In June, 12 students went to Ethiopia with Nuovo Fiore, an organization dedicated to improving education for children in central Africa. The students worked at a school teaching students and learning about how Nuovo Fiore helps transform the lives of children. The organization was founded by TASIS board member Riccardo Braglia, and his involvement is an inspiring model for our students.
Reflection from Paulina Gazin ‘16
What I experienced in Ethiopia in the last two years is truly ineffable, and I therefore fear that an attempt to decipher my thoughts and emotions and commit them to paper will diminish their value and complexity. This fear notwithstanding, I will do my best.
Last year I traveled for the first time to Ethiopia. I was among the first group of TASIS students to travel to the Auxilium School in Addis Ababa as a part of the Nuovo Fiore Service group. Our objective when working with the children was to advance their level of English, thereby helping them build a better future for themselves, their family, and ultimately their country. In addition we sought to challenge the gender inequality rooted in Ethiopian society by encouraging the local girls to be more vocal and confident. But most importantly we just wanted to have fun and show the children that there are people out there who care.
Every evening we gathered together to determine which classes we were going to teach the next day and then got to work on preparing the lesson plans. Despite all of our planning, we were utterly unprepared to stand in front of a classroom as fifty pairs of expectant eyes looked up at us. We had to learn on the spot and quickly improved as the week progressed. Each class turned out to be an incredibly rewarding, albeit exhausting, experience.
Each morning as I walked down the dirt path that led to the school, I could hear kids playing, laughing or singing, and even from a distance the energy they projected was contagious. My sleepiness rapidly morphed into the energy with which I picked them up and spun them around as they ran into my arms. It was exhilarating to watch them laugh and shriek in joy as I swung them through the air. They hugged me and kissed me and lined up to hold my hand. I was overwhelmed by their affection. The abounding love in their hearts seemed out of place in a country so ravaged by poverty, corruption and social inequality. How can so much love and happiness emerge from such hardship? They had no reason to trust me or accept me, but they did, and I will always wonder what I did to deserve their love.
I could have never anticipated how much more meaningful it would be to return for a second time. The bonds that had formed between the children and I were strengthened, my emotions were heightened, and my passion for serving the community was intensified. At the opening ceremony the children sang and danced and welcomed us. As they brought each of us a beautiful and symbolic flower I had to hold my breath to control my feelings and keep tears from streaming down my face.
That afternoon after classes we went to visit the villages and homes of the students. What was to them an everyday walk to and from school was to us an unforgettable hike. As this was my second time, I did not expect to be as shocked as I was by the overwhelming poverty surrounding me. Revisiting the destitute conditions in which the families live made everything feel more real; it gave the situation a sense of depth, immediacy, and worst of all, permanency. The money that our service group has been raising is intended to help as many families as possible to pay for the exorbitant rents on their mud and stick shacks. What may seem like an insignificant amount of money in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Switzerland, can have a huge impact on the living conditions of a whole family in one of the poorest countries, Ethiopia.
One of the girls, Khalkida, ran up to me at the beginning of the hike and wrapped her small arms around me. As we walked, we exchanged simple questions and answers. I learned her age, the names of her brothers and sisters, and a multitude of her favorite things. Unlike the love she was willing to share with me, her ability to speak English was limited. Within the first hour she had exhausted her knowledge of English and my more probing questions were met with confused and searching eyes. Nevertheless, we found ways to communicate, and not once during the long trek did we break contact. The bond that formed between us was incredibly profound. The connection went far beyond words, for our conversation had been trivial, and this is what made the experience truly extraordinary.
Dana Wit is another girl whose friendship was very special to me. After classes one day she brought me a simple but heartfelt letter which I have since read many times. That night I wrote a letter in response. I will never forget the look of wonder and bewilderment with which she looked up at me as she took the paper from my hand. The thought that she would get something in return for her kind action had not even crossed her mind. I will forever treasure the letters I received from the children because they represent an invaluable form of love which is unconditional and which is not founded on the expectation of reciprocity.
The personal connections I made this year make it hard to return to my ‘normal’ everyday life. Every time I find myself enjoying a first-world luxury I think of what Khalkida, Dana Wit, or Biniam are doing at that very moment and I am overcome with conflicting emotions: part guilt, part frustration, but most importantly determination to not only continue making a difference, but to double the intensity of my effort.
Paulina Gazin ’16 paid her own way to participate in the Nuovo Fiore GSP trip to Ethiopia for the second year in a row.
TASIS Global Service Program
The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.
The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.