As I was preparing to speak with my daughter at our 2015 OHBD event, I reflected on where it all started for us. In 2008, I was sitting at my desk at Amazon in the Pacific Medical building waiting to see a picture of our daughter. My husband Michael was doing the same Kentwood High School. The little girl who joined our family put us on a completely different path.
When she was two, we were searching for ways to connect her to her birth country and for ways to equalize opportunities for children there. We firmly believe access to education and the doors it opens is a right and shouldn’t be dependent on where in the world you are born.
We learned about Ethiopia Reads and it spoke to us. Ordinary people, a writer and librarian, started this effort and were having a tremendous impact by drawing in people with a heart for kids from all corners, teachers and students and artists, and the list goes on. We started by asking all our friends and family and even strangers to help us plant a library in Leyla’s birthtown of Bahir Dar, home to the thundering Blue Nile Falls.
In 2011, we visited a number of Ethiopia Reads efforts including the site of the library. We were amazed and entranced by the natural beauty, the culture and the people of that ancient land. And we were also educated on the significant gap that still exists related to literacy and educational opportunities.
We knew for Ethiopia Reads to continue to help close this gap it needed a sustainable, stable source of funding, which it didn’t have at that time. We decided, with help and encouragement from people like our art director Yadesa Bojia, to start Open Hearts Big Dreams later that year. We tapped into our communities. Many from Amazon then and now were part of building the event. Kentwood High School National Honor Society volunteers helped us the first year and every year since. And neighbors, friends, friends of friends, and people we never met before all joined with us to do what truly seemed impossible when we started. We were blown away by the support and success and were emboldened to think bigger.
Each year we have grown the attendees, the people and organizations who contribute in so many ways both big and small, and as a result greatly increased the support we can provide to Ethiopia Reads to enables big dreams for over 130,000 kids. Leyla has also grown and since she was 4 participated in what she describes as “her event.”
When we returned to the fully functioning library in Bahir Dar in 2014, she got to see what this meant to kids who didn’t have a library before. And we also learned the need continues as that small library is supporting 2000 children from grade school through high school, many of whom are hearing impaired. We are working to complete an expansion so there can be a place for both the small and large children to connect with books in an age appropriate environment.
Watching Leyla and her brothers, join her dad and me and an amazing global community, to allow deserving kids to dare to dream takes my breath away, every year.
But there are still more kids who need our assistance, please consider contributing, truly no amount is too small to have a real, positive impact. THANK YOU!