Personal Update

Dear family, friends and other interested readers,

This blog post is more a personal update.  As you know, we have been living and working for the past year in Wolaita Soddo in southern Ethiopia at a children’s home (orphanage).  This past year has been a great experience for us.  We have learned a lot and, in return, we think we were able to help in some ways as well.  Up until about a week ago, we had every intention of continue to live and work here for at least another year.

However, about two weeks ago, a teaching position opened up suddenly and unexpectedly at the International Community School in Addis Ababa (ICS).  Within a matter of just 5 days we learned of the position, traveled up to Addis to interview and Nathan was offered the job.  We did not immediately accept the position.  The timing was very sudden and difficult for us.  We really were not ready to leave our life and work in Soddo.  The thought of leaving in general, but especially so soon, was very sad for us.  But after some very careful consideration, we decided to accept the position.

Our role here at the Children’s Home has been a volunteer position.  Our housing has been provided and we’ve received a small monthly living stipend.  We’ve known all along that we could not financially sustain this position for long into the future.  We anticipated that we could manage for up to two years, then we’d either have to find something in Ethiopia with a paycheck, or we’d be returning back to the U.S.  To find a paying job in Ethiopia is not an easy task.  We’ve watched for years for job positions in Ethiopia; they are very hard to find and often very temporary.  We’ve even watched for several years for job openings at ICS; in social studies, there haven’t been any for several years.  So we’ve decided that if we want to continue living and working in Ethiopia, it would be foolish to turn down this recent job opportunity.

Beyond allowing us to sustain ourselves in Ethiopia, the ICS job also will allow us to live in Addis.  We have enjoyed our life in Soddo, but our years in Chicago made us into big-city people.  We have always liked Addis and look forward to living there.  This move will also provide a good school for Titay as she goes into first grade.  She will be able to attend ICS tuition-free.  While she has enjoyed going to KG here in Soddo in Amharic, she is excited about going to an “American-style” school for first grade.  She will also benefit from a more stimulating school environment.

This decision feels very bittersweet.  We are excited about the opportunity, but it comes with the very hard decision to leave our work with the Children’s Home, which we have very much enjoyed.  We do not really feel ready to leave the home.  We still have some only partially finished goals for our work here.  We have grown to love the staff and kids of the home, and we’ve grown to greatly enjoy the beauty of the Wolaita region.  We have had a sad week here as we’ve shared the news of our move to our friends, colleagues and the kids.

But Soddo is really not that far away from Addis (327 km, to be exact).  We’ve gotten use to overnight bus rides up to Addis for a weekend; now we’ll just do that trip in reverse.  We want to and plan to remain very connected to the Children’s Home.  Before accepting the job in Addis, we sat down with the school academic calendar and planed out all the dates we could spend in Soddo.  At least through the end of 2012, we plan to come down often for long weekends, fall break, etc.  In fact, after speaking with the board in the U.S. and the management here in Ethiopia, we’ve agreed to remain in the roles of home managers, though our roles will obviously change.  We will clearly be less involved in the daily life of the home, but we will continue to partner with the Ethiopian management to support them in their roles, we will continue to oversee a few projects that remain in progress (the garden project, setting up a database, the well project), we’ll continue in the liaison role between the U.S. board and the Ethiopian staff, and we’ll still be involved in the budgetary process.  In some ways, we see this job in Addis as a way to remain involved at the Children’s Home for even longer, because it provides us with a means to remain in Ethiopia for longer (for now the job at ICS is just a one-year contract, but we anticipate that it will be extended in the future).

Probably many of you are wondering what this all means for our well project.  Since January, we have spent considerable time developing the plan to drill a deep borehole well on the Children’s Home compound to ensure a good quality and consistent water source for the home.  At this point, the U.S. board has raised about 2/3rd of the needed funds.  We have formed a partnership for the drilling/casing stage with Water is Life, a water/drilling NGO that operates in southern Ethiopia with the plan to start drilling in October (see  We have already paid for the 3-phase power installation and expect to have that installation underway in the coming couple of weeks.  And we’ve already completed or developed all the other components of the project: hydro-geological survey, pump research, quotes from pump and water system installers, etc.  This project is going to move forward.  It is a very important one for the Children’s Home.  We will remain managers of this project, both from Addis (many of the materials have to come from Addis anyway) and through trips down to Soddo (we’re working to schedule the drilling during Nathan’s fall break, for example).  If all the funds come in and all goes roughly accordingly to schedule, we expect to have the well fully up and running by the end of 2012.  We will certainly continue to keep you updated on this project through facebook and the blog.

Many of you have supported us financially over the past year, either with funds for the Children’s Home project in general, or with funds for some of our personal living and work expenses.  We want to again express our great appreciation for all of the support.  Being the recipient of others’ great generosity has been one of the strange and unexpected, but also very beautiful aspects of this experience this past year.  Many friends, relatives and total strangers have given very generously, despite the very real needs of their own.  We know that for many of you, you have given partly because of your connection to us.  We hope that going forward, though we’ll actually have a paycheck of our own and won’t be living and working full-time at the Children’s Home, you will continue to keep this project in mind and consider continuing to support it.  We have chosen to remain involved with this project partly because we believe it’s a good project, involved in work of real value, led by good and honest people. If you want more information about how you can continue to support the Children’s Home, we’d be glad to provide that for you.

