Ethiopia trip provides Palliser student with new perspective

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Run for Water 1 JPG:  Noelle Kilbreath, left, and Joline Olson of Calgary Christian Secondary School are met by a welcoming parade at the Ethiopian village of Hidri. Photos courtesy Brad Dueck

CALGARY – It’s a lesson Noelle Kilbreath will carry with her long after she moves on from Calgary Christian Secondary School (CCSS), and one not even the most resourceful of teachers could duplicate in the classroom.

The Grade 9 student and CCSS teacher Joline Olson recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia to see the impact of the money they helped raise to build a clean water system and a new school for villagers in Hidri.

The experience she gained in east-central Africa provided the 14-year-old with a new perspective that will serve her well for future charitable endeavours.

“Even though I won’t likely be able to see that particular cause (in person), I can see that there are actual people that this is changing,” says Kilbreath.

While it was no easy task to raise $7,000 apiece for the project in addition to the cost of the trip, she says it’s rewarding to think that a couple of months of effort on her part can have a generational impact on the recipients.

Olson had travelled to Ethiopia several years ago on a humanitarian mission, but was looking forward to sharing the experience this time with her young companion through the Run for Water project.

“To see her internalize things and make connections. . . Ultimately, as a teacher, we can’t do that piece for them,” she says. “We can’t say, ‘here’s the life lesson in that.’ But we can say ‘here are the dots, and you’re going to connect them in a meaningful way.’ ”

The opportunity for Kilbreath was born out of a Run for Water race last spring that Olson had organized. Although it was more of a family outing than a heartfelt cause for the CCCS student, she followed up with research on the non-profit society, which promotes physical activity and raising funds for clean water development in under-privileged countries.

When the Abbotsford-based group asked Olson if she knew a student who might be interested in joining their group of 14 on the journey,  she immediately thought of Kilbreath because of the confidence, kindness and leadership skills she displays on a regular basis.

Olson was delighted to watch Kilbreath’s growth on the adventure. She saw the Palliser teen move from concern about the strange smells and the donkey cutting off their taxi cab upon landing in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, to the realization on the voyage home that the trip would change her life.

The diverse landscape they experienced in Ethiopia – from near desert to rain forest – caught Kilbreath off-guard. The reception they received from everyone they encountered, however, was even more memorable.

On one particular occasion she recalls running with a group of children before gathering that evening for a fire dance. Kilbreath speaks of the heat of the big bonfire and everyone around it singing, dancing, chanting and holding hands as if she’s back in Africa again.

“I felt like the whole time I was there it was like I was in a movie and I was just watching myself be part of it,” she says.

The cathartic moment for Olson came in witnessing a couple of village girls draw water from a muddy, algae-covered pond.  Their chores were interrupted briefly when cattle came down to drink from the water hole, but they resumed filling their jugs moments later even though one of the animals had just urinated in the water feet away.

It was their only source of water since the nearby well had run dry.

“It stunned me. It undid me. I had tears streaming down my cheeks,” says Olson, her voice still cracking with emotion. “I felt the passion in me – the reason why I do this ­– grow 10 sizes that day.”

Her job as a teacher is not to get students to register for this event or donate to that cause, but she feels a need for them to bear witness to others who are passionate about something and are leaving the world a better place because of it.

“I hope to be a living example for them, to say to them ‘your job is to find out what you are made for and go out and do it and make a difference,’ ” Olson says.

To see a video of the project, courtesy of Run for Water, CLICK HERE.