In 2011, I was traveling for work, getting ready to leave the next week for East Africa. However instead of driving to the airport to fly home, I drove myself to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Half a year and several infections later, I rescheduled my trip, uneasy about traveling with chronic abdominal issues.
The first weeks of my trip were tough. I couldn’t enjoy myself. And, then I arrived in the beautiful country of Ethiopia to do partner research for Gratitude Alliance.
Ethiopia is an amazing place for the senses.
The awe-inspiring, rock-hewn holy sites of Lalibela, the rich smell of roasted coffee and popcorn, and the tangy and spicy taste of injera with doro wot immediately pulled me out of my anxious head and into the present moment.
But it's the people of Ethiopia who are truly amazing.
I met so many kind, gentle, and caring people - every one of them passionate about helping their communities and their country - and all of them equally eager to share with me about the history and traditions of Ethiopia.
But it's the kids who really made a lasting impression. Our local partner cares for HIV positive youth. Most of them are also orphans who have watched their mothers and fathers die slowly, then quickly from HIV/AIDS.
For the younger ones, you wouldn’t know about their stories just by looking at them. Like all kids, their laughter is music – they just want someone to share it with. For the older ones, the sadness in their eyes is deep. And, the uncertainty they have about the future is real.
It was clear that the older kids required a different kind of support. Ready to transition to adulthood, they needed life and job skills, local mentoring, activities to integrate them into the community, and something to give them confidence and hope for the future. For many of them, that hope was for independence, agency - the chance to build a life for themselves.
For me, this trip was a lesson in gratitude.
As my pain and anxiety eased away, I didn’t feel pity or guilt - although clearly my own health issues were minuscule by comparison. Rather, I felt the sting of the injustice that has led the global community to ignore this crisis. And, at the same time, I felt gratitude for the beauty of the children and their country, and for the lesson I learned that there is always something to hope for.
The best way that I could express my gratitude was to give back to humanity. And, the best way that I could address injustice was to leverage my relative power and privilege, raise awareness, and advocate for the youth.
Healing Together is just one small way that we can all express our gratitude and commitment to a better future. I invite you to join us in this movement. It will not only enrich the lives of others - it’ll change your life as well.