Day 5: WV Micro/Leadercast Trip - Angolola (plus a new song by Laurie)

Note: Skip to the bottom if you want to read the lyrics to Laurie's new song!

Sunrise over Angolola ADP

An incredible start to the day today - Nathan, Ben, Brian and I got up early, very early, so we could have our Lion King moment; you can’t come to Ethiopia and not try to catch a sunrise. We were packed into our vehicle and on our way by 4AM to pick up our guide, and Vision Fund representative, Masay. I intended to get sleep on our way to our destination, about 2 hours from our hotel to the World Vision Angolola ADP (Area Development Project), but the ride, even pre-dawn was exciting and filled with great conversation.

Driving through the fog as we climbed to an altitude of 3,000 meters, we prayed silently for clear skies but as we neared our destination it was obvious that we wouldn’t be having the moment we expected. Not all was lost however, as the sky brightened in the east, a gap in the cloud cover opened up revealing a majestic plain with distant mountains visible. Nathan and Ben work to get good video that will be used to help tell the story of our trip.

When we are ready to continue we load back into the car and thank God for the heat it offers; at this elevation, the early mornings are cold. I can’t help but think of the families we will be visiting today. From our ‘Kodak Photo Spot’ to where we will meet Neguse and his family is about another 20 minute drive, most of which is off road through fields that from a distance appear flat but up close and personal are anything but. The closest approximation I can make is to the “Pink Jeep” tour that my dad and I took in Sedona, AZ a few years ago and remains one of my best memories. This one will be memorable for other reasons and I know that Laurie and Luke will get to experience it when they arrive in a few hours.

At the end of the drive we need to hike about half a kilometer up to the little village to meet Neguse and his family, We pass the well that is used by the village and I am impressed by how clean it is - fenced in with care and protected. I am surprised that the well isn’t busy but quickly realize that it is still vey early. The hike up is filled with anticipation - today we will actually meet an entrepreneur that we have directly benefitted. I am emotional but determined to refrain from visibly showing it.

We see Neguse standing out on the hill that leads to his home - a lone figure out in the morning light. We see each other from a distance - I know who he is but to him I am just another white face. When we meet we are not introduced beyond our names. I can’t help but grasp his hand a little longer than is normal feeling the strength in his rough hands.

A school assignment hung on the wall of the room serves as a point of pride and wallpaper.

Neguse invites us into one of the buildings in his small compound and we are immediately impressed not only by the structure but by its intended use. Random newspaper is plastered to the rough mud and hay walls but numerous school assignments are peppered throughout making this room the world’s largest refrigerator door. We are in a study hall that doubles as their welcoming room. This is the moment I have been waiting for - I get to break the news to Neguse that it was Laurie and I that funded their most recent loan to purchase a heifer. I am emotional when I tell him and Masay translates for us. There is a universal language, however, that needs no translation. Neguse beams with pride and immediately starts thanking me. I want to get up and hug him but I know that could be culturally verboten. I learn more about his family and that he has taken nine other loans previously and successfully repaid all of them.

Meet Meet "Bessie" - a Heifer that Hot Sauce 4 Good provided through a Micro Loan

Before the six other members of our party arrive, I am introduced to the heifer that he purchased with the loan we funded. I find out that the Ethiopian word for “spotted” is her name but I can neither pronounce or guess at the spelling so I will call her “Bessie”.  She’s a black and white cow but to me she is beautiful. I introduce myself to her but I get no response; I am convinced I can win her over but flirting gets me nowhere.

We hike up to the top of a steep hill to see one of Neguse’s plots of land to see where he grows beans, peas, wheat, barley and other grains that he will use to feed his family throughout the winter months and for seed when it is time to plant again.

As we wait for the rest of our party to arrive a spontaneous game of football (soccer) breaks out using a soft, homemade cloth ball stuffed with rags. I’ll blame it on the elevation but after about 10 minutes I have to call for a substitute and Brian takes over. Ben and Nathan are surprisingly resilient. The game grows from just the boys in the family to include the many cousins and friends that live in the area - children and adults.

