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Volunteer AbroadVolunteer Overseas

Christine Hall - General Journalism Projects in Ethiopia

Awasa lake

It’s been just over three months since I returned from a trip of a lifetime – volunteering in Ethiopia with Projects Abroad.  I first came across Projects Abroad on the internet looking at volunteer projects overseas.  I didn’t have Ethiopia in mind particularly but I really wanted to go to Africa. When I finally hit on Projects Abroad and read about the opportunity for teaching English (I am a qualified CELTA teacher) and the possibility of working in journalism for an Ethiopian newspaper in Addis Ababa, I was to say the least, ‘hooked’!

I left here on the 20th March for two months. From the moment I arrived and was met by Weini of Projects Abroad I knew I had come to a very friendly and vibrant country.  After being looked after at head office by Sami and Bikesegn - until my host family could accommodate me (they work incredibly long hours) I quickly fell into the rhythm of life both with my wonderful host family and in Addis’ bustling city.  My host family were wonderful and truly inspirational – Atsede my host mother who started her own school called LemLem is a role model for women everywhere. She started from nothing but sheer determination and the wish to see children in a deprived area have the opportunity to go to school and be educated.

Horses in the road

Her school accommodates over 700 pupils and is run by her, her daughter Eldana and approximately 30 other staff.  She was so inspirational that I decided to write my first article about her life. To my delight and surprise The Reporter Newspaper where I worked as a journalist, printed my article titled ‘How a remarkable Woman realised her Vision’. My host family were over the moon when they saw their story in the paper and I shall never forget the thanks and the hug that Atsede gave me for putting her story ‘in print’!

The people, the laughter, the sunshine stand out in my mind - each person I met and got to know caused me to have a special love for Ethiopia. Their hospitality and constant giving was at times overwhelming – I had to force some birr into the hands of one of my hosts as he and his friends just continually insisted on paying for any meal out we had together and then also for the taxi ride back to my host family!

Potatoes for sale

The highlights of my trip are many – but teaching the eager students at The International Practical Language and Leadership School were some of the most wonderful moments.  I am an Australian and teach in an open and very animated way – this was appreciated but also caused a lot of laughter and there were times the class just cracked up with the funny instances that occurred during our lessons when communication in a western way caused some very humorous misunderstandings. These relationships have continued as many of my students write to me now via email and that has been a great joy to me - I have forged many friendships which will be strengthened when I return to Ethiopia later this year.

My two months in Addis were both busy and eventful. I remember one incident where I had to keep hold of the taxi door – it would not shut, until I arrived at my destination!

About two weeks before leaving for the UK I was fortunate to be offered a weekend trip away to Awasa about 300km from Addis.  My host family’s daughter took me in a rented car for a weekend trip to see rural Ethiopia – a big contrast from the busy bustling city of Addis.  It was truly an eye opener. As I gleaned the green fields with their beautiful mountains silhouetted in the background, I exclaimed to my companions ‘what a stunning county you live in’!

With host's children

One tends to forget that the images of drought and starvation are still indelibly etched on our western minds when we think of Ethiopia; but time and change in economic development revealed a very different Ethiopia.  The hustle and bustle of people and animals that we passed along the way really showed me how these small communities interact with each other, selling their produce at the many road side markets, herding animals along and tilling the fields in order to feed their families. As I watched and we passed many such villages I couldn’t help but notice the humble donkey whose body was covered in yellow plastic water containers jauntily walking along the side of the road, either going to or returning from the nearest water hole! We take so much for granted in the west – just turn on the tap and all the water we want spills out!

As we drove further into the countryside we had to be aware of people or animals meandering across the road. Sometimes Eldana had to quickly swerve out of the way and on one occasion I couldn’t  believe my eyes as we were driving down a long stretch of road we could see ahead of us three horses who were just standing in the middle of the road – no doubt saying ‘we were here first’! No matter how close we came to them they did not budge!  My companions and I laughed as I quickly snapped a picture. As we drove a little further to our surprise we happened upon a goat who decided to walk across a zebra crossing - at its leisure - glaring at us as if we had not right to toot our horn in order to move it along, ‘ I have the right of way’ was it obvious response as we veered around it. We laughed as we decided that the animals made no distinction between the road and the fields!

After a wonderful evening watching the sun go down at Lake Langano we sat and ate some delicious fish and watched many young Ethiopians who had travelled here for the weekend make camp, light fires and set up their noisy music machines! It was great to watch as they relaxed under the still and ink black sky. It reminded me of camping days in my native Australia – not so different from some of the rural countryside we had travelled through. At times as I viewed the landscape with its many Eucalyptus trees and reddish soil I could have been in Australia.

Once we arrived in Awasa we took a small boat out on Lake Awasa and with the Ethiopian flag flying proudly we motored out in search for Hippos – after a rather choppy boat ride we finally saw, ever so briefly, three hippos bob their heads up for a few seconds.  I tried to take a photo but they submerged too quickly!  However the soft breeze, sunshine and beauty of the lake was a wonderful adventure with my hospitable and fun loving Ethiopian companions.  I think I knew then that Ethiopia had really stolen a piece of my heart!

Soon my two months would be up and I would fly back to the UK but not without a special evening with my students. On May 19th the school (PILLS) Practical International Language and Leadership School where I had taught classes for the last two months threw me and Jason (my fellow volunteer) a party – it was wonderful - the connections I had made both as a teacher and as a friend were more than evident, I had to work hard at keeping my emotions in check!

As Jason and I opened our wonderful presents, ate a delicious cake and engaged in non stop dancing, Gureginia style (not sure of the spelling!)I knew that I would return one day soon. I felt I had truly had and experience I would never forget and would like to build on in the future – there is so much to learn, to do and to give. I would recommend this experience to anyone who has a love for Africa – particularly Ethiopia as it’s a nation that provides spectacular scenery and sites but also an amazingly industrious and friendly people.

Christine Hall

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