After returning in July from a three-week cultural exchange and service mission to Ethiopia, Holy Family Catholic High School students plan to share their experiences with fellow students through group presentations and a week-long Water Week, focusing on the need for drinkable water throughout the world.
“In Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, part of the city gets water one day, and the other part gets it the next day. The local school helps students by having water for washing, which is essential and sacred in Ethiopia,” explained John Dols, Holy Family’s Assistant Principal/Campus Minister and trip chaperone.
Even when water is available, it can have ecological implications.
“The people drink out of bottled water, and this causes a lot of pollution, especially since they don’t have recycling disposal,” said Annie Richelsen, 17, of Chaska.
After the Holy Family students experienced the effects of poor drinking water and limited access to water for hygienic purposes, ideas began to flow, and Water Week began to take shape.
“We want to highlight the quote, ‘Water is life. Sanitation is dignity’,” noted Emily Kirsch, 17, of Waconia.
During Water Week, students hope to educate their peers and raise funds through the sale of T-shirts and refillable, eco-friendly water bottles. Proceeds will be divided between Holy Family’s twin Ethiopian schools, Besrate Gabriel School and St. John Baptist de la Salle School. Funds also will be used toward the purchase of a specialized water fountain at Holy Family that would enable students to refill water bottles and keep track of how many plastic bottles were “saved” in the process.
“The week is supposed to heighten awareness about clean water in other countries and encourage sensible use of water here at home,” said Chanhassen’s Aly Anton, 18, who traveled along with her brother Ryan, 16, who stressed the importance for eco-conscious water consumption.
Safari, school visits, reflection
After a brief touch-down in Washington, D.C. on July 4, the group, which also included co-chaperone Melissa Livermore, Holy Family Dean of Academics/Math Teacher, arrived in Kenya for five days and enjoyed several daybreak safaris, where Holy Family students observed all but one of the “Big Five” animals.
While Shorewood’s Patrick Danker enjoyed viewing the animals, he was most impressed with a visit to the Maasai village.
“It was very interesting to meet the people and see how they lived,” he said, adding he was intrigued by their way of life.
The service trip that followed included a six-day visit to Addis Ababa and Holy Family twin school St. John Baptist de la Salle School, which is affiliated with the Christian Brothers/Sisters of Charity. The school was established for orphans living with HIV/AIDS. Prior to the U.S. sending antiviral HIV drugs, the orphans would not survive to school age.
While the school is successful in many ways, Kirsch couldn’t help but compare the facility to Holy Family’s science rooms.
“I saw their one broken microscope and compared that to the trays and trays of microscopes we get to use in our science classes,” she noted. “Things like microscopes, dry-erase boards and calculators are just the norm for us, and we take them so for granted.”
Ryan Anton was particularity struck by the free interactions among children with HIV/AIDS and their peers without the virus.
“It was nice to see how the kids with HIV were able to make friends with the other kids at the school because they were not discriminated against,” he said.
The students also toured Sisters of Charity homes, where they were able to more fully interact with the children.
The next stop on the trip brought the group to Dire Dawa at Besrate Gabrial School, another Christian Brothers school and the second twin school to Holy Family. Teaching English and math to Kindergarten through 6th graders brought a new perspective to the Holy Family students, including Ryan Lembke, 16, of Chaska. He said the experience encouraged him to appreciate his education, set more goals for himself and “try my hardest to succeed in life.”
A home visit with Besrate students led Richelsen to appreciate the teenagers’ interests in career goals and, like American teens, music!
The three-week trip filled the students with a lifetime of memories and experiences. Taking time to begin to digest the impact of the visit was important.
“We spent the last night in Dire Dawa, reflecting outside while watching the full moon,” Dols recalled. “One of the things we discussed was that now, after several weeks, we are intricately connected to a people a world away. When we want to feel close, we can simply look up at night and realize that we all see the same moon. We are a world away, and we are next door.”
The trip’s final days were spent in retreat and additional reflection at Baba Gaya, the Christian Brothers’ retreat center. The retreat served as a respite, a chance to filter through experiences and dive deeper into shared insights, including Dols’ reminder he proffered to the students throughout the trip, “Like Christmas, get up each morning to unwrap the present of the day.”
Sometimes, that gift arrived in unexpected ways.
“Even though (some Holy Family travelers) were getting sick left and right, and I didn’t sleep well, I was still excited every morning to spend time with the (Ethiopian) kids,” Lembke said. “Some things I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to see the sick homes and people suffering, but in the end, it was worth seeing. It made me realize how lucky I am.”
Kirsch offered her perspective.
“We talked a lot about not worrying about what was coming next or what we were going to do later. Mr. Dols reminded us that the journey is the destination, simply enjoy the ride wherever it might take you and ‘just be.’”