Children of Light is an exclusively volunteer based organization, and has no paid staff. We are a creative, talented and selfless community of volunteers.
Volunteers dedicate their talent, time, and effort to running our programs both in Ethiopia and in Canada. From English teachers to chefs, our community is diverse and growing. We encourage you to browse through our testimonials to become more familiar with our community and our cause. These first hand accounts offer an inside perspective on the meaningful experiences gained through working with Children of Light.
I have been to Ethiopia twice and each time I have had an incredible, life changing experience. I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of an amazing community of both the village of Gambo, and working with the Children of Light volunteers. While in Ethiopia I was working in their local village school teaching an ESL program, and also teaching an after school art program. This art program was an enriching and collaborative project, including both Ethiopian culture paired with basic art fundamentals. While being in Ethiopia the children were never quiet, there was always singing and laughter, however during the art program the children were silent. This program provided an alternative outlet for the students to grow and create. Art provided a way for students to channel their energy in a way they have never had the opportunity to previously. The art they created was beautiful and self reflecting of both the children and their culture.
Volunteering for the greater global community, and a place that has become so close to my heart has been one of the most fulfilling experiences. Awareness of the injustice’s occurring in the different places of this world calls for humanity to come together and give generously of what we have.
Volunteering with Children of Light has brought light to my life; I have been able to learn and grow within myself. Along this journey to Gambo, I have met so many individuals with open souls and different stories to share that really bridged the gap of humanity and generosity in ways I never thought possible. Volunteering with Children of Light has opened both my eyes and heart, especially to the village of Gambo whose people have so little, but give so much. The work does not end after leaving the village and returning home, this path of charity is never-ending.
You give your life meaning through your actions. At a time in my life when it is natural to question meaning and our purpose I was sitting in a lecture of a Worlds of Childhood course at York University. A PowerPoint slide highlighting a charity that focused on the empowerment of children in impoverished countries, I realized I could be an agent of change. I was always told growing up that I had more than most children but I never felt I had the power to act. Seeing and hearing testimonies of children working to support their families and not being able to attend school as a result, led me to reflect on the advantages and opportunities bestowed upon me. A desire began to build in me to no longer remain idle, but to give back in appreciation for the gifts I have received. I then met Laura, Nicole, and the volunteers of Children of Light and signed up to teach English in Gambo, Ethiopia for the month of August in 2010. Leading up to my departure I experienced mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension as I envisioned mini movies in my head about meeting the children, about taking on the role of a teacher and where I fit into this bigger picture.
But all of my apprehension ceased when our jeep pulled into the missionary at Gambo. There was instantly a rush of kids that wanted to meet the new “farrangies”. I remember seeing the smile on Nicole’s face and her yelling in excitement to see the kids. The feeling of joy in that moment is one of the strongest feelings I have had to date. I couldn’t wait any longer to meet the kids.
There was no reservation on their part. They have unending energy and an intense desire to be by your side and hold your hand. The more outgoing kids want to ask you questions, braid your hair, play soccer with you, while the more reserved kids would stay on the outskirts and observe their peers. It was the quiet and shy ones that grabbed my attention. Once I was able to connect and forge a bond with them, they opened up with the most intense love and the most beautiful smiles full of light.
As the days passed, a comfort level developed along with mutual respect and trust. What amazed me was the exuberance and commitment the kids had to come to school during their summer break. Everyday they would show up willing to learn what we had to teach, some walking miles to and from school. Spending time with the kids both in the class and outside, I was able to form a new and special relationship with each of them. I feel that the summer program is more than trying to develop their knowledge of the English language as we also offer the kids moments of freedom to be children; to laugh, play and shine. The time spent out of the classroom is just as important as time spent in the classroom as in an informal and social environment, communication flowed freely without the pressures of the chalkboard and notepad. Our presence at camp showed the kids that their success does matter which can only aid in the blossoming of their confidence and their self.I learned in this Worlds of Childhood course that children have the right to play and the right to education and it is the work completed in Gambo that enables the fulfillment of these rights in this small village of Ethiopia. The efforts of Nicole and Laura, as well as the numerous volunteers of Children of Light, is a testimony to humanity and that in a world of consumption, there is a light. Through my continued work with this organization I have witnessed the desire for opportunities to be shared through the hard work and dedication displayed by the volunteers as the program has become more bountiful and each year is reaching more children and families. As much as the organization Children of Light works hard to meet the needs of underprivileged children, it also provides a creative platform for those who want to give.
