When I first arrived in Ethiopia I thought I was seeing true poverty. Shabby stores, garbage lined streets, and beggars appeared to indicate many people were in desperate need. It turned out I simply did not understand the whole picture. The World Food Prize awarded me an international internship which meant leaving my family and comfortable American life behind. I stayed in the capital city, Addis Ababa, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) where I spent my summer interacting with researchers from around the world. As part of my internship, I travelled to rural villages and observed as the researchers conducted a ram (sheep) selection activity. This whole internship sounded so glamorous! I was going to work alongside people who had dedicated their lives to solving world hunger. In reality, it was not glamorous; it was humbling and eye-opening.
â–º Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
One of my first outings was in the south at a small lowland town called Awash. It is located within the Rift Valley and is quite hot. Preceding this trip, I had been in the highlands which looked more like America than an African country. There was green foliage, gently rolling hills, and many fields. Awash looked exactly how I pictured Africa; tan soil, scrubby grass, and camels everywhere. As we drove I began wondering what the villages were going to look like. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.
After turning onto what was supposedly a road, and driving about 10 miles through barren, desert landscape we came to our first stop. The villagers were all busy taking down their makeshift homes so they could move to find water. It was evident that everyone and everything was suffering from the effects of a drought. As I got out of the vehicle, the smell of rotten animal hit me like a brick wall. I looked to my right and saw dead calves, cows, sheep, and goats. Babies were crying, calves were bellering, and the sun’s rays were beating down relentlessly. This experience was very surreal; I felt like I was living a bad dream the entire time I was in this village. I could not believe people were living in such a way. The kids I encountered will never go school, attend a basketball game, ride a bike, or have a job.
Before this trip I never considered having a steady supply of nutritious feed for my livestock as a luxury. I just lived in my own comfortable, American world where I had everything I needed to survive yet, I wanted more. Being in Ethiopia opened my eyes to the rest of the world which we often forget about. No one cared that I served as our FFA chapter’s President or that I was chosen as one of eighteen students from across the United States to receive an international internship. It is easy to get caught up with making ourselves look good, but at the end of the day that is not going to improve the world in any way. This trip challenged me in ways most high school students never experience. I saw poverty and will have those memories for the rest of my life. After meeting some of the families and gaining an understanding of how deep their cultural history runs, I now realize this is not an easy task or merely for outsiders to dictate. This experience has further motivated me to make a difference. However, I now firmly believe true change will only happen if we find ways to improve their lives without compromising their beliefs or changing their cultural heritage.
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