It was meant to pass time until her next flight, but instead cabin attendant Maira Nolte’s visit to the Mother and Child Rehabilitation Center in Addis Ababa introduced her to a Life Changing Place
It’s rush hour in Addis Ababa as Fekade Aby, the driver of the Mother and Child Rehabilitation Center (MCRC), steers his white minibus through the city. Along the way, he passes modern hotel and office towers standing cheek by jowl with ruins and corrugated-iron huts. Stop-and-go across three lanes, vehicles pushing in from the left, horns honking on the right. By the roadside, simple covered stalls shelter the melons, vegetables, schoolbooks, toilets, auto tires and goat halves that are sold there from the sun and rain. There are even coffins draped in colorful fringed cloths. Hundreds of people stand apparently aimlessly on the sidewalk, while on the traffic islands, children wait to beg for small change at an open car window.
With its #LifeChangingPlaces campaign, Lufthansa spotlights people whose travels have inspired them to to live differently. Maira Nolte is the first employee to be featured. Find out more at:
In the “#LifeChangingPlaces” podcast, Maira Nolte talks with host Shelby Stanger about her volunteer work. You can listen in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Lufthansa on-board entertainment program.
Beruk Gelan took a different approach. He was 13 years old when he came to the MCRC and asked for help, determined to go to school but needing money for schoolbooks. Very young when he lost his parents, he had been living with his aunt ever since. Meeting Jutta De Muynck, the German founder of the MCRC – “Madam” to everyone who knows her – changed his life, he says: “Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Gelan’s working life recently took off: After finishing school and studying economics, he now has a job at a bank in Addis Ababa, and proudly wears a tie and shirt.
Maira Nolte, a flight attendant with Lufthansa, is 26, just three years older than Beruk Gelan, but she enjoyed a “sheltered childhood” in Nuremberg, as she puts it. Her life also gained a new direction when she met Jutta De Muynck in Ethiopia. A colleague had invited her and the rest of the Lufthansa crew to visit the MCRC when they landed in Addis Ababa and had 24 hours at their disposal before their next flight. “That’s when I fell in love with the country and the people at the MCRC,” she says. It was the aid project founder’s pragmatic, frank and warm approach that impressed her: “An amazing woman, a real role model. She had used her social contacts to raise funds and helped many women and young people in Ethiopia to achieve a self-determined life – through education.”
Maira Nolte has worked as a volunteer for the MCRC ever since. Eager to gain a better understanding of Ethiopia, she has visited fascinating natural landscapes, such as the Simien National Park, and traveled to view centuries-old cultural treasures, including the rock-hewn monolithic cave churches in Lalibela, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The flight attendant, who has a degree in media and communication management and is in the process of preparing for her master’s degree in digital management and transformation, is now head of donation coordination and communications for the MCRC in Germany and enjoys the support of many of her Lufthansa colleagues. The MCRC’s education project has been sponsored by help alliance, the Lufthansa Group aid organization, since 2018.
The 15 children temporarily living at the rehabilitation center until they can return to their families are playing out in the yard. A nurse helps the mother of a physically disabled child to change a urinary catheter; in the yard, clothes sorted by color flap on the washing line strung from wall to wall. “These are all things that Maira and other crew members sent from Germany,” says Rahel Ambaye, the Ethiopian woman who took over as manager of the MCRC five years ago, when Jutta De Muynck (now over 70 years old) joined her family in South Africa.
Rahel Ambaye, a middle-aged woman with foreign language, literature and management degrees, spent many years working as a head secretary before coming to the MCRC as “Madam”s right hand and her successor. She plans to place the project on a sounder financial footing. “I would like to offer nursery school places to Addis Ababa’s paying middle class, as well,” she explains. “That would give our employees job security even if we should find ourselves with fewer donations coming in. At the moment, we have 33 employees, comprising social workers and educators, nursery teachers, a psychologist, a physical therapist, a physician and a nurse.”
As well as the 15 children being looked after here, the MCRC currently supports 24 women, some of them abused and traumatized, and 159 schoolchildren living outside the center. They receive money for food, medical care, counselling, music, dance and art therapy, school uniforms, books and classroom materials, and also help with homework. Fees are also paid for students of private schools. “We do what we can, of course, to offer our guests a good standard of accommodation,” says Ambaye, “we want to set them on their way to achieving a better standard of living for themselves and their families.”
Escaping poverty is a long and very hard road, as Maira Nolte well knows. She has heard some chilling stories of hunger and violence that she doesn’t want to repeat to avoid what she calls “misery reporting.” “But everyone who succeeds gives at least ten others the courage to try,” she says, “That’s why we are so happy about Beruk. He still comes to the MCRC even though he’s grown up and has a job. Now he comes to help, for instance when school students need help revising for exams.” He’s a real role model.
We finally get to meet him in person. The smart young man ignoring the rain and hurrying across the street to join us in the minibus is eager to share his story and its message. He smiles broadly as he talks about “Madam”: “She believed I could do it from the first, and that gave me courage.” He would like to study environmental economics and later start a family, he says. Does he have any candidates in mind? He laughs merrily and shakes his head. Having a home of his own is his main priority for now. He is still living with his aunt, he tells us, “but definitely won’t be for much longer!”
Beruk Gelan’s path has all the makings of a happy end – it’s certainly one of the happier stories in Ethiopia right now.