There’s no doubt that Heather McArty’s mission to bring shoes to needy Ethiopian kids had a profound impact on her.

Heather McArty with local Ethiopian childrenIn fact, she was so struck by the poverty that she’s making plans to go back in two years.

Heather’s recent trip was arranged by the Hosanna Project. She had made a similar trip in 2013 to Peru. In the years since, she and her daughter have taken part in the Appalachian Service Project, making homes, warmer, safer and drier. “We both have a heart for serving others, and an international trip felt like the next natural step in sharing our faith with the most vulnerable.”

Heather met The Hosanna Project’s founder, Mandy Browning, through networking. Heather discovered, “We share an interest for all things nonprofit. I had mentioned to her that we were gathering information about a mission trip to Bolivia, and she invited us to consider going with her organization to Africa instead. The rest was history.”

Along with her daughter and two other people, Heather’s team was able to provide 63 pairs of brand new adjustable shoes to the children of Trees of Glory Community Center.  She says, “The kids travel an average of one to two miles each way to attend the community center where they have breakfast (a roll or piece of fruit) and lunch . . .  Most of the kids came to us in very ill-fitting or extremely damaged shoes, but there were a few that had none whatsoever. We washed their feet and then fitted them for a brand new pair of durable shoes that can are adjustable up to five sizes so that they can ‘grow’ with them for the next year or two.” Along with the practical footwear, Heather and her team brought soccer balls covered in scripture in the native Amharic language. “We also brought new t-shirts for everyone and notebooks along with stickers, washi tape and markers for them to decorate and keep.” She also provided INB pencils. In addition, INB picked up the tab for 20 pairs of shoes.

None of the Comforts of Home

When they arrived in Ethiopia, Heather, her daughter and two others from the United States teamed up with the Community Center’s director, a translator and a driver. The American contingent stayed at three different African hotels. “They were not luxurious by any means, but we were thankful for the use of standard toilets,” explains Heather. “The shower in two out of the three hotels we stayed in didn’t work so we actually had to use a different room to bathe. I managed to break two door handles because they were barely on, and the last hotel we stayed at didn’t have a lock on the door.”

In addition to these inconveniences, Heather adds, “The government shut down the internet for the week so we had no Wi-Fi, and they turned off power for one night and morning when they suspected that residents in the area we were planning to organize a ‘peaceful’ protest.  It was a very eye-opening and interesting experience.”

In addition to providing kids with shoes, Heather helped with a local initiative to plant 200 million trees in one day to set a world record and to make strides in their reforestation campaign.  They helped the children in doing their part by planting 300 trees at the school they attend.  Heather adds, “Ultimately, Ethiopia exceeded their goal and a total of 353,633,660 tree seedlings were planted.”

Heather McArty with the groupReality

One day they drove to a hill overlooking Hosanna, Ethiopia to take a picture of the city. “When the local children saw us get out of the vehicle, they all made their way down the hill to greet us. This tiny, little boy fell and began to cry. When I helped him back up to his feet I realized that he wasn’t wearing any pants or shoes and his little hands were freezing. That is their reality.”

Heather continues: “Everyone we encountered had very little where material items were concerned. We saw kids and adults in the same clothes the entire time we were there. Their feet were their transportation. Their houses were shanties made of scrap material.  Their water supply was scarce. What was astounding to me was, that they did not let their lack of belongings and daily struggles determine the joy that they chose to radiate.”

And while Heather saw tons of joy at the one-room community center, she couldn’t help but notice the need for something better.  Even seating was hard to come by, with often two kids to a chair.

Heather continues to describe the facility: “They have a separate shed in the back that is used as a kitchen, and it has a dirt floor. The bathroom is a two sided corrugated metal ‘shelter’ with a hole in the ground. They do not have government subsidized programs, so they are funded by organizations like The Hosanna Project out of North Carolina that creates sponsorship opportunities and covers operational expenses like salaries and rent.”

As you’d expect, Heather was deeply moved by the trip and wants to continue to help from her Central Illinois home. Even though the Trees of Glory Community Center provides little more than the bare necessities, the most immediate need is funding for the children’s school fees, books and uniforms. “Every child needs $75 in order to cover this year’s educational expenses. That’s something I can help provide today.”