Where do we go from here?

It’s been an exciting time for Fields of Hope in the last month or so. If you haven’t heard, we have received approval on our school project proposal for Yetesfa Mesk International Academy from the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Education. Also, the Ethiopian Federal Charities and Societies Agency has approved and licensed Fields of Hope to work in Ethiopia. It took us 8 months to get this license, but many people spend two years working to get this license! Needless to say, this is a huge relief to us and a big answer to prayer! Thank you to all who have joined us in that.

It was a bit of a surprise for us to learn that there are still more processes to complete before all is said and done. After receiving our license, we found out that we need to make an agreement with the Addis Ababa Finance and Economic Development Bureau. In order to complete this agreement, they want to see 10% of our proposed budget for the next 5 years in the bank. This is a little more than $60,000.

So, you can see that what is in front of us is an even bigger task than all of that paperwork. In addition to the agreement with the finance office, we need to rent a school compound, hire/train teachers and other staff, identify which women and children will be our first batch in the school…and all this before Ruth and I go back to the US in a month to have our baby! It feels like a mountain, but we are excited to climb it!

What this all boils down to is that we are going to need a lot of help from a lot of people to make this happen. One of our most pressing financial needs is the money to rent a compound for the school and to pay salaries. When you rent a place in Ethiopia, you most often pay for one whole year at a time. Rent is around $2,500 per month for the kind of place that we will need for the school. In addition to that, we will need some extra money to fix up the place and make it ready to be a school as well as what we need to pay salaries of the people involved at this stage. All things considered, to get us started, we are looking at around $50,000. Which really only means that the $60,000 is not that far off from what we need to get started anyway! Currently, the Fields of Hope bank account is just about empty, so we definitely have a ways to go!

This is where you come in. It goes without saying that we need financial donations. But, we also need help getting the word out about what we are planning to do in Ethiopia. Please share our story and our plan with as many people as possible. You can email them a link to our websiteyou can share our page on Facebookyou can join The One Dollar Campaign, you can talk to friends and family about what we are doing, etc. The more people that know about the project and get involved, the easier it will be to raise this money. The reality is that we are not able to do this on our own. But, together we can break the cycle of poverty, prostitution and despair. Together we can build a new cycle of Hope, Freedom and Restoration.

Will you join us?

#breakthecycle #buildanewcycle

By | April 14th, 2015|News, Stories|Comments Off on Where do we go from here?

Lots of exciting news!

It has been an exciting couple of months both for Fields of Hope and for Ruth and I personally. Let me catch you up on a few things…

The school project is progressing well. You may remember that we applied to the Ethiopian Embassy in DC at the end of August to officially register Fields of Hope in Ethiopia. We have heard from many people that this is a process that can easily take years. We were prepared for that, but were also trusting God that our application would go faster than most. We had three offices that we had to deal with here in Ethiopia: Foreign Affairs, Charities and Societies and the Ministry of Education. All of them had to review and approve our school project proposal for Yetesfa Mesk International Academy.

While things took longer than we would have liked at times, we are thrilled to announce that we just received word that the project is approved! The Ministry of Education signed off on our project proposal this Monday. We then took it back to the Charities and Societies office, who are the final ones to give their stamp of approval and give us our license to work in Ethiopia. That process didn’t even take a day and they have already scheduled our name to be printed in the newspaper, which is the last step of officially registering in Ethiopia. In less than two weeks, that newspaper will be printed!

We are very excited by this and thankful to God for helping us through the whole process. There is still plenty of work to be done, plenty of money to be raised and a long journey ahead. But, this is a huge step forward and we couldn’t be more encouraged right now!

Now for a bit of really exciting personal news…Ruth and I are expecting our first child this August! We are beyond happy about this and can’t wait to meet our beautiful baby. We were originally planning to have the child here in Ethiopia, but after much prayer and discussion with our teams (both in Ethiopia and in the US), everyone agreed that we should be in the US to have the child. Because the airline will not allow us to fly after Ruth reaches a certain point in her pregnancy and because it is recommended to wait until the baby is two months old before you fly, we will be coming back to Pennsylvania in mid May and will be staying until sometime in October (depends on exactly when the baby is born). We look forward to seeing all of our family and friends in the states again soon!

