Daniel Tewkesbury - General Care Projects in Ethiopia
I came to Ethiopia knowing nothing about the country except for knowledge based on the infamous media images of the famine in the 1980s. However, just a short while after arriving in Addis Ababa I realised that hidden beneath these images is a country with a rich culture, vibrant capital and warm hearted people.
My first thoughts when Weini was taking me to meet my host family were, "What have I gotten myself into!" It’s true that the sheer volume of people, level of poverty and environment so alien to my own left me feeling more than a little scared. However, after meeting my host family I was left feeling reassured that I was with friendly people who were happy to help in any way that they could and this seemed to characterise all Ethiopian people I met.
My work placement was at Safe House and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better placement. Safe House is a centre for impoverished children that, with funding from sponsors, provides the children with a place to stay, food and education. Every day that I came to work I would be greeted by the children with the same affection that they showed on my very first day.
Teaching them English was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and the warmth I received from them will never be forgotten. Lessons were always fun and it definitely paid off bringing football cards as prizes. It’s not only the children that I miss but also the staff. They are all such incredible people and did their best to make me feel at home. It was always nice to enjoy a coffee ceremony in the staffroom every afternoon where I got to taste the best coffee I have ever experienced.
I also spent some time at Kidane Mihret Orphanage. At times it was hard to think that the children there are orphans and many would grow up with HIV. Their attention was divided between a few nurses who were constantly occupied with feeding and changing so it felt good to give them some time and attention that all children deserve.
Outside of work I was rarely stuck for something to do. Having a whole network of Projects Abroad volunteers to socialise with was a big advantage and more often than not we would end up at the legendary Kaldi’s coffee shop for a drink. There were always many adventures to be had, from live reggae nights at ‘harlem jazz’ nightclub to some fierce haggling at Merkato. I even enjoyed a couple of trips outside the city to Debra Zeit and Langano to enjoy a change of pace and some time to relax.
Of course there were also the Projects Abroad events, including the infamous monthly dinners – every time ending in Sami showing off his impressive dancing skills and the rest of us joining in, or a trip to the cinema with Bikesegn. Another highlight was celebrating Ethiopian New Year with my host family the traditional way, i.e. eating as much as possible and sampling my host mother’s… interesting home made alcoholic drinks. It was quite a shock to see a sheep wandering round the yard one day and then the next day at dinner being told that we were eating it!
At times it was certainly hard living in a foreign country with nobody from home around. I can still remember how nervous I was the first time I got into a shared taxi by myself. However I also remember how proud and accomplished I felt when I arrived at my destination. It was also difficult getting used to the highly unpredictable weather, constant power and water shortages and even a couple of awkward situations involving marriage proposals. Dealing with issues such as these away from home leaves you with a sense of independence, but at the same time it is very reassuring to know that there is a team of friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff ready to help, not to mention my host family.
I have been left with many memories from my time in Ethiopia. I find myself missing injera, the staple food of Ethiopia with an ‘acquired taste’ as well as the music of Jonny Ragga and Teddy Afro. However the thing that I miss the most are all the friends that I made there. After meeting other volunteers I now have friends all over the world. I especially miss my host family who came to feel like my own family and the friends I made at Safe House who were always ready to help.
I will never forget the children that I worked with. People in the western world who are always complaining and taking things for granted could learn so much from them, as they are always happy despite not having many material possessions and can find joy in the simplest of things as well as showing anyone they meet the utmost kindness.
I came to Ethiopia not knowing what to expect and left feeling a lifetime wiser and more independent. I learnt so much from a country I knew nothing about and would encourage anybody to undertake a similar experience.
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.