Reflections – Karen Schimpf
In November, 2017, Peter and I traveled to Ethiopia. It was our first trip there and even though we had heard the stories from others who had traveled there previously, we still were not exactly sure what to expect. We knew we would be visiting wells dug by our late friend, Steve Silver and other wells dedicated to members of our church who had traveled to Ethiopia in times past and supported the work of Water is Life Ethiopia.
We were met in Addis Ababa at the airport by Merrie and David. How nice to be met by familiar faces in a foreign country. They planned an itinerary that allowed us to see as much of the country as possible in the limited time we would be there.
In my mind, I had pictured Ethiopia, and all of Africa, to be one flat, hot desert continent, but I was pleasantly surprised to see both flat desert-looking grounds to beautiful lush mountains. The geography varied as we traveled to different regions.
When we arrived in villages and were able to walk around and visit with the people, I thought I knew what poverty looked like, but this was beyond my imagination. There were so many children, who were so happy to see us, the farangi or foreigners as we were called. We were able to spend time with the children and they were captivated seeing the pictures we took of them with our phones. They quickly liked the idea of “selfies”.
Their homes, shared with livestock, were not anything we can imagine living in. The villages were usually remote and access to markets was a long walk. In the villages without a well, we saw how the women and children worked to get water, using dirty, yellow plastic jherry containers. Distances to water we would not even want to put a dirty foot in, much less use to wash clothes or use for cooking, made it a time consuming and back-breaking process. Comparing the villages with a well to those that did not have wells, it was evident what a transformation the wells made in their lives.
The first morning after visiting the first village, while eating breakfast and preparing for the day ahead, David asked my impression of the previous day. My immediate response was that I wanted to gather all the children and give them a bath and clean clothes, but as I thought about it more, I realized it would be pointless to do something like that because they would be dirty again and may experience something they may never experience again. I then focused on the faces of the children and remembered the smiles on each child I saw. The children didn’t know they were poor and they didn’t have a way to compare their lives to anyone else. They were happy and content. Three years later, it’s the smiling faces of the children that I first think of when I think of Ethiopia. As each new well is brought into operation, it is changing the lives of the women and children in that village in a way that one bath and one change of clothes would not be able accomplish.