Gemma MacFarlane - General Care Projects in Ethiopia
At the age of 23, I decided that I wanted to help people in less fortunate countries, possibly working in a hospital or an orphanage (as I have a strong love for young children). I have been involved in charity work from a young age, and it was a desire of mine to achieve this goal. Not only achieve this, but learn about another culture and how they live. I then decided to take a career break.
Instead of the usual holiday in the sun, I made an important decision to embark on an adventure- one that could benefit others. I have a friend that travelled with Projects Abroad to Nepal, and she highly recommended them. That confirmed my decision to apply through this volunteering agency.
I have developed a great love for Africa as a whole, and chose my placement in Ethiopia because of this. Also because of the great feedback I had from previous volunteers I was in touch with during this decision making process. After I had made my decision to visit this wonderful country, I was eager to meet the people, try their food, experience their culture, live with a host family and utter most use some of my skills to benefit others less fortunate than ourselves.
First impressions of Ethiopia
It was early morning, 4.30am. I was late arriving in Addis Ababa and from the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew this would be a big learning curve for me, an experience I would have to make the most of. The atmosphere, the smells and the humidity were all very new and exciting. Although tired from the long journey, I was very eager to get going and embark on my Ethiopian adventure.
I was approached by a lovely member of Projects Abroad staff who then brought me to the car, where we then travelled to a hotel. Even in the dark of the night, Ethiopia was very much alive. The streets were filled with music, full of life and people.
The following day I was met by another member of staff, who took me to my host family's home, where the whole family was waiting for me! The family were very welcoming and greeted me with kisses and lots of very traditional handshakes.
I was taken for my orientation day, visiting the local museum, exchanging money, buying a local SIM card and a formal orientation at the Projects Abroad office, where we received our famous green project t-shirt!
On my return to the host family home, I was greeted with a coffee ceremony; a traditional celebration which took you on a journey from roasting the beans, grinding them to then brewing the coffee for that important first cup. My host family were so generous, teaching me all about their culture, they were also very interested in our culture, after all they had never had a Scottish volunteer. I brought lots of things from home ranging from Scottish haggis, to confectionary and home brewed whiskeys.
I also got the chance to be involved in the day to day routine and helped the maid when I could, doing dishes and helping to cook dinner, which the family were all very grateful for. The family were all very caring and attentive, assuring I had enough to eat and drink, I soon learned the art of how to say "I have had enough". They have a love to feed volunteers! They even had free time to show me around the city and some of the interesting parts of this.
The Care project
As previously noted, I have a love for young children and a great interest in working with them. That influenced my decision to work in an orphanage during my time in Ethiopia. I was placed in Kidane Meheret Children's Home, which was in the heart of Addis Ababa, run by many nannies and of course Franciscan Sisters.
The orphanage, although large in size, was home to around 140 children, ranging in age from 0-17 years. It was home to many disabled children, a good opportunity to put my nursing skills to use. This orphanage was designed to enable children who are orphaned, abandoned or living alone on the streets, to get the opportunity to be loved, cared for and have a chance at education. All of the volunteers help the nannies to do this for the children, by showing them day to day activities, development of knowledge through learning and most of all Love.
A day to day routine for me at the orphanage would involve arriving at 8.30 am, assisting the nannies with breakfast for the younger children before heading down to the kindergarten, where I would help the pre-schoolers to learn new things, especially English language. We would then return to the main part of the orphanage for lunch at midday. Most of the time the children would receive the famous Ethiopian dish injera, which they insisted on you feeding them traditionally! With your hands!
In the afternoon, I spent my time caring for the younger babies, aged 0-18 months. This included playing with them, feeding, changing and cuddling them to sleep. I always chose to stay at my placement longer than I needed to because, after all, that's what I came to Ethiopia for! To be perfectly honest I was truly enjoying my experience with the children, who were all loving and accepting of your new presence in the home.
After a thriving and very different 16 days in Addis Ababa, my journey had come to an end. There was a sudden realisation of how many lovely friends I had made, and people I had met. This was a sad day. My experience as a whole in Ethiopia was life changing, but my time at Kidane Meheret was an invaluable experience, one in which no words could describe. I was very fortunate to have been given this opportunity, to help the children to grow and develop in the short time I was there.
I have since sent out donation boxes to the orphanage, containing clothes, baby supplies, toys, all very useful as I know exactly what is needed after being there in person. I hope to visit the orphanage again next year, and this special place and special people will always stay in my memories and my heart. I just hope my family can carry on the same tradition!
I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to meet the other volunteers, whom I am still in contact with. A wonderful group of people, all working towards the same common goal: to make a difference.
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.