VAST was born out of the kindness of others. Many do not know this, but I am from the village of Lalibela, one of Ethiopia’s most popular destinations, and tried to work as a tour guide from a very early age. Some days I went to school and as soon as class was over, I’d run to the churches in hopes of getting hired by the latest group of tourists in town. It was a very competitive scene and often my language skills were simply too basic to convince visitors.
One day, I met Leonard Goering, an American visiting Lalibela, and showed him our beloved churches as a local guide. There was something different about him and I felt a kinship right away. That day changed my life. He went on to pay for better schooling in Addis Ababa, an opportunity which allowed me not only to improve my English and learn how to run a business, but open my own tourism company, VAST Ethiopia Tours. Without that one chance, I couldn’t guess what I would be doing today.
Because of this story, I’ve always carried a sense of duty to my fellow Ethiopian, and especially to my friends, neighbors and countrymen living in the mountains around Lalibela. For more than five years, VAST Cares has been lending a helping hand to community development in Ethiopia.
To this end, VAST Ethiopia Tours donates 10% of its profits every year to improve community development, education and help the disabled people of Ethiopia. These activities are all done under our social responsibility service, VAST Cares.
VAST Cares started out by working to improve the conditions of the Bilbala Elementary School, located in an underserved area 30 kilometers outside of Lalibela. There, my father works as a teacher and administrator for years, and VAST Cares has donated school materials such as books and supplies as well as provided in-kind support and facilitated the support from others.
Owner of VAST Ethiopia Tours
In addition to Bilbala Elementary School, VAST Cares donates to and facilitates support for the following organizations:
Fregenet Foundation: A primary school set up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2004 to honor Fregenet Tafesse Woubshet, a 29-year-old American citizen of Ethiopian origin, who died in an auto accident. The school enrolls children from the poor communities of Addis Abeba and HIV/AIDS orphans. In 2014, there were more than 285 students enrolled.
Ethiopia Reads: NGO that has planted over 60 libraries across Ethiopia and created and implemented a librarian and educator peer mentoring and training program.
PET Mobility Project: Every year students from McPherson College help raise awareness and funds to benefit the Personal Energy Transportation project, which creates all-terrain wheelchairs designed for disabled people living in developing countries.
Leverage for Lalibela (Hefboom voor Lalibela): The Belgian-based NGO was created as a result of the city-partnership between Peer, Belgium and Lalibela. The partnership has resulted in supporting youth and sport, healthcare, agriculture and education programs in and around Lalibela.
Heritage and Culture Camp VAST assists the Heritage Camp with helping adopted Ethiopians living in the US and other countries reconnect with their country and culture. In many instances, VAST has also helped these adopted Ethiopians find their original villages and meet biological family members.