Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guest Blog: The Nov 29 Global Climate March - Brooklyn's Take.

Guest blog post today from a young woman at Madonna High School here in Toronto. Brooklyn Gifkins is currently doing a full-time co-op placement with me here in our Toronto D&P Office. I asked her to share her impressions of the Global Climate March and her participation in the Toronto contribution to the Global March - A Parade of Lights:

On November 29th, 2015, my school, Madonna, was fortunate enough to be able to attend a rally on climate change at Queens Park. The rally was being held right before the summit in Paris for climate change, as a way to show that the people of Toronto want our government to take a stance on the issue. It was a very exciting and memorable experience for us. (Ed. Note: Click here to the a Flickr Album from the event)

Brooklyn (centre) holding part of the pipeline of hope.
 In preparation for this event, all the schools who were planning on going were asked to construct part of a pipeline, using any kind of recyclable materials. Then on the day of the rally, all the schools who built pieces would meet up throughout the subway line and create a pipeline going towards Queens Park. Our environmental team decided to use 2 litre pop bottles for their piece.

On the day of, we met at Wilson Station with our piece, and headed off to Queens Park. The rally started first with speeches from very inspiring people, as a way to get the crowd pumped and ready for the march. The sun has almost set when we were called to turn on our lights and take to the streets. During the march, I got glimpses of all the different organizations that had come to show their support, as well as all the everyday citizens that were fighting for what they believe in. There was a very diverse set of people, all there to show solidarity for this cause.
Once we circled back to Queens Park, we were being directed to create a “spiral of light”. It very a little confusing a first, but it got better as it went on. All the lights that people were holding made the view of the spiral breathtaking.

After we finished doing the spiral, a group of people emerged and starting performing. There were drummers as well as other musicians. The crowd gathered around to watch them. It gave the feeling of a sense of community. Eventually people started to leave, either to go back to their homes or to get some snacks that were provided.

Overall it was a very engaging and inspiring day. It gave my school the chance to see how many people are fighting for climate action. It showed how when we come together as a city, we are capable of making an impact on our government’s decisions!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rhino Grinds Trees Well: Ethiopia #12

Admittedly the title of this post sounds weird as a phrase. In a matter of speaking all four words do go together though. Each words represents one of the four different visits we made today to interventions that are all part of the livelihood project with the diocese of Hararghe that I wrote about yesterday.

Rhino:
looking down the cliff
This morning we visited the Rhino cooperative (Auraris in Amharic). They are not raising rhinos. The co-operative consists of ten households, seven of which are headed by women (i.e. single mothers and widows). These families had been pastoralists. Then the droughts came and all their livestock died. One family lost twenty-one cattle. They decided to transition to agro-pastoralists and the project helped them.
Oranges (currently green)
We look down from the cliff we are standing on and see a well and pumping station down below near the dry river bed. It is nearly 15m deep. This well allowed them to irrigate fields. The fields were then planted with Orange and Guava trees. A storehouse was built. Training was given in forming and running a co-operative business. The grove is impressive for only being two and a half years old. “1000 trees were planted” says Muluken, the local project coordinator. They now sell bags of oranges for 500ETB locally and 600ETB in town. This gives them a 75% profit on their sales (since their labour is all contributed). Two of the families in the co-operative have been able to buy two cattle (which we see grazing) and start rebuilding. The next drought will not do them in. 

Grinding:
Cutting the ribbon
Ayan, first co-op member.
Next we were off to Hallewago where there was another ribbon to cut. This time we were inaugurating a grinding mill co-operative. Prior to the mill being there, women had to travel by foot over 10km. “Before we were suffering. Having to carry heavy loads such a distance was difficult. Only the lucky ones had donkeys. It was especially difficult for those of us who were pregnant or who had to carry children,” explains one co-op member. After the ribbon is cut the people cheer and the grinder roars to life. This mill provides benefit in 2 ways: First, it saves all the women in the community from having to walk the 10km. Second, the mill co-operative provides an economic benefit to its 27 members, self-selected in order by the community. The criteria they used to select people were: 1) poorest of the poor 2) households headed by women 3) want to improve their livelihood through hard work. Ayan is the name of the first woman chosen by the community to be in the co-op. After we are thanked and presented with symbolic gifts – a grain bag and a tether rope for a donkey. “Thank-you,” says a leader, “We will never have to use these again.” The name of their co-operative translates into English as ‘Happiness.’

