Clea Arrieta - General Care Projects in Ethiopia
Four years ago I attended a small information night presented by Projects Abroad. I told my parents that night that I wanted to do a service trip of sorts, similar to what Projects Abroad offered, but I didn’t think much of it for too long because I thought I was too young at 15 years old.
Three years later, I found myself planning what to do after high school and despite my initial plans to go straight into university, I decided to take a gap year and travel to Africa. I didn’t know which country I wanted to visit and I really wasn’t picky as to where I wanted to go. So after some financial budgeting and some quick searches, I decided to head to Addis Ababa in the country of Ethiopia.
Volunteering in Ethiopia
I worked at two different placements while in Ethiopia. I was at Hillside School and Selam Orphanage. At Hillside, I taught English to children in the primary class and oversaw a large portion of the science fair that the school was holding.
I didn’t know what to expect before arriving to my placement, so I brought small toys like tops and some short children’s story books to read to my classes. Little did I know, the school would be grateful for my donations, but my physical presence amidst the children and the energy I brought was more rewarding than anything I could’ve tangibly brought from Canada.
We played games, we did some spelling tests, and learnt how to use verbs and put them into the past. I met some brilliant young minds during the science fair and am incredibly excited to see what the students put together in the future.
At Selam Orphanage, I got the opportunity to work in their school, but also directly with the children living in the orphanage. I fell in love with every single one of those children, but one boy in particular named Abutica took my heart and ran away with it. I’m sure that aside from family he didn’t know anyone who could care about him as much as I did. I told him that complete stranger can love him because of how good his soul is.
My host family
At my accommodation, I lived in a home that had a host mum and a host grandma. My host mum had a son that was abroad studying for university who is the same age as me, so she somewhat took on the position of being my mother figure. She did everything she was meant to and always made sure that I had somewhere safe to stay within the chaos of Addis Ababa. I was lucky that she spoke English very fluently alongside multiple other languages as she was a translator at one of the orphanages in Addis, so I could always count on her to fully understand what I had to say.
My host grandma was a character that didn’t speak English at all, but we got by on my basic French and the surprisingly decent amount of Amharic I learnt while away. I will never forget how she’d always be downstairs when I’d go down for breakfast and wave goodbye from her small porch attached to her bedroom whenever I left for work. She was the embodiment of genuine Ethiopian love and she certainly shared all she possibly could with me.
Travelling in Ethiopia
I was lucky enough to do a lot of travelling within the 4.5 months I was in Ethiopia. My first trip was going east to Awash and Harrar. I was able to visit my first National Park and visit the city where coffee runs in the blood of the people living there. Harrar was beautiful and colourful and quite amazing on a historical stand point and that was definitely when I fully came to accept that I was undoubtedly in Africa.
The last trip I was able to go on was when I visited the south - Hawassa, Shashamene, and Langano. Hawassa somehow managed to have a very ‘island feel’ probably because of the humongous lake it was named after. Not too far from Hawassa was a little town called Shashamene which is known to be a home of the Ethiopian Rastafarian Community.
The people were colourful and tight knit, full of characters of all sorts. Visiting this town made me realise how we’re all truly living under the same sky. Belief systems and religions and social class may temporarily segregate groups of people, but at the end of the day we’re all sharing this one beautiful sky.
The last place I visited was Langano Lake. My two roommates and I splurged on a nice resort for one night and it was the best decision we made. The lake and the scenery was a view that took my breath away.
The entire time I was in Ethiopia, I saw both conditions of wealth can poverty. Despite the extreme differences between the social hierarchies, neither was more beautiful than the other. Each memory I’ve saved from my trip held its own beauty in its own right and all deserve to be seen.
Projects Abroad staff and volunteers
Reminiscing of the staff and volunteers I met brings tears to my eyes. Anyone that’s left everything they’ve known and just jumped head first into a new culture and way of living will understand how important one’s companions become. Words don’t explain how grateful I was for Weini and her motherly understanding and unconditional love, or Menassie’s sense of humour and guaranteed ability to make me feel welcomed.
The Projects Abroad staff in Addis were brilliant - they made the experience I had and the experience of the 30 other volunteers I met from around the world, definitely one we’d never forget nor regret. They were always a call or text message away (given there was service when we needed them) or never too far away to get to. I miss them all so dearly and never go a day without thinking about them.
So all in all, that’s the best I can summarise my 18 week trip. I grew, I learnt, I opened my mind to more things than a year at school could have taught me. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubts while on my trip. I had moments where I questioned why I came to Africa, why I thought I could do or change anything in the first place. But after a scarce and momentary spiral of doubt, I’d realise that I was there and I would be leaving a mark regardless of the size.
I began to value the smiles I received from people on the ‘lada’ taxis. I began to feel grateful towards the Ethiopian’s that would stop me on the street to ask me about my culture with the want to practice their English with me. I began to buy loaves of bread with my roommates to give to the people of Megenagna. I began promising myself every night that I’d go back there one day to see all of those beautiful things again.
It’s a trip that will change you psychologically for the better. No one back at home will be able to see the change you’ve withstood, but you’ll feel it and you’ll know it. You will be the only person to know what you’ve truly done within your stay and you’ll realise that the trip was not only for the children of Ethiopia but for yourself. I suggest it for everyone and if you’re wondering if you really should? Just do it.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.