As you will know if you have been following my blog, when I run the London Marathon in April, I will be raising money for Partners For Change Ethiopia, a truly remarkable charity, which helps children living in poverty through a myriad of projects. I have been working with the team since November 2013, and organised a performance at WOMAD for them last summer and a special event at the House of Commons in October. It was therefore a real honour to recently see first-hand what PFC Ethiopia has achieved on the ground.
It may be 3 weeks since I returned from Ethiopia, but the memories of my trip are still crystal clear and will be etched in my mind forever. I met so many wonderful people, who despite living in extreme poverty wanted to help others who were worse off. I felt a kaleidoscope of emotions during my trip – sometimes helplessness, sometime hopefulness.
I spent 5 days with the local Partners For Change Ethiopian team in the community of Gende Tesfa on the outskirts of the vibrant city of Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia which is the focus of our 30th anniversary fundraising campaign.
My main task was to set up a community journalism project with the help of local Ethiopian colleagues on the ground. Over the next 6 months, we are going to follow the lives of six families and individuals which the charity is helping. I interviewed our case-studies at length and found out what daily life is like for them. The picture was generally quite bleak – many parents weren’t able to feed their children every day and didn’t have access to fresh water. Going to school and having the access to education was viewed as a luxury not a human right.
Despite what were often quite challenging conditions, the families I met were very proud of what little they had, and like all of us, celebrated precious moments with family and friends. They were amused and entertained by my visit – many children shouted “Ferange” (Amharic for “foreigner”) and wherever I went, I received many communal hugs. The children there – just like those in the UK – want to be loved, and have fun.
I spent one day with an amazing woman called Zerhara whose life we will be following over the next 6 months. She perhaps best exemplifies the dignity and the inner fortitude of the families I met there. Zerhara has been treated for leprosy and can barely move her chafed hands. Daily chores like cooking and washing clothes are very painful and difficult for her.
Despite being in her sixties, Zerhara is raising her grandchildren on her own in a very basic hut where they sleep on the floor. Their toilet is a hole in the ground with some rags hanging around it. Life’s very challenging. Zerhara works long days gathering fire-wood and earns around 20 Birr for that (less than a pound!)
When I asked Zerhara how she managed to feed her children, she shrugged her shoulders, looked down at the ground and said: “Sometimes I can only give them sugared water for breakfast, and other times they can share a slice of bread. I do what I can but sometimes it’s not enough.”
The family has an ox which is tied to a tree next to the toilet. Zerhara is very proud of it, and believes that if she can fatten the animal, they might have a brighter future.
Meeting Zerhara and others like her moved me beyond words. It was a truly life-affirming experience and also a reminder that although our lives are very different, there are more things which unite us than set us apart – our love for our families and a desire to make the best of what we have.