Trees:
Hallewago hilltop
Planting my tree
The view from the Hallewago hilltop looks down into the cultivated fields below. Before the rains, which come less frequently but more violently now, would gush down this hill and wreck people’s hard work. Not for much longer though. Stretched out before me are dug terraces which will soon be planted with hundreds of seedlings. Today we are planting the first of them with the community. The seedlings we plant all come from the nursery we visited yesterday. The trees we are planting have been especially selected for their resistance to drought. When they grow up, they will keep growing when the rain is gone and stop the rain when it comes gushing down the hill. They will return the soil back to health.

Well:
the Well and the Pump.
Engineer is in blue plaid. Walu is
the woman in brown.
It is our last field visit of the whole Solidarity Trip. Hard to believe. The Women from the Elharat kebele are there to greet us, singing the now familiar song of welcome. Even a donkey brays as we arrive. “He too is happy since he won’t have to walk for water now either,” laughs Muluken. We see a smiling young man who introduces himself as the water engineer who oversaw the project. We stand overlooking another dry river bed. “We were drinking black water from here” says one man from the community. Another woman named Walu says, “We had to carry both our babies on our backs as well as sometimes two jugs of water up this hill.” She smiles. “Today we are happy. We have water.”  Both this man and woman are members of the ‘water committee’ that takes care of this new resource for the kebele. What we are here to open is not just a well. We can see the well at the bottom, near the river. Underground pipes from there feed 4 important water points for the community: 1) The taps for drinking water 2) an area for washing clothes etc. 3) a 10,000L fibreglass reservoir and 4) a trough for the animals (hence the happy donkey)
At the Taps

As we thank the community for the wonderful celebration, Rose-Marie explains that we are merely representatives of the thousands of supporters of Development and Peace who have made the day possible. Indeed, all four of these visits today have shown us what can be made possible through the simplest gestures of solidarity made by Canadians through Development and Peace.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cutting the Ribbon on Resilience: Ethiopia #11

The Women Greet Us
We probably would have stayed and listened to the women sing all day – basking in their joyful song and taking pictures of their colourful clothing. “They are waiting for you to cut the ribbon,” Belayneh whispered to me. Belayneh is our principal guide from the Hararghe Diocese. “They have been fasting all day, so we don’t want to keep them too long.” It is Ramadan in an area that is 90% Muslim.  I realized they were not going to stop singing until the ribbon was cut.

These women and their husbands (also here) are pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. They live in temporary houses and follow their herds of sheep, goats, cattle and camels (have we ever seen a lot of camels!) Those that are agro-pastoralists are also starting to farm some crops and stay in one place for longer periods of time. For both groups of people, animal health is vital to their livelihoods. Until now getting access to health-care for their animals has been difficult. That is why we are here.
Two members of our National Council, Elizabeth and Rose-Marie, come forward with the scissors and cut the red ribbon. There is clapping and even louder singing. The new animal health post of the Shek Medobe Kebele has been inaugurated!

Receiving the kits.
We pour into the health post yard and gather in front of the building where medical supplies are kept. The project is not merely about building physical infrastructure, but human infrastructure as well. We next hand over animal care kits to seven ‘community-based animal health workers’ (which they call cbahws for short – ‘k-bahs’) Each kit costs appx. $300USD and includes everything from medicines and animal syringes, to a rather mean looking apparatus for castration. These cbahws have been trained as part of the project. In the future, they will receive a small fee for their services – like our own vets, just smaller – to make their living. Having these cbahws from the community ensures that more people are reached, since they go out into their own community and follow the people with their herds.


Recurring drought and shorter rainy seasons caused by climate change has put stress on the animals the pastoralists rely on. Having this animal health post and the cbahws will make them more resilient.
This was just the first of three interventions we visited today as part of the project. 

Animal Health Post - Inaugurated Today!

Sudan Grass at the Nursery
From the health outpost we also visited a nursery where forage seeds are grown for distribution as well as varieties of drought resistant plants and trees to help rehabilitate the soil and prevent erosion. From the nursery we then went to a demo plot site for one community and stood on a grass oasis amidst the dry lands. It was the after of a before and after photo, showing what can be achieved with proper soil conservation.

Tomorrow we will visit another three interventions for a total of six visits over two days. These six interventions are only a part of the whole project we are carrying out with the Church here in the Haraghe diocese. We would have to be here for months to see the whole thing no doubt. 
Demo plot site.

Here are just some of the specs on the project pamphlet that was given to us as part of the orientation:

Region: Jijiga Woredas: Gursum and Tulugulad Kebeles: (too numerous to list)

Number of households reached: 8,295.

