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.

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. 

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.’

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Abela At the Water-Point: Ethiopia Day #6

What do you do when there is drought and the only place to get water in your community is a small spring coming out the side of a steep mountain? If you are Abela, a woman living in Erob, you get your 20L jerry can and you go get it. 

In doing so each day you risk both your safety and also your daily water supply since spills frequently occur when trying to carry large amounts of water in such a precarious way. Today, Abela no longer has to take that risk, and neither to the women of the other thirty households in her community, thanks to the Water-Point created by a project of the church here with the support of Development and Peace.

Find the red circle that marks the water-point.
We are standing at the edge of a mountain road and Sebhatu Seyoum, the social development director for the diocese here, is pointing out a grey speck about 2km away on the mountain across the valley. “That is the water-point,” he says. The grey speck is actually a small reservoir that the spring now feeds into further down the mountain where it is safer. Beside the reservoir is a series of taps where Abela can safely get the water.

This kind of project is not simply about constructing a physical water-point though and simply leaving it to the community. When Sebhatu starts talking about the software they had to set-up for the project to succeed, our group is at first confused: is it a computer-operated system?

The "Key"
 ‘Software’ is actually a metaphor for the community organizing that has to be done to ensure the success of the project. It is in contrast to the ‘hardware’ of the actual construction. The Church provided technical training as well as training in how to govern its use through a committee made of people from the community. This committee is responsible for maintaining the system, guarding and managing access to it as well as collecting small fees from the community to pay for that maintenance. 

A few of us jump down from the road onto the terraced mountainside to make the trek over to get a closer look.  As we get closer, we are joined by a few people from the committee. A child from the home nearby, the son of a committee member, comes running up with an orange tap handle – it is the key to open the tap on the reservoir so the water can flow. We are given a demonstration.

At the water-point.

Black Pipes travel from further up the mountain down into the reservoir, capturing all its water. It is approx. 25 feet in diameter and about 7 feet deep. A solid pipe flows from the reservoir to another concrete block with 3 taps on either side. 

Abela at the water-point.

 “Since this project,” says committee member Haleka, “The woman have stopped losing water and also hurting themselves from falling. Collecting the water in the reservoir also means that the precious water does not get wasted.” We ask about water quality and are told that the local government conducts tests to ensure its safety.

It is at this point, we meet Abela. She is a quiet and beautiful woman who shows us how to carry the 20L jerry can full of water from the tap using only her back and a cloth rope. To the amusement of us all, especially the Ethiopians, Elizabeth from our group gives it a try to see for herself just how heavy it is. Her life will now be easier. She points out to us where her home is, less than 100 yards away.

Haleka insists on offering us hospitality and so we all retire to the simple home of his family for lunch. They offer us cactus fruit, injera, bread and egg. We watch the eggs prepared on the small charcoal stove. It is one of the best meals I have had while I am here. The next time there is drought, Haleka, Abela and their community will be better prepared to survive it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Walk Along the Lehama Canal: Ethiopia Day #5

200 year old DaEro tree - a sign that water is near.
Water is life. Especially in Ethiopia. People here say that if you see a DaEro Tree it means water. We see our first one twenty-five bumpy minutes after going off road in the Land rover. We are in the rural community of LemLem to see how D&P is helping Ethiopians adapt to climate change.

Sure enough, there is water nearby this particular beauty. The tree is over 200 years old. “This is the Lehama River,” Tekle Assefa tells us. It looks more like a trickle of water in a dry river bed right now though. The rains still have not come here.

Tekle works for the church and helps to oversee the project we are here to see – a 2km concrete canal that diverts water from the river to the fields of the people.

Children lead us along the canal.
A crowd gathers around us as we exit the cars and start our walk along the canal. The words canal may conjure up an image of ships passing between lakes, but only a tiny toy boat could travel this one. In the next few hours, we are amazed to see what a simple foot-wide channel of concrete can bring to a people suffering from dry lands.

