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Learning to Let Go and Stay Open – Reflections on Progress and Learnings from 2020
Ellenore's Note

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

Computer Science Boot Camp: Where Rigor Inspires Growth
by Theo Tefera - OHBD Volunteer Co-Lead Curriculum for STEM Boot Camp

The hardest thing to overcome in computer science is intimidation. When you try to enter the field as a beginner, it feels like a foreign territory. I remember thinking “I would love to learn programming.” I also remember thinking “Do I belong in this field?”, “Am I good enough?”. I spent so much time wondering instead of actually exploring. The more I wondered, the more anxious I got. The people I talked to randomly threw around terms I was not familiar with. Every time I looked at someone who knows how to code, I would just assume they are smart. I imagined the field as a skyscraper with no stairs. Thinking I needed to jump in and land on top made it impossible. Granted it's an exaggeration, but that was how I felt.

Thankfully, that anxiety was not strong enough to stop me. I had a chance to be mentored by amazing professionals and friends who honestly shared their stories. They showed me what their stairs look like. I saw how they kept on climbing them. Then, I started to set up my own stairs. This process is still supported by everyone around me. The network I have is very significant to my growth. This is what I want to give the students who will be joining the OHBD Computer Science Bootcamp.

The CS Bootcamp is more than a space for learning technical skills. It will prove to students that it's is okay to be a beginner. It is designed in a way that will allow students to make mistakes and learn from them. I am so confident this will happen because I am witnessing this within the creation team which is made up of professionals with years of experience and scores of students. Everyone genuinely believes that each one of us has something important to contribute and learn. Everyone is a teacher and a student. Being a product of this dynamic team, the CS Bootcamp is going to be a place of growth.

The definition of growth is pushing limits and the bootcamp is going to do exactly that. The students will go on a six-month journey using website and app development skills to solve community-focused problems. I learned from my personal experience that the only way to be comfortable and even a little bit excited in the face of a problem is to work through many of them. This is why the CS Bootcamp is going to be rigorous. By the end of the program, we will have skilled web/app developers who know how to apply their skills in business, education, sociology, etc.

The intimidation and fear come from thinking, “I have to know it all.” Computer science is a field that requires constant learning. It can stretch as far as our imagination takes us. This is why the only way to feel at home in the field is to be willing to leave our comfort zones. This is why the bootcamp graduates will replace the intimidation with excitement; and the fear of jumping with the passion of climbing.

How Opportunity Shapes our Lives
by Abebe Amare - OHBD Volunteer Co-Lead Curriculum for STEM Boot Camp

My name is Abebe Amare and I am an undergraduate student at Duke University studying Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering. I have always appreciated how chains of opportunities brought me here and how the opportunity I have at Duke takes me to the next stage of my life. Opportunities are the fragments of chains that build the life path of successful people.
I was born in a small village in Gondar, Ethiopia. My family had a small farm and we used to grow lentil, barley, and potato. After I turned 6, We left Gondar and moved to Addis Ababa. Life there was not easy because my father had little knowledge about welding to make enough money and support the family by himself. At an early age,  my older brother and I realized that we had to help our father in any way possible. We got ourselves  jobs as painters. While working, I was able to join a public school and continue my education. With resilience and dedication, I was able to score one of the highest grades in the 8th-grade national exam across the city, and this helped me to earn a scholarship to finish high school at a private high school for free. Earning the scholarship was the first taste of reward that I had for a job well done. I was able to see a clear path for my future, one that involved hard work and dedication.

The high school I went to supported students to apply for scholarships and colleges in the US. I was fortunate enough to get admitted to Duke University with a full scholarship. I remember how I worked hard in high school and how that opened up my chances of being accepted into prestigious universities. I believe in a life sequence of events that are mostly triggered by opportunities. Opportunities that shape our life the way we imagine it to be. The opportunities I had to attend a public school in my childhood, to attend a private high school, and the scholarship I received from Duke are the most important events to shape my life.

