Volunteering with Ethiopia Reads: Experiences and Perspectives [Part 5]

This is the final 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

[Continued from Part 4...]

When I think back on my time at Gebeta, even now before I’ve left Ethiopia, it’s hard to decide what to remember. Her? Him? The library itself, empty, before the kids have arrived? My meandering, fatigue-induced meditations in the back of a taxi, fueled by the sounds of traffic, on my way to or from the library? If laughter and lack of stress really do help learning, then it’s not unrealistic to imagine that I have every single Gebeta-related thing that I did permanently engraved in my memory. Gebeta was a refuge for me, an escape from the hecticness of the rest of life, somewhere that allowed me to laugh a lot and be stress-free for a while. The faces of children who are in a library and happy to be there give me a feeling that I don’t think anything else can match.

I don’t know if the kids learned anything thanks to my being there. I don’t know what they think about me or my country. I don’t know what I learned, or what I gained, or why I was there. I don’t know if anything will change once I leave. I hope that my presence there taught them something - about themselves, about me, about English, about the world indeed being a complicated place in which a young white man can somehow end up in a library in Addis Ababa. But more than that, I hope that I was somehow able to give them some small part of that peace that I found with them. Whether it’s the idea of someone out there looking out for them, or a renewed sense of safety within the library, or the simple but profound realization that America is a real place with real people, not just some ideal of freedom and wealth that they’re supposed to work tirelessly for and never achieve, I hope that they saw in me some kind of relief from the perceived pressures of their lives. I hope that they were able to find some sort of comfort, even for just a day, from the rest of their difficult lives, just like I found comfort in their ear-to-ear smiles and heavy accents and dirty clothes. And I hope, too, that I’ll be able to come back in a year to find that same euphoric relief in those dozens of Ethiopian smiles.