Monday, February 7, 2011

Hope Arising in Arizona

This past weekend I had a most fabulous weekend! It was great for lots of reasons, good weather, good friends, but the best part started for me many years ago. I had the opportunity tag along on a trip to Ethiopia with my SIL Jessica. She was going with her friend Rochelle, whom I had never met, and Rochelle's son Collin (also a stranger to me). I pretty much invited myself along, and they graciously agreed. But because I was late joining the travel roster, I had to take a completely separate flight which got me to AFRICA (I put it in caps because, well, I had never been to AFRICA, and shoot, it's AFRICA!!!) the day before them (they had a 12 hour lay over in London). When I asked Rochelle over the phone (because, remember, I hadn't met her) who I ought to look for when I got to the airport in Addis Ababa, she told me to look for Woudneh Mulugeta and his wife Bethlehem. When I asked her to describe them to me, she paused and said, "Well, they're black" (When she told me this I wanted desperately to ask her to be more specific, but I just listened). "And," she continued, "they are the most wonderful people you will ever meet."

Luckily, when I stepped off that 36 hour plane ride, they had been given a description of me, and I saw two beautiful smiling Ethiopian faces asking me if I was the girl from Colorado. They took me home and let me sleep in their children's bed. And Rochelle was absolutely correct, they are nothing short of wonderful!

From there, Woudneh took us all over Addis and to his home village of Dehra, about 110 kilometers away. We met school childrens, orpphans, Mormons, beggars, and angels on earth. It was a physically and emotionally grueling 10 days.

From that first trip, Rochelle (here in the US) and Woudneh & Betty (over in Ethiopia) have been working little by little to organize a charity to benefit Dhera and the children there. There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon that says:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. (Alma 37:6)

I have seen for myself this very weekend that this is true. I remember when we were there I thought how great it would be to help, but it seemed quite overwhelming, and just a few people seemed quite small when compared to the problems in Ethiopia. But little by little, Rochelle's Chraity, Hope Arising, is working to bring great things to pass. Woudneh and Betty have worked tirelessly to bring a pipeline of fresh water to the village while striving to educate and care for the children there.

Before Christmas, I went to Elise's 5th grade class and shared pictures and stories about Ethiopia. The students there decided they wanted to help the children I had met and I suggested they try the Blessing Box. They made a box in their classroom and when students remembered, they would bring in change each day. (Sidenote: If I suggested it again, I would encourage each student to make a blessing box to take home, then return at the end of the month. It's hard to remember between school and school.) When they were done, I returned. This was a week ago, on Monday. The kids had studied all about Ethiopia and they showed me what they had learned.

They studied about the food, culture, money, clothing, geography, etc, and created a display outside their room. It was pretty cool! I collected the money and took pictures of the class to show to Woudneh.

I learned that Woudneh had come to the United States and was actually going to be in Arizona on Friday! I thought it must be fate, so I made plans to attend a fundraiser he would be at. I decided to bring Elise with me on the trip even though it was a lot of driving. We got to stay with the awesome Breinholt family. Elise LOVES their daughter McKenna and I took the two of them to dinner but first we stopped in at the Mesa Temple Visitor Center for a quick walk around. After that, we met up with Lisa's sister Kristi (whom I haven't seen since high school-fun!) for dinner. It was a great way to kick off the weekend.

Saturday we got to go to Rochelle's home to meet with Woudneh. When I saw him I cried. He is one of the most amazing men I have ever met. The adversity that he has overcome in his life is beyond belief. I thought of many of the stories he told me about his younger years. He lived as a slave for his grandfather (it's a cultural thing) and wore the same set of clothing for 3 years. While a teen, he volunteered for the army thinking it might be the ticket to an education. He fought in a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea where he suffered beyond imagination. To return home from the war (1000 kilometers) he had only enough money to buy 1 pack of gum. He took the pack and split it into pieces to sell to other soldiers. Then he took that money and bought another pack, then another, and another. Over and over until he earned enough money to buy food and passage home. His mother hadn't known if he was dead or alive for all the years he was in the war. She told me that she would pray each night for God to keep Woudneh safe. She slept on the floor of her room each night, hoping that by giving up her own comfort, God would in turn bless her son with a small measure of comfort. She told me she so happy when her son walked into their home one day after the war, alive.

I could go on and on. I asked him many questions about himself while we were in Ethiopia, otherwise I don't think he'd have told me most of his experiences. After the war he took a business class where the instructor asked everyone to write down their life goals. Woudneh told me that he wrote down not only business goals, but goals for his life, his family, and those he wanted to help. One of the things he wanted to do was help children. So now, in Dhera, he is. He has come full circle, overcoming opposition, learning, growing, succeeding, then helping children just like him.

We met him at Rochelle's and presented the two of them with a check. I had taken the money from Elise's class and added to it (that is a good lesson of fundraising--corporate sponsors). We presented it to them and they told us it would be used to help children in Dhera. Hope Arising will be there again in April and will take pictures of the supplies our money will buy.
There was a big fundraising event Saturday night as well. It was actually a birthday party for a girl I don't know who has gone to Ethiopia many times since our first trip there. I figured she wouldn't mind if we crashed as long as we donated to get in! :) Lisa was a great sport and went along with me. She ran into several people she knew which was kinda fun. There was Ethiopian food and music, but the highlight for me was seeing Rochelle and Woudneh once again. Jessica was also there as she had flown in from Denver for the party. Standing with Woudneh, we both were crying as we talked about our memories of Ethiopia and our love for our experiences there. It was very emotional for me. I thought about the people there and how hard life was. I saw how what had started with a step into the dark, a little leap of faith, a few girls catching a plane to AFRICA...seemingly small. And now it has grown. Children are being helped. Water is being piped. Doctors have come to treat the truly needy.

And it continues to grow. Amazing. Humbling. Awe inspiring.

Fun sidenote: I ran into an old mission friend. Dave (I call him Richardson) actually knew Jen. Jen? It was her birthday that the even was built around. She was trying to raise 40K on her 40th birthday for Hope Arising and the children of Dhera.
The weekend continued on beautifully with Elise and I attending the Breinholt's ward before coming home. It was such a sweet, sweet weekend. I feel truly blessed to know all of the wonderful people that I do. And it is all because of the Gospel. It is a huge fringe benefit to get to mingle with amazing people when you choose to put yourself on a path to follow Christ.

Elise and I loaded up the big truck to head for home. Garin was super cool and helped me tie all of my stuff down correctly (thank you!) About this time, Elise and McKenna disappeared. I guess Elise wasn't ready to leave yet either (did I mention how good the weather was?) Thanks again to everyone that made our weekend so great-thanks to the Breinholts for keeping us comfy! :) And thank you to all of those that try to help others through small and simple things, because I know that it matters!


Kelly said...

That is really cool!

Mom's Thoughts said...

Wow! Very impressive. You are awesome!

Kim Hannay said...

What a fun weekend and a great cause!! I want to know what you have under the tarps in the back of the truck?! ;)