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P.E.I. missionary Marion Harris returns to Ethiopia for school build

This is the ninth trip for Ethiopia for Marion Harris, but the first without her husband, Jim, by her side.
This is the ninth trip for Ethiopia for Marion Harris, but the first without her husband, Jim, by her side. - Contributed

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Marion Harris has made eight missionary trips to Ethiopia over the past 13 years.

But the ninth one is different.

She arrived in the African country Nov. 19 without her husband, Jim.

The couple has a long history of Christian missionary work, but after Jim suffered two diabetic comas during their last Ethiopia visit in the spring, he’s sitting this one out.

“He’s not only my partner, but my best friend. I’m (going to) miss him,” Marion said.

This trip is also different because the Harris’s goal of rebuilding a school in the rural village of Leku Kata, an hour outside the capital of Addis Ababa, is becoming reality.

The existing structure of the kindergarten school has only three rooms, no running water or electricity and uneven floors.

“The school is very, very decrepit,” Marion said. “It’s made out of cinder blocks.”

Marion Harris spent a day visiting local moms and their babies in preparation for UPEI nursing students to arrive in the country in May.
Marion Harris spent a day visiting local moms and their babies in preparation for UPEI nursing students to arrive in the country in May.

The plan calls for new doors, windows, desks, blackboards and lights to be installed during Marion’s four weeks in the country, along with levelling the clay floors.

“The children don’t even have chairs to sit on, and often times during the rainy season, the water just rushes in the doors and they stand in mud.”

Electricity and bright paint for the walls will create a better school environment, Jim said.

“During the day, the rooms are dark, and it’s not conducive to learning.”

There will also be a lunchroom, washroom, a new playground and, hopefully, a well. Right now, water has to be trucked in or carried by women in large jerry cans.

The couple hopes to change the cultural norm of girls staying home to cook and clean rather than getting an education, Marion said.

“It’s a very, very hard life for these kids. We’re really promoting that little girls will be coming to school.”

Some girls do attend school, but they’re greatly outnumbered by the boys.

The project wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of people in northeast P.E.I., including their home community of Clearspring, the couple said.

They raised about $22,000 through a run-walk-wheel event in August and other donations.

“We truly want to thank the people of Prince Edward Island and beyond. Our goal was to raise $10,000 and that’s been doubled,” Marion said.

Rain poured from the sky on Aug. 18, the day of the run, and Jim and Marion were blown away to see 97 runners turn up.

“They were all so happy. This is the thing that really struck our hearts – how joyful the people were that came out to run.”

The fun extended to a pancake breakfast afterward, put on by women from the St. Margarets, Naufrage, Monticello and Souris areas.

Rotary clubs in both continents are also playing a part in the project.

The couple got a $5,500 donation from the Rotary Club of Montague, and Marion spoke at a meeting of the Rotary in Addis Ababa recently, making its members aware of the need for a well in Leku Kata.

“Adding running water will be a wonderful thing for them.”

On earlier trips to Ethiopia, the couple sometimes questioned whether they were doing any good. But it’s all shaping up now, Marion said.

“What could be a better Christmas gift to a village than a school? Because education raises a child and a child raises the village.”

- Marion Harris

“What could be a better Christmas gift to a village than a school? Because education raises a child and a child raises the village.”

Another visit is slated for May, when four nursing students from UPEI will come along to work at a medical clinic in an impoverished leper community outside the capital.

For updates from the current trip, visit the Facebook page East to East.

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