Volunteers

Volunteer Profile: The One and Only Gecho!

Getachew Wolde isn’t a big fan of rough terrain.

It’s hard on his vehicle – itself a rarity for most in Ethiopia – and that van is key to his livelihood.

But for Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia, there’s not much that Gecho won’t do.

Val Easton, Gecho Wolde, and Kyle Easton at the airport on our trip to Ethiopia in February 2017. Look at those smiles!

Val Easton, Gecho Wolde, and Kyle Easton at the airport on our trip to Ethiopia in February 2017. Look at those smiles!

He will stop at nothing to get the team where it needs to go – whether that’s through a dust storm in a rural part of Soddo, or traversing across massive dips in an already precarious road.

Gecho is a humble guy, so he doesn’t take much praise for this dedication. And the truth is that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This work is doing some good things for people – women, kids. That is really what I want to do. You guys came from really far and so I thought ‘why can’t I do that?’ That was good for me,” Gecho said during an interview in the guesthouse at Soddo Christian Hospital during the team’s last trip to Ethiopia.

That’s the same resting ground where Gecho would fall asleep, often still in his clothes with the light on, at the end of a long day.

The work of Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia, and Gecho’s relationship with Shelley, is what encouraged him to support more girls in the developing country. Most recently, MWAHFE was able to donate soccer uniforms, socks, and balls to a girls team that Gecho sponsors in northern Ethiopia. It’s the first time the teens have had jerseys or a proper set of soccer balls with which to play.

“I start to support the girls because of Shelley. Before, I support the boys team,” Gecho explained. “Shelley tries to find ways to support women, and I am with you. I just continued on.”

It was so much fun to see Gecho bust out his dance moves with the athletic scholars at our Girls Gotta Run party! 

It was so much fun to see Gecho bust out his dance moves with the athletic scholars at our Girls Gotta Run party! 

And it’s not just the soccer team where Gecho shows his love and concern. He was a fan favourite with the athletic scholars at Girls Gotta Run! 

When founder Shelley Green first travelled to Ethiopia to bring home her daughter, she met Gecho at the guesthouse where she was staying. 

“Even when Gecho couldn’t speak English, I knew he was a very good man. He was so good with my daughter,” Shelley said.

Gecho drove Shelley, her mom and her daughter anywhere they needed to go.  Along with Biserat, their interpreter, Gecho made it possible for the trio to serve a group of boys and a group of girls living on the streets while they were in Ethiopia.  That work was what motivated Shelley to start Mothers With a Heart for Ethiopia.  

It’s been a partnership ever since. Gecho taught himself English – by practicing with guests every chance he got – and now he even helps translate for the MWAHFE team!

“I learned more every day. When I met somebody, I learned one word, maybe. Something new,” Gecho said of his grassroots language lessons. “Day by day I learned more and more, more and more. Now I am here.”

His commitment, dedication, and compassion make our work possible. He cares so deeply about the women and children in our projects. When visiting with partners, Gecho listens intently and observes every detail with a watchful eye. He truly wants to make Ethiopia a better place.

This work is doing some good things for people - women, kids. That is really what I want to do.
— Gecho Wolde, our friend, driver, translator and volunteer extraordinaire!

And he's always looking out for the MWAHFE team – at one particularly memorable moment on a recent trip to Ethiopia, he was visibly upset about the “ferenji tax” added to a purchase of water bottles (oftentimes shopkeepers will charge foreigners more than the locals, because they understand that tourists and Westerners are able to pay a higher rate).

He was so frustrated by the price – just a few cents more than the “local price” – that Gecho insisted that some of our Ethiopian friends go back and recoup the tax. For Gecho, it wasn’t about the money, it was about the principle of the transaction – and about protecting the MWAHFE team. 

Gecho, Meskelu, Tilahun, Kyle and one of the nuns who helps to run Bucama Health Clinic (right to left). The sisters hosted us at their compound for a lovely lunch and coffee ceremony when we visited the clinic to speak with some of the prolapsed surgery recipients.

Gecho, Meskelu, Tilahun, Kyle and one of the nuns who helps to run Bucama Health Clinic (right to left). The sisters hosted us at their compound for a lovely lunch and coffee ceremony when we visited the clinic to speak with some of the prolapsed surgery recipients.

Serving people in a foreign country is not always easy, and without our partner and volunteer Gecho, it would be next to impossible.  Examples of Gecho’s love and support could fill an entire newsletter. He is such an incredible volunteer, not to mention a great source of comic relief!

Laughs fill the van when Gecho is with the boys from our group home. He is like an uncle to these young men - a wonderful source of guidance and wisdom and fun. He is such a good role model, and they have so much fun joking around together.

