A Spiritual Journey Through Ethiopia
Currently the Executive Director of the organization imagine1day that’s been leading a movement in education in Ethiopia since 2007, Sapna Dayal is a talented woman who has lived in many places, experienced different cultures, and comes from a deep rooted cultural background: her father is Indian, her mother Armenian, and she herself was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. Some of the places she has had the pleasure of living in include Quebec; the south of England; Sao Paolo, Brazil; and currently Vancouver.
Sapna was involved with the creation of imagine1day and here she shares with us why Ethiopia is such an incredible place, and why you should pack your bags and go for a visit right away before other people start to recognize it for the amazing place it is. Every year, imagine1day organizes an adventure called Imagine Ethiopia and in this interview we’ll be digging deeper into the meaning behind this trip through the eyes of its creator.
The organization did research on where in the world there was a need for education, and where could they support children and education, and they found that Ethiopia was one place where not only was this need presented, but the government itself already had a commitment to education. “We wanted to work in a place where we could really forward things, and Ethiopia has a public education system that’s committed to improving; we felt that was a partnership we could get behind. Their bold vision on education is what’s inspiring us as an organization,” she explains.
What have been your major learning experiences with the work in Ethiopia?
During the time we’ve been doing work on the ground, the major growing experience we’ve had has been deeply learning and understanding Ethiopia. All the things I thought I knew about the country, and about it being a hopeless place, I was schooled on as soon as I landed. This is a place where people are living, are thriving, and are wanting to constantly grow. This has been the foundation for everything else. We are direct implementors; we have a whole team on the ground in Ethiopia, and are learning to work across the ocean and understand the cultural differences on how to get things done. There’s been a lot of learning and, of course, big challenges as well. A third part of this learning process has been understanding how people relate to philanthropy and charity. Although there’s skepticism, I’ve found we can be the bridge to connect people with the opportunity of an authentic philanthropic experience.
Why should people visit Ethiopia?
As far as evolution goes (and depending on what people believe, of course) this is where humanity started. Sometimes I’m there and I look at things in the geography and landscape (like rivers that have dried and towns nowhere near water), that even when we think we’re far behind evolution, I wonder if that’s actually where we are headed. Is this a place where we can learn about the future while resting in a place that’s also the past? I think there’s a lot to learn when visiting Ethiopia, both in terms of our history and our future. They are a nation that has a goal, so there’s a real sense of growth and possibility, and being someone who goes there and experiences this feeling, you are going to inevitably end up growing yourself.
Of course, there’s all of these other amazing things there, too, like the food, the coffee, the dancing and the drummers, the nature. It’s a place that has a lot to offer.
Why embark on an adventure with imagine1day?
Well, it’s our home. This is like inviting someone to our home and wanting people to experience the same things we have, so we take them to places that I don’t think they would normally get to go otherwise. Our integration with the communities is a big part of that, so when they come we open up the dialogue with them and see what the things they have achieved so far mean to them; for example, having for the first time a building as a learning center. This is an opportunity for people to really get involved on a deeper level.
What do you like to do when you are there?
I love shopping [laughs]. I’m really excited by the products that are coming out of Ethiopia. They are founded in traditional techniques and designs, architecture, etc., and they are now slowly going out into the world as fashionable products, so I’m really interested in that. I love going to the artisans and markets to see what’s new. I love the outdoors—there’s tons of good hiking, mountain climbing, and things like that. I love eating and I also really love to see how women get done up. They are stunningly beautiful and they also take such good care of themselves, so when I’m there I also like to go to the hair salon or get my nails done, and it’s fun!
What advice would you give to someone who’s willing to visit for the first time?
There are places in Ethiopia that even though they’re well-known, there’s not a developed tourism industry in place, so I suggest working with a local guide who can help you get to the amazing things you can experience. They want to show you the country and go with an open heart. You can be skeptical sometimes, but remember that when you are visiting a place you are choosing to know the people, so be with the people because that’s how you are going to get to know the country.
This story is part of a larger piece on our featured cover story of the month: Discover Ethiopia.