Check out this picture showcasing both the approved project proposal and the baby bump!

IMG_3003 - Version 2

By | February 27th, 2015|News|Comments Off on Lots of exciting news!

Overdue update

Sometimes you mean to update the blog often, but then it takes you 6 months between posts! Let me catch you up on all things Fields of Hope…

Over the summer, we celebrated the 5 year anniversary of Fields of Hope. But, it was also a challenging time. Ruth and I were getting ready to leave the US after spending two years there. We made new friends, reconnected with old ones and got used to seeing our family often. Fields of Hope was also in the midst of a lot of changes and everything was new for us.

After a lot of prayer and consideration, we made the choice earlier this year to register Fields of Hope in Ethiopia instead of partnering with a local organization. We also decided to apply and open a tuition-free, non-profit school here in Addis Ababa. Ruth worked tirelessly on the project proposal and we both worked on all of the other paperwork (lots of authentications and letters). A few days before we moved to Ethiopia, we submitted all of the paperwork to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. A few weeks after that, we followed up with the Foreign Affairs office here in Addis Ababa. They told us that they hadn’t received the application, even though the Embassy told us it would be there in a matter of days. So, we waited some more. Over the next days and weeks, we continued to call and go back to the office until they finally found the application. There was some initial complications, but God was faithful and the paperwork was finished at the Foreign Affairs office in just over a month! In fact, the lady that was handling our application was excited about the project! This is a process that we have heard takes 7 months or more on average.

From there, our application went on to the Charities and Societies office. Again, there was some initial complications. But, again, God was good. We had to rewrite our entire project proposal to fit into their format and then resubmit it. After hearing our vision for the school, the guy that we were dealing with at this office was willing to quickly write us a recommendation letter to the Ministry of Education! He did this within a day!

So, with the recommendation letter in hand, we took our project proposal to the Ministry of Education for them to review. At this point, we are still working with them to come to an agreement on the project proposal. There are some complications because we are planning to have a Bible class on Saturdays. We are hoping that this process won’t take too long.

In the meantime, we also visited the Kebele (the smallest form of local government in Ethiopia) for the target area that we are planning to focus our school project on. Can you guess how they received the idea? They loved it! They were excited about it and told us that they are willing to work closely with us and support us with anything that we need. What’s more, they have already identified a group of about 15-20 women who are currently working as prostitutes and who want to leave that life. The only kind of help being offered to them is monthly handouts that aren’t even big enough to change their lives – the Kebele doesn’t want to give handouts, but wants to equip them. Our school project plans to work with 20 students in the first year. The Kebele already has a group picked out that could very well be the first group of students at Yetesfa Mesk International Academy!

Needless to say, we are blown away by all of this. Many times it takes well over a year (if not 2) to have an international non-profit approved to work in Ethiopia. While we aren’t done with the process, we are nearly finished and it’s only been four months! God has been good to us and to Fields of Hope and we are excited about what lies ahead. We are extremely excited about being able to actually start working and be done with the paperwork side of things.

As you are probably aware, the school isn’t the only project that Fields of Hope plans to do in Ethiopia. We are also working on developing a business plan for a farm and for a coffee shop. The farm will provide a place of restoration for women who are too hurt and abused to simply re-enter society. The coffee shop will provide meaningful and fair-paying employment to women who are leaving prostitution. Through all of these projects, we plan to break the cycle of poverty, prostitution and despair that enslaves tens of thousands of women across Addis Ababa. Then, together with the women, we will build a new cycle of hope, freedom and restoration. While none of the projects are yet a reality, we can see them growing ever larger on the horizon!

We are so excited about all of this! To make these dreams a reality, we need your help. As the year is coming to an end, please consider giving a tax-deductible donation to Fields of Hope. We are so thankful for all of you who have consistently encouraged us through your prayers, donations and communication this past year.

Thank you so much!

By | December 16th, 2014|News, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Overdue update

Ethiopia is at a Turning Point

I’m feeling a bit under the weather today. Allergies turning into a sinus infection. So, I’m sitting here in my pajamas and a sweatshirt sipping on some warm tea with fresh ginger and honey, trying to get better. There’s a cheesy movie on TV and the sounds of houses being built all around me. Which gets me thinking, Ethiopia is at a turning point.

