Learning to Let Go and Stay Open – Reflections on Progress and Learnings from 2020
This last year started so differently than it turned out. Early in the year we kicked off some amazing events. We met with artists in Vancouver WA, participated in our first Kijiji Night with One Vibe Africa, and had a wide-ranging interview with Davies Chirwa from Channel A TV about our work in the week before everything changed. We were excited for events in Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Seattle througout the year, but those were not to be.
This time of year is always a time of reflection on progress and learning from the 12 months prior, as well as compared to previous years. Looking back at 2019, I remembered the themes of domestic and international travel; renewing and deepening existing relationships; making and developing new connections. Leyla and I traveled to Ethiopia for the first time since 2014. We launched inaugural events in Denver, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We met university presidents, Rotarians, librarians, artists, scientists, teachers, writers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and supporters of all kinds. We saw the site of the now complete Gonder library and the Dangla science building before construction began. Through our travels, I gave talks on Open Hearts Big Dreams and the belief that fuels our work – that focused collaboration plus innovation equals positive impact.
The 2020 that we planned was not to be. In March, there was still hope that later in the year we could resume normal activities. By August, the truth had settled that any semblance of what we planned was gone for the entire year and likely much of 2021. I needed to let go of the expectations, hopes, plans, and dreams I had created and cherished! I needed to refocus on what was still possible. Letting go is tough; it involves loss and pain and uncertainty. Humans experience change as pain – and the speed and scope of this change was excruciating. I found my body communicating this with headaches, muscles pains, and anxiety. Focusing required more effort than I expected and just getting through the days often felt exhausting. I needed to mindfully turn away from obsessing on what was lost, scary, or unknown. Instead, I had to actively make the choice to open up to whatever came next – even if it remained unknown, frightening, or uncertain for some time. When I began to do this, the result was truly amazing, although it was “a two-steps forward, one back” process most days. I could then see so much was still possible and new opportunities started to reveal themselves.
In 2020, we were still able to complete the new library in Gonder (with Link Ethiopia) and the new science building in Dangla (with Project Ethiopia). Our team came up with inventive ideas which led to our first art contest, our first coloring book, our first sales rep, ours and others YouTube "Read 2 Me" videos, a new artist in residence pilot, and working on Somali as a new language. We applied for, and were delighted to be selected as the partner and awarded a grant from the US Embassy American Spaces STEM, Entrepreneurship/Business, Leadership and Communication training for all of 2021. Susie Carr (a long-time supporter with her late husband Mike Carr) awarded us a private grant to launch the Mike Carr Legacy Project, focused on increasing opportunities for kids with disabilities in Ethiopia.
Our powerful little team grew at all levels with terrific new members joining the Board, Advisory, staff and, volunteer efforts. Many we met virtually in the US and Ethiopia. You can hear more about two of them, Theo and Abe, below. Our terrific #ReadSetGoBooks team continued to create and publish more amazing books – month after month – spreading joy and hope with each new title. We hit 100 titles in three languages, thanks to our talented production team, for more than 300 titles. Ethiopia Reads let us know late in the year they planned to move forward with another 60K book printing of our #ReadySetGo Books in Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya, and Somali in late 2020 or early 2021. We added a new collaboration partner, Partners with Ethiopia with a book focus, who raised $10K to print and distribute more #ReadySetGo titles, and our beloved books ended up in more libraries, websites, and schools around the globe.
Through all this, we were powerfully reminded of how much good there remains in the world. And our formula of collaboration plus innovation equals positive impact still holds true. What we need from all of you this year is to help us continue this beautiful momentum. Nothing happens without funding. A large portion of our annual budget normally comes from our winter Seattle gala. We rely on this, other smaller events throughout the year, and many small donors, for most of our funding. This year we brought a number of the elements from our gala online including our silent and dessert auctions, along with experiences and escapes. We also have had amazing supporters step forward with new and educational fundraising ideas like virtual Amharic and Ethiopian cooking classes, coming up soon. Jane Kurtz will be sharing her experience and engaging stories for kids and adults online later this month. We have $8000 in committed matching funds from generous supporters with which we could use your help to earn and exceed. Please join and participate in as many of these activities as you can and share within your networks.
Thank you for being amazing collaborators and innovating with us to increase positive impact for kids in Ethiopia in so many diverse and terrific ways. We are excited for 2021 and what we can do together. We are inspired and motivated by all of you! Opportunity is everything; you are giving that gift to kids and young people in Ethiopia with your generous support. Thank you