Goal: increasing resilience of the population to climate change by improving livelihoods of agro-pastoralist and pastoralist households in the target area.


Today we saw that goal being reached. I found myself looking forward to seeing more of this project first-hand tomorrow.

Dry from the Sky: Ethiopia #10

July 7th. Travel day today. We left Lalibela and flew to Dire Dawa – from the high to the low (elevation that is). Our tourist stint is done. We are off to the Diocese of Haraghe in the east of Ethiopia to visit the projects we are supporting there. It was our 3rd internal flight of this trip. Before coming, I had no idea just how large Ethiopia is. At one million square kilometres, it is roughly the size of the province of Ontario. As we are flying into Dire Dawa, the stark difference on noticeable in the form of dry river beds. It is not the rainy season in this part of the country. We have now learned that there are two rainy seasons in Ethiopia Kiremt (the main one - between June and September) and Belg (a moderate one between February and May) I ask
Dry from the Sky -
One of many riverbeds with no river as seen from the place.
if they too have experienced the ‘Arrives Late and Leaves early’ phenomenon when it comes to rain. They have.  One of the staff at the Diocese, a young man, tells us that as a kid, he used to be the one to use the rain gauge for the river by his home when it rained. “They used to pay me to do it,” he tells us, “Now though, there is no more water in the river at all.”
 No water in the river. This is certainly what I saw as we flew in to Dire Dawa today. From the sky one could see long brown snakes creeping through the land. Dry riverbeds.

When we got to the diocese’s social development coordinating office, we were given an overview of the incredible work they are doing for the people. This is one of the best organized dioceses in the entire country. The key word they are using now when it comes to climate change is resilience. The project we are visiting tomorrow is an example of how that resilience actually plays out. 

Ephraim The Child Hustler - Ethiopia #9

This is an email I recently sent to my Son and Daughter:

Dear Jacob and Amy,

Yemrehana Krestos - The Church in the Cave.
Today I bought two gifts to bring home for you from a little boy named Ephraim (you say it, “Ef-rye-eem). He was the first person I met today when we arrived in a small village where there is an ancient church in a cave carved out of rock. He was right there when I opened the door and he said, “Plastic?” I knew what he wanted. 

Believe it or not, here the children like to get empty plastic water bottles from the Faranji (that means foreigner, which I am here in Ethiopia). Why do you think that is? Well, they are very poor and the plastic bottles can be used for all kinds of things, especially carrying things like water. So I grabbed an empty bottle from our van and gave it to him. He took it and then disappeared into the crowd of other children who had quickly gathered around us. I didn’t know his name yet, but I was going to meet him again later.

Imagine we lived in a village like this and we were very poor. Imagine that sometimes rich people from far away came to visit our village because there was an ancient church here. How could we take advantage of this and get some of their money for our family? Well, these rich people would be much more likely to give things or even buy things from you and Amy than they would from Mommy and me, because you are children and children are cute. So, it would be your jobs to go up to the rich people and talk to them. For you to do that though, you would need to be able to speak their language. Our language is Amharic. Theirs is English. So you would learn some things to say in English. The first one would be “Hello!” You would also learn to say things like “Where are you from?” and “How do you like the Church?” Mommy and I would also give you things to try and sell to them. Or maybe you would even make the things yourself. You would have to learn how to say the names of those objects and also how to say, “You Want?” or “You Buy?” You would become a hustler, trying to make money from the rich people for our family. Now I feel sad, because now I am also imagining you having to do this and it is something I would never want for you both.
So how did I meet Ephraim again? To get to the cave church (which is very cool by the way. Its name is Yemrehana Krestos), we had to walk twenty minutes up a mountain. All the way up and all the way down, there were children trying to sell us things. Mostly they were little red clay animal statues. Sometimes they would keep walking beside us, “You want chicken? Special, it painted colour” or  “You want Oxen?” they would ask. I had been politely saying no to them and then ignoring them when they kept asking.

Ephraim
But towards the end of my walk down, for some reason I stopped and talked to this one boy who had been following us for quite a while. He was not going to give up. Maybe that is why I stopped. Maybe I liked his persistence. “Sheep?” he asked.

I looked at the clay sheep in his hand. When I did, Amy, I thought of your collection of animals that you have. And I thought, “This would be nice for Amy to have. It would be nice for her to own a toy animal that helped a little boy and his family have some money.” So I gave him 50 Ethiopian Birr for it (Birr is what they call their money here). That is the equivalent of $2.50. Believe it or not, a lot of people would say that is too much money to pay for something like this. 

