The overwhelming impression of my time spent in Gondar, is the love and respect I received from people, in both the Jewish and the Christian populations. This is an area of pious individuals, many of whom live with their families in the poorest of conditions, in one room, with no running water or electricity. These are people, who will welcome you into their homes, offer you their hospitality and thank you for honouring them, by being there.
Ethiopia is an amazing country, full of contrasts and contradictions. The Jewish community follows suit. A woman with a cross tattooed on her forehead, teaches Judaism to other women. A young man, passionate about Israel, whose parents were both Jewish, but was taught Christianity by the priests, has a Magen David drawn on his upper arm. This he keeps hidden from view, even from his close friends.
The After School Club is run by an energetic young man, Gech. He is full of enthusiasm, laughter and love for the children in his care. In their adoration of him, they follow him, like the Pied Piper of Gondar, clinging onto him, even when the three-hour session has finished.
The children get help from him in English and anything else that can support their schooling and Sewbasew gives them help in mathematics. But throughout the day, the children get the individual attention their own schools cannot give them and in turn, they learn to share, to play and to help each other.
In my capacity as a volunteer, I am sure that I learnt more about the goodness of humanity than anything the children learnt from me. I saw how easily they offered their friendship to me, a stranger. Their willingness and the enjoyment they attained from cleaning the classrooms before Shabbat and setting out the furniture, to listening to me and Gech doing a double-act in telling a story, to making latkes at Chanukah and spinning the dreidel, all this was truly uplifting for me to witness.
Happiness and joy seemed so simple to achieve for these students and was infectious. I laughed and smiled throughout my time with them.