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A letter from Barbara and Larry Moir in Ethiopia

October 1, 2009

An Ethiopian journal

The road to Dembi Dollo was quite a journey. We left Addis Ababa on Wednesday, September 3, at 7:00 a.m. after packing the last few items around us in the Toyota Hilux quad-cab pickup. It’s a small truck with a four-by-four-foot bed. In addition to our driver Guteta, Barbara, our golden retriever Digger, and I were accompanied by Wayessa Hordoffa, the school’s physics teacher.

We have been given extra care and courtesy by those whom we have met—especially those of us with gray hair. The elderly, among whom I am counted, are shown respect due to their wisdom and advanced years. I will not confess to our hosts that they are wrong on both counts where I am concerned. Barbara is accorded respect as a woman by some, however we still sense that she is dismissed as unimportant by a fair number of men. We have yet to see how her students will respond to her, or to me for that matter.

Wayessa willingly gave me the front passenger seat, while he sat behind the driver, with Digger between him and Barbara. Digger loved having a new companion to travel with, sometimes laying his head, other times his upper body in Wayessa’s lap. Sometimes he offered an unwanted kiss. “Yucks!” as Peanut’s Lucy complained, “Dog lips!”

On the first morning of our trip to Dembi Dollo we stopped at 9:30 a.m. for about an hour in the town of Ambo where Guteta had the truck worked on for a mechanical problem. The left front locking hub on the four-wheel-drive truck had turned and locked, causing difficulty in steering. If driven much further we risked costly damage to the hub. A great deal of work had already been done to the truck during our two-week stay in Addis Ababa, including front end work and tires. Over 15 years old, the truck has seen very hard use on the roads around Dembi Dollo and on the school’s farm. It is the newest of the two vehicles owned by the school.

While much of the road from Addis Ababa is paved with asphalt, there are sections that have not been improved. The Chinese government is assisting the Ethiopian government with road improvement projects, but the roads into the southern and western areas of the country are of low priority. While the final four hours of our day-and-a-half trip were over roads that had some stone covering, at times Guteta navigated along a single dirt track. When we finally arrived on the outskirts of Dembi Dollo we had already traveled through several miles of sticky mud. There are no paved roads in Dembi Dollo. In the rainy season it’s just mud. During the dry season, it’s dust.

While in Ambo, Wayessa, Barbara, Digger, and I walked a half mile down the main street to a restaurant for a breakfast of cake and coffee. The coffee is espresso-like, served in small cups, and served already loaded with a great deal of sugar. If one orders coffee without sugar one is viewed as a bit strange, even for a foreigner. Coffee this strong needs sugar, even to me, and I learned to drink strong Italian coffee without sugar when I was 11.

Digger sure attracted a crowd in Ambo, Ethiopia. We should have charged admission as people gathered around him at a distance of six feet. Folks were calling to their friends on their cell phones and taking pictures of him while he stood calmly at our side amidst the growing hubbub. A local street stray came to investigate as well, and when he growled at Digger, our boy looked at him as if to say, “Are you talkin’ to me?” Then he turned his back on the other dog and sat down, completely unconcerned. The stray cocked his head from side to side a few times and walked away.

Few Ethiopians understand dogs as pets. The dogs of Ethiopia look something like the Australian dingo, rove in packs, are known to bite without provocation, and pick fights with other dogs at the droop of an ear. Some are kept as guard dogs. Few are petted or coddled.

There are other reasons people in Third World countries gather around foreigners. We are seen as a source of great wealth. We wake up in the morning and God throws money at us. This means we have an assumed responsibility to respond positively to every request for money.

Few, however, were as bold as a young man who called himself Phillip. He said he was in tenth grade and needed a pen and composition book. After we had been chatting for several minutes Phillip said, “Will you give me, my father, for you are truly my father, a few birr so I may register for school with a pen and a new composition book?” An Ethiopian birr is about 12 cents. It is hard to say no when the need appears so real. Yet Phillip looked healthy and well fed. Others around us looked less so, but did not resort to begging. I gave him one of my pens, which he returned. Apparently a pen wasn’t the issue. Then I was approached by an elderly woman, a deaf mute. I gave her my loose change, which amounted to about two birr, for which she nodded her profuse thanks. Others looked on, including Phillip. No one else asked us for anything. Phillip finally asked if he could have the pen I offered earlier. I gave it to him. I was inclined to give him more, but for the fact that he was becoming physical.

This has been a struggle for us. How do we discern who to help, to whom do we say no?

As I finished typing the previous account, there came a gentle knock at our door. A young woman named Dinke greeted me. She’s a ninth-grade student, recently graduated from Berhane Yesus (Light of Jesus) Elementary School. Berhane Yesus is the other synod school that grew out of the early Presbyterian Mission here in Dembi Dollo. Dinke is seeking financial support to continue her studies at Bethel Evangelical Secondary School. She lives with her grandmother in Dembi Dollo since both of her parents and her grandfather have died. She is responsible for all the cooking and marketing and assists her sister, who has disabling vision problems, with her homework. School staff here at BESS have confirmed her story and are sympathetic to her needs.

She isn’t the first student—and I know she will not be the last—to ask Barbara and me for financial assistance. Her timing was providential.

Comparatively speaking, a quality education here at BESS is very expensive. The per capita income in Ethiopia is less than 4,000 Birr ($300). Fees for ninth- and tenth-grade students who walk to school from Dembi Dollo are 350br ($28) for tuition; 50br ($4) for notebooks; 100br ($8) for uniforms. That’s a total of  512br ($40) per year. For those who live on campus, dormitory fees are approximately 1200br or $100 per year. Eleventh- and twelfth-grade students have higher fees for science labs and activities.

Barbara and I will be contributing to the Diaconate of the local church to help support students in financial need here at BESS. We will work through the school director, Gemechu Zacharias, who will screen students for financial need. This is, in part, how our Presbyterian Mission Partnership works. Our resources are limited, yet in partnership with Gemechu, the Diaconate, and supporting partners in the United States, we are able to provide much more meaningful help. It is meaningful because we are able to remind students that there are a great number of people and churches who are supporting them, not only financially, but spiritually, through your prayers. Thus scholarship students are encouraged to perform at their best level. The students here have a genuine desire to succeed.

We invite you to partner with us as we serve Christ at Bethel Evangelical Secondary School. You may choose to support us through our Mission Initiative account number MI 910082, or by contributing to the extra giving opportunities account for Bethel Evangelical Secondary School, which is E862104. See "give" buttons below. The first account supports our ministry here, while the second supports the school directly. Should you wish to support a student through a scholarship please designate “Student Scholarship” when you give. If you do not designate, the school will receive much-needed support for infrastructure improvements. If you prefer to send a check, send it to:

Presbyterian Church (USA)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA  15264-3700

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.

With Hope and Confidence,

Larry and Barbara Moir

Give to support Barbara and Larry Moir.
 
Give to support the Bethel Evangelical Secondary School.

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