As with most things, I came across Children of Light mostly by chance. The idea of volunteering in Africa was one that had been implanted years before and the opportunity came at a time when I was both ready and able. Having heard stories from others I had a picture painted of what Gambo would be like, but I don’t think I could have imagined what was in store for me. The experience itself was a mixture of many things: beautiful, challenging, inspiring, and humbling, to name a few. I never expected that I would develop such a close relationship, both with the people of Gambo and with my fellow volunteers. I went to Ethiopia wanting to “give back”. I saw inequity and wanted to produce change, and I wouldn’t doubt that my time there had an impact on many of the people I came into contact with. However, I found that even in giving all of myself for an entire month, I still walked away the beneficiary. The people of Gambo taught me humility, they taught me friendship, and I left with the gift of a new lens through which to view the world. Above all else, being with the children, the villagers, and the other volunteers, has created a hope within me that believes that change is not only possible, but already happening.
While in Gambo I had the opportunity of co-running the music program with Kamran. Working with children that had little to no experience with instruments before was a challenge that both scared and excited me. Both Kam and I were aware of how much music has impacted our own lives, and wanted to ensure that the opportunity was there for students to use this program to have music occupy a similar role in their own lives. The success of the program laid in having two instructors and six guitars at our disposal. This allowed us to provide a significant level of individual attention and not have students fall behind the group. In addition, we ended each class with a group sing-a-long that allowed even those students without an instrument to enjoy the program. However, we both acknowledge that there is room for improvement as the program continues to expand. Most importantly is the opportunity to continue the program during the time we aren’t there. Ideally, we would like to create a situation where instructors and instruments are available to anyone in the community who is interested. In this way, music can become a lasting source of expression.
In addition, I spent some time working at the General and Rural Hospital within the community. For me, this opportunity served a dual purpose. On the one hand, I got the chance to see and experience medicine from a completely different perspective than here in North America. The doctors would explain all of the symptoms and diseases to me, allow me to sit in on and perform physical examinations, and even witness several surgeries. Secondly I was able to help, interact with, and learn from the people of Gambo in a completely different context. Considering I hope to pursue a future in medicine, this experience has allowed me to re-calibrate my goals and ambitions. Having seen how much the people of Gambo benefit from the doctors, nurses and pharmacists that give their time to work there has inspired me to one day do the same.
Last, but certainly not least, I taught the English program to students ranging from grade 8 to college/university. It is evident that a significant amount of time and effort have been put into the English program and the fruits of its labour are clearly evident within Gambo. While I did not spend too much time away the village, it was clear that the proficiency with which students spoke and wrote was much better than in neighbouring cities where this program has not been available. This provides great promise for the program as it expands both within Gambo, and, hopefully, to cities and towns throughout Ethiopia.
Returning to Gambo this past summer proved to be a very different experience from my first time around. Perhaps the most striking difference was the opportunity to see how the children and village had changed over the previous year. Voices had deepened, bodies had grown, and in many cases, the children’s English had greatly improved. I found this to be extremely reassuring. With many things in life, particularly the giving of ourselves to others, it is difficult to gauge how much of an effect our efforts produce; particularly when the recipients are separated by great distances. More important still, is the fact that so many of the people who put their time, energy and money into this cause, may not have the opportunity to witness this change for themselves. These experiences are necessary to help reassure others that their efforts are not in vain.
I believe that in many ways when I set out to Ethiopia the first time I was supporting an idea. I believed in the cause and wanted to help precipitate the change that Children of Light was founded upon. However, my understanding of our collective effort has changed. Now, I believe I support something very concrete and tangible. Thanks to you, your friends, or someone you know involved with Children of Light, the educational success of many students in Gambo, Ethiopia is beginning to improve. I am not suggesting that CoL is responsible for the success of these children. After all, education is nothing without a willing and eager student. However, we are helping to make changes that put the individual more in control of his or her life. I think that these experiences can help bring new life to the fundraising process as our objectives continue to grow and expand.
On a more personal level, I think this year’s experience has promoted many of the changes that began during my previous time in Ethiopia. I believe the lack of novelty allowed me to observe my surroundings more critically. I was happy to see many of the changes in the country at large that took place over the previous year, but there were still many things that made me angry and frustrated. All of us volunteers go into the process knowing that we will not change the world overnight, but it is sometimes frustrating to see things that are beyond your control. There are many facets of their lifestyle, however, which I believe we in North America would benefit greatly from emulating. Despite the many hardships in their lives, they maintain an energy of joy and optimism. They cherish each other’s company, and treat those who visit as one of their own.
One would be remiss in thinking that in going to Gambo we aim to make their world a little more like ours. There is no right or wrong, and we are certainly in no place to judge. All we aim to do is provide the children with an opportunity to make that decision for themselves. My time in Ethiopia has not only helped to serve this end, but also become a life-altering experience for me. I hope that one day you can experience this change for yourselves, or, at the very least, that you are aware of just how great an impact your efforts really have.