02 April 2016

TRAVEL | A Week in Ethiopia - The Trip of a Lifetime

My sister, brother and mum have all been on a charity trek in Ethiopia with the Support Africa Foundation, so when the opportunity came up for my Dad and me to go, we didn't hesitate to sign up.

Support Africa is a charity that have set up projects in rural parts of Ethiopia to assist the communities with 100% of donor funds going straight to the projects. The foundation intend to solve the problem of poverty by helping increase income generation. There are rural sustainable projects that are focused on improving farm incomes as well as women's empowerment projects in Aleltu and Adigrat. 

In order to go on the trek, Dad and I had to raise €2,500 (which we did) as did the other thirty-something trekkers (of all ages - eight others my age) going on the trip. Together we all raised €70,000 (or 15 million birr) for the projects in Aleltu and Adigrat. On the trip, we got to see these projects in action, literally where the money we raised is going to. After one week, 19th - 25th March, in the beautiful country of Ethiopia, I did so much it felt I had been there longer, and learned loads. 

It was the trip of a lifetime. 

the school in Aleltu we visited
strolling, strolling...


Following an overnight trip of 7 and a half hours on Ethiopian Airlines, we finally arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital city, on Saturday morning. We only got an hour or two to rest before heading out for an extremely busy day visiting projects in Aleltu, which is a town an hour and a half away from Addis. 

Travelling by car in Ethiopia, no matter how stuffy or hot it was, was actually one of the highlights. The country is polar opposite to Ireland; as Ethiopia is suffering from drought, everywhere is dry and brown, and just so different to Ireland's green landscape. Despite the dryness, the views were breath taking when on the road; I had to take out my camera every 5 minutes to take a photo or video. 

In Aleltu, we visited and were given tours of a school, a women and youth development centre, an agricultural centre and a medical centre that have all been funded by Support Africa. The women and youth development centre was opened that day and there was a coffee ceremony to celebrate.

Ethiopians have this traditional ceremony where they serve coffee, popcorn and bread. The bread is cut at the beginning, and my goodness, is Ethiopian bread so delicious. There are leaves spread across the ground and incense is burning. We're only about five hours into our trip and already I was understanding Ethiopian culture!

At this ceremony, after some speeches and gift giving, there were singing and dancing performances by the arts group. We all joined in on the dancing; Ethiopians have this strange signature dance move which involves shaking your shoulders. They do it a certain way that no matter how hard I tried, I could never do it right.

We got back to the hotel that evening, only to be told we were to get up at five in the morning the next day to travel to Adigrat. It was going to be a long day...

all of the Transition Year students on the trip
the church!
Jackie, Amber and me


An early start, we piled into the buses half asleep to get to the airport. We had to go on a short flight to Mekele then drive for three hours to Adigrat.

But we didn't drive for three hours straight. We had two stops along the way, the first at a rural rock hewn church. We had to walk up a huge mountain of steps (and in boiling hot weather too) to get to it. After some quick photoshoots in front of the beautiful views and church, we had a browse inside. It was really cool, and dark, inside, and we got a quick history from the local priest.

The Gheralta Lodge was our next location for lunch. When we had eaten, some of us had a little look around the area, and doing so, we noticed some rainclouds, and a bit of thunder and lightning. Weird, considering the scorching sun earlier on that day. We were delighted; as I've said Ethiopia is suffering from drought, and any rain is cherished. However, we had no idea what was to come.

I was in the bus with the other TY students on the last car journey to Adigrat when we started hearing hail stones. They got heavier, and heavier, and before we knew it, we were laughing and freaking out at the same time while hail stones, well more like hail rocks were pounding on the roof of the car and the parents in the front were holding the windscreen. And of course, one of the guys attempted to film with his GoPro by sticking his hand and head out the window and I was getting attacked by the hailstones coming in the window. That was an eventful trip in the car.

We arrived in Adigrat, safe and sound, and checked into our hotel - Canan International. This was not the best hotel I had ever been in, with average food and no elevator (three flights of stairs... three flights of stairs), but why would I complain while I actually had food and a roof over my head, unfortunately not like a lot of people in Ethiopia. 

Adigrat is a city in the very north of the country with a population of about 70,000. There is one major project by Support Africa in the city; a programme for single, destitute mothers to help them start their own businesses. While they are being educated or working on their shops or services, their children are minded at a day care centre. I absolutely love this project; I got to see the benefit of it as we spent the next three days at the day care centre. 

one of the student's copies
at the animal market with Jackie and Amber


On Monday morning, we were shown around the Green Park mall, which is where some of the single mothers being helped by Support Africa have set up shops. There's a hair and nail salon, a mini market, a cafe, a scarf shop and many more. Mesfin, a member of Support Africa, showed us a presentation and gave us the lowdown of how the women empowerment programme works, and the background of the day care centre. Beside the shops there is a basketball court, a community library and soon, there will be a kitchen for cooking classes to be taught to the mothers.

In the centre, there are also English language classes taught to a few students (I think they were all in their early teens). The class was happening while we were there. However, they decided to stop their learning to play basketball with us. That was so much fun! We got to see their English class copies. It was such a lovely start to the day.

Before we went to the day care centre, we had a quick visit to the animal market. This was odd; as a group we really stood out, and most of the donkeys and goats were not on a lead and just wandered around us. We were at the market for a very short time as we all felt quite uncomfortable despite posing happily in lots of photos. We packed into the buses again and made our way to the Beserat Child Care Centre. Now, this is what I had been looking forward to for agggeeess. My sister and mum have tons of adorable photos of the children from when they visited the centre, so I was so excited to finally see the bundles of joy.

