Ethiopia Culture Shock

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Step Up Dive In

Ethiopia Culture Shock

As a traveler, landing in different countries always presents the likelihood of some sort of culture shock. So what are the most shocking things for a Canadian arriving to volunteer in Ethiopia?

A Disclaimer

First of it must be said that I’m not really one to suffer from much culture shock. I always expect culture shock to be a lot worse than it really is. In all honesty, I always end up being a little disappointed that I can merge into a new culture almost seamlessly.

As mentioned in my arrival in Ethiopia, I certainly had overestimated the culture shock that Ethiopia would represent. But, getting to work here provides a whole different opportunity… one to be shocked in a whole different way.

Transportation

The transportation in Addis Ababa has been described to me as ‘not enough’ … Honestly, that description is ‘not enough’. From where I live to the center should be about an hour commute, in four different minibuses.

The Route

Ethiopia Culture Shock
The traffic looks fine from here

Conveniently, there’s a bus stop right near where I live. Perhaps I should clarify, there’s a bunch of people that stand on the side of the road, hoping for the minibuses to stop, and then run as quickly as possible, shoulders in, elbows up to win the coveted spot that might be available. I learned quickly that this bus stop was not for me… instead it’s a 20 minute walk to where the buses start.

This minibus, then takes me to the starting of a second minibus, which takes me to a line for the third (I’ve waited up to an hour there) which finally drops me at the side of the road where I can find the fourth. The fourth as actually presented the most problems as I need to find one that goes to ‘Akaki 08’ and most of them go to ‘Akaki 09’… You would think it’s a quick lesson on numbers, right??? Wrong! For the life of me I can’t pronounce the number 8, which sounds something like the word ‘cement’ and thus I am consistently holding up my fingers, and piling into minibuses just to pile off once people actually count the amount of fingers I’ve held up… Awesome!

The Capacity

Ethiopia Culture Shock
We Canadians just need our space

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe this to Canadians. You see, undoubtedly Canadians have an issue with space… we have too much. That may not seem like much of an issue when you’re in Canada, but when you venture outside, oh boy can it be interesting. The other day, as 20 people packed into the second bus (which had 10 seats) I was jostled into a tight fitting spot, sitting backwards facing a kind, smiling, Ethiopian man. The only way for us to fit in was apparently in the jigsaw-like manner that saw his right leg ending up between my legs and my right leg between his legs… As the bus jumped and jiggled it’s way along the twenty minute ride, it made me realize that it is, indeed, quite possible to accidentally grind a total stranger. It made me question all those times in High School when I thought a girl had purposely put her hand on my leg, and made me wonder if this was at all awkward for my Ethiopian grinding partner… His smile gave away little, really awkward or innocently normal I may never know.

The Power Outages

Okay, I may be a little accustomed to power outages, especially after Nepal where the power seems to be off 10 hours a day. The difference in Ethiopia is that it is totally unplanned, unannounced and can go on for days. My second day in Addis Ababa, a city of many million (estimates range from 3 million to 8 million) the power went out and stayed out for 30 hours. I tell ya, stumbling around my new living quarters made it real obvious that I need to be just a little more perceptive, and really take in my surroundings when I first arrive.

The People

Ethiopia Culture Shock
First monthly meeting… My open notebook consists of words I don’t know… which is basically every single Amharic word.

This is one that will get you everywhere you go. No matter what people tell you, you’ll never be prepared for the difference in the people that you meet in a new country… The people are, after all, the greatest reason to travel. The people in Ethiopia are a huge shock for me. They are a far cry from the crippling images we’ve seen on our Canadian televisions since the 1984 famine. They are beautiful, smiling and kind and very intelligent. You get attention for being white, but you never feel in danger. There may be a little pushing for a minibus here or there, but there’s always someone looking out to make sure you, the Farenji, are okay.

There’s one final culture shock that I experienced in my first week in Ethiopia, and that’s the kids. But, they are easily worth an entire post themselves.

Up for some more reading? Check out either my arrival in Ethiopia, or stop by at my other site, Step Up… Dive In, I’d love to see you there.

Arriving in Ethiopia

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Volunteering in Ethiopia

So, off to a new volunteer project, this one with the wonderful Vulnerable Children Society, focused on the health and betterment of at-risk children in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Arriving in Africa

I have been dreaming of going to Africa ever since I was a kid. Other opportunities always popped up so I headed to Europe for a couple of months, then Europe again to live in Germany, then Thailand to live there, then Indonesia and area to travel, then South America for a year and a half, then India/Nepal for 9 months.. Combine that with a few stopovers in France ranging from 1 – 3 months and you get a total of about 4 years (48 months) spent abroad… and a grand total of…. wait for it… 3 or 4 days I spent in Africa.

