Ale Walker Reflects on Service Trip to Ethiopia

This week, Wildcat student-athletes are one the second of two UK Athletics service trips to Ethiopia. Over the coming days, they will take turns sharing their experiences in a series of Cat Scratches blog entries. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics. Today, Ale Walker writes about the group's visit to a boys' home.

By Ale Walker

What a week it has already been! As we near the last few days of our journey here in Ethiopia, I can say my heart has never been so full with love and joy. Coming into this trip, I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the things I may see or experience after hearing from others about their trips and what they have taken away. It is to no surprise that what they attested to is true, but it is something you have to experience yourself to really understand the impact it will have on your life.

Today, we went to visit a boys' home here in Addis called the Hope House. These boys were victims of living off the streets either due to the stress put on their household for supporting another child, which their parents could not afford, abandonment, or their search for a better life. 

They are led by a man named Ermais. He is the one who took these boys off the street and enrolled them in his program at the home. We got the opportunity to share a meal with the young men and hear their stories on how they got to the home and how the program has changed their lives. We had pizza, which they all loved on this special occasion!  

It was such a wonderful experience to hear their testimonies firsthand. One boy told us of how he was living on the streets for 10 years before he was found by Ermais. He told us of how he had become hopeless and never thought he had a purpose in this life. He was abandoned by his parents at a very young age due to their inability to take care of him. He was living day to day in search for food, just trying survive on what little food or water he could find. 

Once he was taken into the home, he said, Ermais showed him love and what it was like to have someone care for him for the first time in his life. He said that on the streets, people could give him money, anyone could, but no one could give him love. It takes a great person to give someone love, but a special person to give love to a stranger, someone who has no relation to him or her. 

It would affect Ermais none if he chose not to take this boy in, but he did. Why? Because as children of God, that is what we are called to do. We are called to love others and care for others just as Jesus would, regardless of their race or whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick. These children are starving on the streets and all they long for is someone to love and care for them. 

Ermais is a man of God who gives not only love, but also his time and his grace. He had every opportunity to be a successful man in Addis, yet he chose to give his life to these boys, to better them and give them hope in a world so broken.  It was so moving to hear this from the boy and listen to how sincere and grateful he was for the opportunity to have a future and to have dreams because of the Hope House. All of the boys, having gone through the program, have jobs and are supporting themselves. After they answered our questions, they asked us a couple, "How will you take what you have experienced here and use it back home and in your lives?" And, "What did you take away from your experience here?"

First hearing this, I thought, "Wow, what amazing questions." Though this is one of the main purposes of this trip, doing something about what you have learned to better yourself and hopefully others, when hearing these questions asked out loud, it really hits home. What are YOU going to do in your lives, what are you going to change, how are you going to change?

What I will take away most from this experience is the gratefulness they have for what they are given, even under such harsh circumstances. I will remember how beautiful and contagious their smiles are when a simple wave is given and how joy overcomes them in that very moment. I will take away how everyone is more concerned with how YOU are doing than themselves and how it is more important to give to your brother than to receive. 

When I return I hope to always remember what this trip has taught me. I hope to remember that no matter how difficult my situation is or how low life may get, there is always room to smile, and there is always room to laugh and love. And to always, always follow our passions. God put them in our hearts for a reason and he wants to see us pursue them. I cannot wait to see what the next couple days have in store for us, and I can't wait to be back in the States to share more about our journey here!