A year on from the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal we visited the work of member agencies Merlin, Age International and Tearfund. Our journey took us through some of the region’s most affected communities.
The road from Addis Ababa to Moyale in southern Ethiopia was a long one, cutting through some lush green forests that quickly disappeared behind us as our journey took us into Borena on the border with Kenya. This harsh and arid landscape was one of the areas worst hit in last year’s drought.
The first call was a Merlin supported health centre in Dilo where Dr. Bekele introduced us to the staff and community health volunteers. We learned not only how severe the drought had been but also about the affect it had had on the local people and particularly children. Merlin’s work to treat severely malnourished children and feed the most vulnerable saved many lives. They had used DEC funds to pay for essential medicines and training for health workers to help them deal with the medical consequences of emergencies. The training was still ongoing and would help ensure the government health service in the region was better able to respond to any future emergencies.
We met Salo Boru who has six children, she explained how she became malnourished and how she along with Merlin health workers were concerned because this was affecting her ability to produce breast-milk, putting her baby at risk. Having been placed on Merlin’s supplementary feeding programme she received a highly nutritious flour made from corn and soya beans, as well as vegetable oil, which allowed her and baby Gobu to recover. Thankfully both Salo and Gobu are now well.
In a nearby village, Selete Bakasa told us how at the height of the drought last year she had no choice but to walk eight hours each day carrying a 20 litre jerry can in order to find the nearest water source for her family, this year they only have to walk one hour for the nearest water source. When her baby became ill with a fever, drugs purchased by Merlin with DEC funds helped her get well. I could not comprehend how Selete was able to cope, but her strength and determination was inspiring and left me wondering how we would have coped with such a situation.
This year the sporadic rains have alleviated some of the suffering, we gained hope and optimism as we could see that the condition of the people and their cattle was good and that life was starting to get back to normal. This optimism was quickly dashed however as many people were so concerned about the faltering rains this year that they had given up hope and not planted any new seeds. Others had planted but seen their crops wither in the field before they could be harvested.
We continued our journey to Didmega in Dire district where we were greeted by village elders and the local team from Help Age International/Age International. Through a DEC funded cash for work programme the community was able to rehabilitate a pond that captures water; it was empty when we saw it as the rains were short lived and didn’t fill the pond. They pray that when the next rains arrive it will provide them with a source of water closer to their homes.
We were welcomed by Shukri Chellei (pictured above speaking to me about the project) who at 56 years of age is one of the elders of the community in a country where the average life expectancy is 59 years. He explained that he and the other elders led on the construction of the pond and how grateful they were for the food and cash support: “The aid we have received has helped us a lot, it has saved our lives. If this aid had not been given we would have had to sell our livestock and we would have no future. It also allowed us to keep our ability to move around to find pasture for our cattle. Last year was actually better than this year. It looks like it will rain but no rain falls – we are still at risk this year. The rain did not fall here so we hope the next rains in September will fill the pond. We would like to say thank you to the people who helped us with our problems.”
We were grateful to Shukri and the rest of the village elders who with tremendous warmth and dignity shared with us moments of their lives; we wished them and their families well as we headed onto the next leg of our journey.
We arrived to Meti village the next morning and met up with Tearfund’s local partner ‘Water is Life’ who have been busy drilling 27 boreholes in 25 villages with DEC funds. Each well served clean water for around 500 people, by the end of the project they aim to have reached 13,500 people. The simple pump and well structure meant that with little support, (control of the wells is firmly in the hands of the villagers through water user committees) the use and maintenance of the wells were assured for many years to come.
As we climbed the short distance to the village we were greeted by Medina. She is 56 years of age and an active member of the water user committee. Speaking about the impact of the new well she told us that:
“The best things about the well are that it is close and the water is pure. We used to walk two kilometres to another village to fetch water that wasn’t even clean. Often we had no drinking water for the children and could not even wash their faces before they went to school. All the children suffered from diarrhoea. No one died in my family but other families lost children to diseases they caught from the dirty water.
“Now things are getting better, we don’t get diseases from the dirty water, the children have clean water to drink and can take clean water in a bottle with them to school. Previously we walked for one and half hours to collect dirty water but now it takes only 30 minutes and we get clean water. Because it took so long to collect water I did not have enough time to cook for my family, to take the cattle to pasture and clean the home but now I have time to do these things for my children and family.
“I am getting old now and so my dream is now to pave the way for my children, they are my future.”
“I would like to thank those people who gave the money for this project and to bless them in the name of God.”
Then Medina got up and picked up her only chicken eggs of the day to offer them to us as a gift and token of appreciation, we were truly touched with the generosity of Medina and indeed the rest of the communities we visited. With so little in the first place she was more than happy to make us this offer, we politely declined the eggs; and were grateful to her as we headed back.
The DEC member agencies are working extremely hard providing lifesaving support and helping people rebuild their lives and hopefully be better prepared when the next drought arrives. Our visit enabled us to get an insight into how Merlin's support for a network of government health centres and community volunteers could help prevent and treat malnutrition and associated deadly diseases. We saw how Age International were supporting the elders in some of the communities we visited to rebuild their families' lives. We saw how the work of Tearfund in the provision of clean water is transforming people's lives.
Our short visit meant that we weren’t able to see the work of the other DEC members but they are also continuing to provide essential help in Ethiopia and the rest of the East Africa region.
As we headed back home I recalled the message that Shukri and Medina wanted to share with all the people who have helped them - 'Galatooma'. Thank you.
DEC CEO Designate