A world blowing up

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 16, 2023

Ralph Dubienski meets with Ethiopian President Girma on reforestation. Photos courtesy Hopethiopia

Last week’s column on the importance of sharing our own stories resulted in many inspiring responses, but one in particular really stopped me in my tracks. Springbank coffee companion Ralph Dubienski – yes, my dentist – simply emailed me the following prompter: “Travelling to Ethiopia when the world blew up.”

The headlines of the day, of course, were all about the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, and about the heroic efforts to rescue survivors in the rubble. Yes, for so many, I’m sure it felt like the world was blowing up.

But that’s not what Ralph was referring to. He was thinking back to a March 2010 trip he was scheduled to take to Ethiopia, on behalf of Hopethiopia, a humanitarian outreach he founded to serve struggling rural communities in the East African country. He would be speaking to a large gathering in Addis Ababa, the capital, and also meeting with Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis (d. 2018).

But when he arrived at the Calgary airport, he was informed his flight had been cancelled. There’d been a major volcanic eruption in Iceland, and its ashes had caused 20 countries to close their airspace. Yes, that was the world that, for Ralph, was blowing up.

After considerable rerouting, he was finally able to get to Rome, where he just barely arrived in time to catch his flight to Ethiopia – but without baggage. He was able to keep his speaking engagement, however. In his talk he spoke about his amazing journey “and how I saw the hand of God constantly unlock the doors making the impossible become possible.”

That positive attitude continued, when soon thereafter he was able to meet with President Girma and discuss their shared vision for reforestation.

“The consequences of deforestation had become critical, with less than three per cent of the country covered by forests,” Ralph says. “Many years ago, more than 50 per cent of the country was forested and there was a rich biodiversity. But due to deforestation, many species of plants and animals were lost or became endangered, soils severely eroded, and water tables dropped.”

Hopethiopia and Girma, an environmental champion, put together an initiative to remedy the problem. (See my July 4, 2019 column, “Southern Alberta outreach shares joy of green with Ethiopia.”)

And thus, they proceeded to do their part in rescuing a world blowing up.


© 2023 Warren Harbeck

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