The first beneficiary of the project that we meet is Adey Alemu. She is busy weeding her garlic field with her two young daughters. In total she has six children. The canal has allowed her to have more control over the amount of water going into her fields. Fields that are not irrigated are called “rain-fed.” With rain-fed fields these days, there is either too much water when the rains come, destroying the plants, or there is not enough. As part of the project, Adey has received training on crop production as well as the water from the canal.

Adey and one of her daughters, weeding their garlic bed.

 “Before the canal,” she says, “I could only have one harvest. Now with more control over the water I have two or for some crops even three. I am better able to provide for my family.”

The contrast with the rest of the countryside is readily obvious as we continue our walk. Things are green and growing here. We see tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, maize, and more.

canal break to flow water to fields.
Every so often along the canal there are breaks that are stopped up by large rocks. These are what allow the water to flow into the farmer’s field. Their use is carefully managed by the community. In fact, improper use results in a fine of 50ETB.

We come across an herb garden as we continue and women offer us lovely smelling plants. One particular herb is used as a kind of fragrance for a woman’s hair. Others are medicinal.

At another point, one of the project workers stops to talk with a farmer working in his tomato field to give him advice on how to deal with a particular pest.

We see Woman and children coming to the canal to wash their clothes. I watch one child refresh herself by splashing water on her face. I stop and do the same. It is hot today!

Tesfay, 77 years old with hope for the future.
We come to another Daero tree. Here a trough has been diverted out of the canal to feed the cattle. They can also keep cool under the shade of the tree.

Towards the end we meet Tesfay. He is 77 years old. He has lived through the time of war and famine here and lost friends and loved ones. But that is not what he wants to remember. Instead he says, “I remember when I was young, there were many trees here,” he says. “People cut them all down. But today we are trying to bring them back.” By some estimates Ethiopia has lost 98% of its forested areas in the last 50 years. Tesfay is right though - this project is helping to bring the trees back, one small step at a time.

Speaking of small steps, the children of the community have been scampering along with us our whole trek. They wave goodbye to us as we finish our walk and return to our Land Rovers. Tesfay can feel good about their future.
The Future of LemLem.

Alula’s Coffee Shop: Ethiopia Day#4

Let me tell you about my new favourite spot for a coffee - Kallamino's.

Alula’s husband took all her money and left her alone with two small children to raise. She lives in the city of Me’Kele in the region of Tigray. She speaks to us through an interpreter in her native Tigrinya. “I was depressed with no hope. I went to the government for help and they sent me to the Daughters of Charity.” 

Daughters of Charity Women's Training Center
The Daughters of Charity are a religious order of nuns who have been in Tigray since the great famine in 1973. They work with the CST to improve livelihoods of women in the Tigray region. With our help, a livelihood training centre was built next to the coordinating office. At the coordinating office they run every type of social program you can imagine, from feeding children to a community library. Our work as D&P with them is focused on women like Alula.

The nuns gave her access to a loan of 8000ETB (400USD) which she would pay back at only 2% interest. They also made arrangements for her to set up a small cafeteria for the staff at a local boarding school. Together this support is known an IGA (Income Generating Activity)
 She rents the space at the school for 200ETB (10USD) per month. We are visiting her there as she closes for the day. She used the original loan allowed her to get set-up and going, including renting a Coffee Machine that she rented for 400ETB a month. The coffee she prepares for us though is done according to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Another young woman with a black headscarf is there serving us as she speaks. “I am the only cafeteria here. I have no competition so I have to ensure that I do not overcharge my customers and that my prices are fair."

Alula's Coffee Machine.
Alula works hard. She gets up early in the morning and prepares the injera in her home, that she then brings her shop. She works every day except public holidays. Her two daughters, now in Grades 9 and 6, help out at home. The hardwork paid off. She eventually was able to by the Coffee Machine outright for 23,000ETB, over 1100USD.

Her next purchase will be able to buy a fridge, “probably by September,” which she currently does not have. “Then I can serve cold drinks, which people want when it is hot and store food more easily.”

You see, she has not only paid back the loan. Alula’s business now affords her monthly profits of 3000ETB. “On a good day I gross 1500ETB in sales,” She tells us. And the young woman serving us the coffee? She is one of her two employees.

