Less than a year ago, my wife Haleigh and I visited the rural Ethiopian village of Arbegona on a small, information-gathering trip. Since school was out, only a few children wandered the countryside in front of the mud buildings used as a school. The school administrators and local leaders relayed to us that the school was desperately in a need of help and they welcomed our support. On Saturday, they not only welcomed our support, but they welcomed us as family.
After a two-hour bus ride across the mountainous Ethiopian countryside, we arrived in Arbegona. Upon our arrival, I knew the Davis Moon Project had chosen the right village. Words cannot describe the overwhelming feeling of pure joy and happiness I felt when our bus pulled up to the school in Arbegona on Saturday.
A crowd of about 30 had been waiting outside the perimeter of the school grounds to welcome us. Above the entrance to the schoolyard hung a sign with the words “All of You Welcome” written on it. I eagerly jumped off the bus and passed through the gate to see a group of 400+ students lined up in a formation, singing a clapping to welcome us. This reception was beyond anything I imagined and I began waving to the other volunteers to hurry up and see this incredible sight.
Sonja led the way as we all walked into the crowd of school children to a swarm of hugs. As I knelt down to their level, each child fought to get closer and hug the “farangi” the term they use for foreigner. Being mobbed by a hoard of school children in Ethiopia might be a germophobe’s nightmare. However, seeing the infectious smiles across the childrens’ faces, those thoughts didn’t even cross my mind as we all embraced their loving arms.
My excitement was only sedated with the realization that our work would have to match these incredible expectations. As the bags of books and soccer balls were unloaded from the bus, we broke out into small groups to play with the children. Without a translator, I used the international language of soccer to entertain the children. As we kicked the ball around, I realized why many of the best marathon runners come from Ethiopia. These kids had an infinite supply of energy!
I attempted to take a break on a nearby bench, but all the children left the ball and gathered back around me. Knowing that my mere presence was providing these children with happiness, I sang every song and played every game I knew. The children demonstrated their ABC’s and I taught them the Hokey Pokey. We practiced the English names of animals and they were particularly entertained by my impression of a dog. I never dreamed I would be surrounded by children in the middle of Ethiopia howling like a pack of dogs, but it’s a memory I’ll forever cherish.
As we return to begin construction on their library tomorrow, I can’t help but remind myself of these high expectations and wonder “How many farangi have made promises to these people that were never kept?” Our visit to Arbegona certainly inspired us all for the rest of this trip, but will also ensure we remember these children long after we return to the comfort of our homes.