Anyone who meets Gecho will quickly realize that he has a few standard catch phrases.

One of the most notable – and indicative of the relaxed Ethiopian culture – is a simple “let us see!”

You might think of this as the Gecho-equivalent of the phrase “it is what it is.”

But with Gecho’s quick wit and big heart, you can’t help but crack a smile.

Volunteer Profile: Heading to Ethiopia

by Megan Stacey

Val and Kyle Easton

Val and Kyle Easton

Val and Kyle Easton have always been interested in dipping their toes into the waters of international development work.

Long before joining Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia, Val had dreams of living somewhere in Africa during her retirement. Kyle had always planned to spend time with his mom when she went abroad.

So when the opportunity came up to travel to Ethiopia as part of their volunteer work, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“I had always had it in mind that I wanted to do this. I wanted to see for myself. I just think it’s going to be really life-changing,” Val said.

When she found out Kyle was planning to go on the next Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia trip, Val made a decision almost instantly.

“I said, ‘that’s it! If Kyle’s going, I’m definitely going.’”

Kyle, a member of the board, said he jumped at the chance when it was mentioned at a meeting.

“I want to see how it all works. The systems they have, how do they put our money to use, how the projects function on the ground,” he said.

For Val, the priority is meeting and connecting with people at the core of Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia’s work. She wants to share and sing and smile with the children in our projects and the women receiving surgeries.

It’s different than a larger organization because you can really see the fruits of your labour, quickly.
— Kyle Easton

“Shelley has said several times something that really sticks with me,” Val explained. “The only difference between them and me is where we were born.”

It’s clearly been a hot topic for the Easton family.

“That’s bothered me for many, many years,” Kyle said.

“You and I have talked many times about this, and how guilty it makes you feel when you have so many advantages,” Val added.

It’s part of what drives both mother and son in their volunteer roles. Val sits on the Promotions Committee, and is a self-described “gopher” in the lead-up to Gems & Java. Kyle, a CPA, is able to offer financial and accounting expertise to the board.

“I’d been interested in charitable work overseas for a while and hadn’t had an avenue to pursue that,” Kyle said. “This was a good fit.”

They’re prepared for some of the stress and culture shock that comes with a cross-continental journey to a developing country.

“We know what we’re going to see, to some extent. Obviously the whole experience, the sounds, the sights, the smells, all of that, will make it a lot realer than just talking about it now, but I think I’m prepared for that,” Kyle added.

The Eastons feel grateful that the trip is a possibility, financially and logistically, for them this year. Val and Kyle know that it will help guide their future work with Mothers.

“It’s different than a larger organization because you can really see the fruits of your labour, quickly, and you know what’s happening. We raise money and send it directly to projects, and then get feedback to tell people about those projects,” Kyle said.

It feels good inside to know you’re doing a wee bit.
— Val Easton

For Kyle, it’s comforting to be able to tell someone exactly what their $20 will help accomplish in the lives of Ethiopian women and children.

That’s what motivates Val, too.

“It feels good inside to know you’re doing a wee bit,” she said.

Feature Story: Mini Gems & Java

by Megan Stacey

It was twice as big – and twice as fun.

When a pair of sisters hosted the first-ever Mini Gems & Java in London last year, it was a modest in-home event with a couple dozen people. This year, they doubled their committee, and upped the ante. 

 

The guest list jumped from 25 to 50 people, and a few extra walk-ins snuck in. The second annual event was a great success, and raised a whopping $4,000!

In our affluent world, it’s pretty hard not to reach out to people in other countries that are in so much need.
— Alice Vangerweg

“In our affluent world, it’s pretty hard not to reach out to people in other countries that are in so much need,” said Alice Vanderweg, who hosted the 2015 Mini Gems & Java in her home near London, Ont.

 “When we do just a little wee bit, it helps them so much – and that’s so awesome.”

Alice and her sister Agnes Claus started the Mini Gems & Java tradition, and given the rousing success of their event in year two, they’re hoping to keep the momentum going.

“If we’re healthy and well, we’d like to make it an annual thing,” said Agnes.

The feedback the London committee received from guests was overwhelmingly positive.

“They love the event, the fun of it,” Agnes said.

“This is just a fun evening out. I mean who can resist jewelry? It’s fun watching them shop,” Alice added.

Pat Degelman came to the event to support her niece, who was on the organizing committee. She had great success finding treasures in the Bags & Baubles Boutique.

“I got about five different things. And if I don’t wear them, no problem - I just wanted to give some money, you know? That’s what’s important for me,” she said.

Pat said she’d certainly come to another Mini Gems & Java event.

That’s no surprise to anyone who’s been involved with Gems & Java events in the past. 

