My husband, Brad, and I visited Ethiopia for the first time in April of 2007 to pick up our two newly-adopted children, Tizita (now 5 years old) and Fekadu (age 2). It was a surreal experience to be in a developing country for the first time while we were changing our lives so permanently and intensely, but the beauty of the land and the kindness of the people made an indelible impression, and I knew that somehow, someday, I would return.
These children had been orphaned and placed for adoption due to two preventable problems– tuberculosis and extreme poverty. After we got back home and had begun to settle in together, I began to realize that I was quite angry about the fact that these beautiful children who were now my babies had been transported half a world away from their first home because we in the West have abundant resources–medical care and cash, in particular–and that those in other parts of the world do not. It’s just plain wrong that young parents die and leave their children behind and that young children themselves often die for lack of their most basic needs. I resolved at that point to try to do something: To begin to contribute as generously as I could to humanitarian aid in Ethiopia and to find a way to return and become physically engaged in the work.
Fast forward to December, and three clever workings of serendipity. First, a friend sent us a WaterCard from Water 1st, indicating that a gift had been made in honor of our children. I stared at the beautiful image on the card, but it didn’t register to try to learn more about the organization at the time. Then, while touring schools for our daughter’s kindergarten placement next year, we visited the Meridian School. Tears welled in my eyes as we passed through the hallways and saw evidence that the students were studying Africa and its issues. And when we stopped in the third-grade class, we heard them tell how they had just completed the Water 1st curriculum and made cards that would be hand-carried to Ethiopia in January.
“I resolved at that point to try to do something: To begin to contribute as generously as I could to humanitarian aid in Ethiopia and to find a way to return and become physically engaged in the work.”
It was a moving experience to see a group of comparatively privileged children caring so genuinely about their age-mates in a land so far away. The next day, I went to the post office to mail a care package I’d assembled for our sponsored children in Ethiopia. There next to me was a woman (Water 1st Executive Director, Marla Smith-Nilson!) with a stack of Water 1st envelopes she was mailing. I told her I’d just heard of Water 1st the day before, and shoved my business card in her hand to send me more information.
I couldn’t wait though. That night, I got online and pulled up the Water 1st website to learn more. After watching several moving videos, one of the first things to catch my eye was that they were planning a trip to Ethiopia in January to show firsthand what they do. After a serious talk with my husband and an intense 24 hours of pondering and talking to Water 1st staff, I signed up for the trip just weeks away!
It was a remarkable ten-day journey “home” to Ethiopia for me. I gained a better sense of the culture, a deeper appreciation for the beauty and warmth of the people, and made an invaluable connection with the good people of Water 1st and their in-country partner organization, Water Action.
I have never been so close–literally face to face–with such dire need before meeting the villagers in Ilamu Muja and Bishikiltu who lacked clean water and sanitary latrines. Yet as poor and difficult as their daily lives may be, I’ve never met a more thankful and gracious people.
Though I’m now a real estate agent, I’ve worked in non-profit organizations for most of my professional life. It’s rare to find an organization that provides an efficient solution that addresses a need so directly and cleanly, and yet delivers so much more than promised. Water 1st does just that, with the invaluable side benefits of community organizing, empowerment, and hope. I’m thrilled to have found a meaningful way to support my children’s homeland, and I look forward to continuing to improve conditions there–and to seeing those impacts on future visits.