The one who questioned his privilege

Joseph14:30. My brother is a medical doctor. He spent some time in Ethiopia, working in an orphanage and when he came back, his whole outlook on life had changed. He found himself in a complete culture shock and said he could no longer understand that ‘we can live the way we do in Europe’. He was right. We do live in a part of the world where we have enough, some living in abundance even whereas others out there were not as lucky.  Not everyone is lucky enough to be born in an affluent part of the world. At the end of the day it’s just lottery, right? 

What my brothers and I realised is that, as young Europeans, we do enjoy a lot of freedom but that this also comes with a responsibility. We felt our responsibility was to help others grow through sustainable ways. So we started this project in Ethiopia, with the initial idea of helping young women from underprivileged social backgrounds and particularly orphans. 

Why female orphans?

Because they are the most vulnerable. If girls get kicked out of their homes as teenagers, they are lost, whereas boys can at least find work : they become construction workers or take other jobs. The thing about Ethiopia though, is that as the only non-colonised African country, it is full of proud people who welcomed us as partners but always insisted on being an integral part of the mission. We needed them as much as they needed us. You can imagine that at first communication with the government was not easy for a group of white males from Austria. It’s not just about going to another country in another continent and doing something, no – you have to familiarise yourself with the legislation, with the culture that you’re working in, the educational curricular, talk to all kinds of businesses, lawyers, NGOs, civil society actors, citizens doing a diverse range of things. 

The beautiful thing is that we learned so much together doing this project. My eldest brother has the scientific background, my other brother has the economic background; we have different skills that complete each other. We became well structured as partners. This project made us connect as much as possible. At times we met in Addis and at others we Skyped quite a lot because we were living in different parts of Europe. Every time we had to talk about the project, it was also an opportunity to say ‘hey, by the way – how are you doing?’ This helped us grow together, I’m really happy I did this with them.

What we want is to eventually hand this project to an Ethiopian NGO, as we hope to be able to finance projects locally. Let’s see how it goes. I feel at least that the NGO we set up is testimony enough for an encounter of two totally different cultures but on equal eyesight.

On the long term, I hope that such a project can help balance the inequalities present between us. 


( Joseph is a press officer at the European Commission and is talking here about PROJECT-E, a project he has set up with his brothers in Ethiopia , with the aim of setting up sustainable ways for the education of young underprivileged women.

The project is accessible here

I found this life experience to be a beautiful testimony of young Europeans coming to terms with some of their privileges and using them for the greater good. The idea of Europe is after all, also about shared responsibility. Isn’t it?)

(Photography and story by Soundous Boualam)