Tag Archives: Ethiopia

The Path to Ginde Beret

3 men in Ginde Beret
Three men welcomed us on the path to Ginde Beret.

I wanted to see the places in Africa that Dr. Tom Coleman spoke about so often, and in the spring of 2016 I booked a trip to Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa I met my translator and chauffer. We had a lot of places to see so we left the city early the next morning. Leaving Addis Ababa, we drove west for about an hour and then turned north, up through the mountains and a beautiful forest. The air was crisp and sweet and the forest was brimming with wildlife. At first the gravel road was wide and even, but it gradually became worse. It was about 120 km across the mountain but, with big rocks and large holes in the road, it took us several hours before we came to the small village of Kachise.

Our goal was to get to Ginde Beret, where Dr. Coleman had worked most of his time in Ethiopia. From Kachise the best route was to walk down a steep footpath to the valley below. There was, my chauffer told me, a road, but it went way out of the way and wasn’t at all in as “good” condition as the road we had just come by, so the decision was easy. I wondered if anyone in the village remembered Dr. Tom Coleman and his family who had lived there during the 1960’s and 70’s.

We arrived in Kachise before dark and checked into the hotel. Well, they called it a hotel; it was really not more than a shed. The toilet was a hole in the ground and there was no running water. The room we were givien was small and dirty and the mattress was lumpy and hard. I pulled out my travel sheets and crawled into bed. We needed to get an early start in the morning.

We were up at sunrise, ate a quick breakfast, a couple of eggs and tea, before beginning our trek through back allies and out to the edge of the cliff where the serpentine path wriggled down the ravine. We stood for a moment on the edge and looked down at the little village of Ginde Beret far below. A great surprise was waiting for us down there. No one has yet forgotten the miracle doctor, Tom Coleman, who saved the lives of thousands of suffering people.

We were four people in our group when we began walking down the trail, myself, my friend, Stefan Jansson from Sweden, our translator and a guide. But within minutes we were joined by more and more people who offered to carry our equipment and camera bags. I don’t know where they all came from; they seemed to appear out of nowhere. Our little troop was transformed into a caravan with people all eager to help. The path was steep with large rocks strewn here and there. Some portions had been repaired with large stone steps that made it easier to step safely. Tall trees lined the path giving us shelter from the sun. Baboons and other wildlife wandered nearby, watching us curiously.

Coming down into the valley we met people on their way up the path to Kachise. Many people from Ginde Beret climb the steep path daily to go to school, work or shopping. Suddenly there were three men standing on the path in front of us. As we came nearer I noticed that they were missing fingers and their faces had been badly marred by leprosy. Without hesitating they reached out, one after the other, to shake our hands in welcome. Their fingerless hands felt soft in mine, but it was a peculiar sensation. It was the first real encounter with a leper.

When asked if they had ever heard of Dr. Tom Coleman, they all began talking at once. Dr. Coleman! It had been 50 years since they last met him, but Dr. Coleman had saved their lives. I realized that many people in Ginde Beret indeed remembered the Colemans. They asked, “Is he coming back soon? Are you one of his children?” I explained that I was a good friend of Dr. Coleman and that I wanted to film in the village and show it to Dr. Coleman. We spent a whole day in the village and they showed us all the places where the Coleman family had lived and worked, and where the children, Judy and Bill, had played. A visit from a friend of the Coleman’s was cause for a celebration. I felt humbled by the reception we received in Ginde Beret and it gave me a greater understanding of the impact Dr. Tom and Elaine Coleman had made in Africa between 1956 and 2004. The name Coleman is spoken with great respect in Ginde Beret. It represents people who sacrificed their own comfort and prosperity to save the lives of thousands of suffering people.

Don’t miss the premiere of the film and the chance to meet the Coleman family. April 22 in Cambridge, MN. Tickets available online or at the door. More information at cameraQ.com

I Think There will be a Lot of Light in Heaven

Dr. Tom and Elaine Coleman
Dr. and Elaine Coleman. In the background the sun shines down on Ginde Beret, Ethiopia

I have met many fascinating people while working around the world with various cultures and tribes – people who are amazing role models and have performed great feats without demanding compensation or special privileges. One of these impressive people is Dr. Tom Coleman from Cambridge, Minnesota.

I first met Dr. Coleman when I was working on the film series, “Pretty Much 100% Scandinavian” interviewing hundreds of people all around the Midwest. Tom is a cheerful Swedish-American who always has a funny story to tell, usually with some connection to his forefathers’ homeland, Sweden. Growing up, Tom spoke three languages in his home, Swedish, English and the Orsa dialect. As far as we know, Tom is the last living American in the US who speaks the Orsa dialect. That makes him a little sad. Soon 95 years old, on April 24th, he misses the friends he was once able to converse with in “Orsamål.” But as soon as we get together we speak Swedish, Tom’s second-favorite language.

Tom’s grandfather left Orsa, Sweden on May 1, 1873, together with 100 other young people. They travelled via Gothenburg to America. “A lot of people were crying,” Tom’s grandfather told him, “because they knew they would never see each other again.”

I filmed and interviewed Tom Coleman several times and he told me stories of his Swedish grandparents. His grandfather’s name was actually Larsson, but he had heard that the name would cause problems in the US since there were many Larssons in the area where he planned to settle. It would be confusing and he might not get his mail. On the journey to America he had to wait a couple days in Liverpool for the next ship. Wandering the streets he pondered on what name he should choose when he came to America. He passed a large brick building with a sign that said, Coleman & Co. “Coleman”, he thought, “that is a good name for Americans.”

Several times while we were filming Tom asked me if I couldn’t use some of his pictures from Ethiopia in the film series “Pretty Much 100% Scandinavian”, but each time I explained that I didn’t think they were fitting for a film about Scandinavians in Minnesota. He showed me many pictures from Africa of people with terrible injuries and horrible deformities. At that time I didn’t really understand the enormous contribution Tom and Elaine had made among the poorest people of Africa, but every time I was in Minnesota I’d run into Tom or hear about him through someone else. I began to realize that the stories of the Coleman Family’s life in Africa, and the work Tom and Elaine had done for so many years, was a story of sacrifice and boundless love. Without them, many people in that foreign land would have had no medical aide at all. The first clinic where Tom and Elaine worked was a wooden shed about the size of a small garage. People came by the hundreds with leprosy, intestinal diseases, gigantic tumors, cancer, gunshot wounds, and sometimes with a spear or an arrow through their bodies.

Why do people like Tom and Elaine sacrifice such a large portion of their lives to helping others? Of course, it is because they have a great amount of love for people, but for Tom and Elaine, it was also because of a deep faith in a God who loves everyone equally. Tom, whose 95th birthday is in April, recently had a dream. In the dream three children came running from a nearby playground to greet him. Laughing and jumping they called, “We have been waiting for you Grandpa!” Tom recognized the children who had all died very young years ago in Ethiopia. “I think,” he told me, “that there is going to be a lot of light and enormous joy in heaven.” That is the hope that has given him the strength to bear the many difficulties involved in working with poor people in Africa.

Next week we’ll visit the village in Africa that Tom and his family call ”home.”

Don’t miss the premiere of “The Tom Coleman Story” on April 22nd. Tickets available online or at the door. More information at cameraQ.com