My petite, bristle-haired bride flew halfway around the earth, and changed my life for (at least) eleven years. Once home, Kim laid a photo of a beautiful seven year old African girl on our office counter. This is Kidist; she needs tuition. For more than a decade. I gulped.
Kim traveled with seventy-five Rotarians to Ethiopia to help that nation administer Salk polio vaccine to its fourteen million children. (Rotarians do amazing things.) While in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Kim visited the German Church School. The organization, funded by Finns and Germans, serves Addis’s poorest children. Each year, 400 interviews yield eighty admissions. Those children enter first grade, each sponsored by a German, Finn, or (now) American. The modest monthly sums sent are split between the child and her family--kids must eat at home to learn at school. German Church School curriculum integrates blind and sighted students. All learn not only numerical and textual literacy, but also karate and character. In the midst of Ethiopia’s grinding poverty, in a culture that undervalues women, Kidist might have a chance.
I did not leap to support Kidist. I have reservations. Why cannot Ethiopia nurture Ethiopia? Are we creating a continent economically addicted to foreign largesse? Will education dollars be squandered instructing a girl in a culture that suppresses women? Does German Church School teach Ethiopian children to be good Europeans? Are there no children in need of education in Shoreline? I struggled, conflicted. As Goethe (German, 19th century A.D.) complained, “Two souls dwell, alas! in my breast” (Faust, Part I). When my skirmish subsided, I consented.
I needed to consent. Kidist is no macroeconomic microcosm; geopolitical conundra must desist. Kidist needs help. I also consented for me. My soul is small. It needs stretching, like sore muscles before a jog. Thighs complain when stretched; so too my heart. There are great spirits for whom vast compassion appears effortless: the Gandhis, the Schweitzers, the Mother Teresas. Their hearts enfold the planet. Not mine. I care at home. Most days, my soul extends to Shoreline. Few days does it reach across America. Never has it extended beyond oceans. So, little Kidist scares me. I may learn to care about someone on the other side of the planet. I might have to visit. I might grow.
Spooky girl, that Kidist.