to go back. I somehow felt a connection to this place.