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Friday, January 27, 2012

Ethiopia: A Long Walk Together

A few HOPE supporters were recently traveling in Ethiopia to see the work that we do with villagers in the country’s poorest districts. On the drive back from a tiny village up in the mountains, their jeep slowed to navigate around a group of people walking down the road in single file. At the head of the procession was a woman on a stretcher, wrapped in white linen. Her mouth was moving; she was alive.

What these visitors saw is the quintessence of why our work in Ethiopia remains, over thirty years later, as successful and worthwhile as it is. The goals we set — clean water for entire districts, care for the HIV/AIDS orphans in Addis, livelihoods for poor illiterate women — are truly ambitious. By all rights we should not be able to accomplish what we do with the funds that are available to us.

But the tenacity and devotion of Ethiopian people make everything possible. For every dollar we send to this country, they match us with an inestimable contribution of service. For the people in Ethiopia’s remote and neglected villages, helping one another is an absolute fact of existence. They do not sit back and received aid passively.

The same spirit that inspires poor, hungry, and ill people to dig out roads by hand so that our trucks can reach their villages was perfectly expressed in the scene these Canadian visitors witnessed from their jeep. Their driver explained that the group was clearly making their way home from a clinic he knew to be in the area. It would have taken them all day long to reach the clinic, and so many people—nearly the entire community—had made the journey together so that they could take turns carrying the woman on the stretcher. It would have been the only way the woman could have received medical care. Her neighbors did not count the cost: the incredibly long walk in full sun, an entire day of work lost. As the driver put it, “This would have been their agenda for the day."

We often talk about walking with the poor, and in our mind’s eye perhaps we see ourselves leading the way, with the weakest leaning on us, inspired to go anywhere at all by our presence. The truth is that the poor have long been walking together, and it’s our choice to join the procession or not.

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