2008 Ethiopia Trip Reflection: Nicole Oudenhoven

A Reflection by Nicole Oudenhoven

We are hot and sweaty and crammed into a once-white min van that is now coated in a thick film of dust. The air in the van is thick with the Ethiopian dirt that was stirred up as we made our way to the school, and the faint smell of vomit hangs in the air. The road we traveled to get here, if you can call it a road, was so bumpy that our bottoms are now sore from repeatedly being ejected from the seats. The earlier part of our five-hour journey was filled with jokes, laughter, and conversations that passed the time, but for the past hour little has been said.

As we eagerly exit the van, we take in our surroundings. The school campus consists of four concrete buildings large enough to hold two thousand students at once. The entire school consists of four thousand, but only half come at a time. On the wall of one of the buildings there are faded paintings of thinks that pertain to various educational subjects: a human body with anatomy labeled, a map of the world, the parts of a flower, and the English alphabet. In the center of the four buildings there is a grassy area, a sort of courtyard or field, where children have stopped their playing to stare at us, the foreigners. We are met with curious, cautious eyes, but our smiles are returned when we offer them. With each smile we give, the children come closer and closer, until their fear is replaced with trust, and they beg us over and over to take pictures of them. Here, the simple act of snapping a photograph can turn into a frenzy of children who swarm you and ask for you to take, "One photo! One photo!"

On the far side of the campus, we see the library, our destination. As we enter the building, we are struck by the smell of fresh-cut wood from the new furniture. The light brown wood shines on each of the ten long tables that serve as desks, and each table has six chairs to match. The library is void of students except for one table in the back where five children huddle around a stack of books, reading out loud in English. They read slow, and their voices are thick with the Ahmaric accent, but nonetheless, they can read.

The principal of the school wears one of the biggest smiles, and he immediately approaches us to embrace.

"Thank you," he says. "Thank you again and again for this wonderful gift."

The gratitude he feels for us is so great that it causes some of us to cry. In America, we take the simple action of being able to go to the library for granted, but here, having books to read is a privilege.

The principal's face glows, and he continues to smile from ear to ear as he says, "This school has been here for forty years. In all those years, this is our first library. Thank you."

There are four words to describe the reason we are here: Noel and Tammy Cunningham. For seven years they have been coming to Ethiopia to improve the living conditions for those who live here. They are the people who inspired the Colorado donors to raise money for this library at this school. They believe in connecting the developed world to the developing world, and we have just experienced first-hand one of the many ways this is done.

Like the principal of the remote school in Ethiopia, we are gracious for our opportunity. We are grateful to have been able to experience the magical works of Noel and Tammy Cunningham, and maybe we will be inspired to devote our lives, as they have done, to helping people in need in Ethiopia.