Most of the news that comes out of Ethiopia is about the desperate struggle that many people go through just to survive. That is a very stark reality here. I am reminded of the ladies we are trying to help get out of prostitution. They serve a customer for around a dollar and may have to pay as much as $6 a day in rent. It’s awful, it’s hopeless and it’s difficult to comprehend.

But, there is this whole other side of things in Ethiopia which gets talked about very little around the world. Just looking outside my window right now I can see people building a beautiful three story concrete house with a little deck and terrace on the roof – I heard they even built a bio-gas system in the basement. Just next door to me another three story house is being built. And my other neighbor is building a one level house. If I take the ten minute walk to the main road where I can get a mini-bus taxi, I will see almost nothing except new houses being built. Driving through the city shows that big malls, office buildings and residential complexes are going up almost everywhere. These will quickly be filled with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, salons and nearly any other business you can think of. Some of these are being built from foreign investment, but many of them are being built by Ethiopian citizens. People are making money here and are investing it wisely. Ethiopia is at a turning point.

I also see this growth and expansion of Ethiopia as an awesome way of helping the poor and disenfranchised that are all around us. One of the things that we are planning to do once we raise enough money is to open a cafe with which to hire women out of the lowest levels of prostitution. The cafe would be a classy place that serves top quality pastries and delicious coffee drinks. It would be the kind of place that the rich would want to come and eat a slice of fresh mango meringue pie while enjoying a vanilla macchiato made with freshly roasted coffee. And the ladies that were working as prostitutes for a dollar a customer would now be working in nice cafe where they could make more than that in one tip.

Just imagine for a minute how that would change their lives. Where they used to struggle each and every day to pay rent and afford a little food, they would now be receiving a fair, living wage that would easily cover their rent and enough food for 3 meals every day. There would be some leftover money to send their children to school. It would even be possible for them to save a little cash for a rainy day. Or to put some aside in their child’s college fund. They would have a chance to live what the rest of us would call a modest life.

If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, please consider making a donation to help us save up and make this a reality. If you have another way that you can and want to help, please contact us and let us know. Thank you.

By | October 28th, 2012|General, News|Comments Off on Ethiopia is at a Turning Point

Is the Rain Here

I think everyone in Ethiopia is asking themselves “ahun krumpt gebah?” (Is the rainy season now here?). We’ve seen a little bit of rain over the last couple days. It seems to be coming in typical Ethiopian Krumpt (rainy season) fashion – rain half the day and sun the other half. The other day, for example, I went to meet Ruth at her school for lunch. On the way, the sun was really strong and I had worked up a decent amount of sweat by the time I got to the school. But, after lunch it was overcast and had cooled down quite a bit – in fact, I almost wish I had a sweatshirt with me!

It’s hard to tell if the rain will be enough to save the country from a drought and major food problems. And I’m certainly no expert on the matter. But I think that we’re all holding out hope and this recent rain has certainly lifted our hope on the matter. If it continues like this, the harvest might just be enough to pull the country through the year. At the same time, however, many large international organizations are calling for more aid and support for East Africa this year because it still looks like food security may be an issue this year.

Another thing that I am always amazed about in Ethiopia is how different the seasons are – and how quickly they change. Even just a few weeks ago, while it was still the dry season, everything was so dusty and overwhelmingly dry. You had to stop breathing if a car drove past (not to mention the massive amounts of dust that was accumulating in our house!). But now we have a different set of problems to deal with. When the rain comes there is a huge amount of sticky, slippery mud all over the place (which sure makes walking around fun!).

Even though we have seen some rain, it certainly isn’t the amount that normally comes during this season. So, there is still cause to be worried. In any case, we are happy that we are getting at least a little bit of rain and that things seem to be looking up on this side of the world. We can only continue to hope that things won’t be as bad as the forecasts are calling for. It’s amazing how much those little drops of water can completely change a place.

