Volunteering with Ethiopia Reads: Experiences and Perspectives [Part 1]

This is one part of an ongoing series chronicling the volunteering experiences of Nick Thayer, who recently returned from a 2 month visit to Ethiopia Reads schools and libraries in Addis Ababa.

By Nicholas Thayer

Sammy, Nati, Surafi, Nardos, Hanna, Tigist, Fraol. Semhal, Yemisrach, Bronn, Kalkidan. The girl with the crazy hair; the girl with the black mark in the white of her eye; the hilarious boy with the smile of an angel; the girl who promised to shoulder dance for me before I left; that one adorable little boy who is terrified of me and doesn’t understand a word of English but somehow excels at Simon Says. The 3-year old who burst into tears literally within seconds of seeing me for the first time, and the 4-year old whose front tooth got pushed into a fight against my knee and lost. Yosef, who can barely read English but still gives it a go every time I ask him to, and the countless others like him.

Nameless faces, faceless names, named faces, faces and names. People with whom I have nothing in common, apart from a few brief moments in time during which we happened to be in the same geographical place in the world. And yet, people with whom I have shared so much. People who I would love to get to know better, but can’t because of geography, the one thing that originally brought us together. People - all smart, all kind, some shy, very funny, good-looking, quite talented, and certainly destined for something greater than their local children’s library. But then, what could possibly be greater than a children’s library?

Ah, Simon Says...a game that communicates so much more than my broken Amharic or their timid English ever could, and yet that we only started within the last 3 weeks of my time here. And the Hokey-Pokey. I had the pleasure of teaching that on a day when we had about 10 kids in the library; doesn’t sound like much, but when they all speak only minimal English, teaching American culture suddenly becomes more difficult. This meant that I wasn’t sure at first whether or not I would be able to give the individual help I thought they needed to actually learn it, instead of just leaving them confused about the white guy singing some weird song and dancing like a drunken ape. In the end, they all learned it at least 80% of perfectly within an hour and a half; one kid came back two days later and pulled me aside to show me the whole thing. (I can still picture him practicing that first night in his house, determined to not let me down.) I have a hard time writing longingly about 7-Up, the third game we played regularly...it seemed that the kids were always able to tell when it was me touching their thumb, and I was rarely able to do the same. I suspect cheating.

Check back soon for the Part 2 in Nick's story!