Thank you for providing me with the most transformative experience of my life. It took me a considerable amount of time before I even began this letter, as I quietly thought to myself, “How do I even begin to summarize Ethiopia? How do I contain three months in a single letter?” Every single day I spent in Ethiopia was a blessing!
Initially I thought I would come to Ethiopia and be able to provide some kind of substantive assistance to the IOCC program. On the eve of my departure, I soberly admitted to myself that I had received much more than I had given.
Two thirds of my internship was spent doing a basic field evaluation for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program. In several different branch offices I did key-informant interviews and home visits to observe the Income Generating Activities program and support services offered for OVCs. The information gathered during these initial field visits gave me a basis to develop tools for the basic care evaluation that another intern, Kristen, put together. Kristen is doing a baseline survey of the care and support programs in 8 different branch offices. The information gathered from this baseline survey will be compiled into a report presented to USAID and DICAC, as well as integrated into this upcoming year’s work plan. I designed the tools to help evaluate the OVC component of this evaluation.
The remaining third of my internship was focused on non-HIV related projects. I did a site visit to the Tara Gedam monastery in South Gondar, where IOCC provided funding for a micro-irrigation project. During this field trip I was also able to visit different integrated rural development projects. I became really interested in water sanitation, natural resource management, and agricultural extension activities, so I approached the director of Development in DICAC to see if there were any other opportunities to visit integrated rural development projects (IRDP) close to Addis Ababa. I was very fortunate and able to visit two different IRDP sites in Hagere Mariam and Debre Birhan with the project coordinators of the two sites. I wrote a formal report following these site visits that included a needs assessment, indicating areas for possible future IOCC involvement in agricultural activities in Ethiopia. This was one of my favorite trips in Ethiopia and allowed me to learn about rural communities and food security. The Development coordinators were some of the most incredible people I met during my 3 month internship!
Before I left for Ethiopia I never thought I would have the opportunity to attend a youth awareness rally educating over 300 children on HIV/AIDS. I didn’t think I would be able to enter into the homes of countless individuals who had suffered great losses due to the pandemic. It never crossed my mind that I would be able to attend a clergy training session in both urban and rural contexts. I didn’t believe I would be able to attend meetings with officials from USAID or the regional health bureau. I could never have imagined that I would visit two monasteries with micro-irrigation and spring development projects and meet personally with the abbot. Yet through IOCC all of this was given to me, and much, much more. I cannot tell you how many times I asked myself, “How was I considered worthy of this experience?”
A significant part of my internship was witnessing the faith of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I have been in Orthodox countries before yet have never been exposed to such a strong Christian culture. I want to thank IOCC for sending me to a country where it is commonly believed that you must greet guests in your house as if God himself was visiting. How do I begin to describe Ethiopian hospitality, or what it feels like to receive abundantly from people who have so very little? They truly possess the ‘hospitality of Abraham.’ From the day I arrived to the day I left, one of my favorite things about Ethiopia was hearing the morning prayers starting at 5 am. Even though I couldn’t understand a word, it warmed my heart knowing that people were praying at such an early hour. Through observing the humility and piety of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians I received the greatest instruction on living as an Orthodox Christian. I have never met such saintly people who make such great sacrifices for their faith! Ethiopia is truly a blessed country, and as I transition back to life in the States I’m struggling to preserve the grace from such a holy place.
I was brought to one of the poorest countries in the world and was exposed to my own internal poverty. It will take me a long time, maybe even the rest of my life, to fully understand the significance of the three months I spent in Ethiopia. For now, I will hold the faithful life of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians as my goal, their work ethic and dedication as my model, their patience, forbearance, and humility as my aspiration, and their generosity and sincerity as my standard.