So what’s next?  We will remain living and working full-time here at the Children’s Home until the end of July.  During that time, we’ll be making some quick trips up to Addis to try to secure some housing.  Nathan will start his new job on July 31st.  Richelle and Titay will still be traveling back to the U.S. for part of Aug. through mid-Sept.  Nathan, unfortunately, will now not be able to join them.  Richelle and Titay, however, are looking forward to seeing and visiting with some of you.  Titay will begin first grade at ICS in Sept.  Richelle will probably continue doing some social work consultancy with some Addis agencies.  And, of course, we’ll continue our involvement with the Children’s Home and continue to provide updates at and we’ll continue to blog.

As always, we welcome your comments, feedback and questions.  We also welcome visits.  We’ve greatly enjoyed visits from a number of friends and family this past year; don’t stop visiting.  We enjoy seeing you and Ethiopia is a great country to spend some time in.


Gardens and Water… Making Progress

We haven’t provided much information lately about our two most popular blogging topics:  the garden project and the well project.  We’ve been intentionally trying to diversify the topics a little.  But since there has been exciting progress in both of these projects, I guess it’s time for an update.

The Garden Project

I (Nathan) and the kids have been enjoying the garden project.  We’ve had a good wet spring since the beginning of April.  We have lots of garlic and red onions growing, plus some carrots, potatoes, green beans, peas and lettuce.  Richelle and I have been enjoying a few green beans and some lettuce already (by buying them off the kids who grew them).  We hope that the kids can be harvesting their first round of garlic and red onions in about a month, then turn around and get a second planting in so they can harvest again in October or so.

We’ve learned a few things along the way.  For you gardening experts out there, these may be obvious lessons, but they’ve been new to us:

Number one: garlic likes a good chilling.  A gardener can spur-on the growth of garlic if the bulbs are chilled for a while before “cracking” and planting.  This is why in North America, most people plant garlic in the fall.  The winter cold, followed by the warming soil of the spring, helps initiate growth within the clove, so that long before the ground is warm enough to work and plant other vegetables, the gardener can already see garlic shoots above the ground.  We don’t have a cold winter season here in Ethiopia… but we do have mountaintop villages where the nighttime temperatures dip consistently down into the 40’s.  That’s why the locals in the market all suggested, if we’re purchasing for planting, that we seek out the ladies selling garlic from the top of Mt. Damota (the mountain just north of Soddo, which rises to about 10,000 ft).  Unintentionally, we did a little experiment.  We bought our first round of garlic from the ladies from Damota.  The ladies even opened up some cloves to show us how the shoot was already beginning to develop within the clove.  Once planted, we had shoots above the ground within a week.  When we ran out of the first round of garlic and the kids still wanted to plant more, we went to the market again but couldn’t find any ladies from Damota, so we just purchased some random garlic.  It took over a month for the second round to show shoots above the ground.  We had almost given up, but just recently, shoots are popping up.

Number two: when you use compost on your gardens, you get the added excitement of seeing what random things grow from the compost.  We have maize, tomato and potato plants growing in the most random of places… places where they were never planted.

Number three: buying small red onions from the local open market and using them as onion sets can result in some ugly onion “clumps.”  Without access to prepared onion sets, we just selected out small onions (1” diameter or less) in the market and planted them as sets.  It seems, though, that some of these “sets” that we planted were either already “split” (harvested from an onion plant that had already bolted) or for some reason, once planted, they split immediately.  Instead of nice single-bulb onions, we have these weird clumps of 2-4 onions growing from the same “set.”  We’re going to experiment with a couple of clumps, try digging them up, separating them and re-planting.  We may also try letting some go to seed and try planting some from seed next time around.

Finally, number four: given the incredibly powerful rainstorms that sometimes hit Ethiopia when rain does come, we have learned that terracing a side-hill is not enough to prevent erosion.  We have spent many hours digging ditches to control rain run-off.

The Well Project

We are still moving forward with our deep borehole well project.  We have already begun the process of installing 3-phase electric power to our compound (needed to run the submersible pump that we’ll eventually have).  We hired some workers the other day to level out a path next to our football field so that an electrical utility truck can get in to install the transformer.  We hope to begin installation of the high voltage line and transformer within the next couple of weeks.  We have chosen to work with Water is Life as our partner for the drilling and casing stage.  Water is Life is a U.S. registered non-profit that operates out of Hawassa, Ethiopia and works on well and water projects throughout southern Ethiopia (check them out at  We are planning on drilling in Oct. after the ground dries out a little from rainy season.

After drilling and casing, we’ll be purchasing a submersible pump, installing the pump and setting up the water system from the well to our current system.  We hope to have the whole thing up and running by the end of 2012.  Of course, Aerie Africa has also been working on fundraising for this project.  Because of the depth that we must drill to hit quality, consistent, year-round water, the whole project will likely cost between $70 and $80 thousand.  We’ve already raised over half that amount (if you’re interested in contributing, please feel free to email us or go to

As always, we’re very interested in feedback (and gardening advice or contributions to the well project).  Please feel free to reply to this post, email us or post to our facebook page at