Tim Bousner shares his experience of visiting the Lideta project in Ethiopia where, after fifteen years of working to empower and uplift the community, we handed over the reigns to locals who continue to better the lives of children who live there.
When it comes to writing a blog, I’m certainly no author. What I do know, is you get to write what you like, how you like, what you feel, and what moves you.
In September 2015, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in a World Vision project in the Ethiopian capital with some remarkable individuals – most notably, my mother. As a guest of World Vision, and as a companion of a group of child sponsors from Christchurch Hitchin, those five days in Addis Ababa were really quite special. I could comfortably fill pages with written experiences, though you’ll be much relieved to learn that I won’t. What I will do, is ask you to hang in there for a paragraph or two while I capture one or two learnings, or reminders, that stayed with me. These thoughts might be blindingly obvious, so forgive me if I’m playing catchup.
Lesson 1. Young people are young people
Who knew? The young people we met who’d been sponsored were just, well, young people. Bright, curious, extrovert, introvert, shy, cheeky. They’d pretty much align with any ‘young person’ adjective you’d care to apply. They certainly weren’t objects shaped by the clichés of our first world media – needy and downtrodden. Very much the opposite, in fact. Vital, challenging and as passionate about the future as any child from anywhere. To have expected anything other, marked me out as the dubious product of that media experience. I guess that’s the point of travel. If you’re not prepared to reappraise, you should step back on the boat and head home. When Oscar Wilde suggested that ‘youth is wasted on the young’, it would seem he didn’t account for the remarkable children of Lideta, who clearly didn’t get the memo.
Lesson 2. Fish are good…rods are better
The phrase ‘Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, give them a rod…’ was never more validated, than by the resourceful folk of the battery poultry group in the heart of Lideta. The opportunity to witness this hub of nine hardworking, resourceful, dignified professionals, was rare for someone like me, who’s rarely strayed beyond the boundaries of the tourist trail. It was inspiring to learn of the aspirations of these industrious people. Their vision for the future was one of expansion and growth with positive plans to deliver far more than eggs to the Lideta community. And let’s not forget the chickens who were as much the stars, as their carers. With 800 of them knocking out 500 eggs a day - those girls were really delivering!
Lesson 3. ‘Give a child a pencil…’
Though there were no ‘fishing rods’ on offer when we visited the 'Disaster Risk Reduction' club for children, the good people of Christchurch had organised a stationery giveaway. Pencils are powerful things. They require no battery, little training and, with guidance, deliver poetry to a prosaic world. These truths seemed evident to the kids, if only sub-consciously, as they pounced on the assortment of items like it was Christmas day. Not nearly as profound as the ‘Rod’ quote, but it seems to me…‘give a child a story, and they’ll read for a day – give them a pencil and they’ll create for a lifetime’.
Lesson 4. Surrender
Anybody who’s ever driven in a big city quickly learns to surrender to the flow, rather than to seek victory in beating it. Learning to ride on the back of the traffic beast, rather than to tame it, is the trick. So it was with our zen-master driver in Addis. Though by no means unique in its level of traffic mayhem, Addis is certainly up there in being one of the world’s craziest city experiences. You’d be forgiven for understanding roads as two-dimensional concepts that convey us forward and back. In this city of potholes, the third dimension was clearly in play. There’s no great wisdom here, beyond the notion that perhaps we’d get where we need to be in life quicker by letting go, a little.
My advice? Hand out pencils, let things go and learn to lay eggs – you’ll live longer and happier. It’s not much, but it’s a start - which I guess might echo the sentiments of many of the beautiful people of Ethiopia.