I asked his name and he said it was Ephraim. He let me take his picture. You can see the money I gave him in his hand. But Ephraim was not finished. He still had more to sell. He had this little ball made of string that he wanted me to buy as well. But I said no and kept walking back to our van at the bottom of the mountain.


Ephraim and his gang take selfies.
While we were waiting for everyone else to get back to the van, the children crowded around again. I sat outside with them. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we just looked at each other. Ephraim came and started trying to sell me his ball again. This time though, he said something he had not said before, “Football? You want? Very Good!” He bounced it on the ground and gave it a small kick. Until he said “football”, I had never thought that this little ball could be used to play soccer with. Jacob, I thought of you playing mini-soccer in the hall or even then using it to play mini-sticks with Nate. So I took out 20 Birr (can you do the math to figure out how much that is worth?) and offered it to him. It was a deal.

I asked him how old he was but he did not understand me. Then another boy repeated my question in Amharic for him. “I am 10.” he said.

“You are a good business man,” I told him. I noticed he had more than just my money in the raggedy pocket of his old jeans. “Lots of money.” I said pointed.

“Yes.” He smiled.

Then I showed Ephraim the picture I have of you both and Mommy on my phone. By pointing to each of you, I told him that the ball was for you Jacob and the sheep for you Amy. He was happy to see who you were. Other kids gathered around trying to see the camera too. So I gave it to them and showed them how to take selfies with it. I had to show them how to hit the blue camera button on the screen to make it work. They even took a video. I wanted the two of you to be able to see who they are.

Ephraim is a good business man. I meant that. I hope one day he can use his business skills to do more than try and hustle rich people from far away to buy his trinkets though. Maybe one day he will use his business skills to help to turn the ancient cave church in his village into a larger tourist attraction that it will bring enough money into his village that his children won’t have to beg the rich people anymore. I really hope so.


Love, Dad.


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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tourism and Development in Lalibela: Ethiopia Day #8


arrival in Lalibella
“I haven’t seen a goat that thin lately,” says Patricia, our local partner from CST. We have just landed in Lalibela and are en route to our hotel. The skinny little goat munches on a sparse bush outside the van window. We are starting a two-day tourist jaunt to see the famous rock churches of Lalibela in the Amhara region that date back to the 12th century.


There has been no rain here either it seems. My other first impression is that the mountains have nowhere near the same level of terracing for agriculture as what we saw in Tigray. We are also told that there has not been as much social progress here with respect to women’s equality as in other regions of the country.
St. George's -  the
most famous church of Lalibela.

Child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), are still a problem. “The challenge is providing an alternative livelihood for the women who make a living by performing FGM,” Patricia tells us. This is something that I had never thought of.

About 14,000 people live in Lalibela. Our guide cannot give us an exact figure of how many people the industry employs, but estimates that it may be close to 60%.

The conversation now steers towards the relationship between tourism and development. In our experience at D&P, it has not always been a happy one. One thinks of the 2005 Tsunami where poor people ended up displaced from prime coastal land to make way for resorts that would never benefit them. During the course of our visit, it is hard to see that tourism has brought much to the town. The infrastructure is poor and we are harassed here by begging children and teenage hustlers more so than any other place we have been.

Elizabeth shows a local child her photo.
The churches though are truly beautiful. Carved straight out of the volcanic rock, it is said that King Lalibela made them with the help of angels. My thought is that the people of Lalibela could use the help of angels once again.







Saturday, July 4, 2015

Short and Sweet: Ethiopia Day #7

Gebrealif looks towards the hives.
“If they buzz around you, don’t move.” We are sitting on another mountain side with 20 bee-hives lives than 15 feet away from us. These instructions are issued for our safety J
Land in this rocky terrain is at a premium in the Kebele of Mariam Sheweto and to help young people without land earn a living, we have helped establish a bee-keeping co-operative of ten men and ten women. A co-operative members named Gebrealif Kidane tells us, “We had no income and were dependent on our families. Now we have a hopeful future. One big lesson for us has been learning the importance of collective negotiating power that comes with having a co-operative.”

First Harvest! Tasted as good as it Looks.
This project site is just one of several that is part of a five year program our local partner REST has set-up to create livelihoods for people without access to fertile land for farming. “It is important that people can diversify their livelihoods,” the project officer Habteab Hagos tells us. This is especially true when there is drought.
It is a short and sweet visit. Short because there are bees. Sweet because they offer us bread and honey. It is sticky and delicious. There is one thing particularly special about this honey too: it is their first harvest. And they have chosen to share it with us.