Fighting Hatred with Hope

An African journal from Fenwick alumnus Brian Hickey ’12, who is thankful for many of the freedoms we take for granted back home.

Brian Hickey (right, sporting the Fenwick shield) with a new friend.

“It is much more difficult to hate a particular group of people after interacting with them,” explains Brian Hickey ’12. We learned about the inspiring work that Brian is doing in Djibouti from two of his former tennis coaches at Fenwick: Science Teacher Mr. Tom Draski and English Teacher Mr. Gerard Sullivan. “I’ve always bragged about the daring careers my ex-players go on to have, from landing planes on aircraft carriers to deep sea diving,” says Mr. Sullivan. “This is a more special type of bravery, though.”

Brian continued his tennis career at Valparaiso University in Indiana, playing there for four years and graduating in 2016. “He has taught tennis in summers to a lot of our kids in Western Springs,” Coach/Mr. Sullivan recalls. Then, “he traveled to teach school in Bethlehem (West Bank) after graduating and wanted more of that experience,” which led him to the tiny nation of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, some 7,500 miles from Oak Park.

Located in eastern Africa on the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti is a mostly French- and Arabic-speaking country of dry shrub lands, volcanic formations and beaches. It is populated by 942,333 souls, most of whom are practicing Muslims. Lying on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Djibouti serves as a gateway to the Suez Canal, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Only 25 miles across the Red Sea sets the Islamic, civil war-torn Republic of Yemen, where 7 million people are facing starvation due to a Saudi Arabian blockade, instituted last month, that is holding up food, fuel and medical aid. Malnourished children are dying at an alarming rate of one every 10 minutes, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), and many Yemenian parents are fleeing in droves the air strikes and lack of food. “We are on the brink of famine,” WFP executive director David Beasley told  CBS’s “60 Minutes” in November. (See video link below.)

Caritas is the Latin term for charity (virtue), one of the three theological virtues. Brian Hickey got involved with Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of more than 160 members who are working at the grassroots in almost every country of the world. (They have a Facebook page, too.) Mr. Sullivan calls Brian “a special person: very strong and very mild.” In two separate emails this fall, his former student and player shared insights into the joys and struggles of the migrants, natives and refugees in Djibouti:

By Brian Hickey ’12

September 19, 2017

Greetings from Djibouti! After more than two weeks in the Horn of Africa I now understand why Djibouti is considered one of the hottest countries in the world. One is perpetually sweating due to the weather feeling like a sauna EVERY HOUR of EVERY DAY. Thankfully, my colleagues claim the weather will start to cool a few degrees in October [to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or so].

Brian dons a Valpo shirt (his collegiate alma mater) in Djibouti while one of his barefoot students wears Michael Jordan sweatpants that he has outgrown.

I am the only American on the campus of people in the different ministries in Djibouti. Despite this, I am fortunate to already have a close bond with those who speak English.


Sixteen hours into arriving in Djibouti, the Bishop/person in charge of all the ministries and schools in Djibouti and Somalia drove me around part of the city I will be living in for the next year. He told me the following that articulates the vision I have of what I am committed to doing this year and in the future.

Soon after the U.S. military established a base in Djibouti as a result of the 9/11 attacks, the commander of the base met with the Bishop. The Bishop explained to him that they are both fighting extremism and terrorism, just in different ways.

Through Caritas’ many facets of aid and the schools in the area catering to a multitude of nationalities and Muslim students, we fight terrorism by providing opportunities to those who do not have much or anything at all.  We give them an opportunity for real hope instead of the empty promises groups such as al-Shabab, al-Qaeda or ISIS offer. It is much more difficult to hate a particular group of people after interacting with them. Our mission is to be the light of the world to anybody we encounter in the vast darkness that envelopes this area. Continue reading “Fighting Hatred with Hope”