Ethiopian Delivery, January 2009
Owing to all of the generous contributions made, including a donation raised by the Gymnasium “Am Burgwall”, a small German grammar school in Treuenbrietzen (60km from Berlin) that raised funds for the EFA during its “Day for Africa” in June 2008and by the Holy Trinity Anglican Church of Geneva, the Ethiopian Food Appeal was able to deliver 6,000 kilos of wheat to more than 250 students and their families at the Melka Oba School located in the Oromo region of Ethiopia near a village called Sodorre. The Melka Oba School is a very poor rural school about three hours away from the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.
It is located in a very remote and dusty area of the Rift valley and has about 250 students ranging from six years old to 16 years of age. The students help their parents to farm and to herd cattle. They attend school in the mornings only in order to help their families in the afternoon to look after cattle and to farm. The school is very poor and without electricity, running water facilities and other amenities. Last year the EFA delivered more than 2,000 pieces of clothing as well as school books and supplies and Christmas treats to this school and to the Sodorre school.
This year, given the three crises, economic, energy, and food, it was decided to concentrate on providing the children school supplies as well as providing each child with 25 kilos of wheat flour to help their parents make the local dabo or bread. The food crisis has hit rural Ethiopia very hard. Prices for the local grain, teff, have risen from 300 birr for one hundred kilos to 1,000 birr. Consequently, peasants can no longer afford to eat one of their staple foods, enjera, which is made from teff. Thus, we decided to buy flour, which was more affordable.
The Deputy Executive Secretary of ECA, Mrs. Lalla Ben Barka, had arranged for the goods to be transported by the Economic Commission for Africa, as had been done in the past. We were 24 people in all travelling to make the delivery. Four had joined me from abroad, Brigitte and Kiki from Geneva, Stuart, a university student from London and Axel, a musician from Berlin who had accompanied me last year.
My husband, our son, Hiruy, his friends, and other family members such as Adenew (his third trip) all joined in. As our son, Hiruy, was getting married in Ethiopia the following week, we had relatives and friends from the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States and England eager to go with us on the delivery. Most had not returned to Ethiopia in 20 years or more and had no idea what to expect.
Our first challenge was to get the trucks carrying 6,000 kilos of flour and several thousand kilos of books and supplies as close to the school as possible. The truck had to drive over several bramble bushes and acacia trees in order to get about 500 metres from the school’s compound. It was a brand new truck and its rear bumper was quickly dented and damaged. A monkey jumped on the side mirror and quickly broke that off. We were not off to a stellar start. However, we were greeted at the gate of the compound by a gaggle of young male students dancing and chanting local songs. They accompanied us to the school where 250 students were standing awaiting us with flowers and songs. Once again, it was a very emotional moment. Students then returned to their respective classrooms and we distributed individual packages of school supplies which included math and language writing and exercise books, pens and pencils and Christmas treats to each child. Axel then gave a concert in the courtyard of the school and the students remembered the songs he had sung last year and sang along.
Because each child was given 25 kilos of wheat flour, we had asked the principal in advance to inform their parents so that their parents could wait at the school to help them carry the flour home. The individual sacks of flour often weighed more than the children. Parents came with donkeys and wheelbarrows to help transport the flour often several kilometres to their thatched roof homes. As the truck could not enter the compound, the children lined up outside the school to receive their sacks. This attracted the attention of all the villagers in the vicinity and before we knew it, we had scores of peasants imploring us to give them as well. We had a limited supply but were keenly aware of how dire their need was. So we decided to limit each family having children attending the school to two sacks of flour. This meant that families having three to four children at the school would receive a maximum of two sacks rather than three or four. This enabled us to give all the remaining flour to the villagers. We were covered in flour by the end of the distribution and backs were sore and aching, but we felt a great sense of fulfilment that we had been able to help so many and not just the schoolchildren and their families.
