Emily Smith - General Care Projects in Ethiopia
When I first arrived in Addis, one of the first questions I got asked by people was, ‘So why did you choose to come to Ethiopia?’ At first my answers to this question were limited, because in all honesty I didn’t have an awfully big idea of how I decided on Ethiopia as a destination. My research on the county before my arrival hadn’t been particularly extensive and the previous little knowledge I had admittedly was heavily influenced by the media’s portrayal of the drought and famine of 1980’s.
After spending 3 months here however, I have discovered what a fascinating culturally diverse and truly unique country it is. Going from living in the middle of no-where in the English countryside to living in the African city of Addis, I experienced what could only be described as ‘culture shock’ when I first arrived. After the first week however, the goats and donkeys wandering in the road, men shouting ‘Konjo Ferenji’ at you in the street, being asked out to coffee 5 times a day, being hassled for money when stationary at traffic lights and dodging minibuses whilst crossing the road, all begins to feel quiet normal.
At the beginning I was told that I was fortunate to work at Safe House and after only about half an hour or less of me being there I discovered why. I made some really good friends amongst the staff who were all incredibly kind and always there if I needed anything or if I had a problem. I had such fun with them on a daily basis. At Safe House I managed to have my first teaching experiences, practice my creative skills with the children and even test out a role as ‘dinner lady’ at lunch times.
Working at Kidane Mihret was ‘testing’ at first .My work was pretty intense as all the children wanted my attention at the same time. It was so sad seeing the children in both these placements but I did my best to give them the love that they’d been deprived of and I really tried to make a difference. During my 3 months here I grew very attached to both the children and the ‘mammas’ too. They didn’t speak any English but I built up a good relationship with them based on my limited Amharic and sign language. Quite often I would think, ‘would they notice if I took a few of those children home with me?’… Then I saw sense and realised it may give my mother a shock if I returned home with 5 Ethiopian orphans in my hand luggage. In fact the two things she told me not to do whilst in Ethiopia were: a) get married or b) adopt a child!
It was great to have been placed in two excellent placements, but also to have been designated a host family that couldn’t have made my stay any better if they had tried. They were always there if I had a problem and they made me feel just like a member of their family. I will miss them all a great deal. Whilst I was living there, other volunteers were living with me. Living with other volunteers not only provided me with new friendships but also allowed me to compare and share experiences which was great!
During my stay in Ethiopia, I also had the opportunity to travel. I went on 2 trips: the first to Awash National Park and the walled Muslim city of Harar and the second, down south to Omo Valley to visit the many tribes including the ‘Mursi’ who are famous for their clay lip plates. Both these visits were fascinating and were very contrasting, giving me a good variety of experiences. I didn’t have the time or money to do a tour of the north, which was a shame; however I will be sure to schedule that into my next visit to Ethiopia.
During my stay here I have experienced many things. a wedding, a funeral, Ethiopian football matches, Ethiopian family life, various Addis Ababan clubs+ restaurants, markets varying from Merkato to the Hammer Tribe market in the village of Dimika to the Hararian “chat” market, and a whole lot of other things.
I have also learnt many important Amharic words, for example: “Bu-na”(coffee), “shi”(tea), “Da -boo”(bread), ”Akum”(stop), ”Beca”(enough), ”Cuthabay”(sit down), and “afenjar” (nose), to help me survive. I have lived off key words rather than sentences though, so still when I listen to Ethiopian radio all I can understand are the words: ‘Manchester United!’ and ‘Arsenal!’
In conclusion, I have had such a life changing, amazing experience here in Addis; I have met so many interesting, fantastic people, discovered my self and my independence and felt like I’ve contributed to making a differences to people’s lives. I have loved sharing my experience with everyone back home!
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.