Olivia and child at the Ethiopian center for children.
Jill Rennicke

Three months working in an Ethiopian center for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic “is not the typical way to start one’s senior year of high school,” as Elizabeth Hesse, mother of Olivia Heese, CS17 will tell you. Still, then, if you know Olivia, you would expect nothing less.

Her mother explains in this update: “Olivia was only nine the first time we stayed at an African orphanage. It was a remote compound in Ghana for children with disabilities, and Olivia was in her element from the beginning - settling right in and sharing her unique brand of joy with all the kids. There were no barriers of language or differing abilities. It was simply one little girl loving and playing with new friends who all laughed and smiled together.”

“When Olivia was sixteen,” her mother continues, “we were again able to volunteer at an African orphanage - this time in Tanzania. It surely wasn’t fancy, but it was wonderful for all of us. We fell in love with those kids more every day, and Olivia was once again in a role she loved, spending all day with the kids and really engaging with them - dancing, drumming, painting nails, reading, and snuggling.”

Now, once again, Olivia is back in a similar environment. This time, Olivia explains in her own words: “Hello! (I) just wanted to share a little of what I have been doing here in Ethiopia. I am living/working at HOPEthiopia. It is a children’s home and reforestation site dedicated to not only serving in humanitarian ways, but also dedicated to environmental stewardship through reforestation, education, gardening, permaculture, climate change, and beekeeping. They have about 30 kids, ages 3-18 living on the compound. The staff here is dedicated to teaching the children how to be good stewards of the land and how to respectfully teach others.”

“For the past two months, apart from working with kids (teaching English, playing soccer, etc.), I have also been doing soil testing for the farmland, orchards, and gardens near the compound where I am living, educating (people) on climate change, permaculture and the necessity of soil nutrient replenishment. I have also been working at a nearby reforestation site that plants thousands of native Juniper, Acacia, and Olive trees every year."

Having her daughter so far away, this time alone and in a place that offers little opportunity for regular communication, is difficult for any parent. But, Elizabeth Heese says, “Knowing she is returning to a situation she loves and where she will be able to share her joy and gifts makes a huge difference.” And, it helps too, knowing that Olivia herself is making a “huge difference” for others.

Photos contributed by Olivia Heese, CS17 (Fall 2018).