The name of Alula’s cafeteria is Kallamino, named for the small river that runs nearby. We try to pay her for the food and drink she has offered. After all, it is her business. She refuses. “Please, you are my guests,” she tells us. We do not insist and instead offer our gratitude.

Oh and by the way, Alula’s loan is just one of over 80 that the DOC sisters have given out since the start of the year. We are proud to support Alula and the Daughters of Charity in building a better world for Ethiopian women.

Alula, Closing up her coffee shop  Kallamino's.

Before and After Guidissa: Ethiopia Day #3

Guidissa Women's Self-Help Group
If you were an Oromo woman or girl living in the Kebele (neighbourhood) of Warqa Warabo before the days of Guidissa, your life might have looked like this: As a girl you experience female genital mutilation. As a widow you have no inheritance. You have no decision making power in your marriage and men in your village have the saying, “You can find a tall woman, but not a knowledgeable one.” You may take eggs or chicken to market to sell, but nothing larger. If you were to try and sell a goat or a cow, you would be looked on with suspicion and ignored. You are not allowed to plant by broadcasting seed or stand on the threshing ground, because men fear you will curse the crop. You have no involvement in community life and are confined to the home. You are poor and life is a struggle. But after the Guidissa, things are different.

Guidissa is the name of a woman’s self-help group in Warqa. It is an Oromo word meaning, “Helps to Develop.” It is one of four in this Kebele and consists of 38 women. Guidissa was organized through the work of a grassroots organization that our partner CST works with called Hundee. Hundee means “taproot” and they have acted as a taproot not only for Guidissa but for many other women self-help groups in over 31 Woredas (Districts) containing many Kebeles as part of the Civil Society Development Program supported by D&P. We did not have time to meet and visit them all they are so numerous. Some of our group split off to meet another of these self-help groups. We met the women of Guidissa. Despite having to be at a funeral later that day, all 38 of them are there to talk with us, along with their men. The meeting opens with a blessing. In the past it would have only been a man to do this. Now a woman also takes part.

men speaking in support!
Key activities of a self-help group like Guidissa include a revolving loan program for their members as well as community conversations with the men to discuss the their challenges. The men recognize the value of the conversations. “Previously we were not aware of the issue of gender,” one says,
“Now with the engagement in the conversations, the awareness of our equality is there. The next generations can have hope.”

With the revolving loan program, women start by contributing a very small amount of money each week to the group, as little as 1 or even 2 Birr (Ethiopian Currency 20 ETB=1USD). When the pot is large enough, members can take turns accessing loans as high as 2000ETB, in some cases at zero interest. This credit has the power to change lives.

Sharing powerful testimony.
One woman in a blue headdress shares with us, “My husband was a farm laborer and because of our poverty I had to live with my mother. I had nothing and struggled to survive. I was not a member of Guidissa. My mother told me to join the group. I refused because I did not think I could afford the fifty cents (half a birr) to save each week as a member. But eventually my mother got me to join. I was able to get a loan and buy four sheep. I sold two of them and was able to get a land contract to farm. My husband was able to return and help me. Together we produced 4.5 Quintal (1Quintal = 100kg) of Teff (a local grain). I still had the sheep and I was able to buy a heifer and a bull. I fattened them and sold them and then bought two oxen to farm and a donkey. I have paid back the loan and I can generate my own income. I am free. My children are free.”

Ejigua surveys her success.
After we talk we go to the homes of Ejigua Hailu. She is a founding member of Guidissa and one of its first beneficiaries. I say homes, plural, because there are two on her property – the stick and thatched-roof one she lived in before Guidissa and the solid, tin-roofed one she lives in now. Ejigua has nine children and five grandchildren. Getting access to credit allowed her to progress economically. She was gradually able to own more and more sheep (which she fattened and sold) before going on to also owning a cow (which had just given birth two days earlier to a calf).

