Most students have a four-month summer to spend with their family after their first year of college. Sophomore Naomi Trego spent a year and a half getting an education she could not have found within the walls of a university.
After completing her freshman year at SPU in June 2007, Trego spent her summer working at an American embassy in Mexico where her father was stationed. That fall, she spent four months living in an Amish Mennonite community in Partridge, Kan.
When her father’s job as a U.S. ambassador took him to Ethiopia later that year, Trego decided to go along. From January to December of 2008, Trego lived with her parents in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
With its relatively stable political climate and a large presence of foreign groups and embassies, Addis Ababa is considered by some to be a capital of Africa, Trego said.
In the city, she encountered issues of poverty, homelessness and how employers treat workers living with HIV/AIDS, Trego said. Poverty in Ethiopia isn’t confined to a separate part of town; it’s everywhere, she said.
Her time in Ethiopia taught Trego patience and perseverance, she said. The issues the country is facing are complex and have many layers, Trego said.
"There’s not one easy solution. There’s not even 10 easy solutions to these things," she said.
The Ethiopia trip also helped Trego come to grips with the realities of the world, she said. People living on less than a dollar a day were no longer abstract figures, they were her friends and acquaintances, Trego said.
"I think I have a much fuller understanding of what’s out there," she said.
From inside her family’s nice house, Trego could see beggars sleeping on the grass nearby. People sleep on the sidewalk outside of lavish hotels, she said.
Trego would serve lunch at a meager soup kitchen and then eat an extravagant dinner with a group of diplomats, she said.
"The contrast is so extreme, but it’s right next to each other," she said.
Trego spent her time in Ethiopia volunteering with four non-government organizations (NGOs).
Throughout her trip, Trego struggled between feeling like she was making a concrete difference, and being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems facing Ethiopia, she said.
"I often grew frustrated," she said.
Trego worked with CURE International, a U.S.-based NGO which establishes hospitals throughout the developing world. Trego painted murals on the walls of a children’s hospital. She covered the walls in Ethiopian animals, such as elephants, giraffes and flamingos.
On the wall of a hospital waiting room, Trego painted the 230 letters of the native Amharic alphabet. She hopes this will help educate the children.
One Ethiopian church employed people living with HIV/AIDS as jewelry makers. Individuals with HIV/AIDS were often ostracized from their community. The effect of the disease sometimes kept them from being able to hold a steady job, Trego said.
Trego worked with the church to develop a new line of jewelry using coffee beans, which are plentiful in Ethiopia.
"I could use my design abilities to help that way, and I really enjoyed it," she said. Along with jewelry, the employees with HIV/AIDS crafted goods, such as picture frames and book covers, out of recycled paper products, Trego said.
In a local soup kitchen, Trego helped serve meals to over 1,000 people.
"In a way, I’d feel great afterwards. We make an immediate difference," she said.
But Trego also realized, even though she could give hungry people the ability to eat for a day, she was unable to fix the larger issues that caused their suffering.
"You feel like you made a difference, then you walk out in the street and it’s the same problem. They can help a thousand people, but there [are] still thousands more to go," she said. "You feel like you are up against such a huge wall. It can feel overwhelming very easily."
Trego’s broadened perspective was also aided by her time with the Beachy Amish in Partridge.
Unlike other Amish groups, the Beachy drive cars and use electricity, but do not allow radio or television. Many are farmers, though some have small-scale businesses.
Trego said she wanted to live in the Amish community in order to learn practical skills such as sewing and growing and preparing food. Many Americans lack these basic abilities, she said.
While living with the Amish, Trego wore long sleeves and ankle-length skirts. She didn’t wear makeup, nail polish or jewelry.
Trego lived with a host family on their small dairy farm. In addition to household duties, she learned to can foods, such as applesauce, pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables. She also made common food items, such as cheese and butter.
Higher education is not really encouraged among the Beachy Amish, Trego said. With one year of college, she had the highest level of formal education in her host household.
Trego said she realized her lack of practical knowledge. Her views changed to appreciate a more practical education, Trego said.
Now that she is back at SPU, Trego has not chosen a major or made post-college plans, though she has many interests.
Trego encouraged students to get out of their comfort zone, even within the city of Seattle. She suggested volunteering in soup kitchens, or even exploring unfamiliar parts of the city, stating that students can learn from others, because each person has their story to tell.
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Title: Fresh vision found in other countries | Author: Beth Douglass | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-12-10 | Internal ID: 5842