Yesterday an art auction hosted by Obus Clothing raised $11,700 for the work of Create Impact in Ethiopia. I was elated and overjoyed at this and the generosity of all involved, this amount of money will enable a new school to be built this year, similar to the one being built below.
I had wanted to share more about Ethiopia and my travels with Create Impact in 2019, and I wrote the post below in late December, just before the bushfire crisis hit Australia. Then the timing did not feel right to share it, and it didn’t feel right till now.
The auction above had been planned well before the bushfires, but it still was a big discussion as to whether or not we proceeded. In the end we figured that the people Create Impact support, still needed us, and I felt overjoyed last night at the successful outcome of the auction.
So, here goes with my back dated post. I am going again this year in October, so if you think this is something you would like to do too, then please get in touch with the Georgina at Create Impact; firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a blog post I have been meaning to write. One the kind I have not written for a while. A real blog post. A more personal one. It has taken me a while to write it. Because, as I suspected it might, Ethiopia changed me somehow, but as with most changes, you can only see the change looking back. No doubt there is more to come. But, here is the story for now.
Like many of those of my generation who were children in the 1980’s I had seen Ethiopia on the television. The drought and consequent famine that struck the country left it devastated and it was the subject of many advertisements asking for donations and the like. I remember being distraught by it and unable to understand how we could not do more. It stung my heart and I resolved that one day when I grew up, I would go to Ethiopia and do something to help.
Anyhow, I got older. Reality set in as it does. The problems and distractions of my own life took over, and I forgot about the plans and desires of my childhood self.
However, it would seem that what was buried in my heart was to make its way back to the surface. Fast forward thirty something years and through a series of serendipitous events I met Georgina Fenton. One of the founders of Create Impact NGO, an organisation working in Ethiopia, (I have written about this here before when they were known as School’s A Gift). To cut a long story short, I was so touched by what they were doing I said I would love to contribute and be involved in some way.
So, In October this year, after several projects and some fund-raising. I found myself in the surreal position of boarding a plane with Georgina and a group of others to visit the country I had thought so much about, and that I had had in my heart since I was a child.
We first flew to Dubai and then to Addis Abiba, the capital of Ethiopia. From here we drove several hours a day, covering in the end, a large chunk of the countryside. The experience was very unlike anything I have ever done before and also so very different from what I had expected.
Similar to Australia, there is a great variation in the landscape. Ethiopia being the “rooftop” of Africa, meant there are parts of the country that are at high altitude and also quite cool. We drove through the lake and mountain areas and then we progressed in our travels until we came to a flat and more arid landscape. Ethiopia is densely populated and every inch of arable land is farmed. Much of the countryside is picturesque and I constantly pulled out my camera. A large percentage of the population live very simply, and I was impressed with how little they waste and how cleverly they use the resources they have. I felt there was much that could be learned from their way of life.
The trip to Ethiopia appealed to my sense of adventure. There are no roadhouses and as we drove toilet stops had to be made rough by the side of the road. To avoid catching water borne disease we drank from the plastic bottles, these I hate so much at home, however in Ethiopia they are quickly collected, often by children and then reused or recycled. You never quite know what to expect around the next corner. Driving on roads where the rules are loose and sheep and donkeys wander freely was an adventure all by itself.
I enjoyed the Ethiopian food which is largely a simple diet. It reminded me of the vegetarian cooking from my childhood. Sugar doesn’t appear that often, but they do have the most beautiful honey I have ever tasted. It is farmed in bees nests which sit precariously high in the trees. I especially enjoyed the “fasting” food, which is a platter of various meat and dairy free (vegan) dishes served with the traditional flat bread, injera (you can spot it in the mural we painted for the kids), which is a kind of fermented pancake. Most of the homes are without power and running water and plumbing, and the people work hard to cover the basics. I felt sharply aware of the contrast to my life back in Australia and all the things I take for granted, which make my life easy (at least in practical ways), in comparison.
It was several days into the trip that I realised how much I felt like “myself” in Ethiopia. I felt the childhood joy of simply being alive begin to flow through my veins again. The joy of being in community, and of being in service. I began to re remember some of my childhood plans for how my life would be. I drew a lot while we travelled and wrote and thought about my life and how I could be doing things better.
I was reminded of how little I needed to be happy and how attached to my “stuff” I had become. How so much of what I thought mattered, actual didn’t matter so much.
After more than a week of driving we came into Lalibela, which is famous for its spectacular rock cut churches. It is in this area that the majority of the Create Impact projects have taken place, the welcome we received when we arrived at the school was so beautiful and so humbling. I cried, most of us did, with the overwhelming emotion of it all. Literally the whole village turned out to meet us. Singing and dancing as we came down the road. Men, woman and children, the whole village turned out for a celebration that lasted many hours.
The next day I visited the local paint shop to get supplies and then along with two other Australian artists, Casey Burrell and Emma Gale and a local Ethiopian artist Tizazu we all set about painting a mural down the 30 metre long side of the Segno Gebeya School building. This school had been built with funds raised by Create Impact. Previously lessons here had been held under the trees. We had help then from whoever wanted to pitch in, and it only took us a couple of hours to have the whole wall done. There was a buzz and an excitement in the air and I had goosebumps up and down my spine several times, at the joy of being there.
Emma and Casey did the symbols for the abc, Tizazu did the Almaric letters and I did the English alphabet.
It is hard to convey how happy everyone was for us to have painted this, and you have to imagine a school without posters, very few books and overall not a lot of colour. So, it was a satisfying, rewarding and wonderful thing to be able to do this and have everyone so happy and so engaged.
We also gave the children a big piece of linen and they used the left over mural paint to make a beautiful big artwork. This I packed up and brought home to Australia with me for it to go into an art auction to raise money for Create Impact. We also left paint for them to paint their own murals, which I hear they did with gusto after we left.
So, now I write this in December. As I sit and reflect on all the things that took place in 2019 and on all the things I learnt about myself. I learnt that it makes me happy working with others and that this is the kind of work I need to be doing more often to be my best self. Not so much the things that are good for my CV etc.. but the things that connect me to my childhood me. The one who loves people. That loves community and needs connection. That doing projects that bring joy, that add colour and beauty to people’s lives adds so much more to mine.
This is the challenging thing about being an artist and balancing doing these things with with needing to pay bills and to put food on the table and what I love also being a job. But it is a challenge we all share I know. The life of being a self employed person is always one of having to trust in serendipity and fate. And trusting that what comes around goes around. So I do feel like putting this good will out into the world will have it come back around and make the world softer for me too in return .
If you would like to be involved or help Create Impact you can check them out here. It is an organisation which is run with much care and an approach that works to strengthen the communities they work with from within. There is also another trip going to Ethiopia in 2020 and so if you are interested you can email email@example.com for more information.
If Ethiopia is not your thing, then I encourage you to sit and think about what your childhood self wanted to do. We are living in challenging times. The work needs more volunteers, more community, more passionate people!
Simeon Mountains (high altitude swing).