Africa! What an assault to the senses. The sights, sounds and smells. As an artist the sheer amount of raw and bright colours reminded me of a Fauvist painting, those artists who would just paint their art directly on the canvas with no foundation and no mixing of the paints. Just to see and experience how most of the planet lives and exists is a real education. And yet the most inspirational/educational part of my journey, as always, was the people I met and interacted with.
There is so much uneven distribution of wealth in this world and after having spent time in Ethiopia recently, after my mission with “Save a Child’s Heart” (SACH) to Tanzania last year it was just hammered home again. We really do have so many “first world problems” in our first world lifes. It just amazes me that vast swathes of our shared planet have no access to fresh drinking water. In Ethiopia people walk daily for miles to fill up plastic Jerry cans with water and lack the infrastructure we take for granted such as roads, sewerage draining, garbage removal, reliable electricity. It really should make us appreciate so much what we take for granted.
The highlight of my African odyssey was, without a doubt, meeting Dr Rick Hodes, a Long Island raised Orthodox Jewish Medical Doctor who has made it his life mission to help Ethiopian kids. Originally, Rick told me he planned to stay in Africa for only a year, but upon seeing the dire needs of the African people and knowing that he was uniquely qualified to help he remained after his Fulbright Scholarship expired to teach in Addis Ababa in 1985. He was personally intimately involved with Operation Solomon, the dramatic airlift of over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel over the course one weekend in May 1991. More than three decades later, he continues to practice at hospitals in Addis Ababa and Gondor, saving lives and specialising in helping patients with spine deformities and caring for the severely ill at Mother Teresa’s Mission for the Destitute and Dying. He has also adopted five Ethiopian children, giving them the opportunity to be part of his family, have access to healthcare, and receive a private education! One of them, whom he cured of his spinal defect and recurs for the mother Theresa’s orphanage, named Dejene, was my guide. An amazing person who Rick adopted, raised as a Jew, and went on a gap year on the Aardvark program to Israel and now runs a travel company in Ethiopia.
Dr. Rick also supports, educates, and houses an additional fifteen children whom he counts as part of his growing international family. It sound almost too unbelievable to be true but it is. I met a true hero of humanity. What an honour. This is his website with case histories of some of his patients. It is emotional, stirring and inspirational.