Open Arms of Minnesota

Letters From Ethiopia: It Always Starts With One

By David Plante, Volunteer

Every time I visit Africa I can’t help but feel how overwhelming life here seems. Not for me—as a middle class white American the most difficult thing I face is learning how to say “Hello” or “Thank You” in an unfamiliar language, or navigate a menu that at times offers more surprise than my stomach can handle. But for the millions who live in one of the poorest countries in Africa, I’m not sure overwhelming begins to describe existence here.

Africa is enormous and difficult to navigate logistically and culturally. There are politics I don’t understand, traditions that dictate how people relate to one another, and nuances delivered in language I can’t begin to notice much less describe. But it’s the combination of it all punctuated by scenes of unimaginable poverty and unforgiveable cruelty that makes life here at times emotionally unfathomable.

And yet it takes but an hour or two before I am reminded that despite the hardships that exist on this side of the world, despite a feeling of hopelessness that would exist if for no other reason than the enormity of what people here face, there are many stories of hope. And that is one of the things I most look forward to whenever I get the chance to come to Africa.

I see it in the work of NGOs with miniscule budgets and endless determination often started by an individual with an idea and the persistence to bring it to life. I see it in the work done by NASTAD in trying to fill the gaps in service to people living with HIV/AIDS that the government in Africa can’t (or won’t) provide. And in the widow who took in an orphan one day and then another the next until soon she was operating an orphanage.

I’ve been struggling to capture just how important—and how easy—it is to make a difference. And then I found this sign attached to a wall in the Mesfin Feyisha Initiative, an iteration of sorts of the Dawn of Hope: “ Don’t get lost in numbers. Start humbly. Begin with one or two. If the ocean is less by one drop it is still worth doing.”

It is often paralyzing to think of all that could be done and isn’t. But it isn’t about all that could be done. It’s about what is being done. Whether it’s the birr (about 6 cents) you hand to the child on the street or the money you contribute to buy a food parcel or the orphan whose school tuition you sponsor, what matters is that you decided there was something you could do and you did it. You made the ocean just a little smaller.

I’m excited to see how else we can help make the ocean a little smaller. More to come from Ethiopia.

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