One of Roots Ethiopia’s core values lies in our belief that the most sustainable and long lasting change comes from Ethiopians helping Ethiopians. We trust in local ‘tibeb'(wisdom). This value also means you won’t often see our US based Board of Directors in images since we focus on local stories told in authentic ways by local women, teachers, children, elders, and neighbors.
Of course, I am often in Ethiopia, along with our smart, skilled, USA Board members and our local team members. Sometimes when I am working (listening is my biggest job) my colleagues capture me in the midst of the work. I see myself in these, and recognize you might like to ‘see’ these too, because many of you hear my voice and read my words in social media and email contact. I hear myself say, “it’s nice to put a face with a voice.” So today, I’m going to share some of me.
Most of the images are of me doing the ‘official things’ with communities of women, students, parents, and local officials; listening, meeting, drinking coffee, cutting the dafo dabo, speaking a few words of thanks, and doing more listening in an effort to really grow in my understanding of local priorities for lasting change.
One of my favorite things is meeting students — I meet many kids at school, but the context is usually very busy. Still, there are often special groups that involve one-to-one greetings with a handshake or a shoulder bump (or 3). When I meet students, we always say hello and they each tell me their name, which I carefully repeat, speaking with as much clarity and phonetic accuracy as possible. It’s a matter of GREAT importance to me to greet students by their first names and to speak those names clearly and with delight. I stay very focused, keeping my eyes and mind right on the student in front of me. I happen to enjoy this time greatly.
Recently I had the honor of meeting the new Roots Ethiopia school soccer team at Adilo School. I met about 48 athletes (24 girls on the girls team, 24 boys on the boys team), all of them grade 7 and 8 students. Here I am meeting Ruth, who is a great soccer player (a fine striker) and also a top 8th grade student. I’m thinking about Ruth today, as she is part of our Saturday Tutoring Program for 8th grade students. I really hope she excels at exam time! It will give her such a confidence boost and will set a tone for her entrance to 9th grade. Because that’s what we are hoping to accomplish with this soccer team — leadership on and off the field. We want Ruth to advance to grade 9 with no barriers to that next BIG step in her education.
I also really love spending time with teachers. After all, I am a former social studies teacher, and I feel a great kinship with teachers. I’m also playful at heart, and a game of ping-pong, beloved in Ethiopia, is particularly fun when I win with some hot shots across the table! I won this series of points, but was whisked away before Ato Alem and I could finish our game. I will admit to you, I also really like bending the norms and being a winning WOMAN!
When I am with our Self-Help Entrepreneurs (SHE) I witness their powerful connections to their families and their biggest motivation for success. The women say, “we do this for our children,” and I nod with solidarity because as a mother I know the full heart-ed efforts women give to their families. We see each other in these moments, and understand how we are connected despite living a great distance from one another. I say, “yes, I am a mother too, I know your motivation.” We share the journey. It is one of the most compelling parts of this work for me. What an honor it is to sit among these women to hear their stories and to feel their love for their families.
It is always an honor for a guest to cut the dafo dabo. I accept the honor, knowing the privilege it is to be among such amazing people in a spectacular country. We drink coffee as we smile and laugh, sharing in the rituals that are so important to Ethiopians. I’m so glad YOU are part of this vital partnership. I cut the dafo dabo in your honor too. Thank you.
Meghan Walsh, Board Chair