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Isaac Brocato (’19): Building hope and alleviating poverty in Ethiopia

Isaac Brocato in Ethiopia

Isaac Brocato (’19) came to IWP with an interest in helping international communities, and he focused his studies on East Africa. He is now working with PATH International in Ethiopia, where he helps provide education, tutoring, and character-building activities for orphans and vulnerable children while providing their parents with business training to help them become self-sufficient and rise out of poverty.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Isaac Brocato was homeschooled before attending Houston Baptist University, where studied Biblical languages. He had originally planned to go into Biblical scholarship at an academic level, but he began to feel that his calling was international and would involve learning new languages.

Isaac decided to take a year after graduating college to discern what he really wanted to do. He began doing some research on potential career paths and began to think about becoming a Foreign Service Officer. He spent three months in Kenya, where he worked in rural areas. He taught local Kenyan pastors about the basics of Hebrew and Greek word studies and visited primary and secondary schools to give spiritual encouragement and motivational talks about peer pressure and morality.

“I loved it,” said Isaac. “I felt comfortable. I knew that doing international work would be the right path for me.”

Studying international affairs at IWP

Isaac found out about IWP from a Vice President at Houston Baptist University who knew IWP founder Dr. John Lenczowski. “It seemed to be the sort of academic institution I was looking for,” said Isaac. “It had small class sizes and a good student-professor ratio. It had a holistic and integrated strategic approach. The topics I would study would be very different from my background, but the approach would be similar.”

Isaac applied for the M.A. program in Statecraft and International Affairs, was accepted, and was awarded The Louis DeJoy and Aldona Z. Woś Family Foundation Scholarship.

Of his first year at IWP, Isaac remembers, “At the beginning, it was extremely difficult. It was so removed from anything I was used to studying. It wasn’t difficult to learn these things, but it was so much to learn in such a short amount of time. Going back for my second year, something shifted. The foundation was there, and I was able to focus on the things that fascinated me. I focused my research on East Africa, looking at humanitarian affairs, stabilization, and economics in this region.”

Isaac Brocato at IWP

Finding meaningful international work

Although he came to IWP with the idea of being a Foreign Service Officer, Isaac realized during the course of his studies that what he really wanted to do was be on the ground with small communities, working with the locals.

Isaac began to look at international development organizations but found that many of the jobs with these groups involved working in an office in D.C. with an occasional trip to the project site. “I didn’t find peace with that idea,” said Isaac. After praying and seeking God’s direction, Isaac was connected to a mentor who was involved with an organization in Uganda.

This organization, PATH International, combined two things about which Isaac was passionate – work with vulnerable children to make a positive change through education, and a Christian organization that believed in the possibility of transforming lives in a spiritual way. “It is hard to find an organization that both does mission work and effects economic change,” said Isaac.

Isaac soon visited the organization’s project site in Uganda and really appreciated what the organization was doing. He spent some time discerning if this is what he was meant to do next, and then he made the decision to start fundraising to support his work there.

The next day, the Covid pandemic began, and Isaac was laid off from his current job as a result. Then Uganda closed down.

However, PATH International had been thinking of expanding to Ethiopia, which remained relatively open during the pandemic. Isaac was invited to go there for a few months, where he would meet the country director for the organization and learn his way around from an American perspective.

“Amharic, the language of Ethiopia’s federal government, is not an easy language!” said Isaac. “I felt that there was no way that I was going to struggle to learn this language, only to end up in Uganda. In addition, I was starting to build a community in Ethiopia, and I was interested in staying.”

Isaac in Ethiopia

Developing a humanitarian project in Ethiopia

After a conversation with his directors at PATH International, it was decided that Isaac would stay and begin the organization’s project in Ethiopia, along with the country director, Sata.

Isaac and his team’s work has three primary parts. First, he works with orphans and vulnerable children, especially ages 7-13, who have a parent or guardian. Before encountering Isaac’s program, these children have no family structure or education and are on the streets. Isaac’s organization pays for their education in local private schools.

In addition to providing education, the organization aims to raise them into leaders. On the weekends, these children come to the PATH International office, where they receive tutoring to supplement their academic work, as well as leadership training with a focus on character development. They learn discipline, obedience, and ethics. They begin to build a structure for their lives and become prepared to integrate into society.

“Education and leadership are great, but they are not productive if you are still starving,” said Isaac. Therefore, the third part of PATH’s work involves helping the guardians of these children, who are usually single women. Isaac and his colleagues provide these women with adult education, in which they learn business skills and begin to develop a long-term savings mindset. The goal is to empower these women to start an income-generating business so that they can become self-sufficient and no longer dependent on PATH.