By | June 23rd, 2012|General, News|Comments Off on Is the Rain Here

The Problem

As I was leaving my neighborhood today, I was confronted with the many different sights and smells of Ethiopia. I walked by one house where they were cooking some Ethiopian food, the smell of the onions/garlic/ginger was so sweet in the air. Just a minute after that I walked by an area that smelled like a toilet, not such a sweet smell. Then I walked by a school and some restaurants and got in a public taxi. I passed many different kinds of people. Some were wearing suits, some were wearing nothing at all. I saw moms walking with their children and people going all different places. I saw some children who were most likely running errands for the family. One girl who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old was carrying a big container (maybe about 5 gallons), most likely filled with water, on her back.

It got me thinking about the many differences between Ethiopia and where I grew up in York, PA, USA. It’s not too often that you walk through a neighborhood in York that smells like a toilet! It’s also not common to see children working. But here, it is a reality of life. The entire family must pitch in and help out. The children will usually need to help their family with many different things, often times this means having some source of income that they can bring back to the family. This is a huge obstacle in getting these children an education, which is key to improving their lives. In fact, education is one of the main things required for a country to bring itself out of poverty.

It also got me thinking about the women that we help and how, far too often, their children also need to help them make some money. If they have a daughter, it is very likely that she will also start working as a prostitute as young as 7 years old! Since I grew up in the US it is hard for me to even comprehend this. My little sister just turned 9 years old, I can’t imagine her living this life. Let alone the thought of a 7 year old child working in any business, how can she work as a prostitute? I can’t even begin to imagine the problems that this will cause for her as she grows up.

Let me explain for you the kind of conditions that a daughter of one of these women would grow up in. The houses that you see here are typical in the area that we are working. These are the typical houses you find in the red light district where we are workingYou can see that they have curtains over their doorways, these are open when they are waiting for clients and closed when someone is inside with them. The chances of them having running water is very small and electricity usually isn’t more than a single light bulb in their tiny one-room house. They can pay up to $75 USD a month for one of these small houses, with the average probably being around $30-40. Oftentimes they have to pay daily, although they may not make enough money each day. This only forces them into a pit of debt to their landlord and doesn’t give the women any chance of getting out of this life without someone helping them.

This area is called Kirkos and it is one of the worst areas in Addis Ababa. The majority of the people living here are women who are working as prostitutes. Some estimate that there are more than 3,000 women working as prostitutes in this area alone (there are a few other areas like this around the city). They get paid a pittance for the work that they do. The typical amount that a guy pays to sleep with them is about 15 US cents. They can get up to around a dollar if the guy wants to spend the night. If tI took this picture during the morning when we drove through the area one dayheir landlord charges them $30 a month, that means that they need to sleep with around 150 guys each month! And that’s only for their rent, not even their food or any other expenses. Needless to say, these women have to work all day, every day, just to survive. You can see the woman on the left standing in her doorway waiting for a customer. I took this picture one morning when we were driving through this area. It is such a desperate struggle for life there, I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully come to terms with it. Every time I see the area, or even just talk about it, my heart breaks. I only hope that someday we can make a significant change here.

What really gets me is that girls are forced into this kind of life everyday. Some girls take up the work because they grew up watching their mom do it. Other girls come from the countryside thinking that they can find jobs in the city, but end up working as a prostitute (often times getting tricked by some of the pimps). As I said before, they can be as young as 7 years old. Teenagers are extremely common. There is actually a huge demand for the younger girls, Another shot taken during the morning in Kirkos, the red light districtas the guys often think that these girls are too young to be able to have any serious diseases. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth and HIV is extremely prevalent in this area. It is hard to say the exact prevalence rate among these women since most of them haven’t been tested, but I would guess that it has to be pretty close to 100%.

The life that these women live is so hard for us to relate to, because it is so far from our own lives. But, try to put yourself in their shoes. Or imagine if your daughter or sister were one of these women. You can begin to imagine how hopeless it is. You can’t even afford your rent, how would you even begin to think about escaping this life? This is a life that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. It is a life without hope, a life without love, a life full of pain. Our goal is to bring hope to this area. To help the women change their lives from something so despairing to something filled with hope.

