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June 4, 2015

I’m going to be honest here. I failed.

When my little sister, Leah, and I took time from our family trip to Ethiopia in the summer of 2015 to volunteer at Fregenet Kidan Lehitsanat School, I don’t think either one of us realized how much of an impact it would leave on us. We enjoyed our experience with the students and teachers so much that still today, we have them on our minds. We had them on our minds when we held a garage sale and donated all the money that was made to the Fregenet Foundation. But we’ve also had them on our minds as we, at our respective schools, have tried various ways to raise more funds. That is where the problem began.

In the upcoming fall, I will be a junior attending Duke University where I am a part of a group called DESTA (Duke Ethiopian/Eritrean Student Transnational Association). This past year, we attempted to stage a number of events in which we also tried raising money for the Fregenet Kidan Lehitsanat School. We had a coffee shop on campus, Joe Van Gogh, donate some Ethiopian coffee to us so that we could gather donations. We had someone do beautiful Henna designs for people. We even sold food and held a large poetry slam event. But to our dismay, the money raised was dismal. To be blunt, even the few that had given, well, it felt like many of the, were giving to us more out of pity at our failed attempt than they were out of a deeply rooted urge to aid this great foundation. And I think that when I made this revelation, that’s when I realized that, I had failed.

I had let down those beautifully inspiring children who I wanted to help out so much.

What I’d failed to do from the beginning was evoke passion. What I’d failed to do was start from the bottom. My failure came from the fact that although I knew and understood the depth of great importance that this school holds for these less fortunate children of Ethiopia, others did not. They knew the poster version: Ethiopian children. And unfortunately in Western media, the word “Ethiopia” itself seems to be synonymous with starvation. Seeing as how many of us in DESTA have grown up in America, it does not surprise me that, even within our root-appreciating group, many don’t fully understand importance of the Fregenet Foundation.

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When people exploit Ethiopia’s name as a means to demonstrate how their lives could be as “terrible as that of an Ethiopian”, I am immediately angered. I aim to defeat that perception. While everyone seems to think that all Ethiopians are struggling, they have also grown numb to hearing about the struggles of an Ethiopian and how funds should be raised for them all. So hearing about a school for those who cannot afford basic necessities that happens to be located in Ethiopia just doesn’t register in the same way that a new world tragedy seems to. And that’s the problem.

This upcoming year, I plan to more fervently work with DESTA as well as other organizations on campus to raise funds, but more than that: I aim to grow awareness. The awareness I plan to build is not one for all of Ethiopia, which is being wrongly labeled by Western media to this day, but in fact, for this foundation and its children. I want to raise awareness of this amazing foundation that supports those young students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who cannot afford school supplies, uniform, health care, food, books, etc. I want to exaggerate the fact that although this school only has enough money and space for those in preschool through fourth grade, it continues to support those students even after they’ve gone on to higher grades.

This assurance of continued support even after leaving the school is selfless. Even in those times when the foundation may struggle to get the necessary support it needs, it makes sure that its children will not.

I’ve learned a lot from my failings this past year but I refuse to stop and settle and allow the future of these children to be anything less than that which they deserve. Their drive and thirst for education is beyond admirable, their respect and happiness, awe-inspiring. I promise to keep fighting for this foundation because I don’t know how I couldn’t.

Eden Ashebir