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Ethiopia study trip with SCIAF

Acting Headteacher, Seán Hagney, recently visited Ethiopia as part of a SCIAF study trip for Scottish teachers.  His story recently featured in the Scottish Catholic Observer and can be downloaded here.  Mr Hagney will be talking about his journey to Ethiopia and the people he met there over the coming months, as well as helping SCIAF to produce resources for Scottish schools.

The text of Mr Hagney’s article is also below:

I have been supporting SCIAF on a wide range of activities for many years, so when SCIAF asked me to travel with a group of teachers to visit their projects in Ethiopia I jumped at the opportunity.

On the last day of term we flew to Addis Ababa, the bustling capital city of Ethiopia.  This vast city, with its African Union headquarters and impressive foreign embassies, is a throng of activity.  Massive construction works changing the face of the city, sit alongside ramshackle corrugated iron houses and shops. 

Firstly, we met ‘CST Together’ staff – the office SCIAF shares with its sister charities CAFOD (England and Wales) and Trócaire (Ireland).  Together the agencies work on joint projects supporting some of the poorest communities in Ethiopia. National staff Tamiru (communications officer), Solomon (logistics officer) and Iris (Institutional Funding Officer) from the CST office joined us throughout our trip giving us local context on the projects.

The following morning we flew north to the Tigray region, and spent the next week in Mekele and Adigrat areas of the region.

We visited a variety of projects, met with project officers, local religious leaders and men, women and children who have benefited from the support that the Scottish public have given through  SCIAF.  A number of the projects related to income generation – loaning seed money at 0% interest to households to buy livestock or start a small business.  Other projects involved water – the most precious resource in northern Ethiopia – through schemes such as irrigation, water diversion, dams, terracing, and provision of bore holes for drinking water.  Some schemes offered ‘cash for work’ incentives. During times of crisis local people provide labour (at about $1 a day), so that they can provide for their families without selling what few assets they may have.  Other initiatives involved supporting those living with the HIV/AIDS virus, and the children orphaned by the disease.  As antiretroviral drugs improve the health of many, SCIAF is supporting Adigrat diocese, who is working across the Orthodox and Muslim religious communities, to ensure those affected by the virus are not stigmatised, and those orphaned are adequately supported through their education.

In Mekele, we met Sr Medhine from Daughters of Charity (DoC).  The DoC provide support for those at the margins of society.  One of their projects supports street children and those in difficult home situations to access education.  They provide library facilities, study support, access to computing, music and art lessons.  Lunch is provided, as are other essentials like hair clippers and washing powder.  The young people there told us how this helped them to succeed in school.  They are keen to learn and are full of ambition, with many of them, including a young man named Merbit (18), describing his plans to go to university to study engineering.

In the Afar region we visited villages benefitting from irrigation and bore holes for clean drinking water.  In Hadmo village, a female member of the water group, Lete Abayu, explained how access to drinking water changed the life of the village, especially women and children who previously had a 4 hour round trip to fetch and carry 25 litres of water.  Now the women have more time to support their children’s education, and children have more time to play such as Girmay Hailessealassie (Grade 1) who was playing a version of ‘chuckie-stanes’ which I remember playing myself when I was a child.

As we made our way to Arato village we were able to appreciate the impressive views of the Tigrayan countryside, marked by its mountains and pockets of greenery.  As we entered the area, we could see a wide stretch of land which was green with crops growing well as a result of a SCIAF supported irrigation project.  As we arrived, a lorry load of vegetables was being taken to market.  We met Gebremedhin Ebuy, (32) who was tending his plot of land.  He described the enormous impact the irrigation project has on his life and on the lives of his children, and explained that his whole community has been transformed through SCIAF’s help and the work of the community itself.

In Sebeya, I met Haylay Damena (24) who was given 20 chickens to start his enterprise.  The chickens provide eggs for his family as well as income from selling surplus eggs.  He has plans to develop his business by raising more chickens.  He told us that, ‘I have worries like everyone else but if you strive to do well and you work hard you can succeed.’

In Dawhan, I met Amare Dilibis, a village leader.  His village, Alitena, recently benefited from a road built through a ‘cash for work’ scheme supported by SCIAF.  Amare explained how this road profoundly changed the village, women in difficult pregnancies could now access the ambulance service and health clinic in times of need.  He also explained that the new road meant a bore-hole drill could reach them. The new bore hole, also provided through SCIAF’s support, ensures people have access to clean water all the year round for the first time.  Previously, women and children had a two hour round trip to access unclean water often causing diarrhoea.  When I asked him what he thought the next step for his village should be, he told me that he was more concerned that his ‘brothers and sisters’ in the next villages, who still did not have a road and access to clean water, get this help too.

Of course, there is still much to do, and there is no such thing as a simple solution to a complex set of problems.  Visiting Ethiopia gave me a sense of the scale of the poverty in the developing world and the real need for sustained development programmes.  Indeed, the new challenges arising from climate change means that food security remains a major issue for many people in our world.  Sadly, while we visited Fr Solomon in Holy Trinity Parish in Sebeya, a group of women and children gathered to pray for rain since the rains had not fallen in this area all year.  Without it, the crops would fail and they would once again need humanitarian aid.

It was clear from our visit that SCIAF’s development work in Ethiopia is changing people’s lives, and even saving people’s lives.  The poverty, of course, continues and our help is much needed.  When I asked Amare Dilibis if he had a message for the people of Scotland, he said, ‘We are voiceless. You are our voice. Today we see that the sun is rising over our village.  Thank you for what you have done.  Please do not tire of helping’.