Written by Sr. Donor Relations Officer Lauren Johnson with reflections from several travelers
It’s January 19. Our farewells to the families and workers with whom we mixed concrete, hauled blocks and rocks, tied eucalyptus wood walls, and shared many, many cups of coffee and tea. In all, 28 families will soon have access to more sanitary and healthier homes. Habitat is the only organization in the country providing decent homes to the poorest segment of the population here.
In an emotional ceremony after our final morning of work, our hosts generously conferred certificates to each of us and gifted our team with traditional scarves and a beautiful Lalibela cross to share back home.
The scarves would come in handy the next day, as Timket was about to begin! Some of our team began their post-work travel north and nine of of us remained in Addis.
Timket is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Christians around the world recognize Epiphany to commemorate John’s baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Ethiopians do this in a way that blends the Old Testament with the New. Observant Ethiopians come out to celebrate The Ark of the Covenant: the tablets revealed to Moses containing the 10 commandments.
Our Ethiopia Habitat host, Dereje, arranged a special opportunity to participate in the massive parade through the streets of Addis, giving us an immersive experience of this unique tradition. Some photos and short video give an inkling of the mood – solemn, ancient, festive, and warmly welcoming all at the same time. We were a small number of white/foreigners – and felt embraced by a group of volunteers from the church of St Mary, our starting point for the 3 hour journey to the gathering place where 12 other churches would converge. It was nothing short of incredible.
Goodbyes make us melancholy, and the rigors of travel and pressing flights to catch and looming work back home, but the closing of the week gave us moments to reflect on what struck us most. Some team members passed along these impressions:
“The thing that struck me the most about my time in Ethiopia was how generous and warm people are here, despite how hard their lives may be. My heart is full from the beautiful smiles and genuine hugs and handshakes I received throughout the week.”
“For me, Ethiopia is a very special country whose hospitality has stolen my heart. Those who have nothing still want to share whatever they can; they live in terrible conditions but are wealthy in community, faith, and kindness. They look in your eyes with a smile and see all the goodness in you that just melts your heart. Having connection through hard work was priceless and so much better than any tourist experience. Sometimes a facial expression makes everyone laugh – life here seems very hard and simple, and grounds one’s faith that at the end of the day, we truly are all the same inside.”
“One thing that keeps resonating with me is how the families keep sharing how much Habitat has changed their lives and the lives of their children, which is so wonderful to hear and I sure hope they realize how much they have changed our lives forever.” 💕
“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this experience but I’ve been blown away by the compassion, resilience and friendliness of the Ethiopian people. It has been amazing working with the families, getting to know them and even with the language barrier being able to make pure and genuine connections with everyone. This trip has given me some hope for humanity.”
“This trip to Ethiopia was amazing. What struck me the most about the families that Habitat has served is how aligned they were with the Habitat value of supporting the community. Every recipient of a Habitat home or Habitat communal kitchen and bathroom cared for their neighbors and those even less fortunate than themselves. The care of others in need within their community was so moving.”
“Everyone that I talked to while we were here was so welcoming and kind and it was all the amazing people that made this trip so special. Even though we couldn’t always speak the same language, it was easy to make meaningful connections with the people we were spending time with. People are so appreciative and are willing to help without expecting anything in return which makes such a great community.”
“When we first arrived, I felt pretty intimidated. But I soon learned that simply raising your eyebrows, smiling, or saying “selam” is an instant icebreaker, and almost every person responded with positivity and welcoming. Ethiopia is the most inviting place I’ve ever been to. Each person we met has been warm and welcoming. I will never forget the people here and I cant wait to come back.”
“Driving through the slums of Addis to the work site every day, I was struck by the kindness of Ethiopian people with one another. I saw brothers helping sisters, daughters helping mothers, and what appeared to be strangers helping one another. This experience has helped to remind me that kindness and compassion are the most valuable currencies of humanity.”
A sentiment from Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad has been rattling through my mind.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
We know it’s a privilege to have traveled in this way. We were acutely aware of that each time we left the build sites to shower in hot, clean water; eat in restaurants; and travel in comfortable vans.
Yet, it seems hard to feel the depth of the challenges by only reading stories with facts and figures. Feeling the warmth of a handshake or hug, looking someone in the eye. Singing and laughing together, sometimes crying, sharing work and a meal — all of these thing create a different understanding.
Thank you to the many people in the HFHI Global Village program, Habitat Portland/Metro East, and the many people in our lives who helped make this build possible. The money we send to Ethiopia is making a tangible difference and profoundly changing the life trajectory for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Our financial contributions are enabling the dedicated and compassionate staff here to do its work. And the time we are gifted to learn and share this work with others is deeply appreciated.