Isaac Brocato teaching children in Ethiopia

The impact of Isaac’s work

Isaac and his team’s work has been making a real impact. Isaac said, “We can only provide the resources and training, but the impact we make is up to the individual. If the individual is not willing to grab hold of it, there will be no impact, but thankfully, many of our beneficiaries allow us to walk beside them.”

One woman whom Isaac and his colleagues helped had lost her husband a few years beforehand and was bedridden with depression, sickness, and hopelessness. Her two children were brought into the program. “We told her that if she wanted her life to change, she had to take the initiative,” said Isaac. “She took it to heart so much. We had barely organized the women into their support groups and encouraged them to begin saving when she recovered miraculously because of the hope that she found.”

She started taking out loans from friends and neighbors and started selling vegetables in front of her house. She reinvested her profits and built a shack to house this new business. Her shop now has a refrigerator and sells spices, vegetables, cold drinks, and household items. Meanwhile, her son is now first in his class, both at his private school and his Koran school. They are becoming leaders among their peers.

“This shows the power of a little bit of hope,” said Isaac. “It goes a long way.”

Isaac Brocato with children in Ethiopia

Preparation from IWP

When asked whether the IWP education has been helpful to his work in Ethiopia, Isaac said that it definitely has, primarily because “IWP trains us to think in an integrated strategic way.”

Isaac also feels that IWP helped him understand the importance of seeing things from others’ perspectives: “When we come in and make changes, are we making changes that we Americans think are benefitting the local community, or are these changes that the community sees as benefiting themselves? Even if we are not diplomats, we are doing diplomatic work – we represent our organization or our countries. It is important to be aware of how we are perceived.”

Isaac also learned a lot from Professor Al Santoli, who runs Asia America Initiative, a humanitarian organization focused largely in the Philippines. “The stories of his personal work and experience were an inspiration to me. Before I moved to Ethiopia, I corresponded with him several times as I discerned my next steps. The content of his classes and his personal mentorship were key to my preparation for my current work,” said Isaac.

Isaac’s study of East Africa also helped prepare him for his work in Ethiopia, which is in the Horn of Africa. In each class, no matter what the class covered specifically, Isaac found an area relevant to East Africa for his term paper. He said, “I graduated with a very well-rounded understanding of how East Africa works. I understand concepts of tribalism across the region, even if it is different in each country. I  understand how corruption, politics, and economics work in this region. I was able to come here understanding the mindsets that were held. On the ground, nothing is truly surprising, although I am always learning new things.”

Indeed, Isaac is surprised by very little in his work on the ground. A month ago, there were some tensions within the local orthodox church which led to violence. Isaac and his friends were driving home one night when they heard gunshots nearby and saw people running all around them. Nonetheless, they stopped the car, bought some food for dinner, and then sped home. “The stories you hear from professors at IWP are not just adventure stories, but they reveal the geopolitical and local conflicts that accumulate. When you see it happening in front of you, you are not surprised,” said Isaac. Luckily, no one died in that particular incident – shots were just fired in the air – although there were casualties in another nearby town from this same tension.

Continuing to build communities in Ethiopia

In the future, Isaac hopes to continue his work in Ethiopia: “I very much sense that this is a long-term thing for me.”

He has invested time and effort in learning the language and culture of Ethiopia, and he knows that the work in which he is engaged is not short-term work. “We are changing hearts and minds, building character, and making an impact in a community where there are generational patterns of addiction and poverty. Things don’t change in a day, or in five years,” said Isaac.

As the only foreigner in his community, Isaac serves as a liaison between Americans and Ethiopians, helping them to understand each other’s perspectives. Additionally, his “otherness” can open the door to conversations that might not happen in the same way with a local. For instance, Isaac is sometimes asked why he doesn’t chew khat, an addictive drug that is extremely common in Ethiopia. He is able to share that this would ruin the quality of his life and keep him from being productive. He commented: “Sometimes it takes someone a little different to share a message. Because I am a foreigner who speaks the local language, people receive me with open arms. They want to know who I am and what I am doing here.”

“What I am doing is unique,” said Isaac. “This isn’t what I went to IWP planning to do, but IWP gave me the broad background knowledge that has been helpful in my work.”

Isaac Brocato at IWP Commencement
Isaac at graduation in 2019. Pictured from left to right: then-Chairman Owen Smith; General John W. Nicholson, Jr. USA (Ret.); Isaac Brocato; then-IWP President Dr. John Lenczowski.

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