reflecting on ethiopia

It's been two and a half weeks since visiting Ethiopia to work with a collection of remarkable nonprofits on storytelling. I've overcome jet lag and reestablished a rhythm to my days in DC, but it's still tricky to respond succinctly when asked, "How was your trip?"

Short of talking through each day in detail, here's my attempt of an overall reflection in word and image form. Though my main role was to shoot video (stay tuned!), I snapped a bunch of just for mems and behind the scenes photos on my phone as well.

The Team

I served as part of a creatives team that traveled in tandem with a medical/education team; we totaled 14 (mostly) strangers hailing from DC, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Though a diverse bunch, there was unity in purpose. These travel companions of mine quickly became a strong source of encouragement, support, and care. It was extremely easy to dive right into the serious, but also to be silly. 

Somehow we managed to dodge any hint of relational conflict the entire trip; this pleasantly surprised us all given how we were a large group traveling together for the first time in an unfamiliar place. Hip hip hooray no drama mamas and papas!

The air of cordiality present as we shook hands upon meeting was replaced with complete comfort as we parted ways sharing big hugs. I'm really glad our paths crossed.

The Nonprofits

One Child Campaign connected the creatives team with five nonprofits in Ethiopia that serve and protect vulnerable children and families. I had the honor and privilege of spending time with three organizations, first to hear the founders share the stories behind why they're in Ethiopia and then to document. We sincerely hope the photos and videos we make will help raise awareness of and funding for these awe-inspiring people doing important, life-changing work.

I'm going to share one personal anecdote per nonprofit below, and I invite you to click onto the organizations' websites to read more about the nitty gritty behind each mission for context.

Make Your Mark - On our second day of filming, I walked into Make Your Mark's courtyard and a rush of tears filled my eyes. Our creatives team leader had walked the streets in Addis the night before to visit with the boys, and she reported how they slept in a pile to stay safe and warm. That image stayed with me, and I willed myself to keep it together as I roamed around the building quietly shooting b-roll.

Upon entering a room bustling with chatter as boys ate breakfast, the boy at the head of the table (see second photo below) asked if I'd play football with them. I said, "Oh, I'm not very good," and he replied, "It's okay, I'll teach you. Anything is possible!" This interaction, which was translated via a teacher because he was speaking in Amharic, helped sway my heartbreak to hope.

Make Your Mark has a radical program model that focuses on transforming the boys from the inside out, and 100% of the kids who've successfully completed the program have remained off the streets.

ESMA (Ebenezer Shepherding Ministries of Africa) - We road-tripped from Addis into the beautiful country to Lake Hawassa where ESMA is located. Upon our arrival, we met a tiny baby (see fourth photo below). She was three weeks old and had been left on a trash pile. The police brought her to ESMA, where the staff was keeping a close eye on her.

It was my first time holding an orphan and also my first time visiting an orphanage. My mind reeled attempting to process it all. My heart hurt for all the tiny nuggets I met, but I also felt immense gratitude for the safe space ESMA has created to love those who've been marginalized (orphans, special needs children, HIV positive children, families living in poverty).

No Ordinary Love - I met an 11-year-old girl named Adanech. Her smile was bright and her spirit strong. She gave memorable hugs. Adanech's parents are divorced. She had been living with her mother and siblings in the countryside, about 150 kilometers away from Addis. Because finances were tough she was brought to live with her father in Addis where she'd been told she would receive care and attend school. Unfortunately, neither was the case. Upon arriving in the city, Adanech was abused and treated like a house slave. She ran away after three months and ended up on the streets. Police brought her to No Ordinary Love's safe house where she was welcomed, protected, and accessed therapy. The No Ordinary Love team located her mother's home through word of mouth, which blows my mind because street addresses aren't common in Ethiopia.

During the hours-long drive from Addis to Itaya, Adanech sat quietly and gazed out at the beautiful terrain. Upon recognizing her hometown, her eyes lit up. Moments later she started waving out the window. Her two brothers had been waiting for her on the side of the main road. Who knows for how long! It was the sweetest. They piled into the van and we drove to see their mom at home. It was an emotional and powerful moment to witness and film.

I have immeasurable respect for No Ordinary Love's commitment to reuniting lost and trafficked children with their families. To date, there have been more than 400 reunifications!

The Coffee

On the first day, we experienced not one, but two traditional coffee ceremonies. We quickly learned that the coffee comes with a side of delicious popcorn. Why don't we always have a side of popcorn with our joe? The care and intention behind the coffee culture in Ethiopia is admirable, and the distinct aroma still lingers in my memory.

I'm not really a coffee every day kind of gal back home (I drink it as a treat or when I really need a boost), but you bet I savored multiple cups of coffee every day in Ethiopia. :P

The Goals

One of our shared team goals is to remember. To remember the people we met and the stories we heard and the way we felt. To remember what broke our hearts and what shook our souls and how we cried (but also laughed) a lot. To remember the lessons learned to be open-minded and open-hearted. To remember and do something about it.

There's more brokenness in the world than I can begin to wrap my mind around, but there's also more beauty in the world than I can fathom. On most days, I find myself dwelling in the tension. But I also yearn to step forward in peace and hope and love. Regardless of where I am geographically, there's always room to grow more compassionate, empathic, and giving.

So, how was my trip? It was complex and rich and emotional and heavy and uplifting. I hope I'll continue to discover new learnings as I edit the videos, and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Last but certainly not least, I must express gratitude for all the moral and financial support that helped make this experience a reality! Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming along for the journey.