To nurses, it's more than a job. Nursing is a career. Sometimes, though, nursing becomes a lifestyle. The values of caring and compassion seep into every facet, every nook and cranny of your day. So much, in fact, that sometimes nursing can link someone from Alaska—someone like Catherine Miller—to a group of orphans in Ethiopia.
"This is just an extension of nursing," says Miller, RN, founder and president of Children of the World. "You want to care for people and this is just a different form of compassion."
This is Woliso, site of an orphanage Miller's organization runs that is home to 43 children in Ethiopia. This is a new roof her organization put on an orphanage in Liberia. This is also something that wasn't in the life plans for Miller.
"I never, ever intended it," she says.
But it's something that she couldn't imagine being without. It's something that has changed her view of the world.
"Ethiopia is an extremely poor country," says Miller, who is heading back to the orphanage on June 14. "If you've ever been to Kenya, South Africa, or Uganda, those [countries] are in much better shape."
Hardships are not hard to come by in Ethiopia. Simple, everyday luxuries are.
"They call it power sharing," Miller says. "The government owns the electrical. They will shut the lights off on one side of the city, turn it on in the other, and you have no idea when it's going to come back on. You might be without power for two or three days."
You can go without water for two weeks. The roads, Miller says, are in deplorable condition. An average class size—if you're lucky enough to attend—is about 80-120 students. The 43 children at the Woliso orphanage share one TV that gets one channel. They share one old ping pong table. They share one sink . . . and it's outside. (A slideshow and a YouTube video really help the reality sink in.)
"My hope is to get the orphanage to be more sustainable," Miller says. "I'm trying to get more funding. My hope is that the organization, Children of the World, will grow up."
It was born in 2005, although the seed was planted years before. Miller, a labor and delivery nurse by trade, started volunteering around the world in the late 1990s. In addition to the African countries she would come to know and love, she spent some time in Albania.
"I was still working in nursing (about 24 hours a week at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital), but I was doing a lot of traveling," she says. "I was financially able to donate my time."
That's because Miller made some wise business decisions, specifically her involvement with an auto body repair shop in Alaska called Chaz Limited Collision Express. "It was originally just a two-man operation, but the thing grew," she says. "It was the largest auto body repair shop in Alaska."
But in 2005, she changed the direction of her life. Miller sold to her business partner and headed back to Ethiopia. Nothing was ever the same again.
"A friend of mine in Ethiopia," Estiphanos Dea, who became Miller's husband shortly after, "said I had to meet this guy," she says. "He had been promised some funding after he'd taken 43 kids off the street. He was making $25 a month and they were living in his yard. My friend asked me if I could go see them, so I figured I'd donate a small amount of money or whatever."
It didn't happen quite like that, though.
"When I met the kids, I was taken aback," Miller says. "They really weren't in good shape: malnutrition, scabies, lice, poorly fed. I went to South Africa after that and every day, those kids were on my mind."
She came back to the states and looked into starting up a non-profit organization. A few months later, she was back in Ethiopia and the orphanage was certified.
"I'm so happy I did it," she says.
Editor's note: The second part of this article, "The struggle to give children hope," will be featured on our site on Wednesday. In the meantime, for more information on Children of the World, visit www.childrenoftheworld.info.