“We find so many people are repeat guests – if they come once they’ll come again, just like the main Gems & Java. They want to be there again next year,” Agnes said. 

And though putting on a Mini Gems & Java is a big undertaking, “it’s all worthwhile in the end,” Alice said. 

The sisters noted that their two new recruits made all the difference this year.

The event wouldn’t have been possible without Lisa Wedlake and Kristin Somerville, recent additions to the Mini Gems & Java committee.

“They came with so much vim and vigor, and the legwork they did was just tremendous,” Agnes said.

Clearly, that hard work paid off.

St. James Westminster Church was decked out, and the decorations struck the perfect balance of glamour and authenticity. Party favours mimicked MWAHFE’s “scribble heart” logo, and beautiful large-scale photographs of Ethiopian women and children surrounded guests.

A wonderful pianist added light and joyful tunes and the Ethiopian coffee ceremony drew dozens of interested guests.

Volunteers from Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia staffed the Ethiopian Marketplace, selling jewelry, coffee and even debuting the newest offering, hand-knit Bears for Busajo!

But for most, the highlight of the night is hearing Shelley speak about Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia and the projects the organization supports.

“I’m really impressed that all of the money goes towards supporting the children and the other causes,” said Kelly, another guest at the Mini Gems & Java. She gladly drove in from Waterloo to support a family member on the committee.

Kelly had another personal connection, too.

“I really wanted to come because my daughter’s best friend is adopted from Ethiopia. It’s kind of near and dear to our hearts,” she said. 

Hearing Shelley speak about the realities – and the potential – in Ethiopia at Gems & Java in Woodstock is what originally drew Alice and Agnes to the cause.

What [Shelley] saw in Ethiopia and what she experienced there just grabbed our hearts.
— Alice Vanderweg

“What she saw in Ethiopia and what she experienced there just grabbed our hearts,” said Alice.

Agnes is confident their event, including those personal words from Shelley, will have the same effect on guests. 

“We saw Shelley’s heart for these needy people. If we could do a small part to make a difference for one person or more, we were thrilled to be a part of that,” she said.

 “It’s just a privilege to help others.”

Volunteer Profile: Darby Anderson

by Megan Stacey

Darby Anderson with her daughter, Olivia, at her graduation from Western University in 2016.

Darby Anderson with her daughter, Olivia, at her graduation from Western University in 2016.

It’s second nature for Darby Anderson to go through her closet a couple times each year and look for clothing, jewelry, scarves, and purses she’s not going to use.“When I have to put away my summer clothes and bring out the fall, or put away winter clothes and bring out the summer clothes, I always go through…and think ‘ok, is there anything I can donate for the Closet Clean-Out for Mothers with a Heart?’”

Darby’s been a dedicated donor during the Closet Clean-Out Challenge, and just last week she dropped off a bag of items at Roberts & Co. in Ingersoll.

“If it’s something I haven’t used in awhile I’m probably not going to use it. Somebody else might find a treasure in what I bring, and at the end of the day, it helps to raise money for the various services that we provide in Ethiopia,” Darby said.

Like all of us, Darby usually finds a few items that have been moved permanently out of rotation, or unearths a particular purse or scarf that just never looked right.

“I go through them and I just think ‘have I been using this? Am I going to use this?’ Then I go through the things and I might say, you know, I bought this purse but I never even used it. Mothers with a Heart could use it.”

Sure, she could sell those items, but Darby said she knows they're worth more to MWAHFE than the few dollars she could make selling her old things.

Somebody else might find a treasure in what I bring, and...it helps to raise money for the various services that we provide in Ethiopia.
— Darby Anderson

And Darby is not just a Closet Clean-Out Challenge success story. Soon she’s going to be playing another role, too. After a few seasons supporting MWAHFE through jewelry and other donations, Darby felt compelled to give back in another way.

“It was just kind of playing on my heart to connect with Shelley and just see if there was any volunteer opportunities,” she recalled. Darby’s slated to join the Promotions Committee in the next few weeks.

For Darby, MWAHFE is a perfect fit. She’s been a longtime sponsor for children in developing countries and female entrepreneurs in Africa.

“I probably started back in my 20s and I’m in my 50s now,” she said. “I just felt that they were the neediest of the needy. We take so much for granted, what we have here.”

Volunteer Profile: Brittany Campbell

Shelley Green (Founder of MWAHFE) with Brittany Campbell

Shelley Green (Founder of MWAHFE) with Brittany Campbell

As soon as she heard Shelley's speech, she was hooked.

Brittany Campbell’s journey giving back to Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia started – as it does for so many volunteers – at Gems & Java.

