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Friday, February 8, 2013

Guest blog from a first timer to Ethiopia

We asked Dave our new committee member to write up his experience of Dire Dawa as it was his first time volunteering with Youth Release, here's what he had to say:

"I travel quite a bit but I’ve never felt so connected to a country I’ve never been to before as I do with Ethiopia. I’ve been volunteering with Youth Release for a couple of years; mostly maintaining the website. In Aug/ Sept last year both Niamh and Laura decided to go to Dire Dawa and invited me to come along. I was very excited by the prospect, for years been watching the project process through the photos relayed to me from the volunteers and our Ethiopian partners and finally I would have the chance to see it for myself.

Flying into Dire Dawa brought back memories from a previous trip to Tanzania a few years ago. The scenery and the feel of the place were familiar. By the end of the trip I had learned how different the two countries are! What immediately struck me is the rapport that the Youth Release team have with the local community; from the bishops and community leaders right down to the street children. How am I supposed to remember all these names!? 

 On previous volunteering trips with other organisations the volunteers had been isolated from the community, ‘released’ to perform their specific function and then returned to the apparent safety of the compound. While I understand this maybe a necessity in some parts of the world, war zones for example, it should only be used as a last resort any where else I feel. The benefit gained from engaging with the local community, being seen out and about and making connections may not be realised immediately but over time it’s a powerful tool. It was obvious Youth Release is achieving this right from the start of this visit.

Although the trip was short, just 10 days, we had a number of very important functions to carry out. The morning after our arrival the first of our many meetings began. Finances, new implementations, future project phases, and strategy both at home and in Ethiopia were discussed with our local partners and the local staff. 

The afternoons were generally left to visit different parts of the project. For the Youth Release team seeing the Youth Centre open, fully functional and catering for 200 kids was a moment the team had dreamed of for 5 years. The kids now have the education facilities including the library and classrooms, the resources including teachers, councillors and materials and space where they can play and just be kids which is something taken for granted at home but is a luxury in Dire Dawa.

Youth Release has a recent initiative where by a person can sponsor an adolescent through a vocational training program. These kids now can be trained in a skill where, after 18 months, will be qualified and can provide financially for their family. We got to visit a number of the vocational training workshops .The guys are showing remarkable talent in carpentry and joinery, while the girls are becoming proficient hair stylists. 

Another important afternoon was spent visiting some of the Youth Centres kids’ families. In many cases the child has lost at least one parent if not both. Life is a struggle for the families and the community, they are experiencing the worst drought since the 1980’s and that was a far more publicised event thanks to the efforts of Bob Geldoff. But they are resilient and hopefully. I’ll always what an elderly man said in passing us ‘it’s great to see white people here again’. He didn’t say it as if he was looking for a saviour more so that the international community had taken notice of the difficulties they face.

The final task was to paint the Youth Centre. It probably had not seen a coat of paint since its previous incarnation as a leprosy clinic decades ago. Deciding the choice of colours may not have been our most important meeting but it provoked much discussion during the week. Once the compromise was reached we bought the paint ready for the following morning. We had reckoned it would take 2 or 3 days to paint the building itself with the numbers we had but when we arrived the following morning the task had already begun! Some of the teachers, social workers, and older kids from the community had beaten us too it! It was a great day, with everyone helping out and we got though the work much quicker than we thought.

 With all the meetings wrapped up and the Youth Centre painted we were guests of honour at a coffee ceremony held on the Youth Centres grounds. It seemed like most of the community squeezed in to watch the colourful local dancing and stage performances and to enjoy the locally brewed coffee.

While the ground work is done and we can now see how the youth centre and the vocational training is benefiting the local community, the task is still enormous. The number of orphaned street children is vast but I return to Ireland reenergised and more determined by the work Youth Release has done and the opportunities in the future to make a difference there"

 Dave is taking on the  GaelForce Connemara Adventure Challenge on May 11th to raise much needed funds for Youth Release 

If you would like to support Dave as he takes on the challenge you can support him here: 


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