Don Koppes, a retired teacher from the Dubuque Community Schools, met Argaw Oremo in March of 2009. Don was volunteering at the Sisters of the Presentation Lantern Center, a drop-in place for people new to the Dubuque community who wish to improve their language skills.
New to the community, Argaw walked into the Lantern Center hoping to improve his English. The two were paired together on Argaw’s first day. Quickly, Don became Argaw’s teacher, mentor, and friend. With Don’s help, Argaw improved his reading, writing, and speaking, got a job at HyVee, and learned to drive a car.
In August of 2010, Argaw moved in with the Koppes family. That December, Don and his wife, Caroline, accompanied Argaw to his hometown of Homacho in Ethiopia. It was Argaw’s first trip home since arriving in the United States in October 2008.
Don and Caroline stayed in the village with Argaw for about two weeks before returning to the United States. Don returned to Ethiopia a few months later to participate in the construction of a cement floor for a rural school, the money for which had been raised with small donations given to Don and Argaw. They returned to Iowa together in April 2011.
Seeing the need for more assistance and necessary projects in the village of Homacho, Don and Argaw decided that they should do more if they possibly could. Through the efforts of a local attorney, John Becker, a non-profit organization was set up in late August 2011. In an effort to stress connections and community over simple charity, it was dubbed "Friends of Homacho."
Since then, Friends of Homacho has undertaken projects that have brought school supplies, clothing, improved housing, and increased access to food and water. There is still more to be done, and Friends of Homacho is committed to being a lasting presence in Ethiopia for years to come.