The real reason I go to Ethiopia

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A few nights before I left for Ethiopia, I was sitting at the supper table with my kids. Out of the blue, one of my nine year old daughters asked, “Why are you going to Ethiopia, Mommy?”

I was surprised she asked… As long as we’ve been a family, I’ve been traveling back and forth to the place of her birth. “To help kids in Ethiopia, sweetheart.”

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I could tell that my oversimplified answer wasn’t cutting it, by my daughter’s skeptical look.

“Well, you know that I work on fundraising and running programs from home, right?” She nodded. ” Well, when Tawnya and I go to Ethiopia, we check on those programs. We see how the kids and the staff are doing. We talk to them about what they need, what is working, and what we can help them improve on. This is important to take care of the money our donors give us, and for the government, because the government wants to know where the money is going. (I skipped the details of our charitable designation by the CRA.) But most importantly, we want to help our partners do the best they can for the kids. So we share ideas, and start new things. Like, the teen girls we help are starting to write to Canadian teen pen pals. How cool is that? I’m setting that up this trip. And we are teaching best nutrition to the ladies who cook for the kids in our program, to make them healthier.”

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My kids like details, and this settled her question.

But kids have a funny way of awakening more questions in ourselves. Yes, the oversight and program development are the surface reasons I got to Ethiopia each year, and they are the most important. But the parallel truth is that I love going to Ethiopia. I love the gentle rumble of Amharic (and Tigrgrn, and Oromiffa, and…) that I first hear in the airport lounge. I love the way plants grow in little plots on every little corner, and cobbled streets threaten to break your ankle. I love the smell of Berbers and turmeric, and the sizzle of sheep ribs delivered to your table. And I love the kisses and shoulder bumps from my friends and the warm acceptance of me, the foreigner, in this place that doesn’t seem foreign to me at all.

From the first time I spent a couple of months in Ethiopia, I added it to the short list of places I call home. I guess that belonging is also why I toil away at the computer for hours back in Canada…. Once you belong to a place, you have a responsibility to it and its people. Ethiopia is a huge part of my children who were born there, but it is a piece of me too, connected to my family, my friends, and my passion for helping kids and families.

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So that’s why I go to Ethiopia. Since I am writing this en route, my husband will have to read the second part of this to my curious daughter. I hope you will follow along on our trip over the next couple of weeks, and find a little place in your heart for Ethiopia too.

Arnica Rowan, President, Vulnerable Children Society
En route to Ethiopia, via Dubai

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