Originally appeared in the Woodstock-Sentinel Review on February 22, 2017.
You’ve got to come with your adventure pants.
The fastest way to grow is to travel 12,000 kilometres to the other side of the world.
That’s certainly held true for me this week as I landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a team of volunteers from Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia. The Woodstock non-profit funds sustainable development and empowerment projects, with the goal of helping women and children and furthering education.
Our small team of four – including a retired teacher, an accountant, a reporter and the organization’s founder – will be checking in on the six main projects supported by Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia (MWAHFE).
Most of the funds that are donated to Ethiopia come from the organization’s annual flagship fundraiser, Gems & Java, which takes place in Woodstock and draws more than five hundred women from across Oxford County and surrounding communities.
MWAHFE has helped to enrich a number of projects in Ethiopia over the past five years, donating more than a quarter of a million dollars.
It’s clear that money is making a difference. But there is nothing like seeing the effect in person.
“Being in Ethiopia allows for an up close and personal connection to the work we do all year round to support women and children,” said MWAHFE founder Shelley Green.
The opportunity to see another part of the world, so different from our own, brings joy and sorrow in equal measure. It’s a fascinating blend of learning, inspiration and exposure to new ideas. Travelling also comes with inevitable challenges. For me, it’s an exercise in how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
There is always something new to learn. And I feel so honoured and privileged to hear from those who benefit from the programs we fund.
The trip is non-stop action, especially since I am writing stories and preparing content for our social media channels (if you want to follow along, head to woodstocksentinelreview.com or check out www.facebook.com/moms4ethiopia or search for Moms4Ethiopia on Instagram and Twitter).
The people we are meeting are inspiring beyond words. This fairly infrequent crier is now travelling with a stack of tissues for each interview. I was choked up immediately when we visited a rural health clinic to hear from women who've had surgery to correct a prolapsed uterus.
For many women in rural Ethiopia – often home-birth veterans who have had eight or 10 children at home – that operation is unaffordable and completely out of reach.
In the most severe cases of prolapse, the uterus can actually be hanging out of the body. It creates pain when the women walk, and gives them a terrible smell. They are shunned and ignored and left to hide away.
Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia has funded 82 of these surgeries so far. Two of our team members even had a chance to see part of the procedure while in Soddo, Ethiopia. The surgery is, quite literally, giving these women new life. They’re able to reclaim their routines and their communities and live without constant fear and discomfort.
We were also lucky to spend time with five incredible young ladies whom we are sponsoring in a program called Girls Gotta Run. That project centres around running, a point of pride for Ethiopia, using sport as a vehicle to empower female students.
The program has been running for just three years at a girls school in Soddo, and it’s incredible the difference it has made in such a short time.
These athletic scholarships provides the girls with healthy meals, solidarity, friendship, and life skills – everything from family planning to hygiene to safe relationships.
Parents report a radical change in their daughters. They literally look different when they are filled up with food and love and fresh air.
It’s a life-changing program that gives these young women the ability to see their own potential.
“The challenges that these girls face are so daunting. They’re huge. They’re adult issues, and they ask a lot of these girls,” said Kayla Nolan, executive director of the Girls Gotta Run Foundation.
In just three short years the program has revolutionized many of these young runners’ lives, and those of their parents and siblings, who are “buying into” the program in a significant way.
Nolan said it’s humbling to work with these young ladies, already so much stronger than they’re given credit for.
Just around the corner is a transitional group home that offers support to another vulnerable sector of kids. Children living on the street can find a safe and secure home, an education, and the chance for a better future at Busajo. They only stay for a few years, because the goal is family reunification.
It’s abundantly clear that these kids have been through challenges most adults in Canada could never dream of. We were so happy to have the opportunity to bring an afternoon of fun and games to the kids at Busajo. You’ll hear more about that later this week.
Marcella Montresor, one of the heads of the Busajo program, said it warms her heart to see the children who are committed to Busajo and its opportunities, particularly education.
“You have some hope that you can change their lives.”