At 80 years old, Jeremy Hespeler-Boultbee has seen and done a lot in his life.
He spent two years fighting for the British Empire in Kenya and Malay, worked as a journalist for several Canadian publications, including Maclean’s Magazine during the Portuguese revolution, was a professor of architectural history in Portugal, and has become a published author.
He also wound up living in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia for two years, studying Portugal’s influence on culture and architecture in the highlands. The country had a big impact on Hespeler-Boultbee, calling him back more than 10 times to continue work in his field.
But it’s not only work that calls Hespeler-Boultbee back to Ethiopia, it’s about the need to help its citizens.
Ethiopia is about the size of B.C., but has a population close to 100 million people — the second largest in Africa. It’s also suffering from one of its worst droughts in decades, putting more than 10 million people in need of emergency aid.
“Once you get into a place like Ethiopia, you can’t just sort of take from it, you have to give back,” said Hespeler-Boultbee, noting the country has been doing well for itself, boasting the highest GDP in Africa a few years ago.
“The population is dense, it’s impoverished, there’s just a crying need for everything from education to medical assistance to god knows what else.”
Living in Victoria’s North Park neighbourhood, Hespeler-Boultbee can’t help but feel compelled to do something for the citizens of Ethiopia and has already helped put several children there through school.
With his Ethiopian-born wife Alemie Atanaw, the couple will be returning to Ethiopia in mid April. They had hoped to go back with $20,000 for a pre-school they’ve been supporting since 2009, but so far have managed to raise about $5,000.
The school needs everything from desks and chairs to notebooks, paper, pencils blackboards and chalk. Playground equipment would be considered a luxury.
“We’re both very anxious to get over there and be there,” said Hespeler-Boultbee. “There’s a thousand things to do there. I would rather die there tripping over a rock, falling down and cracking my skull than mould away in an old age home in Victoria.”
With so much attention focused on Donald Trump and the Syrian refugee crisis, Hespeler-Boultbee doesn’t believe many people are even aware of the crisis emerging in Ethiopia. The country is more prepared to deal with the drought than in 1984 when hundreds of thousands of people died in the famine, but international help is still needed in many parts of the country.
In the meantime, Hespeler-Boultbee will continue to focus on the children in a low income area of Bahir Dar. He’d like to raise enough money to build an entirely new school, but until that happens he’ll bring whatever he can, along with a bag of soccer balls.
“It will make me be like Santa Claus to them,” he said with a laugh.
“We’re all part of the same family. I think if you’re a thinking human being you simply have to sit up and pay attention to this kind of thing. It doesn’t stop just because you happen to be living in Canada.”
For more information about the Gish Abay school fundraiser call 778-433-4053 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.