Fighting for Gara Dima
By Derek Zhou, Project Participant & Former Cupertino High School UNA Co-President
Was it joy? Relief? Slight nervousness, perhaps, or outright excitement? The English language proved grossly inadequate for us as we stepped off the bus. As members of the United Nations Association of Cupertino High School, our group, 14 students and seven adults, had arrived in Gara Dima, the finale of our two-year long Ethiopian Humanitarian Project.. For this project, we had raised over $7,000 and several thousands pounds of educational supplies for Gara Dima. However, these accomplishments would pale in comparison to what we experienced, learned, and ultimately loved about the people and village of Gara Dima.
Our main focus for the first three days in Gara Dima was to use our manpower and set up the supplies within the various buildings of the community center. Among such projects were setting up multiple bookshelves to hold textbooks and supplies; bringing in tables and chairs to the schoolhouse; utilizing a single generator to install electric wires underground; painting a large mural on one building; and cleaning and arranging donated supplies in the small medical clinic and art room. We also completed some of our own projects, including cleaning and arranging 14 laptop computers we had brought in the “computer lab”; sawing 752 wooden frames for 94 individual-double sided blackboards; and making a big blackboard for the schoolhouse. Once these tasks were completed, we were finally able to begin what we had all be waiting for: working and playing with the students of Gara Dima!
The boundless energy of the students nearly left us in the dust. From teaching English to the younger kids, to playing soccer, jump rope, and volleyball with the older children, to instructing the teenagers how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, each activity was met with enthusiasm and thirst for more from the students. Most importantly was the level of retention they possessed; even the complexities of computers were not enough to deter the students as some, after only a few days, had already moved beyond the basics of Microsoft Office into more detailed skills. It was soon apparent that although we were the teachers, they taught us the most important lesson of all: adversity does not beget surrender, and we are sure never to forget the pure resolve and optimism each pair of eyes possessed as they chanted, kicked, and typed away.
Our activities did nothing to stop the constant ticking of our ten-day clock. When our last day arrived, we tried to find anything to do that would prolong our stay at the village. We ran from the bus to give them one more hug; tears flowed back and forth between inhabitants of two lifestyles a world apart; even the thought of our cozy beds at home did nothing to deter us from clutching onto the villagers we had learned to love and admire so much. As our bus slowly glided away from the mobs of waving children, we realized that thanks to the help of The World Family, our parents, all our club members, and everyone else in between, this trip was hardly the finale. It is only the beginning.