How did I end up in the middle of Africa? This was not even on my radar 3 months ago. Wasn’t Ethiopia the place where they had that terrible famine when I was a kid? Surely it’s better now but why would I want to go there? The answer: personality.

The first personality I encountered was Trish Hack-Rubinstein, at a bus stop in outer San Francisco. The kind of idle conversation where somebody casually mentions that they have a Non-Profit Organization in their pocket (run largely from an iPhone). This person radiates an energy that affects everyone within speaking distance, and suddenly we are learning in leaps and bounds about Ethiopia’s history and the challenges they face.

And then a huge collection of gregarious, generous and kind-hearted personalities at a fund-raising event in New York City, and I’m hooked! I once met Mr. Munroe Ashkenase, who founded Foster Parents Plan (now Plan Canada). His favourite expression was, “I never met a man who didn’t want to help – you just had to make it easy for him.” Well these people were making it easy for me.

Just over a month later, I have navigated the customs and immigration hall of Addis Ababa airport clinging to my only clue: “Someone will be there to pick you up.” That someone was the personality that created this whole enterprise: Muday Mitiku. Constantly in motion, keeping an organization the size of a village in her head (and on her mobile phone), she is a wonder to watch. Her staff and family provide seamless support.

And finally I meet the collective personality whom I knew before only in pictures: the beautiful children who make a stranger feel like he is part of the family. The characters! The laughter! The schoolyard games! If only I spoke their language as well as they speak mine – but they will teach me, throughout the course of a week. Amharica kwanka tamari naw – I am a student of Amharic.

I am the beneficiary of the generosity of all of these personalities, these perfect hosts. That is why I do my small part to help with their challenges.

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