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One GIST Student's Spring Break of Service

Monday, May 6, 2019


Pictured above, left to right: Connor Wernimont, Hosanna Girma, and Edan Belihu. We are wearing a gift that the staff of ETSS gave to us on the final day of our trip, called a netela, which is a type of traditional Ethiopian scarf.

Hello! My name is Olivia Shaffer and I am a junior double majoring in GIST and WGSS with a minor in French. Over spring break, three KU students and I went on a service trip to Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS) in Columbus, Ohio. This trip was sponsored by MEDLIFE KU, a campus student organization that I belong to. This group is one of over 140 college chapters of the international NGO, MEDLIFE. It should be noted that the KU chapter has adopted a vastly different approach to service trips from the international organization. MEDLIFE KU provides multiple cultural competency and ethical service training sessions in advance of travel. The KU chapter works to dispel 'voluntourism' by encouraging KU students to develop a global mindset with on-the-ground activism, education, and ethical service.


The large “new American,” or immigrant/refugee population, of Columbus, Ohio has expanded greatly over the last few decades. It was originally founded by an Ethiopian immigrant who wanted to help others overcome some of the same challenges he experienced when he first came to the U.S. Since 2000, ETSS, has provided assistance to new Americans in their transition into their lives in the U.S. We had the opportunity to observe multiple ETSS sites over the course of a week, which consisted of both youth and adult social service programs.

The ETSS administrators comically referred to our group simply as “Kansas,” I suppose because everyone was astonished that we had driven so far to work with them (10 hours!). The MEDLIFE KU group was able to partake in English language and citizenship classes for adults by providing one-on-one tutoring and practice for the students. The youth programs offered were modeled after standard after-school programs, and were designed to be safe and caring spaces for families and members of the community. Our group even had the opportunity to relearn 7th grade math when we helped the youth program students with their homework! I left with a better understanding of the new American culture and community in Columbus and was able to develop new relationships with those involved in the organization. Altogether, ETSS epitomizes an ethical organization that successfully meets many needs of the community that it serves and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in their incredible organization, even if it was only for a week.

Learn more about ETSS at https://www.ethiotss.org/

If you are interested in learning more about MEDLIFE KU’s journey as an ethical service organization, email medlife.kansas@gmail.com.



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