Woodbury resident reaches out to quench thirst in homelandAbdul Dire has a firm recollection of what it was like growing up in an Ethiopian village.
By: Mike Longaecker, Woodbury Bulletin
Abdul Dire has a firm recollection of what it was like growing up in an Ethiopian village.
You walked to school, usually a long distance. You were taught in a small building that didn’t serve lunch. You walked back home on an empty stomach.
Any studying at home had to be done while the sun was up, since you didn’t have any electricity.
So when the 28-year-old returned to his native land two years ago, he received a stark reminder of the primitive conditions that still existed – the hunger, the drought, the illiteracy.
“I was born in that part of the region,” Dire, a Woodbury resident, said. “I myself walked miles to get to school. I know how it feels to be hungry and thirsty.”
The most pressing need, he learned during his visit to Ethiopia’s Oromia region, was for an expansion to the area school. At the time of that trip, it only housed grades 1-4. Most kids in those parts couldn’t afford to be sent to neighboring areas to complete higher grade levels.
The sense Dire said he got from children was, “Even if I go to school, what is the point?”
He met with one child who attended fourth grade for three years – simply because there were no other local offerings.
He felt a call to action.
“I have a responsibility to support those who need help,” Dire said.
The feeling sent Dire on a personal mission that would eventually lead to an expansion of the school and efforts to improve villages in the area.
Dire, a tech service engineer at 3M, returned home in search of solutions. He met Joseph Barrett, president/CEO of the St. Paul-based organization Lift Kids, which leads local efforts to build sustainable villages.
“I quickly clicked with him,” Dire said.
The men devised a plan Dire could take back to the Ethiopian villages. It called for a five-point sustainability plan:
• Improve basics, like food, water and electricity.
• Boost health services, like vaccinations and hygiene
• Add to education by expanding schools.
• Create a revenue-generating business for the community to sustain the new services.
• Add a guest house for visitors, teachers and travelers.
Dire gathered up volunteers and friends, and went out in search of funds to get the plan moving.
Meanwhile, he also connected with Ram Krishnan, an Indian immigrant living in Minnesota who is a rainwater harvesting expert who offered help and funding.
Krishnan dedicated $5,000 toward the project. Dire pledged to raise matching funds.
Together, they raised about $9,300 and settled on achieving two immediate goals: building two new classrooms back in the village and introducing a rainwater harvesting plan.
Dire kept Oromian villagers updated on his progress. He let them know his plan included a caveat.
“This school must be built by you,” he said.
The message was received loud and clear. Villagers collected money of their own and were eager to get to work on the project, Dire said.
Dire, his wife and Krishnan returned to Oromia in February 2012 to help get the project off the ground.
They spent three weeks there, helping to purchase building materials and setting up the rainwater project.
“They were so happy we were there,” he said.
A month after Dire returned home to Woodbury, he received an update from the village. The school building – containing rooms for fifth and sixth grades – was built.
“Day and night they worked on this project,” he said.
Classes begin in September. Teachers will be provided by the government as part of the plan, Dire said.
But Dire doesn’t want to stop there.
Looking ahead, he would like to introduce a plan to feed students at least once a day. The effort is to be bolstered by a small farm planted outside the building that will grow the food.
“They’ve taken the first step,” Dire said of the villagers.
Beyond that, he would like to introduce a solar energy system in the villages that could power lanterns for up to 30 houses.
“I have a responsibility to help,” he said. “If I don’t do it, I think I’m questionable.”
Dire said he sees his efforts as an investment in the global community that can only snowball. Kids go to school longer. They get better jobs. They lead better lives and pass it on to their children.
“That reward is perpetual,” Dire said.