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An Opportunity to Participate: An Update + Call for Volunteers in Ethiopia

Every year the SMPS San Diego Board of Directors selects a charitable partner who the Board feels can benefit from our support. For a 2-year period from 2012 to 2014, our charitable partner was The Community Project: Ethiopia (TCP).

First, I’d like to acknowledge the support of the SMPS San Diego community. It has been beyond my greatest expectations, and I extend many thanks to the Board and to all of our members who supported this project. Quite simply, your generosity has changed the lives of people half a world away. 

Vikki Ott, SMPS San Diego Communications Co-Chair, on site in 2011 with Debre Birhan children holding their instant photo portraits

For folks new to the Chapter or this project, The Community Project is a 10-acre multi-use site currently in construction phases in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. The project was borne from a Habitat for Humanity trip I took in 2011 with a group of volunteers who saw the need for more than just homes in the community where we were building. While the 300 sq ft homes we built drastically improved the lives of this village, we saw the opportunity to help them build a community.

Vikki with Teddybaba, a resident of Debre Birhan (and fantastic cook!)

The original project scope included a K-8 school, community center and educational garden. Over the last 3 years, TCP organizers have worked hand-in-hand with the Debre Birhan community to refine the scope of the project to meet their needs. There has been significant progress on the project, including:

  • A partnership with Engineers Without Borders, who is leading the technical and planning aspects of the project and donating thousands of hours of volunteer time, on-site and off
  • Secured a 10-acre site for the project
  • Completed plans for a five-building K-8 school, multi-purpose building (including community center, clinic and library), educational garden and basketball court
  • Added 11 composting toilets to the site
  • Received a generous donation of a large playground structure, which was installed this spring
  • Recently completed grading for a 800-meter track that is expected to attract elite Ethiopian runners to the site for training, bringing an unanticipated source of income to this town
  • Completed additional tasks like hiring local project managers, working with local government to attract attention to the project, collaboration with other in-country NGOs like the Peace Corps, and so much more

Future enrolees of the new K-8 school in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia

Words do not express how proud I am of my SMPS community and connections who helped this project as it was in the planning stages. You are a unique and charitable group who recognizes the need for housing, infrastructure and community, and your help has made this project a reality.

It is because of you that an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 children in Debre Birhan will have a school located in their own community. Children will no longer miss days because school is too far away or the weather is too poor to walk a far distance.

It is because of you that the project is now in construction, with the first K-8 classroom building being built this fall.

It is because of you that I’m able to bring a team of 10 volunteers to Ethiopia October 10-24, 2015 to help build the school.

For as long as this project has been in planning stages, I knew I would go back to the site and bring a volunteer team to help build. It’s hard to believe, but NOW is the time! Would you like to join me on this adventure?

This is a unique opportunity for you to experience life in a developing country, and see first-hand the impact your volunteer support can make on an entire community. The experience of helping build a home or community structure is like none other. I’ve been a member of 12 build teams across the globe, and to know that my teams’ efforts have improved the lives of others is an experience that has changed my life. I would love to offer that experience to you.

Members of the 2011 team worked hand-in-hand with the Debre Birhan community to build new homes

Volunteers on my team do not need to be engineers or have any previous construction experience. Your basic requirements are being able to join the team, work hard, and cover the trip fee and your airfare. I’ve launched a website to support my charitable trips called Charitable Journeys, with a page specific to the Ethiopia trip with project details, costs, expectations, FAQs and more.

If you’d like to join my team or know someone who would, please get in touch with me at I’d love to hear from you.

This post was writ­ten by Vikki Ott, CPSM, the SMPS San Diego Communications Co-Chair and Digital Media Channels Man­ager at Haley & Aldrich. She has vol­un­teered on 12 dif­fer­ent volunteer build teams world­wide, including the Ethiopia site in 2011. She is a certified team leader with Habitat for Humanity, and is looking forward to sharing a build experience with members of our AEC community.


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