My Journey to Ethiopia: Let’s talk about those toilets!

Aaron Blank / July 6, 2016

After more than 20 hours on a few planes, the cool, moist Pacific Northwest air filled my lungs with an immediate rush of comfort and familiarity. With my family crowded into a taxi, the distinctive Seattle cityscape and faint misting of rain on the windows filled me with a deep feeling of something else: gratitude. I’m so thankful and blessed. The life I have, my family and friends, our company, and the opportunity to know and help others are truly things not to be taken for granted. This is never more clear than after a long trip away from daily routines – and this was no ordinary trip.

Last month my family and I along with Fearey staffer Chris Guilzo went to Ethiopia to visit the care point site we created a few years ago. During the trip, I observed the most dramatic contrasts of human experience possible, from the blazing, gleaming opulence of Dubai (our layover city) to the daily struggle of a small, poor, vibrant community in Ethiopia. As I wrote in my blog post about disconnecting prior to my trip, the village of Woliso, Ethiopia, was the focus of our journey.

When we adopted my son Ermias in 2013, many children in a part of the village of Woliso had no clean water. It’s a condition impossible to comprehend in our first world, where access to a reliable faucet or toilet is almost always literally within reach, but in many places in Ethiopia water is not only scarce, it’s generally dangerous. Sanitation, irrigation, hydration — both human and animal — all supplied by the same dubious, untreated source. With the help of others, my wife Lacey, along with other adoptive families, and I set up a care point site in Woliso and today those kids have clean drinking water.

Visiting the care point was by far the highlight of our trip. We saw firsthand the strides made as well as the long road ahead. We spent a fantastic day delivering care packages to kids, each one sponsored by some of our friends and family, lovingly packed with useful items and gifts specific to each child. I watched my own children quickly make friends with other kids, playing and bonding in the universal language of childhood. We sang songs, played soccer, created crafts and loved on each other. We felt gratitude.

And while a real difference is being made, it’s not enough. Clean drinking water is a modern human necessity, but so is sanitation. These kids still don’t have a proper latrine and are forced to use what is essentially a hole in the ground. It’s unsustainable and degrading.

Installation of the latrine is going to cost $10,000. Not a small number, but with enough people involved it is a reachable goal. I invite you to look at these pictures and get to know these faces. Imagine how bright these lights will shine given the chance. Help them get a healthy start by donating to this Crowdrise drive.

Gratitude is easy to lose sight of. We get caught up in our own struggles and trials, which are certainly valid. But if we pause to smell the air, look upon our loved ones, taste the clean water or walk our familiar streets we can always find it. Sometimes it takes a different vantage point. Sometimes it takes journey. I found it in Ethiopia. I found it at home.

The children of the Woliso care point, sponsored by The Fearey Group.
The children of the Woliso care point, sponsored by The Fearey Group.


Children of the Woliso Carepoint show up each day to take part in community.
Children of the Woliso Carepoint show up each day to take part in the community.


Aaron Blank GIF

Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of Fearey, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!