"Until this moment, I never understood how hard it was to lose something you never had.” – Anonymous. This was exactly how I felt as I listened to the testimonies of twelve young girls who had lost their parents. I remember feeling a great deal of sympathy for them, but I knew I could not even come close to the reality of what those girls were facing. Their lives were forever changed.
This past summer, I visited Ethiopia for the third time on a long-awaited vacation, not realizing the revolution I was soon to encounter. I explored the neighborhoods in which my parents had once lived, ate, played, and slept, reuniting with family I had not seen for almost seven years. I prayed inside the rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela, trekked through the streets, bargained for sugarcane, and heard the beautiful sound of the ancient language everywhere I went. Although it was completely different from the privileged life I lived in America, I found a true satisfaction in living the life of a genuine Ethiopian.
Throughout this meaningful journey, there was another reason I went: to help others in need. In those four weeks I spent in Ethiopia, I volunteered at two orphanages: a group home named “Joy House”, and the famous orphanage organization, Abebech Gobena. At these two orphanages, I shared some of the most heartfelt moments of my 17 years of living. Among Abebech Gobena’s hundreds of “children”, I felt an instant attachment with every child as I took my first step in the orphanage each day, greeted by a room full of warm smiles. Assisting them in Math, Physics, or whatever the subject, gave me such a fulfillment, not only because they were learning, but also because I could see the joy in their eyes as they understood the concepts and as I wrote “Excellent” on their perfect papers. This was true satisfaction.
As for the “Joy House”, it took a great deal of willpower to separate me from those girls. After just a few days of getting to know them, it was as if we became the best of friends. They danced the traditional Habesha Iskista for me and I sang the contemporary American songs for them in return. As our English Lessons continued, we laughed together at the mistakes created by our completely different accents, whether it was their speaking English, or my speaking Amharic. The true joy I felt from this experience came from the growth we shared together.
There was one moment, however, that I will never forget, and it has greatly impacted me. On my last day at “Joy House”, Selam, one of the girls, was recounting her testimony to me. Finishing her story, she said in her broken English, "In this home, with my sisters, I was saved. Jesus is now my life, my everything…and I am happy." To this day, those words never leave me. She has found contentment and bliss in spite of all that she has been through. She made me realize that I am truly blessed.
Before the voyage, something inside me had this unrelenting compassion for all, rich or poor, strong or weak, friend or enemy; and this experience had only strengthened my love even more. I thought that after the trip, I would be proud of myself for aiding others, but the truth is that I am more proud of the children, my friends, than anything else. They taught me the value of determination and hope, and that faith rises above all else. But most of all, they taught me something much more valuable: The Power of Love.
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