As I think about my recent trip to Ethiopia, I ponder life from a different lens. I think about my work as a coach, the wellness lifestyle I aspire to and enjoy. Yet, for countless people, those struggling to survive with daily necessities, the idea of transforming your life for the better, living out your dreams, seems like just that... a pipe dream. A joking matter. In the rural landscapes of Ethiopia, there is little need for my new vocation. I would be fresh out of luck. People need money, a good education, updated facilities in their home or school, a pen, new shoes, basics. Donkeys carry fresh water to homes without running water....which are the majority. Concerned about one's happiness quotient? I'm not too sure. It's survival mode.
I was in Ethiopia for a reason. The non-profit I founded with my mother & brother, h2 Empower, finally completed the community library we set to build and develop nearly 10 years ago. It's obviously been a long haul and when everyone wanted to give up, my mother Helen Boxwill did not. Perseverance. We did things the hard way, without big donors or grants, just fundraising little by little over the years. My family flew to Ethiopia for the grand opening celebration of the library. To actually see the fruits of my labor and that of my mother, friends and family was very moving. Government officials and VIP educators came from everywhere for this ceremony. I am told there is no other library as great as the one we built in an elementary school in all of Ethiopia. Libraries of that caliber would rarely be at the university level. This fact surprised me, but I saw the pride of all the students and faculty with my own eyes. The actual celebration was a life altering day that I may share at another time.
At a dinner with some educators, I asked one gentleman, an elementary school director, what he does for fun where he lives in rural Hosanna, Ethiopia. He looked at me bewildered. What did I mean by fun? I was told that where he lives people are striving to provide food, housing and basics, that there is no thought of having fun. After I put the pressure on, he did say he relaxes by occasionally going out to eat. That's about it. The idea of fun and relaxation differs wherever you go, but it did cross my mind, how lucky I am, to even have the luxury to realistically think about recreation, relaxation, indulgences....such as being on the trip in the first place.
While visiting the two- room home of a local family in Hosanna, a young boy asked me how much money it costs for me to fly to Ethiopia from New York. He was soooo shocked to hear it, he just couldn't believe it as he was converting dollars to birrs in his mind. It would take his mother an extremely long time to save up that money for such a flight. This kid was special, he has the smarts, I bet one day he will take a flight on his own accord. Despite his poverty, he is happy. He likes where he lives, pet goats and all. He told me so. Happiness is a mindset, regardless of your circumstances, you can make up your mind to enjoy life. He showed me that. Fun with homemade soccer balls made from plastic bags and patchworks of old fabric. I saw sooo many smiles from kids everywhere we went. So happy for what we would consider the smallest things....having me take pictures of them, the excitement of seeing strangers, offering of a banana or a pen. Very inspiring. These experiences ignited in myself and my family the gift of appreciation for life.
The kids taught me the most and I guess that's why mother keeps on going back to Ethiopia...to work diligently for those children...to help expand their world through education and a love of reading. Wellness and personal development may be a luxury in rural Ethiopia, but I experienced the joy, love and pride of the people. The kids are so loving, all wanting to hug, hold hands and kiss you. Too cute! No money necessary for that.