Laura Roberts - General Care Projects in Ethiopia
Having finished my degree in creative and professional writing last year, I embarked on my sudden adulthood with very little idea of what I actually wanted to do. I plodded through what turned into a rather empty gap year, struggling somewhat to fill my time. Having volunteered in my old primary school, I knew I wanted to work with children in some capacity and contemplated applying for a PGCE (I ultimately ended up going for it and will start my course at Liverpool Hope University in September).
I still had many months stretching out before me, all with very few things happening in them, and I wondered about doing some more volunteering in order to get a bit more practice. I remembered that a friend of mine had volunteered as a dance teacher in Kenya last year and I thought that perhaps I’d be interested in doing something similar. I turned to Google, found Projects Abroad and decided on a Care Project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. What attracted me to the country was that I’d never been before, nor had any of my family. That one line from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet always sticks in my mind:It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear
Ethiopia sounded poetic and fascinating, and the Care Project sounded challenging, but rewarding. I decided to go for it. Having never been on a plane by myself before, I faced my upcoming adventure with some trepidation, but it struck me that if I didn’t do it this year, I might never get another chance. YOLO, and all that…
My host family
For the three weeks I spent in Addis Ababa, I stayed with Girma, his wife Felege, and their two children, Ruth and Michael. They were kind, endlessly generous, and made sure I was always comfortable and happy. Within an hour of us meeting, Felege had embraced me as her daughter, given me coffee to drink, and had all but made me promise to return to Addis Ababa the next year and stay longer. We had many an interesting conversation in front of the news on TV, about global warming, religion, and the latest Donald Trump controversy.
It’s a sign of hospitality in Ethiopia to supply an abundance of food and to be encouraged to have several helpings. I feel like both my host parents were always worried I wasn’t eating enough when I said “bek’a” (Amharic for “enough”) after helping number four.
Ethiopian food is so completely different from food in the UK and, as a general rule, it is pretty spicy, but I was a very big fan of injera. It’s somewhere between an omelette and a pancake, and is rolled out on the plate with various sauces spooned on the top. It is traditionally eaten with the fingers. As a side note, it is viewed as bad manners to lick your fingers after eating, so I would encourage any future volunteers to always have a tissue with them.
My Care placement
My role at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home involved helping the children with their English, as well as their literacy and numeracy. I mainly worked with nursey/kindergarten-aged children, which brought its own set of challenges. A few of them wanted to read, many of them wanted to paint and most of them just wanted to play outside and not have lessons, thank you very much.
It was incredibly poignant work; every child wanted love, and affection, and it was difficult to give each child the attention they desired (and deserved). Each day was different; one day I’d have two little girls plaiting my hair, the next I’d be reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to one of the boys. I learnt a lot during my time there and I will miss all of the children very much.
My free time
I worked at Kidane Mehret from Monday to Friday and I had the weekends to explore Addis Ababa and the surrounding area a bit more. It’s a fascinating city and you attract a lot of attention as a foreigner; many children approached me, shook me by the hand and called me “faranji” (Amharic for “foreigner”).
We visited Merkato one Saturday, the largest market in Africa, and it was quite a spectacle. Donkeys trotted to and fro, carrying planks of wood on their backs, clusters of goats stood next to market stalls, doing nothing particularly useful, and we saw one man expertly balance three long packages on top of his head as he darted amongst pedestrians and vehicles.
The market itself was crowded with stalls selling bags, shoes, dresses, scarves, jewellery, paintings and basically anything you could think of. We saw one stall selling some traditional Ethiopian drums. I was tempted to buy some, but thought getting them back on the plane would be a little complicated.
We also visited the Kuriftu Resort & Spa, which was beautiful (I recommend kayaking on the crater lake) as well as Mount Entoto, where Emperor Menelik resided and founded Addis Ababa. There is so much to see that it’s difficult to fit it all in, but you’ll definitely never be bored.
My overall experience
I would encourage anyone who may be thinking about volunteering in Ethiopia, or abroad in general, to go for it. It was challenging, but incredibly rewarding. I learned so much about myself and the trip widened my perspective of the world. It’s definitely nerve-wracking to travel to a different continent, but you’re well looked-after by everyone. I’ve made friends who I hope will be friends for a good long while, and if I ever return (I hope I will), I know I’ll have a lovely family to come home to.
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.