Fullife Pharmacy's Colin Wood with some of the children sponsored through the pharmacy group's foundation. Photo by Suzy Sainovski, World Vision
For a conservative, rural pharmacist hailing from a small country town in north-west Tasmania, travelling to Ethiopia is not something I contemplate all that often. So when my friend and colleague, Ian Shanks, asked me to join him on a World Vision whistle stop tour of rural Ethiopia, I was caught slightly off guard and not sure what to expect.
During my brief involvement with World Vision through the Fullife Foundation (an idea conceived by Ian and some friends whereby our pharmacies and customers could sponsor children overseas), I heard examples of how our fundraising efforts were making a difference in Ethiopia. Hopefully, the opportunity to travel there would confirm and crystallise exactly what that difference was, and equip us with the information and tools to spread the word and gather even more support from our community once back in Australia.
Travelling through Ethiopia quickly dispelled a number of myths about the country, its outlook for the future and the contribution being made there by World Vision and other aid organisations. On a personal level, the interaction with the locals was warm, welcoming and encouraging as they eagerly showcased the strategies and plans they have in place to secure the future for themselves and their families.
While rural Ethiopian lifestyle is still basic by Australian standards, it is evident that they are strongly committed to ensuring that the next generation of Ethiopians inherit a country moving towards sustainable growth and prosperity, rather than a barren, over-populated land that the country had threatened to become in the past. Their commitment and strategies for improving sanitation, supply of clean water and accessible health care were impressive in both their detail and outreach to the vast rural areas we visited. School attendance and effectiveness for their children is also a focus which is showing significant progress as the facilities for schooling and availability of teachers are improved.
When pledging support to international charities from within Australia, there is invariably an underlying curiosity (some would say scepticism) among donors as to where the money ends up. Whether this question arises through suspicion or naivety is difficult to determine, but nevertheless needs to be addressed if potential fundraising is to be realised into actual dollars to spend on communities in need.
It became plainly evident during our time there that World Vision plays a significant part in the prosperity of Ethiopia’s future. The impressive aspect of their presence is how they have worked with the government and local community leaders to ensure that the community is totally engaged in any programs they support.
The determination and discipline towards completing the initiatives they commence was plainly evident in the Ethiopian coordinators of the World Vision programs we witnessed. Two of them were sponsored through World Vision as children – a fantastic example of how the World Vision programs are knitted into the Ethiopian community. There was real “fire in the belly” born from national pride, appreciation of where they had come from, and determination to make Ethiopia a better place.
A highlight for me was getting the chance to visit the kids that our Fullife Foundation sponsors. The time we spent visiting their school was an uplifting experience that I will never forget. It was heart-warming (and vital for our work back home) to learn that, in addition to the individual children who are sponsored, the whole community benefits from the funds that are raised for individual child sponsorship. We saw widespread and diverse benefits flowing throughout the community directly from the involvement of the World Vision child sponsorship program.
On my return home, I find myself encouraged and enlightened by our Ethiopian experience. I feel confident in reassuring fellow donors that the money they contribute is being put to efficient and intelligent use by people who really care about the future of the country. Hopefully, our Fullife Foundation can expand on the 200 children we already sponsor to provide support for even more children and their families in Ethiopia.