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From where I lay in my tent, I heard the chirps of the vibrantly blue-coloured birds, signaling that it was time to get up if I wanted to watch the sunrise. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I would be lucky enough to see the sunrise and sunset in Ethiopia and to have had a wealth of new experiences between those two spectacular moments each day.
It has been a year since I travelled to Ethiopia for two weeks as a youth delegate on Canadian Lutheran World Relief‘s Global Encounter. We visited a variety of places learning about how organizations such as Support for Sustainable Development, Lutheran World Federation and Canadian Lutheran World Relief work with communities to help improve their circumstances.

In Afar, Hetosa and Lalibela I was amazed to see how communities partner with organizations to construct water diversions to have an outstanding positive impact on the land. The land is transformed, making it fertile in areas that would otherwise be barren during the dry season. We saw lush papaya trees, fields of corn, plantain trees and mung beans—all growing because of the communities’ efforts and the support of organizations that are helping communities thrive.


In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, we had the opportunity to take part in Timket. This holy day in the Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus. Festivities take place across and around the city and we attended a main event in the city’s centre. It was fascinating to witness cultural traditions different from my own.

We travelled to Lalibela, a city with a UNESCO heritage site that contains eleven monolithic churches that were constructed in the 12th century. When I stepped foot into the cool interior of the church it was as if I had travelled back in time. The elegant tapestries and the symbolic carvings reflect ancient wisdom and deep tradition.

In each village we visited, we were greeted with friendliness and a coffee ceremony. Popcorn was served in a bowl along with freshly brewed buna, the Amharic word for coffee. One can imagine how full we were with coffee at the end of each day!

This trip has taught me valuable life lessons that I hope to never forget. I learnt that it’s possible to make a difference, even when circumstances seem challenging. I learnt that smiling is a contagious universal language—but that it also helps to know the word for thank-you, especially when it evokes a couple of laughs from your hosts due to its semi-improper pronunciation. And most importantly, I learnt that it’s possible to work together with people of different backgrounds, for as long as you have a love for humanity, faith and peace will persevere.

Amasaganalo (Thank you),

Isabel Hilgendag