As many people know, I went to Ethiopia in May for two amazing weeks. There were four of us, and we hauled 12 huge hockey-sized duffle bags full of the shoes you donated to Gear West, t-shirts, medical supplies, and pens. We were in some of the poorest parts of Ethiopia, with our main focus being Wekin. They were just crazy about the shoes, many of the people have been without shoes most of their lives and are trekking long miles barefoot over rocky ground just to get to water.
Wekin only has a couple of wells that were built over the last few years through donors. Before then, children were dying from drinking water from the ground. They walk miles with yellow 5-gallon cartons on their backs that are recycled oil containers that they fill with water from the wells and carry back home. Latrines are new to them; I don’t think I’ll ever take a toilet for granted again. Only recently have they been getting small enclosures like port-a-potties with holes in the ground to go to the bathroom in. The mud huts made of manure and mud that they live in are slowly being upgraded to stick huts that sort of look like bird cages with air and light coming in between the sticks. And even though these people have very little, if you visit them, they want to give you everything they have.
We brought 28,000 pens that people donated. In Ethiopia, if you are a kid and don’t have a pen you can’t go to school. Kids so badly want pens that they are on the streets begging for pens instead of money. School is important to them; it means hope for a future. It means hope for their families. They have separate schoolhouses for those with disabilities. We brought Braille tools and books, some books on tape, and other equipment that a retired teacher donated so generously. We also brought donated art supplies for the kids. I really appreciated how much they valued education there.
Traveling to a place like Wekin, Ethiopia changes you. People have asked me how the trip was and it’s hard to say great when you see people have so little. It was life changing is my answer. The shoes you donated will be passed down from generation to generation within a single family until there’s nothing left of them. The shoes will be more holes than fabric before they retire them and the soles will be flat and warn through. There were still shoes being worn that were brought a few years ago, but instead of the oldest child wearing them, the youngest child is wearing them. They thank you. And the four of us who went to Ethiopia to give them the shoes thank you for letting us see the smiles on their faces when they received them. And Gear West thanks you for being our loyal customers, buying shoes from us, and giving your used shoes to those in need. Thank You!
If you would like to learn more about Wekin, Ethiopia please visit: befullandhangaround.com