Ejigua's new baby calf.
 This is life after Guidissa as a woman.
It is not only economic capital that is the fruit here – it is social capital as well. There is no more HTP (Hurtful Traditional Practices). You can sell goats and cows freely at the market. You can sow & thresh. You can join the Kebele councils and most importantly, you are an equal decision maker with your husband.

Support for women is directly in the mission statement of Development and Peace. Today we saw that mission in action.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Arrives Late and Leaves Early: Ethiopia Day#2

Me and Tamiru at the Restaurant.
The traditional Ethiopian music is thumping and I have to lean in closer to hear what Tamiru is saying. Tamiru is Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country. I learn this because he mentions that the dancers on stage are dressed in his tradition. There are 40 million Oromo out of a total population in Ethiopia of 90+ million. We are at a restaurant enjoying a magnificent Ethiopian dinner with live musicians and dancers. In addition to the Oromo there are over 80 other different tribes that make up Ethiopia. Tamiru works in communications for the CST joint office, one of our key partners here. Leaning in further, I catch his words, “It Arrives Late and Leaves Early.” He is speaking about the rains. Ethiopia lies in a region of Africa that is prone to cycles of drought. These cycles are becoming more frequent and less predictable though. It’s a key reason why D&P is working here to enhance livelihoods and resiliance in vulnerable populations. Tamiru continues, “Just yesterday I was speaking to a priest from the north who told me they still have had no rain.” It has been raining all day in Addis and it should be elsewhere too. But it is not.

In addition to digesting the delicious food, we are also digesting vast amounts of knowledge that was shared with us today by two of our three key partners, CST and ECS. Two things jumped out for me that I would like to share.

First: The morning began with a briefing at the CST office, a five minute walk from our hotel. Ethiopia is known as the ‘Water Tower’ of Africa. There are rivers (including the Nile) that flow through the land. However, the diverse geography of the country means that water is easier to get in some places than others. It felt strange to be talking about drought and lack of access to water with the rain pouring down outside. Yet resilience to drought is key to development here, especially as its frequency increases. We are told that Climate Change is driving the ‘arrives late and leaves early’ phenomenon and presented with studies on the matter. The word of Pope Francis come to mind, that the poor, who have not created the ecological crisis, are the first to suffer from it.
Fasting Cake
During the break, the entire office staff came in with cake, coffee and drink to celebrate our visit and the return of our their leader who had been travelling for some time, Patricia Wall. There were two cakes, one was called a ‘fasting cake.’ A fasting cake contains no animal products as these are abstained from during fasting periods in Ethiopia. There is a lot of fasting in Ethiopia, by the dominant Orthodox Christians as well as the Catholics and the Muslims. “In total, there are over 200 days,” one of the staff tells me between bites of cake.

St. Mary Cathedral, Addis Ababa
The second thing jumped out at me during our visit to the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (ECS), the second key partner. It was a bumpy ride in the van through poor areas of the city to get there. Some of our group, who are seeing the type of urban poverty only found in the Global South for the first time, are overwhelmed. ECS is located right next to the St. Mary Cathedral, which we visit after our meeting. Newly minted Cardinal, Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, joined us for lunch and gave a very warm welcome to his Archdiocese. Catholics only make up between 0.5-1% of the population and consist of both Latin and Eastern rites. Yet despite being such a small percentage of the population, we are told that the Catholic Church is the second largest provider of health care and education in Ethiopia after the government! In the presentation of their work we are introduced to all kinds of acronyms. Two examples: HTP = Hurtful traditional practices (such as female genital mutilation and child marriages) & SWC = Soil Water Conservation. Here’s what I found noteworthy though: 25% of crop-loss for farmers comes post-harvest! For this reason, ECS puts as much emphasis on handling and processing harvested crops as it does on growing them.
 “The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know,” commented one of our group. It is true. Today we have been focused on learning. Tomorrow we will begin our sojourn out into the field to see with our own eyes what today we have heard.

As I contemplate how much we have learned today, I now realize how little we will actually be able to see in our two weeks here. All of a sudden, Arrives Late and Leaves Early feels like words that not only describe the effect of climate change on the rains, but also like words that can also be applied to our trip. May God grant that we make the most of our precious time.