We were welcomed by high pitched voices shouting 'WELCOME! WELCOME!' over and over. Nothing will ever get cuter than that.

We were given a tour of the day care centre while the children were having their naps (they all nap on mattresses together - they looked so peaceful). Soon, we were assigned our jobs for the next three days; the dads, including mine, and the boys of the group were to spend time building a patio at the entrance of the centre. Others were assigned to do some gardening, teach the children tin whistle or arts and crafts, visit the mothers in their homes, or organise the clothes.

Everyone who went on the trek, as well as fundraising money, also gathered some old secondhand clothes for children under five. We packed them into suitcases, brought them with us to Ethiopia and sorted them out into outfits to give to the children at the day care. The remaining clothes were stored away for children to attend the day care in the future. 

exploring a market near our hotel in Adigrat
Dad and me!
So, for the next three days, I helped with sorting out the clothes, I took tons of photos (as head photographer :D), sometimes got to help out the teachers and minders of the centre, and I spent a lot of time with the *adorable* kids. They love high fives. And piggybacks. And selfies. And fighting over piggybacks.

The children are so happy and loved at the centre. They were always smiling, and even though they didn't know much English - I couldn't understand them, and they couldn't understand me - we got along nicely. The other fourth year students had just as much fun with them as I did (I was surprised by some of the guys).

There was a coffee ceremony on the second morning, and all the mothers who had been or are being helped by Support Africa attended. As well as more coffee, bread, and popcorn, there was a fashion show and performance by some of the day care kids. Words cannot describe their cuteness, honestly. There was also a raffle and few heartfelt speeches.

On our last day in the day care centre, the clothes were ready to be given to the children. We washed them, dried them and dressed them in their new outfits. They were even happier than before, if that could be possible. That was one of the highlights, seeing them all so excited with their new clothes.

For our last night in Adigrat, we had a cultural night in the hotel. The women from the day care centre joined us all for dinner, gift giving and dancing. There were more of the shoulder dance moves, but we, in true Irish spirit, also got to show off our dancing skills with a bit of a jig. That was a laugh! The only downside to the evening was the music. A man was playing a traditional instrument, that I never got the name of, that made weird horn sounds, and sang along with it. It certainly didn't sound nice to my ears, but maybe I just don't get the Ethiopian music.

Dad and me at the Irish Ambassador's residence
on the tour bus in Addis Ababa

We returned to Addis Ababa on Thursday for our final night in Ethiopia. We had been invited for dinner at the Irish Ambassador's residence. Everyone had a few hours spare in the Radisson until we had to go out. I decided to get a manicure, a pedicure and my hair done at the spa in the hotel; I felt lovely and refreshed after that!

The dinner at the residence was lovely - the best food we'd had all week. It was so weird to think it was our last night in Ethiopia. I felt as if I'd been there for weeks, not just one! After some more heartfelt speeches and more photoshoots, we went back to the hotel.

As our flight wasn't until really late on Friday night, some of us went on a bus tour of Addis Ababa. We went to the museum where 'Lucy' is. 'Lucy' is a fossil discovery of about 40% of a skeleton of the earliest human female. That was really cool, I must say.

We also stopped by a few shops to buy some gifts for friends at home. I got a few scarves for mum, my sister and myself, a jersey for my brother, bracelets for friends, as well as a pack of cards in Amharic. You gotta love souvenirs!

I was exhausted by the time we got on the plane that night, and slept for the majority of the flight home.

All of the trekkers!
Ethiopia is an extremely poor country. The nation is suffering from its worst drought in decades. But despite all this, Ethiopians are the happiest, friendliest people you will ever meet. They have hardly anything compared to what we have in Ireland, but are still so grateful, welcoming and giving. Visiting Ethiopia really broadened my horizons; it was like a whole other world. 

I am so thankful I got the opportunity to work with Support Africa and raise money for such wonderful, hard working people in Adigrat and Aleltu. It was a trip that I will never, ever forget. It seems so surreal to think back and think I was there, in Ethiopia, in Africa, making a difference. I made so many amazing memories that week.

I'll definitely return to Ethiopia in the future!


  1. This sounds like such an amazing experience, loved reading it!

    Infinity of fashion// Lucy Jane

  2. Nice post! That is so interesting and I'm glad you enjoyed your trip.

  3. WOW. I am so so happy that you were able to have this truly life changing experience. Not only did you raise a lot of money - but you gave back in a way that will last long after your return home. You should be so proud.

    1. Thank you so much Shannon! I am so glad I got involved!

  4. This looks like such a great trip! It's so great that you went to help all of these people, and it actually looks like so much fun.


    1. It was amazing, I'm so happy that I went! And yes, it was so much fun, which was a bonus.

  5. Whoops, me again. Just wanted to let you know that I tagged you in my Liebster Award post that I just put up! You're one of my favourite bloggers so I'd love to see you answer the questions :)


  6. It's very great to see your post!I like it .I'm looking forward to you in the next

    post.Thank you .There is a free date recovery to you.

  7. What a fantastic experience! I have yet to go on a mission trip but it's definitely a to-do on my bucket list. Glad you had a wonderful time!

    Sarah || blissandliveliness.blogspot.com/

    1. Do go on one, it's incredible; you need to tick it off the bucket list!! thanks so much!

  8. Sounds like such an amazing and fulfilling experience! Really great post, Jane! Just followed! Would love for you to stop by my blog! :)


  9. This sounds absolutely amazing oh my god! Xx

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