The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Hey, the sun king didn’t have us

These kids were born into Ethiopian families too poor to afford the uniforms that allow children to attend public school.  Yet here they are.  They attend school…they eat bread…thanks to never-ending efforts of an Ethiopian-American father who quit his job to found a school and has the audacity to think a regular person can keep a school going. The picture was taken by my son after my daughter-in-law, Hiwot, told him about the tragedy that lies at the heart of this father’s efforts.

How is it that sometimes sorrow and pain can create new life?

Some day, I want to tell the story of that school.  But what’s still on my mind this Thanksgiving week is the notion of more more more vs. gratitude.  And this week, I’m grateful for ordinary people who have stubborn audacity to think they can change the world.

America’s story is often told as the triumph of the individual–but when I was writing Bicycle Madness I clearly saw that our story can also be told as the place that really GOT IT that instead of waiting around on emperors, ordinary people can put small efforts together and create things.  Things like schools and libraries.  Andrew Carnegie was a messenger boy when he met the man who opened his personal library to any young worker who wanted to borrow a book and, as Carnegie later said, opened a window so the light of knowledge could stream in. Carnegie grew up to give away a chunk of 350 million dollars to create libraries like this one in Dodge City, Kansas.

These high school students don’t have 350 million dollars.  But they put together a book sale.  They raised money that matched a Rotary grant and ended up creating a library in Ethiopia.

Little efforts.

Big impact.

Rotary groups, I’ve discovered, are made up of people who think little efforts can have big impact, who seem to stubbornly believe they can put efforts together and do something important.   This Thanksgiving week, I’m thinking of all the Rotarians–not one of them rich and powerful, as far as I know–who covered hard costs for 12 libraries in Ethiopia, including one in this school.

I’m thinking of the families and individuals and church and community groups who raised the other half of the money for this library and others.

Can Ethiopia Reads and all its volunteer efforts create a chance to read books for every person in Ethiopia who needs one or wants books?

Not hardly.

But we did create a chance to read books for these girls…and there will be thousands more.

The Sun King was famous for his luxurious food and his cooks who hopped to it and a wave of his finger.  His sister-in-law said, “I have very often seen the king eat four plates of different soups, an entire pheasant, a partridge, a large plateful of salad, mutton cut up in its juice with garlic, two good pieces of ham, a plateful of cakes, and fruits and jams.” 

But we aren’t exactly food slackers.  ‘Tis the week of Thanksgiving feasts.  And Peter Sagal points out in his piece on more more more that those of us who live in cities have more cooks at our fingertips than the Sun King ever had.  Yet we share less readily than this mother did when we visited her home in Ethiopia three years ago.

More more more seems to only make us somehow often more scared. 

My Thanksgiving wish?

I want us to be Lanies.  I want us to speak out for birds and butterflies and weeds…and books.

I want us to believe small things can make big differences.

Let’s go out and be powerful.

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