Reflections from Dorothy Dickson's trip to Ethopia
In June 2009 joined a team from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church consisting of 26 people from the greater Bay Area. Dorothy and the team guided teachers, modeled techniques and strategies as well as worked with students themselves. They set up workshops for teachers who are part of the HOPE Enterprise schools in Ethiopia. Following are reflections from Dorothy's trip.
“Conversion to God . . . means a simultaneous conversion to the other persons who live with you on this earth.† The farmer, the worker, the student, the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed and the oppressor, the patient and the one who heals, the tortured and the torturers, the boss and the flunky, not only are they people like you, but they are also called to make themselves heard and to give God a chance to be the God of all.Thus, compassion removes all pretensions . . .”
† From With Open Hands by Henri J. M. Nouwen
In Ethiopia, I met “the worker . . . the sick, the oppressed, the patient and the one who heals.”
The main purpose of this journey was to take part in a conference for Ethiopian teachers, in Addis Ababa, organized by both Hope Enterprises [an on-site NGO in Ethiopia] and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. As a group of 26 mixed denomination people, ranging in age from 13 to 70, including 16 teachers from the Bay Area, we worked with over one hundred teachers from both the Hope schools and the local public schools. Having worked in Africa before, I had some sense of teaching conditions. Yet, how do you present innovative methods of teaching to teachers who have 60-70 students in each class plus very few teaching materials? It was an exciting challenge, and so much fun observing our teachers implement those methods with both a first and a fourth grade class of students for an hour every morning. I was incredibly impressed by the youthful energy and creativity of the teachers we worked with. I remain convinced of the power of music in teaching in Africa! I am energized myself by the power of education in the developing world.
The secondary reasons for our visit were to work in a few of the Hope Enterprise’s feeding kitchens in Addis Ababa, visit the Mother Theresa Center for Living and Dying, the Fistula Hospital, an independent pottery store for ex-street workers, Project Mercy, and also to participate in the opening of new wells and new school buildings [funded by Menlo Park Pres,] in a small village several hours outside of Addis. It was an exhausting schedule but so rich in the experiences of how God is at work in this world.
Hope’s feeding kitchens were not what I had imagined – stepping over puddles and mud, we walked down a narrow alleyway lined with quiet, tattered, broken people –male -as we arrived to work our first shift. Turning a corner through a large steel door in the alley, we found ourselves in a narrow, cobbled alley where a line of people snaked slowly down some steps into an open courtyard. Long concrete tables and benches at the end of the courtyard, covered by a tin roof held up on crude wooden poles, were already full of hundreds of people being served red sauce (or “wat”) to flavor the thick, triangular slices of “injera” [the basic food staple of Ethiopia]. After our initial shock at the condition of this feeding kitchen and numbers of people being served, we set to work either cramming into the tiny kitchen folding injera, ladling wat out of large metal pots out at the concrete tables, shaking hundreds of hands, or trying to engage fellow humans in conversation. Hope’s kitchen feeds almost 1,000 men and older boys every lunchtime.
The next day, we repeated a similar scene there, this time to help with the street children’s breakfast – a much noisier, boisterous time!
In a steady downpour, with rivers of water running down the streets, we left the Hope Kitchen that morning and made our way to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. What a contrast to the setting of the feeding kitchen. We entered the beautiful grounds of the hospital, so lovingly planted with fresh smelling flowers. Women enter here suffering from childbirth related injuries that leave them incontinent. Some have walked many miles (or even weeks) after an extremely painful labor (that has sometimes lasted a week), plus a stillbirth of their child, and then were shunned by their community for their incontinence. No one is turned away from The Fistula Hospital. All 150 beds were full. One young girl stood outside, alone under the eaves of the large ward. She wore the knitted, patchwork, multi-colored, crocheted shawl common to all the patients. She had no smile. Rather, a deep sadness surrounded her. As I approached her, engaging her in a brief conversation, the odor surrounding her was unmistakable. Although the scene might break your heart, we know that once an operation is complete she may be cured and hopefully, she will learn to smile again and return home.
One of the most difficult days was an afternoon spent at the Mother Theresa Center for Living and Dying. As we talked and sat with men and women suffering from TB, Typhoid or Aids, I was so aware of the presence of God in those who worked so gently in that place. But one of the most moving experiences happened while I sat with a severely emaciated man dying from Aids. As I sat down on the edge of his bed, he looked at me with huge eyes which seemed to sparkle as his hands, covered with wafer thin skin, reached out from the sheets to hold mine. I don’t think I have ever felt closer to knowing God. There were so many children there, too - children with disabilities - as well as children and babies which families felt unable to care for. God cried tears of rain with me that day.
Thankfully, we journeyed out into the countryside of Ethiopia for two days – poverty in the countryside feels less intense than in the city. There is beauty in the hillsides and in the green vegetation. As we watched lines of donkeys, strapped with bright yellow, plastic water carriers lining up at the new wells, I understood the importance of clean water – available now to villagers, thanks to a project of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Previously, women had walked 10 kilometers for water. I felt privileged to be part of the commemoration of both the wells as well as the celebration of the completion of several new classrooms in the village. One more “Hope School” giving “hope” to children who otherwise would have no hope. Their families could not have afforded to educate their children.
Project Mercy was an oasis of hope in another part of the countryside with a large school, a hospital and fertile farms. Project Mercy began as a response by one strong, influential, Ethiopian woman to the needs of an impoverished community. She was forced to flee with her family from Ethiopia but later was allowed to return, and she is rebuilding the lives of so many in her community. An amazing community beginning the process of self-sufficiency.
I left Ethiopia thankful for those who work tirelessly to improve the lives of so many in such an impoverished country. I left Ethiopia knowing the power of touch, the power of education, and the power of God’s love. Yet, I left, extremely humbled by the compassion I witnessed. As I said goodbye to the teachers we’d worked with, one of them hugged me and said, “I will pray for you.” Compassion extended also to me!
Learn more about HOPE Enterprises in Ethiopia.