Arriving in Ethiopia
Africa is that way?? Are you sure we’re heading in the right direction?!

After spending a good chunk of time away from Canada, and many a year in both third-world and non-english speaking countries, I never know just how much, if any, culture shock I will experience upon landing in a new country.I have, however, always held Africa in a different light. I had been there only once on a quick trip down from Spain with my sister and mother when I was but a new traveler; the type with a Canadian flag, brand name clothes, cash dispersed in four different pockets, and fear of anyone who attempted to talk to me.

Oh, and it was Morocco, to say that Ethiopia would be different, and basically brand new would be the greatest of understatements. So, after a quick stopover in France, and some planning with Arnica and the rest at Vulnerable Children Society, I landed in Addis.

For the first time in my life, I had a driver waiting to pick me up… unfortunately, I clearly had no idea what that meant. Here I was expecting to find my name held up high in the sky on a big whiteboard for everyone to see, as if I was essentially royalty… That, believe it or not, is not how it turned out.

I landed at the beautiful hour of 1:10am and didn’t want to go outside directly, it’s Africa after all. Isn’t this the place that those commercials have been insistently convincing me my whole life that starvation, kidnapping and theft are the norm?! Go outside in the middle of the night, without my driver? Never!

I also, however, didn’t have a phone and couldn’t find an internet connection…

Arriving in Ethiopia
Africa’s gotta be out there somewhere…

Unbeknownst to me, my driver was not allowed to come inside, which meant that I was sleeping in yet another uncomfortable (and slightly chilly) airport, waiting for someone to arrive who was, at the same time, waiting in a much more uncomfortable (and chillier) van, waiting for the ridiculous Farenji to step outside.

Oh, but don’t worry, this didn’t last. A mere 4 hours later, I finally found an internet connection and contacted some people back in Canada who promptly informed me of my ridiculousness (though they were kind enough to not word it that way). Unfortunately, the driver had gone home (can you blame him?!)

He agreed to come back in an hour or so. Thus, I sat around watching a documentary on Ethiopia and finally went out to meet him around 6am. The street was incredibly comfortable, not at all foreboding, and in no way dangerous… Of course I never once thought about how unbelievably irrational I had been waiting in a chilly airport, frightened by my own shadow and the notion of dangerous Africa.

Incredibly, Ketema (the driver) showed up with a jacket that read Canada, a hood from a different jacket and a smile on his face. Any lingering doubts or fears that I had vanished the moment that this poor soul, who I had left to suffer in the shockingly chilly night opened the door without a hint of resentment, and even apologized profusely… as if the whole thing was not only my horrible misunderstanding, but rather somehow, the blame fell squarely on his shoulders.

From that moment forward I knew that volunteering and living in Ethiopia would be easier and a lot more pleasant than I expected.

If you’re curious about who I am, or just have some time to kill, then feel free to drop by at my other site, (where this post was originally published). I’d love to see you at Step Up… Dive In

Announcing our new partner: Canadian Humanitarian!

Press Release
April 15, 2013: For Immediate Release

NGOs Team Up to Assist Ethiopian Children

20120425-175141.jpg

Kelowna, BC: Canadian Humanitarian Organization for International Relief and Vulnerable Children Society have once again joined forces to improve the lives of impoverished children in Ethiopia.

Canadian Humanitarian will be operating a new educational centre in the small town of Guder for Vulnerable Children, who is providing the funding and managing sponsor communications. In addition, Canadian Humanitarian will be taking over the management of Vulnerable Children’s House 2 House direct sponsorship program in Adama, Wonji, Mojo and Ambo  that enables orphaned and vulnerable children to stay in their communities instead of entering institutional care.

Bryce Meldrum, Canadian Humanitarian Executive Director, was enthusiastic about the partnership. “We have several educational centres in the Oromia region of Ethiopia that holistically address the needs of vulnerable children. This new centre in Guder combines our years of experience in supporting families and educating children, with Vulnerable Children’s energy and expertise in HIV support.”

The two organizations share similar values and agree that education is the tool to uplift children out of extreme poverty and enable them to realize their potential.

The children in the House 2 House program are chosen by local government based on an extreme level of need. Over 90% of the children are living with HIV, and the others have severe physical challenges. All of the children live in extreme poverty; many have lost one or both parents. Vulnerable Children pays the school fees and uniform costs for all House 2 House children, and provides their families with food and medical support.

