By Sara Downing, Business Development Manager

In March, I left the comforts of home, including my family, and embarked on a 10-day adventure to Ethiopia. Yes, the one in Africa. While the country wasn’t really on my bucket list, what took me there was and still is on the list – to be a worldly citizen and help others. It all started when a good friend was talking about an upcoming trip to Ethiopia to build facilities at a youth camp. He looked squarely at me and asked, “Sara, why don’t you go?” The words out of my mouth shocked me, “Sure, sounds like fun.” These simple words sent me into six weeks of travel prep hell. I needed a new passport, I needed tons of immunizations, I needed to start fundraising and I needed to prepare my family that I was leaving at home.

As my journey began, I continually reminded myself to be open-minded and let the adventure take me where it may. I was heading to a third-world country and had no idea what to expect. As the plane landed at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was amazed at what greeted me, a skyline full of tower cranes and construction everywhere.  Addis, the capital city, is growing at a rate of 3.3% each year, as the country approaches 100 million people. All this growth has caused a significant housing shortage. The government has prioritized construction projects in order to stimulate the economy. The building sector has seen double digit growth, expanding by 37% annually, projects include the continent’s largest hydropower dam, railways and construction of 700,000 apartments by 2020.

The growth is absolutely astounding. The construction methods vary based on the contractor building the project. A high-end Marriott hotel is going up with sophistication by a Chinese contractor, while large tracts of multifamily, built by local Ethiopian contractors, harken back to the early days. My time was not spent in Addis, but four hours south along Lake Langano. As the van headed toward our destination, I was continually amazed by all the development. A large meat processing and manufacturing facility was under construction, acres upon acres of greenhouses, where roses are grown by a Dutch company. Day laborers milling about and standing in line waiting to be paid for work completed. Our leader said the country was going through their industrial revolution. Many of the team members that were in Ethiopia just two years ago, said they hardly recognized the country.

After spending 10-days in a very rural area and meeting the local people, I continue to wonder if this growth and “revolution” is really a good thing. As an American, we see growth and development as progress and embrace capitalism. But, we have sacrificed so many great things to get ahead. The Ethiopians that I met were hospitable, joy-filled and kind people. True, they have many hardships that I hope to never experience. But they have a sense of community that so many of us lack. We have become too engrossed in being “busy” and keeping up with social media, that we have forgotten the simple things in life, like inviting guests in and enjoying a cup of coffee.

The Messenger Newsletter | August 2017 | Shiel Sexton Carolinas