Taking a journey off the beaten track
By Alastair Stewart, imagine1day staff
The convoy of cars, packed with imagine1day supporters, takes a turn off the paved highway and begins its 38 kilometre climb up through windy mountainous roads towards the community of Dum.
This is remoteness at its core, the furthest off the beaten path you could ever be. Occasional sporadic houses dot the sparse and dramatic landscape. Even the mobile reception fades to nothing as we appear to venture further and further from civilization.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, people appear. A few at first, waving and smiling. Then hundreds. And then thousands.
We have arrived.
“Can we get out of the car and walk with them?” asks one of the participants who helped fund the school we are here to inaugurate. “Of course,” I reply.
We march towards the school, laughing and playing with the children as we go. The crowd grows and grows as more children come running towards us from across the landscape. Strangers grab your hand. The older children hold up welcome signs, bearing the names of the participants who are here to see the school they made possible.
Horns are honked. Drums are banged. People are dancing and chanting and laughing. It is a raw and visceral display of joy and celebration.
“My face hurts from smiling so much,” says one participant, as she snaps selfies with the large group of children surrounding her.
This is what it is like to arrive in a remote Ethiopian community and celebrate the opening of a school – a once-in-a-lifetime trip only possible with imagine1day.
The journey for the participants began months earlier, as each of them fundraised $10,000 towards the school they helped make possible. Some challenged their friends and family to join them and make a difference in the world. Others held fun events and put the proceeds towards their contribution. Businesses, like Cactus Club Coquitlam and Traveller Collective, raised money and sent their staff or customers on the trip.
It was hard work, but it paid off, with each taking a life-changing journey and making a life-changing impact.
Mulu Gashaye is one of 520 children whose lives were changed thanks to the fundraising of our trip participants. She started school four years ago, at the age of 11.
“I want to pursue my education and become a teacher or doctor. Thanks to my enrollment in school; otherwise, I would have remained like my parents – just a farmer.
“Farming in my community is so unpredictable and very much dependent on availability of rain. Even in a good year, the produce is largely hand-to-mouth. We sleep on the bare floor; we don’t even have proper mattress. I do not want to have a life like that. I can live a better life if I become a teacher or doctor. I can see that my teachers have a better life than farmers.”
Mulu’s first four years at school were tough. She studied in classrooms made of mud, spending entire lessons sitting on the dirt floor, a notepad on her knee. It was uncomfortable and difficult to concentrate. When it rained, the noise of the tin roofs drowned out the teacher.
It was also incredibly dangerous. At any moment the cracked and decrepit walls could have come tumbling down.
Today, Mulu studies in safe, warm and comfortable classrooms.
“I am so excited that we have now proper classrooms and desks,” she says, as she sits down at a desk for the very first time.
Together, the students and the participants leave the brand new classroom. There is a busy weekend ahead of campfire dancing, sports and games, a hike up a mountain, and many new friends to make.