There are many of the local World Vision Micro team available today so I spend some time with Tarikj and Yidnekachew, two of the loan/credit officers from the Angolola office. I learn some amazing facts from them about just this office. Currently there are over 860 active loans totaling over 3,000,000 birr ($585,000). They have a 98% loan repayment rate. I am sure that US banks would be thrilled to be even close to that! Every time a loan is provided, one of the loan officers visits the ‘client’ after the first month to see how they are doing and to provide any financial planning advice they can to help them maximize their investment.

Neguse's Family (and mine)

The rest of the crew arrives and we are again shepherded into their family/welcoming room. Laurie, Luke, Tripp, Karen and Brooke meet the family. In a way I feel like I know them already but I am happy to be introduced again.

We spend time with Neguse and his wife and they tells us their story. It’s a love story worthy of Hollywood; not having been exposed to the realities of life in Ethiopia I think it is unique, singular. Today will teach me a lot. I get to hear the story a couple times today - a more complete picture develops as the day proceeds. It’s a story that Neguse has told before and he falls into it with a quiet confidence. His wife is by his side and is proud of her husband.

Tamiru, Laurie, Brooke, Luke, Tripp, Nathan, Bob, Ben, Karen and Brian

After they had been married for a few years and had two children, the cows and oxen that they had been given as wedding presents died from an illness. Times were very difficult and Neguse saw no way to be able to feed his family. He spoke to his wife and told her that they should get divorced because she would be better off taking the children to her parents with the possibility of leading a normal and successful life. “We do not know what God has in store for us.” she told him, convincing him to stay married. It was at this time that he was introduced to Vision Fund and World Vision Micro. He was nervous to take out a loan but was guided through the process by the staff. “Praise God, the loan changed my life.” Neguse said, never looking back. Now on his tenth loan, he is an inspiration to his community, acting as the chairperson for his area (billet) guiding others to take advantage of the loans and the training and support in order to improve their lives.

They have been married now for 17 years, Neguse tells me that the secret to a successful marriage is to listen, communicate and love each other. Tripp, who is getting married in just three weeks from now asks for some advice. “Give each other love. Give each other your heart.”

We are formally introduced to their children - two boys and two girls. The oldest, Mahder, wants to be a scientist. Minda, the oldest  boy, and Desta, his younger brother are still very young and enjoy Ahmaric class. Aster, the youngest is shy but tells us that she loves English and math and wants to be a teacher of math. If the future of Ethiopia will be written by the children we have met on this trip then it is bright indeed.

We have brought some small gifts for the family which include dolls, stuffed animals, crayons, pens and pads and beach balls but I am most excited to present the family with a soccer ball. As we blow it up, the children’s eyes are wide. We all play a game of “keep it up” with the beach ball, including Negusu and his wife but it is obvious that the kids want to break in the soccer ball. The first game they play with it is volleyball! Go figure!!

Before we leave we are surprised with an incredible lunch that was prepared for us of enjera, beans, vegetables and a spicy pea paste. We have been spoiled and are honored and blown away by their generosity. No one wants to leave yet we know we must.  We pray with them and bid them goodbye.

We have spent almost seven hours with them today and we are sad to leave. We had a bond before ever meeting through the micro loan we funded through World Vision Micro but we have made a connection with each other today that will last a lifetime. In twenty years Neguse will be sitting around a table with his grand children talking about the time these Americans came to visit him. He will have doctors, teachers, scientists, leaders, fathers, daughters there with him. In my heart I know this. I pray that on the same day I am sitting around my dinner table talking about the time I was blessed enough to have had the opportunity to meet him. We have seen tangible proof of the ways that a micro loan has changed the lives of this family and this community. Now it is up to me to not let that be wasted and continue to work to change the lives of others.

Holy Flame

Lyrics by Laurie Ferretti, written on the ride back from Angolola ADP to our hotel in Addis Ababa
February 19, 2014

Patchwork quilt of green and brown,
Mountains touch the snow white clouds. Land so vast and full of life.
Beauty that my heart will hold.

Joy that comes from friendships made,
worlds now opened, thoughts have changed.
We Are all much more to Him, than what we own or outer skin.

It is hope that tells us that God is here.
In our darkest hour, we need not fear.
He will heal our lives when we change our way of seeing through our human lens.

And our hearts are free to soar to Him.
Our songs rise up in different tongues to the same Holy Ear.
We see each other as the same.
Fan in us Your Holy Flame.