Inside Ethiopia 2014

In October 2014, nineteen motivated young Jewish professionals from across the globe (Argentina, Australia, France, Hungary, Israel, Canada, England and the United States) were selected to take part in JDC Entwine's Inside Ethiopia trip. The program was a mix of education and service work designed to allow participants the opportunity to witness first-hand the meaningful work undertaken by JDC in Ethiopia as well as to "roll up" our sleeves and contribute to several of the JDC's rural projects.

Upon arriving at Addis Ababa we began to look below the surface, to see a side of the city and the local population that few visitors to the country are able to.  We met women who were pupils of technology and business training programs through the Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE), a program supported by the JDC, and toured local communities to see the women transferring their education into functioning small businesses. We also spent time with female college students who had access to higher education thanks to the support of JDC.

“This is tzedakah in action. This is tikkun olam in action.” These are the words that one of our fellow participants, Naomi Matlow, wrote after seeing JDC’s work on the ground.

Our main focus in Addis Ababa was observing and learning from the incredible Dr. Rick Hodes. Dr Hodes is an iconic figure in the medical world, having dedicated most of his life to working with children in Ethiopia suffering from severe spinal and heart problems. What was an initial 12-month mission - Dr. Hodes first arrived nearly three decades ago to assist JDC with Operation Moses - has become a life-long pursuit. Dr. Hodes is responsible for saving thousands of children's lives, facilitating life-saving surgeries for which patients travel to Ghana and India, at times for lengthy periods of treatment. We met patients who literally traveled days on foot and bus from the most remote parts of Ethiopia just to be seen by Dr. Hodes and his staff (including three JDC Global Service Corps fellows).

Dr. Hodes' incredible ability to look at every individual as a special soul has been well-documented in award-winning documentaries and books. It was not lost on anyone in our group how fortunate and lucky we were to spend such considerable time with him and soak up all we could from his fascinating story.  

A highlight of all JDC missions is Shabbat dinner with Dr. Hodes and his family, and our Ethiopian Shabbat was no exception. We spent a memorable Friday evening with Dr. Hodes and his clan - in addition to the five children he has adopted, there are upwards of a dozen patients who are at different stages in treatment and recovery that share his home. Shabbat was welcomed in Dr. Hodes' sukkah, with us wearing funky hats and singing an ensemble version of “If I Had a Hammer," a Dr. Hodes Shabbat tradition for many years.

From Addis we ventured north to Gondar, which until the 1980s was the heart of Ethiopia’s Jewish community. Following the successful Aliyah operations, in which JDC played an instrumental role, Ethiopia has seen its Jewish population decline. However, the needs of the greater Gondar community remain - and a number of JDC projects in the greater Gondar region promote sustainability and education. Our group was incredibly touched upon visiting water wells that had been built as part of JDC water development programs.

One of the unique aspects of our Ethiopian mission was the service component. The time spent working in rural Gondar on local JDC projects (deworming school children, painting and constructing new school classrooms) will never be forgotten. With each day that passed we were joined by more and more kids from the surrounding villages - instead of feeling like outsiders, we felt like part of the community. In a short span of time, and despite language barriers, we were able to make a connection with the kids who joined us through the bonds of human spirit.

It was a humbling experience in our lives that will stay in our hearts forever. We were constantly reminded how fortunate our lives are but more so the importance of helping and giving to others in life less fortunate, whether that be in the clinics of Ethiopia, the 70 other countries that JDC works or simply just in our own local communities on a daily basis. Our experience etched home to us the importance and need to give back to others, and is one that we are forever grateful for and look to apply in our own lives. 

“We truly saw so much while we were in Ethiopia. When you see something, it is hard not to only say something but to see something else within ourselves. There is so much opportunity to do good in this world and there is no shame in piggybacking on the good of someone else, therefore allowing more good to be done.” – Naomi Matlow, Inside Ethiopia participant

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May 5, 2015 at 1:58 PM




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