Over the next few months, Comhlámh’s information and support officer Ruth Powell will have a number of conversations with volunteers about their unique experiences of international volunteering. First up, a conversation with Ewnetu Ermias who is currently volunteering at Salale University in Fitche, central Ethiopia.
What is your name?
My name is Ewnetu Ermias. I am originally from Ethiopia, but I have lived in Ireland for the last 18 years. I have postgraduate degrees in Life Sciences and Computer Sciences and I have worked both in academia and industry.
Tell me about your volunteering role and your placement?
It started on 29 September and will last for approximately one year.
My volunteering role includes:
Why did you decide to volunteer overseas?
After a 25 years long career, I decided to take time and reflect on what I should do next. I resigned from my job in Capita IB Solutions in December 2017 and took time for prayer and reflection. I was then inclined to share what I have with others and serve communities in need. This coincided with the call by the newly appointed Ethiopian Prime Minister to the Diaspora to help build the nation.
What were your first impressions when you arrived in your placement?
Although I went back to a place of my origin, I still needed to work hard to fit in. I lived more than half of my adult life in Ireland and only realised now that it had changed me so much. Until I have come here, I used to think I was only Irish on paper. Now I realise for sure that I am more of Irish than Ethiopian
What are the interesting similarities between Ethiopia and Ireland?
Ethiopians are welcoming and kind towards guests, just like Irish people. People go far to help strangers.
Would you recommend this placement to someone else?
I would. Ethiopia is fascinating place, an ancient nation with rich culture and history, probably the only place on the planet where biblical-era culture and practice co-exist with modernity (although the former is fast replaced by the later).
Do you like the food, the climate and the accommodation in your new home?
As mentioned before, I am not a typical volunteer that went to an unfamiliar place. I went back to my country of origin. Therefore, most of these things may not apply to me. I stay close to my family house, live among my relatives and eat the food that I am used to. However, I am not a fan of hot climate. Even though there are fewer sunny days in Ireland, (and this may surprise many Irish people), I love and miss the Irish weather. I can dress for the cold and the rain but there isn’t much you can do in hot climate.
Is it all as you had imagined it would be?
No. I didn’t expect to go through so many bureaucratic hurdles. Since my placement is in my country of origin, I am not a typical volunteer that went to an unfamiliar place. However, I came to realise that a lot has changed since I left this place 18 years ago. Life has become tougher – sort of survival of the fittest type. Although most Ethiopians, just like Irish people, are generally welcoming and kind towards guests.
What do you miss about Ireland?
I miss my family back in Ireland. Interestingly, I also miss everything about Ireland. The way people say ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ to each other. Here it is a little bit different and maybe because of the poverty. I miss the beauty – Ireland is all over green. I miss the Curragh in Kildare. I miss Wifi and having hot shower whenever I wanted.
What do you think you will bring to the placement, that another volunteer wouldn’t be able to?
As a person with exposure to both worlds (Ireland and Ethiopia), I bring experiences from both worlds.
What do you wish you had known or done before you came to your placement?
I should have had a written contract or agreement that states the specifics of my job and accommodation. There was so much confusion surrounding my placement. Local people are not used to a local volunteer and even institutions are not fully aware of their responsibilities.
What is the best thing about your placement?
I live with my close family and I have reconnected and refreshed my childhood memories. It was also a privilege and joy to help people in a way I could. Interestingly, I am learning a lot about myself too.
What brings you the most joy about your placement?
Having an opportunity to help others and have something to share with others. I deeply miss my family in Ireland, and I also miss the relative comfort over there. Days can go by without electricity and water here. The best thing in Ethiopia is the coffee! I do recommend volunteering in Ethiopia. It is a fascinating place, an ancient nation with rich culture and history. You will learn a lot not only about this ancient culture, but also about yourself. I believe, as a person with exposure to both worlds and practical experience in various fields, I bring useful experiences.
At least I hope so.