What brought Wyn Ray, CRB, CRS, from Minnesota to Ethiopia
was a story about a pencil.
Ray’s wife, Sunny, had been a famine relief volunteer in a
rural village in Ethiopia in 1974. In 2008, she returned to the
same impoverished community and crossed paths with an
Ethiopian man who remembered meeting her 34 years earlier
when she gave him a pencil. The man told Sunny that the pencil
became his ticket to school, because without it, he wouldn’t
have been allowed to attend. The education he received set his
life on a better path: He became a commanding o;cer in the
village military garrison.
Hearing the story also had a transformative e;ect on Wyn
Ray. He jumped into action himself. “It was incredible that a
pencil had such a dramatic e;ect on one person,” says Ray, vice
president of Coldwell Banker Burnet in Chaska, Minn.
In 2010, he and his wife traveled to the village of Wekin, their
suitcases filled with school supplies, textbooks, and shoes, and
what Ray saw there astounded him.
The kids of Wekin needed much more than pencils. The well
that supplied clean water had long been broken, and the local
high school didn’t have a bathroom for its 800 students. “I was
shocked when they showed us a hole in the ground and told us
it was the latrine for the high school,” Ray says. “I felt like I had
gone back in time by 200 years.”
On the spot, the Rays decided to fund the construction of
16 latrines and to bring clean water to Wekin’s elementary and
high schools, which together serve about 2,000 students. But
he wanted to empower residents to participate in their own
improvements. Wyn drew up a contract with local o;cials:
He and Sunny would provide financial support as long as the
community carried out the projects. “We told them we expected
them to finish the latrines and fix the well so kids could have
water at school,” he recalls.
In 2012, the Rays returned, eager to see if the villagers
upheld their end of the challenge. They did. It was a testament to
their resolve and commitment, Ray says.
The resounding success of the first project inspired the Rays
to do more. So Wyn met with the town’s leaders again, who
wanted to construct a fence around the four-acre high school
property. The Rays provided financing and the villagers
erected the fence. The project’s visibility led to a grant from
the Ethiopian government that paid for desks and chairs.
“The fence gave them legitimacy,” Wyn says.
The Rays’ work in Wekin has encompassed a range of
activities that collectively have made life better for more
than 10,000 people. They funded construction of another
36 latrines in Wekin and the nearby town of Debat and
contributed money for a short-term medical clinic. “Your
values change when you know people can eat, sleep, drink
water, and go to school because of your work. It’s so much
more rewarding than all the other stu; you can spend your
money on,” says Sunny.
They will return to Wekin in January to deliver a pair of
donated Braille writing machines and books and to sponsor
another medical clinic expected to treat up to 2,000 people.
A Selfless Quest
In 2014, the Rays began a partnership with the New Covenant
Foundation, a Christian mission organization based in Coeur
d’Alene, Idaho, that has sta; and volunteers in Ethiopia. Erik
Laursen, the foundation’s executive director, says the Rays’
eagerness to travel to an overlooked part of the world bespeaks
their dedication. “It’s a real di;cult place. There are bugs and
the food can be di;cult to eat,” Laursen says. But despite the
trying conditions, “Wyn is super happy the whole time.”
The Rays’ work “is not about tax deductions or a pat on the
back,” adds Laursen. “They just have a heart for these people
who are su;ering and want to love neighbors who happen to be
Contact Wyn Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org and Wells for Wekin at
The Faith to Turn Lives Around
BY SAM SILVERSTEIN
WYN RAY CHASKA, MINN. | COLDWELL BANKER BURNET
REALTORMAG. REALTOR.ORG REALTOR® NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 31
into a long-term mission to help thousands of villagers.