“Our sponsors have been supporting our House 2 House kids for almost three years and the program has made an enormous difference in their lives,” commented Arnica Rowan, president of Vulnerable Children Society. “We are so pleased that Canadian Humanitarian has agreed to operate our programs and deepen the level of support for our kids in Guder with an educational centre. It is our hope to eventually offer these extended social, medical and educational services to all our sponsored children in each of the other communities.”

Previously, Vulnerable Children Society donated $10,000 to furnish one of Canadian Humanitarian’s centres in the rural Ethiopian community of Gindo.

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To learn more please contact:

Arnica Rowan, President, Vulnerable Children Society. Kelowna, BC. (250) 762-9227  info@vulnerablechildren.ca  www.vulnerablechildren.ca

Bryce Meldrum, Executive Director, Canadian Humanitarian. Medicine Hat, Alberta. (403) 527-2741 bryce@canadianhumanitarian.com  www.canadianhumanitarian.com

Donations to the Guder Educational Centre may be made on either organization’s website. Please mark your donation “Guder.”

To sponsor a House 2 House child, please set up your monthly donation on Vulnerable Children Society’s website.

 

 

Canadian Humanitarian
Canadian Humanitarian Organization for International Relief
www.canadianhumanitarian.com

Canadian Humanitarian Organization for International Relief (Canadian Humanitarian) is a non-religious, non-political, registered Canadian Charity (#87302 9102 RR0001). We are dedicated to assisting disadvantaged children, their families and communities break free from the cycle of poverty.

Our Vision: To see every child reach their full potential through innovative, sustainable community development models that empower local initiatives.

Our Mission: To break the cycle of poverty by providing orphaned and vulnerable children and their families with access to health care, education, vocational training, and the basic necessities of life such as nutrition and shelter.

Our Philosophy: Canadian Humanitarian believes in local solutions to local struggles. This leads us to partner with local individuals and local organizations overseas to create opportunity for individuals, families and communities. Adopting a community based development approach; we provide tools to community members enabling them to get themselves out of poverty.

Vulnerable Children Society
Vulnerable Children Society
www.vulnerablechildren.ca

Vulnerable Children Society is a registered Canadian Charity (#810826917RR0001 ). We help some of the most vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia, in collaboration with Canadian Humanitarian and other wonderful Ethiopian partner organizations. With the help of our dedicated donors, we run a House 2 House child sponsorship program, which provides compassionate supportive care to children and families affected by extreme poverty and AIDS/HIV in their neighborhoods; and support very vulnerable children and families with impactful, targeted projects such as orphanage support, drought relief, and furnishing a library and educational centre.

Child by child, family by family, we hope to make the world a safe and joyful place for some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Our values are sustainability, compassion, transparency and impact.

Vulnerable Children Society was started by 6 women, all joined by a common love and sense of responsibility for children in Africa. Some of the women have children adopted from Ethiopia and Swaziland. Two women are of Moroccan and Ethiopian heritage themselves. Currently, we have approximately 100 members and 6 directors from all across Canada.

High School Students Sew Comfort Dolls for Vulnerable Children

A big warm shout-out to our friends in Invermere sewing these awesome dolls!!! When their teacher asked me if we had any use for dolls like these, I jumped at the chance. The students are making them durable, lovable and original! We will deliver them to Faya Orphanage and distribute any remaining dolls to impoverished families with small children. Thanks so much, guys!!!

Sewing machines in the textiles classroom at David Thompson Secondary School are humming, and needles with thread pass through colourful fabric with a flourish.

The Grade 8 and 9 students aren’t sewing pyjama pants or things for themselves, as often happens in textiles class: this year, the young seamsters and seamstresses are stitching together plush comfort dolls to send to Ethiopian orphans.

David Thompson Secondary School has a special connection to the particular orphanage where the dolls will be sent. Arnica Rowan, the sister of English and Drama teacher Silena Ewen runs a not-forprofit organization in Ethiopia called the Vulnerable Children Society.

When textiles teacher Marguerite DiFilippo heard about the organization, she thought her sewing class would be the perfect place to create a donation of dolls.

When all the thread is tied off, the high school students will ship enough dolls across the Atlantic Ocean for about 30 children.

“It’s a fun project because the dolls are all going to be one-of-a-kind. No one else is going to have them,” says Grade 9 student Natalie Gibbs as she irons a piece of clothing for her doll.

Sitting nearby, fellow Grade 9 student Courtney Falkmann adds, “It’s nice to know that someone who really needs it is going to get it.”

Excerpt from the Columbia Valley Pioneer page 32! Just click on the picture below to make it big enough to read.