• By Lisa Buoniconto
Our connection to Ethiopia began in 2007 with the adoption of our son, Getachew, then age 3. This was followed subsequently by the adoption of our son, Werkneh, in 2011, then age 5. Over the course of the next few years, we worked diligently to find family members, connect, and maintain a relationship in order to keep our sons tied to their birth culture, country, and family. In 2014, realizing it had been over 8 years since Getachew’s family had last seen him, and with him having little working memory of his life in Ethiopia, we decided it was time for a return trip. It was during this trip while staying at a resort in Hawassa called the Lewi Hotel that we crossed paths with a young woman named Nathalie who happened to be similarly passing a few hours poolside. We both exchanged stories about why we were in Ethiopia, and Nathalie shared that she was interning for an organization called Let Us Change that was responsible for the care of children who were previously homeless and living dangerously, sometimes fatally, on the streets. She described with much passion the dedication, love, and commitment Let Us Change had for the children and praised both co-founders, Johan and Aynalem. Before parting that day, we exchanged contact information, but at that time, we had no idea where this chance or fated encounter would lead.
How it all started
Upon returning to the US, in an effort to position ourselves to be able to assist some friends in Ethiopia with ideas they had for programs that would help struggling families to develop income-generating professions, we founded Empower Ethiopia. The story took a turn here, with that plan never coming to fruition, and with us left with a newly-formed organization whose mission statement was to “assist vulnerable children and families”. Over the next year, we utilized our nonprofit status to help other organizations working on projects in Ethiopia to help reach their goals related to improvements in healthcare and education but were still searching for our own focus and identity.
At some point, upon deeper reflection, I returned to what brought us to adoption and Ethiopia in the first place: our desire to help children who had no other options. In reality, at least in the case of our two sons, there actually were other possible options – or could have been with the proper assistance – to keep the boys unified with their families (a story for a different blog), but my mind brought me back to the encounter with Natalie at the pool, Let Us Change, and her description of street children who had been barely surviving and now were thriving with proper care and love. These were the children with no other options. These were the children who needed to know that their lives mattered and that they were valuable members of society.
Our partnership with Let Us Change
It was at this time that I reached out to Nathalie who in turn connected us with Johan, and the rest as they say, is “history”. We are now comfortable with Empower Ethiopia’s role building a continued partnership with Let Us Change to ensure that the children in their care receive the basics in life that the rest of us often take for granted including, adequate health care, nutrition, safe living space, education, and most importantly, love and acceptance.
Our journey came full circle this month, while on our third trip back to Ethiopia to visit birth family, we had the pleasure of reuniting with Natalie, whose passion provided the initial spark toward a destination at that time yet unknown. During this trip, we were also able to spend much time with Johan as our guide to show, inform, and discuss, the current programs of Let Us Change, as well as future needs to keep growing and moving in a positive direction. Our time together served to solidify our joint commitment toward the common goal of providing an opportunity for a brighter future for both children and adults whose lives were otherwise considered insignificant.