Eliza Harry tells us how volunteering abroad in Central Ethiopia has made her question her values.
For the past few years my school has run a trip to Central Ethiopia, giving us the opportunity to visit this diverse and developing nation, and to experience volunteering abroad in a town called Asella, a place renowned for its long distance runners.
Last summer I travelled to Hamle 19 School, volunteering abroad in conjunction with the charity Link Ethiopia, to help build the foundations for a new library and to organise activities for the young pupils.
The school was situated at the end of a mud track which the children had to negotiate daily, many without the protection of shoes. The site included a handful of classrooms with walls painted a soft yellow and streaked with the dirt from outside.
The children we met were eager to show us their exercise books and what they’d been learning. They were proud of their school and wanted to contribute to its growth by helping us however they could. They insisted on carrying heavy buckets of cement and digging holes for us and it was clear that they viewed education as a privilege.
My favourite part of volunteering abroad was getting to know the pupils, who ranged in age from 5-18. Despite the language barrier, we were able to interact through playing football and frisbee. They also taught us how to play cous cous – their version of Duck, duck, goose. One of the boys had a beautiful voice and sang songs by Celine Dion and Justin Bieber – an indicator of the rise of globalisation and how connected today’s world is.
My most memorable afternoon whilst volunteering abroad was spent with the younger children. We gave them colouring books and they all crammed into the small classroom. They were so excited and pleased with the drawings they’d done, it didn’t matter that the pencils were blunt and the tables were broken and crooked – they were content just to be creative and the setting was irrelevant to them.
Volunteering abroad was a valuable experience for me. It showed me how unnecessary it is that we value material possessions so highly and how worthless they are.
The United Nations rates Ethiopia as the 14th least developed country in the world but it is rich in many other ways. My experience of volunteering abroad has made me question what development is. Is it simply an accumulation of wealth? How important is it really, compared with the deeper but less obvious values of openness, hospitality, cooperation and pride displayed by the Ethiopians I met?
Volunteering abroad in Ethiopia has developed my understanding of how different societies operate and how important family, a sense of shared heritage and community are to me.
Would you like to follow in Eliza’s footsteps? Go to the Moving On Gap Year page for more info.