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Last month, Don Sheppard spent two weeks with professors Heather Wipfli and Kiros Berhane from USC’s Institute for Global Health touring the Tigrai region of Ethiopia. The widely respected Institute for Global Health is an LAFC Foundation partner. The two organizations are committed to addressing major health and educational problems in the Tigrai region.

The purpose of the trip was to develop a finer understanding of the challenges that Tigrai’s people are facing and strengthen bonds with local groups, most importantly, the non-profit Tigrai Development Authority. LAFC will build a soccer field in Tigrai’s capital city of Mekele. The facility will include a running track and space to distribute information and healthy foods. Ethiopia faces rising incidences of a number of diseases linked to poor nutrition and inactivity. LAFC and USC hope to transform communities surrounding the Mekele field and create a model for future projects. Below are Don Sheppard’s impressions of his time in Ethiopia.

Ethiopians are a remarkable people, welcoming, smart, ambitious and resilient.

They are not long removed from the violent civil wars that left millions of people homeless and fearing for their safety. Yet their spirit is strong. They are determined to improve their lives and see education as the best way to achieve their goals. The country is in the midst of a huge initiative that has already added countless schools and 20 new universities. The Tigrai Development Authority has been part of this effort, building schools in this Northern state bordered partly by Eritrea, another country with a stormy past. Tigrai Development is also committed to spurring higher participation in sports, better healthcare services and more job opportunities. Perhaps my most memorable experience though was of the children who followed me. They were poor but didn’t want money or food; rather they sought pens and pencils, which are in short supply and badly needed to do schoolwork.

The hotels were functional, maybe a little more at best and the food—a lot of stews and grains—was not fancy. But we were never uncomfortable. It reminded me that we can be happy with less.

Ethiopia has done an exceptional job in maintaining its roads. We traveled in sport utility vehicles and sedans on two-lane highways that were in good shape. I’ve seen more potholes in parts of Los Angeles. The countryside itself is a beautiful mosaic of farmland and forests and small mountain ranges. It is difficult to believe that large parts of the country are arid and that many Ethiopians were starving not long ago. I arrived in Ethiopia with a healthy respect for the people and left with an even greater respect and determination to help create better lives there.

13 / May / 2010  Latest News 

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