By | February 23rd, 2012|General, News|Comments Off on The Problem

The Gap is Stifling

No, not the clothing store (though that can be stifling too!). I’m talking about the gap between the economic classes here in Ethiopia. You can’t go anywhere here without being faced with it. People driving their fancy cars by mud homes and homeless children. On one side of the road is a nice multi-story shopping complex and on the other side there are people starving. Within 10 minutes walk of each other you can find a nice coffee shop and a red light district. Everywhere you walk, there are people asking for some money or some bread. Everywhere you turn, there is someone that seriously needs help. The gap is stifling.

I have been thinking about this more and more lately. I’m not really sure why. I guess after living here for more than a year I am realizing more and more just how big this gap really is. It is difficult to wrap my mind around. It is overwhelming.

What’s even more difficult to figure out is what to do about it. I have been thinking more and more about the homeless people on the street who beg me for money. I have been realizing how cold I have become towards them. Walking by them without even a glance. I feel awful about it. And I debate with myself about what I should do. On one hand, I think that we are supposed to help everyone in need – even if some of them are faking it or are children employed by someone who takes all their money at the end of the day, or whatever other problem there could be. Shouldn’t I just give to them anyway? On the other hand, I have read so many books and talked to so many people that have said giving out money like this only makes the problem worse in the long run. What should I do? This is a question that I am not sure I will ever have a solid answer for.

The world has tried the system of giving handouts for so long now and the results aren’t that great. The world is still in an awful situation, even though billions of dollars are being thrown at the problem. Obviously we need to rethink the way we are trying to fix the problem of poverty in this world. I am completely behind ideas like micro-lending and social businesses. Instead of just giving handouts, we can use that same money and really help these people get out of poverty. On a global scale, micro-lending and social businesses are making a huge change. I think an important factor is that the people get a sense of pride in what they are doing. They are happy to do work to improve their lives.

Another important distinction between the two is that handouts are demeaning and these new methods are uplifting. The world has often looked upon the poor as lesser than everyone else, and the poor know it. When a handout is given, it only makes this gap between the poor and rich even wider. Imagine how difficult and humbling it must be to beg for money. Poor people are still people, no different from you and me. Why not help them in a way that gives them a sense of pride and helps us all to realize that we really are equal? When someone is given the tools that they need – either a job in a social business or a micro-loan – they are able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a better life for their family. I have been privileged to witness this a few times and it is an incredible thing. What is really so wonderful about this method is that it builds these people up, instead of breaking them down.

Some great books to read on this topic are:
Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs

By | November 18th, 2011|General, News, Stories|Comments Off on The Gap is Stifling

Another Day, Another Holiday

Ethiopia sure does have a lot of holidays. About 15 or so major holidays per year. Not a bad deal. In just the last few weeks we have had the Ethiopian New Year, Eid ul-Fitr (Muslim holiday, marking the end of Ramadan) and Meskel (Orthodox holiday, celebrating when St. Helena allegedly found the true cross of Jesus).

My wife Ruth and I have been especially grateful for all of these holidays because it allows us some time to be together and to relax at home. As in most of the world – if not all – holidays are also a wonderful excuse to eat too much food. For the new year, we had some pretty wonderful Ethiopian feasts. Both in Ruth’s family’s house and my family’s house. (You must be saying: “Dan, you’re family is in the US, how did you have an Ethiopian feast at their house?” Well, I guess I should clarify. The feast was in my Ethiopian family’s house, Frew and Frehiwot. I’m pretty lucky to have two families!). The food that stands out in the Ethiopian New Year feast is definitely Doro Wot. This is the famous Ethiopian chicken dish loved by almost everyone who has ever tried it. It is a spicy onion sauce that has chicken pieces and spiced butter in it as well. It is cooked for the better part of the day and you can’t stop at one serving of this.

