Living Youth, the Diocese of Down & Connor’s Youth Commission, and Ulster University sent a joint team of 14 young people to Ethiopia with Habitat for Humanity to build toilet blocks for two communities there, and some of the young people wrote a diary of their time.
After an extremely long trip, we arrive into Addis Ababa in the early hours of the morning and we are warmly greeted by Zerihun (Zi), our Habitat rep. He escorted us to our team bus to make the journey to our hotel.
Immediately we felt a culture shock. Most of the buildings we drove past were in desperate need of repair. To us they looked unsafe and unsanitary. After a nap, we were greeted by the Habitat reps in Ethiopia; Zerihun, Dereje and Elias.
Dereje led us through our orientation and shared some shocking statistics: 90% of homes are in need of repair in urban areas, 70% of people do not have access to piped water but 6,000 people have been served through the Habitat NI Ethiopia Partnership.
He explained that we were part of a new project, tasked with building toilets for the people in Addis as the majority of the population do not have access to water and sanitation facilities.
This was our first day of work so we got up early, packed our day bags and made our way onto the bus. We said our team prayer together and discussed our hopes for the day ahead.
We were split into two teams to work on two sites a couple of miles apart. Lauren led one group and Kiera led the other. We were showered with flowers and hugs by the people who resided at the sites.
Mazarat greeted us on arrival and told us that she would be our Ethiopian mother while we were in Addis. The people were so lovely – they had so little but they were full of joy and they have so much love to give. The families were eager to help us on site. A group of teenage boys led the charge. They were unbelievably strong and so keen, barely stopping for rest or water breaks.
One boy in particular didn’t even own a pair of shoes, so he was walking barefoot over stones, cement and rubble – it didn’t faze him. We carried blocks, mixed cement, shovelled mud, played with the children, attended a coffee celebration, danced, sang and most importantly we got to know the people who lived there and heard their inspiring stories.
One story in particular moved us to tears; A mother and her two children aged five and three were made homeless a few weeks before we arrived. When Mazarat became aware of their situation she invited them to be part of their little community.
They now sleep on a floor in the communal kitchen and they have food to eat and clean clothes to wear. These are basic human essentials that are necessary for survival – things we take for granted.
We swapped sites so that we could experience both communities, meet more people and hear more inspirational stories. Rosa was our host and she was an absolute delight, she had a toilet in her house but the rest of the community didn’t have access to one so she allowed Habitat to build at the back of her house.
There were a lot of children living in this community and it was so lovely playing with them and teaching them some of our games.
Children as young as three were lifting shovels and helping us mix cement – it was truly heart-warming.
There were less people helping out on this site so we really had to get stuck in as there was a lot to do. We left the site saturated in mud, drenched from a downpour and ready for our dinner after a very fruitful day.
Over the weekend we got to explore Ethiopian culture. We went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant and experienced their food, music and dancing. We joined the dancers on stage and showed off our, not so good, dance moves!
We also journeyed up the Ras Dashen mountain – this is the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the tenth highest mountain in Africa. It reaches an elevation of 4,550 metres. When we got to the top we visited the museum and an old castle. We noticed that there were masses of people sitting around, Zi informed us that the majority of these people were sick and they were waiting for holy water to arrive so that they could be cured of their ailments.
One little girl, aged around 10, was covered in her own sick and dirt as she begged us for water. It was heart-breaking seeing all these people in such despair, we prayed hard that evening.
Counting the number of days left made us feel sad as we started to think of our goodbyes. Hannah always helped us on site and her passion was to dance, so we taught her to jive!
Mazarat taught us some of their traditional dance moves, it was a lot of fun. Adana was only five but he was super strong and dedicated to helping complete the toilet blocks. He was such an endearing and loving little boy. Despite his hardships his smile never left his face.
The toilet blocks quickly took shape from nothing to foundations, then the work began mixing cement, carrying and laying blocks, shovelling mud and moving dirt and rubble. It was heavy work and we now have the muscles to prove it!
Everyone in our team got involved with the community in Ethiopia. Together we worked, danced, played football, prayed, reflected, played with the kids and socialised. We felt like a family.
The last day on site was without doubt the hardest day we had. We went as a team to visit the two communities to say our final goodbyes. When we arrived the people came running towards us with smiles and hugs! Their new toilet block will be used by 20 families and they are all so excited.
We hoped to make an impact on this community by fundraising and then using our skills and talents to build a toilet block and to build hope. It became clear very quickly that the impact that this community made on every member of our team was much greater and will stay with us forever.
Mazarat told us that she felt so blessed by God to have met us, we felt the same. With tears in our eyes, we made the short trip to the second community to say our final goodbyes there. We all got to play together one last time. Before we left, we enjoyed a celebration at Rosa’s house, with injera (traditional Ethiopian bread), popcorn, bananas and coffee, as we showed off our new Ethiopian dance moves!
Their new toilet block will be used by 70 people. A 76-year-old woman, at Rosa’s house, told us that she has never even seen a proper toilet before. To our surprise, all of the families from the two communities gathered together in a local hall to present us with our Habitat certificates and to throw us a party!
It was such a lovely way to end our time with this beautiful community. We are so grateful that they welcomed us into their communities with open arms. We will never forget them.
Source: The Catholic Charities
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