By Cori O'Brien Paluck, Selamta Volunteer
If I start at the very beginning, my Selamta Family Project involvement began with Salesforce.org and our Women In Tech group Girlforce. The founder of Girlforce, Joni Martin, wanted to organize a trip to help Selamta find volunteer Salesforce resources to help the organization use the Nonprofit Starter Pack, as well as see if the Nourish Collective could help teach local women how to manufacture and sell high end soaps.
After researching Selamta’ s mission to unite orphaned children and marginalized women in forever families, I immediately signed up for the trip. As the Brickwork product specialist for iATS Payments I have been working with Salesforce for over 4 years, but had just become a Certified Administrator. I was eager to share my love of training and Salesforce with Selamta!
Before getting on the plane, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never met any Selamta Staff in person, had never seen true poverty before, and had never been to Africa. I was nervous. I was excited. I knew it was going to be an amazing adventure that I would never forget.
Jump forward over an exhausting 48 hour three-flight journey between Vancouver Canada and Addis Ababa Ethiopia, we finally landed in Africa! After an eye opening drive through Addis enroute to the Bethel area where the Selamta office and houses are located, we walked up the three flights of stairs and settled into our dorm room. One of my best friends Christine was my travel mate and fellow volunteer on the trip, and we were the first of the six women (including an amazing 10 year old!) to arrive. It was 4am, pitch black, and there was no power. This we quickly discovered is quite common in Ethiopia, but that night we were happy to have followed the trusty packing guide provided to us and whipped out our flashlights. As we started to unpack, we suddenly heard the crack of lighting and rumble of thunder as a massive downpour started up outside our third story window. We rushed to look out and saw pre-dawn Addis being completely drenched with rain and torrents of water rushing down the dirt streets. What an introduction!
That first day seems like a dream to me now. After meeting the rest of the team the next morning, (which consisted of Christine and I, Melissa from the Nourish Collective, Trish from Worlds Touch, and Marisa the Selamta Executive Director with her daughter Lily) we experienced a whirlwind of hugs, introductions, fresh coffee, staff meet and greets, and neighborhood tours.
Over the next week we were lucky to be driven around the city of Addis Ababa on supply trips for the Nourish soap projects and to meet the Outreach families. We saw cattle in the streets, buses packed with people, horse-drawn carts, and more diesel smoke than I care to remember. We saw women in ripped dirty clothes alongside others in beautiful wedding dresses. We saw cement huts on the same block as mansions. We saw high-rise condo buildings, multi-story shopping malls, movie theaters.
Within Selamta, we met the nicest, kindest people in the world. Selamta staff treat you like a member of the family. But by far the most impactful experiences of the trip were hanging out in the family homes. Each night we were treated to a delicious home cooked meal by the house Mom and Auntie, consisting of everything from traditional Injera bread (made of teff flour), wat stews, perfectly cooked potatoes and beets, shiro, and so many other dishes I wish I could remember. Sometimes we had pasta with incredible tomato sauce with a hint of mitmita, which is a spice mixture that is just about my favorite thing on the planet these days. We had fresh roasted coffee served espresso style with sugar. Before and after our feasts we would sit in the family living room getting to know the family and learn what life is like in Ethiopia. We learned what school was like for them, what they want to be when they grew up, who their favorite singers were. So many amazing moments I can’t begin to describe.
Before we knew it our two weeks were up. We’d accomplished what we had set out to do and then some, and had taken the opportunity to learn about what life was like in Ethiopia. I encourage everyone who is considering making the trip to visit Selamta Family Project to go for it! I can’t wait to go back.
Volunteer in Ethiopia with Selamta this Summer! Visit our Take a Trip page to learn more.