The most important reason why I want to be involved in the OHBD CS Boot Camp is to create an opportunity for the future technologists of Ethiopia to develop their programming and entrepreneurship skills. The opportunities I received shaped my future and I want to be part of this program to shape someone’s future for the better. The curriculum and entire team for this project was envisioned to educate and guide young developers to build marketable websites and mobile applications. Students will learn basic and intermediate algorithms and software engineering in practice. We hope the program will be a great opportunity for young Ethiopian developers to gain skill sets that will change the life of their community.

Read more on the blog.
Support Literacy With Vacations, Desserts, and Ethiopian Gifts!

While we were prevented by the pandemic from holding our annual gala in person this year, we are featuring some of our most popular auction items online so our supporters can still access some incredible getaway packages, delicious pastries, and one-of-a-kind artwork, and Ethiopian gifts. All proceeds support our literacy and education projects. Thanks to all our generous donors who supplied such mouth-watering, tantalizing treats and experiences!

Bid on an amazing getaway to Florida, Camano Island, Palm Springs, Cabo San Lucas or Buena Vista! You can even bid on the opportunity to create your own book with author Jane Kurtz or obtain an original painting by Ethiopian fine artist Alex Regassa!

Bid on original art and gifts in our silent auction to gift or keep and enjoy!

Bid on a delicious holiday dessert (Seattle or Denver areas) to pick up for the holidays!
Betsy Bird Interviews Jane and Ellenore

OHBD executive director Ellenore Angelidis and Ready, Set, Go! author/founder Jane Kurtz were interviewed by Betsy Bird for the School Library Journal this month, and discussed the inspiration behind our organization, how we're navigating the pandemic and about our many talented authors and illustrators. Thank you so much to Betsy Bird for her thoughtful questions and for using her platform to support literacy and education in the US and around the world. Read more here.
Volunteer Classes Raise Money For Literacy

We are so grateful to board members Bethelehem and Betty of Betty's Ethiopian Cuisine for volunteering to teach courses to raise money for OHBD!

Bethelehem is offering a beginner's course in Amharic over Zoom on December 27 at 4pm EST for only $10. We publish all our bilingual early readers in this widely-spoken Ethiopian language.

Betty will teach how to make Beef Tibs, a popular Ethiopian dish that is similar to fajitas with sizzling beef strips and spicy peppers for only $15 over Zoom, on December 20 at 1pm PST.

Donate your class fee on the OHBD website and send a message to to register! We'll send you your ingredient list (for the cooking class) and Zoom link to join. All funds will go directly to supporting our literacy projects. We appreciate your support and thank our volunteers Bethelehem and Betty, who are so generous with their time and knowledge!
DOUBLE Your Contribution Through Matching Donations!

This is the time to make a difference. We've lined up $8,000 in matching contributions through the end of the year to support out ongoing priorities, which include literacy projects, Computer Science Boot Camp, building and stocking libraries and STEM classrooms in Ethiopia, and publishing more inclusive bilingual early readers. But we can only receive those matching funds if we meet our donation goal, which depends on our generous supporters. If you're considering organizations to support this year with your end-of-year giving, we hope you'll consider helping us increase literacy, innovation and leadership opportunities in Ethiopia! Thank you for your support.

Help us reach this generous matching donation here!


You can help support literacy!

  1. Participate in our online gala by bidding on original art, delicious desserts. and incredible getaways or sign up for upcoming classes!
  2. Use Amazon Smile for holiday shopping. We've raised $458 through Amazon Smile purchases so far! It's free, all you have to do is designate Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund as your charity and Amazon does the rest!
  3. Donate to our $8,000 Matching fundraiser and share with friends and family. And check if your employer offers matching donations as some will match your contribution!
  4. Dedicate your own Facebook fundraiser for OHBD! Donations through your own fundraisers will count towards our matching funds.
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Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund · Editor - Anna Graham · 3518 241st Ave SE · Issaquah, WA 98029 · USA

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