By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Cindy Haun found a library where children treasure books, unconcerned about computers, smartphones and Facebook profiles.
The trouble is, that library is nearly 8,000 miles away.
In January, Haun, a clerk at the Hannibal Free Public Library, spent two-and-a-half weeks with Misgana Ministries in Ziway, Ethiopia, cataloging a library for children in a missionary-run school. The 830 students had 200 books to share among themselves, but the lack of materials didn't bother them. They gravitated toward American storybooks, and Haun clung to their passion.
"They're just excited that they can go pick up a book," she said.
Now that Haun has returned from her second mission trip to Ethiopia, she's planning to spend her retirement in the developing nation. For the past three months, she's longed for the simpler life she embraced while overseas. After witnessing people living in poor countries, Haun sees typical American comforts as somewhat frivolous. In Ethiopia, she washed her clothes in a bucket, showered in a bin and used a toilet carved in the ground, but she'd never felt more at home.
"The United States is not a reality," she said. "Most people in this world don't live like we do."
Haun is eager to leave the comfortable life that she's built for herself in Hannibal as long as she can surround herself with the kind, simple, life-loving people she met during her trips.
Leigh Mackenzie traveled with Haun during her first trip to Africa this past year. The two served as short-term missionaries for 10 days, and Mackenzie saw Haun's love for the Ethiopian people and the Christian faith blossom throughout the experience. The families in Ethiopia have limited resources, and Mackenzie believes Haun has the passion to empower them and teach them skills to provide more for their families.
"As long as you have the interest and the gumption and the want-to, anything is possible," Mackenzie said.
Haun has four years to go before retirement, but she's already preparing to relocate. Even after returning from Ethiopia, she's still collecting new and gently used books to send to the children.
The missionary-run school provides the children with an avenue to break away from poverty, earn an education and eventually advance their own country. Many of the Ethiopian children see moving to America as the solution to beating poverty, and Haun hopes the books and her presence might persuade them to stay in Africa and aid their own country.
"As much as I want to be over there, the Ethiopian people need to help the Ethiopian people," she said.
Despite Ethiopia's primitive conditions, she said the people maintain a generous and giving attitude. The natural kindness and family-oriented values makes her feel homesick for a place where she doesn't even know the language.
"There are bad and harsh situations (in Ethiopia), but there was always a smile on their face," she said. "Giving a smile or a hug, that doesn't require language."