“I attended a Gems & Java in 2014 with my mom, so she brought me to my first event,” Brittany said. “I thought ‘this is amazing! This is a great way for me to get involved.’ So I put my name on the (volunteer) list.”

The rest is history.

The organization is a great fit for Brittany, who had long wanted to give back to those in developing countries.

“I had always wanted to go on missions trips when I was growing up, but my mom was too afraid of me getting killed,” she said with a laugh.

It was Shelley’s heart-wrenching stories about the realities of daily life for millions of people in Ethiopia – and perhaps most importantly, the difference that Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia is making in those lives – that grabbed Brittany.

“It really brings my mind back to what people are going through there. It's so easy to forget - you’re so wrapped up in your life,” she said. “Every time I hear Shelley speak I go ‘Wow. I can remember that suffering,’ and it just sparks the passion again.”

When she first began volunteering, Brittany sat on the Promotions Committee. But then she began to transition to a much larger role. For close to a year now, she’s been chairing the committee.

Brittany has been at the helm for two annual volunteer appreciation events, most recently the end-of-summer corn roast to celebrate Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia volunteers and all that they do.

Though the event looked and flowed as if it had been carefully curated during months of planning, in reality it came together in just a few weeks.

“It was a lot of organizing and planning and scheduling and delegating and being creative with roles,” Brittany said, noting that she couldn’t have done it without all eight members of the Promotions Committee.

“(We knew) it was going to be a lot of work, a lot of planning, in a very short amount of time. And everyone needed to be on their A game.”

Brittany tends the fire at the Volunteer Appreciation event in September 2016.

Brittany tends the fire at the Volunteer Appreciation event in September 2016.

Brittany was certainly in the thick of things at the corn roast. She was crowd control, the fire starter, and the campfire song leader.

Despite all the work – even postponing the event due to rain – seeing volunteers meet and chat and engage with one another makes it all worth it, she said. The event was somewhat bittersweet, because Brittany is stepping down from her position as chair to go back to school.

“We’re a team, right? I believe in a lot of teamwork and when you don’t get together with your team, you feel like you’re operating in a silo, and you start to lose your passion for the cause,” she explained.

“You feel alone and not very excited or enthusiastic about the work the organization is doing. If you can come together as a team, and even just talk casually, it really amps up your motivation and makes you feel supported.”

Volunteer Profile: Tracy Dunham

by Megan Stacey

“There is always time to make time for things that are going to count for eternity – that’s how I think about it.”

Those wise words come from a new volunteer who was determined to fit Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia into her busy schedule.

And thank goodness she did.

Though Tracy Dunham is a recent addition to the organization, she’s managed to create a whole lot of amazing changes in just a few short months.

There’s the new website, plus a thriving social media presence.

And don’t forget the new-and-improved system to streamline online communications and storage for Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia.

She’s a force.

But for Tracy, it’s all worth it.

“I’m spending and investing my time in something that, at the end of my life, I’m going to look back and be so glad that I was a part of it,” she said. “To see these lives change in such simple but dramatic ways – all the time, every day – is incredibly inspiring.”

She first got involved after a friend invited her to Gems & Java 2016.

Tracy Dunham, new Communications Team volunteer, at a fun photo shoot with her husband Rob, and three Ethiopian-born children.

Tracy Dunham, new Communications Team volunteer, at a fun photo shoot with her husband Rob, and three Ethiopian-born children.

Her friend figured it would be the perfect match, because Tracy and her husband adopted three children from Ethiopia.

Tracy left Gems & Java feeling inspired beyond measure.

“The surgeries, working with kids living on the street, the Girls Gotta Run (program), the WRAPS program, all of it, I was just amazed at what they had done in such a short amount of time,” Tracy said as she reflected on the event and the organization’s work.

“I was just so impressed. I just thought from beginning to end it was an incredible event.”

Her main goal as a digital communications volunteer is to enlighten others about all the inspiring work done by Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia.

“I would love to use whatever I can, working with whoever we can, (so) that the message goes way, way more broad than it is right now. Because it’s just so worth sharing. That’s my big goal,” Tracy said.

And her work – her efforts to get the organization’s online presence into tip-top shape – is about a whole lot more than Twitter followers.

“The more money we raise, the more people's lives literally change,” she said.

At the end of the day, that’s what drives Tracy to give her time and her talents to Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia.

“It’s funny, because you can look and say ‘I’m volunteering, and it’s costing me all this time, or it’s costing me this effort, or costing me those couple of hours I could be watching TV,’” Tracy said at one point during her interview.

That’s not the case for her at all.

“What I’ve found over the past few months I’ve gotten involved is that it actually gives you a global perspective. It gives you the sense that what you’re doing with your time and what you’re investing your time in is bigger than yourself.”