It was getting late and we still had to deliver school supplies to the 650 students attending the Sodorre School which was about thirty minutes away. This school is also located in a rural area. We found all the students anxiously awaiting us and I was struck by how much better off this school was compared to Melka Oba. The building was brick and concrete instead of mud and dung and there were many more classrooms. Still, there was no electricity, no running water, and no toilet facilities. We worked feverishly to distribute 650 packs of goods to the students. I visited each classroom and spoke to each class. Thereafter, the students assembled in the dusty courtyard of the school and Axel performed. We all danced and sang till we were told that it was soon going to be dark and the kids needed to tend to their cattle.
On Orthodox Christmas, 7 January, friends and relatives accompanied me to the home of 16 HIV/AIDS orphans. The home is organized and supported by an association called, Artists for Charity. Axel disguised himself as Santa Claus laden with gifts that the children had drawn up on their wish list and that I had spent two days in Addis combing stores and markets to purchase. Wish lists included bed sheets, an Oxford English dictionary, and a book of Amharic poems, soccer shoes, watches, clothes, socks, belts, jeans, sneakers, art supplies, and backpacks.
A list not unlike any other child at Christmas. The children performed a music show and an original play written just for us about hungry and bedraggled street children living in Addis. It was very touching and poignant especially since so many children living in the home had previously been living destitute on those very streets.
The surrogate mother and father who run the home had the children explain to us what they needed most. To our surprise, it was multi-vitamins and cold and cough medicines. The children receive their daily retroviral drugs free courtesy of the Ethiopian government. But because they all have compromised immune systems, they take multivitamins twice a day. They are also very susceptible to colds and when one catches a cold, they all eventually get it. What seems like an endless supply of medicine is often depleted by the end of the month. I am therefore requesting all of you having vitamins and over the counter cold remedies in your medicine cabinets to consider donating them to the children living in the home run by the Artists for Charity. I will try to arrange for them to be sent to Addis. As a gesture, I gave all my vitamins and medicines to the home when I left Addis in January. I would also like to invite one of the founders of this home to Geneva to give a talk to those interested in this wonderful endeavour and to show a film of the children in their home environment and of the play they wrote for us. I will keep you posted on the date of this event.
The Melka Oba and Sodorre schools have provided me with a list of their most pressing needs. The Melka Oba School They also need toilet facilities to be built on the premises to enable the students to improve their hygiene while attending school. In addition, they would eventually like us to help them build a well for water and to build a laboratory and a library.
With the funds that I have managed to raise in Geneva and abroad in 2008, I have agreed to assist the Melka Oba School in building two more classrooms. The construction work is getting underway and will start this Spring. I will need to raise more funds during 2009 to assist in this project and, of course, if I can raise funds, I would be able to undertake some of the other proposals listed above. The Sodorre School would like us to help repair their teachers’ living quarters which were damaged last year during a severe storm.
However, given the present financial constraints, we can only envisage undertaking this project if additional money is raised during 2009. would like to have two classrooms built in order to enlarge the school and reduce overcrowding of students in the classes.
Once again I wish to thank all those that contributed to making my 2008 fundraising efforts such a success. Your generosity has gone a long way in helping to improve the lives of these students in Ethiopia in a sustained manner. The next fundraiser is on 9 and 10 May at Awash restaurant. We will have beautiful Ethiopian dresses, scarves and baskets and table decorations on sale as well as jewellery. The silver jewellery from Ethiopia is extremely original and delicate and very reasonably priced. Brigitte is also designing beautiful necklaces made from semi-precious stones from India that I bought during a recent trip to Jaipur, India.
Special thanks go to Minako who came from Munich, Germany, to help during the bazaar as well as Tiese, Kiki, Maya, Brigitte, Helen, Diana, Nancy, Andrew, and Catherine for their boundless energy in helping me during the bazaar. They were great salespersons and representatives of the EFA.
Special mention must go to Mrs. Rahel Zewdie and her daughter, Helina.[left to right – Rahel, Helina, Kiki]
Many indicated that they preferred to buy something beautiful from Ethiopia with the knowledge that all proceeds were going to charity instead of buying from a commercial enterprise during this tumultuous year of financial and economic crises. Special thanks goes to my WHO colleague, Maria Dweggah, for enabling the EFA to partake in this fun and worthwhile event.
Please consult the website on a regular basis for more details: www.ethiopianfoodappeal.org