Meskel, which was just on Monday, is another reason to feast if you know anyone from the Gurage tripe in Ethiopia. They are famous for another Ethiopian dish called Kitfo, which is ground beef mixed with different spices and spiced butter and served along side of some different kinds of cheese and greens. It is traditionally eaten raw, but can also be served partially cooked or fully cooked. My favorite is raw, but this year I didn’t want to risk it, as I was already a bit sick. So, I went for the next step, called leb leb. It’s very lightly cooked, flash fried basically. Dr. Frew gives it the stamp of approval, so I figure it’s safe enough. Anyway, we had some of that at my Ethiopian mom’s family’s house. We ate till we couldn’t take another bite, it was delicious. I brought a bit of an American flavor in the form of chocolate chip cookies. But the kitfo definitely won the show.

Aside from all the holidays, things are going well. We are still doing research as to what kinds of businesses would be best for us to open and hire the women with. But we have a few ideas and are confident that something will work out within the next few months. For now we will continue to support the women and children that we have already helped. About two weeks ago we handed out some basic supplies to some of the women. This included wheat, cooking oil, soap, toilet paper, etc.

Please stay tuned for new developments. And feel free to leave some comments on here.

By | September 29th, 2011|General, News|Comments Off on Another Day, Another Holiday

Maybe the Rain Will Come

If you’ve ever heard me talk about Ethiopia, you’ve probably heard me talk about the amazing weather that we have here. Which is true, the weather is more often than not just about perfect. But, these last few weeks the sun has been shining just a little too much for my comfort. It’s a crazy thing to complain about, because it’s barely gotten into the mid 80′s lately. So, as soon as you step into the shade you feel much better (thank God for nearly no humidity in Addis Ababa!). With that said, the sun shines a bit brighter in Ethiopia than it does elsewhere – we are pretty close to the equator after all. Not to mention Ethiopia being coined as the land of 13 months of sunshine (their calendar actually has 13 months here).

However, the current problem in Ethiopia goes beyond my discomfort (surprising, huh?). We are facing a drought. I’ve read reports that blame it on El Nino. Whatever the cause, Ethiopia is not getting enough rain. The seasons here are pretty simple: rainy and dry. But one of the most crucial aspects of the seasons is a short rainy season that happens in March or April. This is after months and months of no rain at all. It helps to loosen the soil, which allows the farmers to plow it and plant their crops. There is then a bit more dry and hot weather before the full on rainy season starts in June. Unfortunately, this year we didn’t have nearly enough rain in March and April. In fact, we had hardly any at all. Just a few days here and there.

Beyond that, some meteorologists are saying that there won’t be enough rain during krumpt (Amharic for rainy season). This could have a very serious impact on Ethiopia’s food security and economy. In a country where starvation has been an issue for a long time now, this isn’t good news to hear. The majority of the food in Ethiopia is produced locally. If the crops can’t grow and the animals don’t have enough grass to eat, this could be a really serious problem. Inflation has just about hit 30% already. Food prices have been rising continually for months now. Prices of nearly everything else has risen too. These are tough times.

But maybe, just maybe, the rains will come. Maybe there will be enough rain here to water all the land. Maybe the crops will grow beautifully this year. Maybe there will be more than enough grass for all the animals to eat. Maybe the rainy season will be as beautiful as it always is. Maybe there will be more mud than we know what to do with. Maybe. But if not, we are in some trouble. And this speaks to a greater issue in Ethiopia. People are always waiting for things to get better here. For poverty to be reduced. For food to be plentiful. If only the rains come. I guess we should question what the rains really are.

Rain is water that falls from the sky. It nourishes the land. It allows things to grow. Therefore, rain is something that brings life, that brings hope and that brings change. When the rainy season comes in Ethiopia, things change drastically. The weather gets colder. The dust turns into mud. Dry fields turn into bountiful crops. Streams turn into rivers. Ponds turn into lakes.

My hope is that those of us who are committed to helping Ethiopia, committed to bringing about change here, will be able to bring “rain” upon Ethiopia. My hope is that poverty turns into wealth. Starvation turns into fullness. Problems turn into solutions. Despair turns into hope.

It is our goal at Fields of Hope to really be able to bring hope to those living in the worst of conditions, to bring change where it is desperately needed. This is impossible without the help of people like you. We need your encouragement, prayers (or good thoughts, good vibes, or whatever else you’re comfortable with) and support. Oh, and donations would really help too!

By | May 18th, 2011|General, News|Comments Off on Maybe the Rain Will Come