Tuesday, Day 4
It was supposed to be a triumphant stroll down memory lane, the World Food Prize winner returning home to visit two elementary schools. The first school was the one of his youth, the one he had to walk 20 kilometers each week to reach. The other was built 30 years later, nearer the village so kids like Gebisa would not have to walk 20 kilometers to school.
But what was appalling to Gebisa on this bright, sunny day was that the latter was no better than the former: Both are in equally deplorable condition.
"Neither is fit for educating these children who appeared so hungry for education and opportunities," Gebisa says.
They had come, these children of the children of the children Gebisa grew up with — and their parents — in large numbers to see the man they have heard about in stories on the radio and in the newspapers that filter their way from Addis Ababa.
One by one, students and parents pour out heart-felt testimony of having to do without the essentials of even a minimal education.
They suffer through learning without computers, books, a library, desks and, for God's sake, even a restroom. They are crammed 60, 70, even 80 in a classroom in schools with broken windows, broken desks and broken dreams of opportunity lost. The hole in the blackboard mirrored the hole in Gebisa's heart.
"It pains me greatly to know so little has changed since I left here," Gebisa says. "The community wants to move forward, but it doesn't know how. And without national and external philanthropic assistance, it seems it is almost impossible for them to make significant progress."
For these children of such little means, Gebisa is the face of hope. "Now he is here, in our classroom! The man who can carry our story to people who can help," they seem to think.
While the World Food Prize is a celebration of the incredible journey of one man, Gebisa hopes to use it as a pulpit to keep hope alive for the people like the hundred kids who have crammed into this small classroom to speak with him.
"With this great honor (the World Food Prize) comes great duty and responsibility, but by seeing this, I realize, maybe, it is much greater than I expected," he says.
Phil Nelson, Purdue's 2007 World Food Prize Laureate, had warned him of the weight of the prize. "Your life will never be the same," he advised Gebisa.
"I now have a sense of what he meant," Gebisa says. "Expectations, whether real or unreal, are going to be high."