One Person Can Make A Difference!

May 20, 2020

By: Ashley Henderson, Community Outreach and Retail Coordinator
Back in January, with fifteen magazines, two books, a change of socks, and a bag crammed full of snacks, and I do mean crammed, all in my carry-on bag, I boarded a plane with my then seventeen year-old daughter to head to Ethiopia for our very first time.  With weeks of anticipation leading up to the trip, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  Would we survive the 17 and 22 hour flights without killing each other?  Would we like the food?  Would we remember not to use the faucet water when brushing our teeth?  Would we be able to communicate with the families we were going to serve?  Would we be able to sleep in the guest home?  Would we have the right clothes?  Would our phone adapters work?  Was 12 packs of mini tissues enough for make shift toilet paper?  And of course.. the most important question.. would we have hot water in the shower? (Ha!)
I tried hard not to set any expectations going into the trip so I didn’t have a clear picture of what I thought the experience was going to be like.  The poverty is heartbreaking.  The lack of opportunities and chances for individuals to change their lives is hard to handle.  Toilets are a luxury.  A simple errand can take three times as long because of massive traffic and the occasional donkey or cow on the main roads.  Food can be scarce and hygiene is not always a possibility, like it is here in the Unites States.
I remember that the view from my room was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.  The fog lifting at sunrise each morning seemed to be serenaded by the Orthodox and Muslim call-to-worship prayers beginning at 6:30, a.m. or sometimes even as early as 3:30 or 4:30 am.  Watching my daughter surrounded by little children and moms waiting for her to make them a bracelet.. priceless.  Listening to the girls read from the Bible, not understanding exactly what they were saying, was like listening to a symphony.  Eating a meal which took hours to prepare over a one burner hotplate heated by coals was better than the finest steakhouse in Raleigh.  Watching 5 year-olds help their mothers carry home rain barrels down the dirt roads given to them so they can now have water right at their home was more magical than going to Disney!
Many people have asked me if I was “changed” on the trip.   Am I a new and different person now?  New, different, changed… no.   I still find myself frustrated in traffic, arguing with my children about homework and chores and wishing I didn’t have to cook dinner night after night.   However, my belief system was strengthened tremendously!  I am more grateful than ever knowing how blessed I truly am living in the United States, having parents who valued me receiving an education, opportunities I’ve been given, an education system for my children and finances that will now allow me to provide them a chance to continue their education and be successful in life.
I’ve spent my life working with non-profits knowing that one person CAN make a difference, but seeing this first hand in a third-world country strengthened my belief!  I met the families that have had their lives changes through AJ’s monthly sponsorship program.  Mothers who can now pack lunches for their children every day with the stipend they receive so their children can attend school and know they will have a meal there.   I’ve laughed with one of the AJ Girls who is going off to college next year and whose education fund is directly impacted by monthly sponsorships and purchases through our AJ Marketplace.  My daughter and myself organized the supply room with the help of a little boy who now, thanks to the donations of just a few individuals, will be able to brush his teeth and wash his hands, face and little body with his own bar of soap when he comes to the Family Empowerment Center.  And get this… his family will now even have their own towel and washcloths because of the generosity of just a few.  I watched little faces full of pure joy and delight as my daughter read books to them given by generous individuals.  While on our trip we were able to stock Charlie’s Library and Tutoring Center (located in our Family Empowerment Center and made possible by our partners at Charlie’s Heart Foundation) full of books for years of enjoyment to come!  I watched as children sat on benches for 2 hours on a Saturday learning English with funds provided through AJ’s education fund.  And I became teary eyed while taking pictures of mothers receiving their rain barrels knowing that this was all because of a donation from ONE family.
So I will continue to believe more than ever that the opportunities we have been given by living in the United States compares to no other place on earth.  And that one person CAN make a difference!  So, what will you do to make a difference in the lives of others?  It doesn’t have to be hundreds that you effect.  Just one will be plenty!