In February 2019, a number of us had the privilege of traveling to Ethiopia to see first hand the impact your generosity is having on the children, families, schools, and communities. As I prepared to write this, I poured over the photos and videos we accumulated during our trip, which was quite exhaustive. Collectively as a group, we took over one thousand pictures and hours upon hours of video footage. There could have easily been twice that much were it not for some quick thinking by a local entrepreneur in Addis Ababa at the end of our trip. So a shout out to him, wherever he and Eugene’s cellphone may be, for making my job just a little bit easier.
Instinctively, I titled this post “Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain.” In fairness, there wasn’t much pain on our part, aside from having to reset Bill’s vertebrae with a rolling pin due to a little “bump” in the road. No matter what anyone else on the trip may say, absolutely nothing of interest happened during the rain. I believe the photos and videos have the sunshine covered, so that leaves me to write about the joy. I want to share a little bit about our trip to help you get a sense of what we had the privilege of experiencing first hand.
We started our trip in Robe, and on that first full day, we walked hand in hand with some of the children through town to the local school where we had funded classrooms for inclusive education and are now building a library. We were welcomed by a crowd of over two thousand children cheering us on as we made our way to the back of the school where the new library was being built. These children were so happy to see us, and to be honest, it was very overwhelming. The teachers tried to hold the children back as they attempted to sneak around barriers to catch a glimpse of these strange looking visitors.
I remember vividly sitting in my chair during the coffee ceremony that followed and spotting a small group of girls who had successfully snuck their way into the courtyard. As I took a picture of them, one of the girls noticed. She seemed confused, and through hand-signs, questioned if I was taking a photo of her. When I signaled back that indeed I had, the look of joy on her face as she relayed the story to her friends standing with her was truly heartwarming.
While still in Robe, we also were blessed with the opportunity to visit several sponsored children and their families in their homes. While each story was inspiring, there was one in particular, which stood out to me. We met a sixteen-year-old girl who was much smaller and frailer than she should be. She told us how her mother could never leave her alone at home as her stepfather continuously threatened to kill her because of her disability. In an inspiring act of selflessness, her fourteen-year-old sister ended up moving away from home with her. The two of them now live on their own in Robe, and thanks to the sponsorship program, the older sister can now live without fear and is attending school while the younger sister stays home and provides for the two of them.
After Robe, we moved on to the Horizons Academy in Asella to visit Ryan’s Garden and to visit with the children in the Child Development Unit. What a privilege to meet my sponsored child, Degem, and his mother, who now works at the CDU. Degem is such a beautiful little boy whose smile and mannerisms were all too familiar. There was an instant connection for me, and the joy I experienced holding him in my arms was second only to that of holding my own children. Albeit that is a bit harder for me to experience these days now that my oldest, Liam, is now taller than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still try now and then.
From that same CDU, we watched Kalkidan reciting the alphabet for the class, and it is clearly one of the highlights of our trip. Once you have seen this video, you will be hard-pressed not to recite the alphabet yourselves without interjecting some “Elle, Emma, Enna” along the way.
While individual experiences of joy are amazing, there is a collective joy that is infecting the communities where these children live. There is a newfound respect for life regardless of ability. There is a sense of belonging and a life of purpose. And really, at the end of the day, that is what this is all about. As a community, everyone benefits by being inclusive, including you and me.
I want to end by thanking each and every one of you for your support. The joy it brings to these children and their communities is immeasurable. I pray that in your continued support of Ryan’s Rays, you too will experience that same sense of community and joy for yourselves.
Thank you, and God bless.
Edward de Groot