Our guest blogger today is Becca. I had the privilege of meeting Becca years ago when she became my daughter's (best ever) speech pathologist. Little did I know at the time that this meeting would turn into a friendship with a common thread of two cute little Ethiopian boys and a love for humanity.
Becca is a great writer. You can check out some of her thoughts at Live Out Loud.
If you’d asked me what I saw in Ethiopia ten years ago, many images would have crossed through my mind. I’d have described starving children with distended bellies. People who were sick and dying. Poverty. Sadness. Death.
Ten years later, very different images pop into my head when I hear the word Ethiopia. Cognitively, I know that much suffering still exists; it is this suffering that provides the need for programs like Eyes That See. But suffering and pain no longer define what I see in Ethiopia. If you ask me what I see in Ethiopia today, here’s what I will tell you: I see joy. I see hope. And I see family.
Ask anyone who has traveled to Ethiopia what it was like, and they will describe a number of things. Some of those things will be heart-breaking, for sure. But every person who travels to this beautiful land will also come back talking about the joy that radiated from the people they met along the way. In a land where so many people struggle to meet their basic needs, joy still rises up and through it all. Of the many lessons that Ethiopia can teach us, one of the most powerful is that joy comes from within.
Even with all the joy that emanates from the people, it would still be easy to look at Ethiopia and see despair. Over four million children are orphaned due to poverty and illness. An estimated 58% of the population is without access to improved drinking water. Nearly 12% of children will die before their fifth birthday; one in twelve women will die in childbirth. Healthcare is almost nonexistent. Education is limited in many places, and only 36% of the population is literate. Thousands upon thousands of people go hungry and homeless every single day. Children work on the streets. Women are forced to work as sex slaves.
So yes, it would be easy to see despair. Yet, the flip side of despair is hope and it is hope that I see when I look at Ethiopia. I see hope when a well is built and women and children no longer have to walk six hours at a time to gather dirty drinking water. I see hope when children stop dying from the diarrhea that comes from that dirty drinking water and start living long enough to build their own country’s future. I see hope when a school is built and children learn to read and write and dream. And I see hope when a single, HIV positive mother of three is able to support her family by learning how to be a hairdresser through the training provided by Eyes That See.
You can choose to turn away from Ethiopia in despair. Or you can choose to invest in hope. I choose hope.
Finally, when I look at Ethiopia, I see family. I didn’t always, though. Before my son, James, came home from Ethiopia, I had a tendency to brush this country aside. They over there-- they weren’t like us, over here. Then I held my baby boy in my arms for the first time and felt his heart beat next to mine. I felt his soft breath on my cheek as he slept on my chest. I loved him, and I raised him, and I watched him laugh and love and grow. And suddenly the lines between us and them were forever erased. Now, I look at the faces of Ethiopia and I see family. I understand in the depths of my heart that there is no “us” and “them.” It’s an artificial distinction that we as humans choose to create. But it’s false. We may be separated by the people of Ethiopia by an ocean and many thousands of miles, but in the end, we are all one. They are our family.