Voices From Ethiopia

Guest post by Siobhan Sheerin who has recently returned from Ethiopia after three months working with the organisation Concern Worldwide.

I’ve been in Ethiopia for almost three months now, working for Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide, but sadly, I’ll soon be saying goodbye to Addis and returning home.

I’ve worked for Concern for over two years, based mainly in their London office, but I’ve always been eager to see Concern’s work on the ground first-hand.  I was just waiting for the right opportunity to take the plunge.

Like many people, I was deeply affected seeing the suffering of millions of people during last year’s devastating drought in East Africa, when Ethiopia was hit pretty badly.  So when the opportunity came to work here, I knew this was my chance. I upped sticks, leaving behind my comfortable existence in the UK.

The first thing that hit me was the altitude. At a height of around 7,500 feet, Addis is the world’s second highest capital. For the first week, I flipped between exhaustion and a strange feeling, similar to being underwater, and even the smallest exertion left me gasping for breath. Thankfully, this ‘air hunger’ as the locals call it, soon subsided.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has suffered from food insecurity for many years. Most people rely entirely on local agriculture, so when the are late, or fail, like they did last year and again this year, people’s harvests fail and they simply don’t have enough food to eat. It’s a cycle that, sadly, keeps repeating itself.

One of the worst affected areas over the last two years is the Amhara region in the north. Concern works across this entire area, in some of the most hard to reach mountainous villages, delivering emergency nutrition, providing seeds and livestock, and helping people get access to clean water.

Access to water is a real issue in the area, with many walking for hours every day just to get to the nearest water source. It was while in Bugna, a remote village in the Amhara, that I saw both young children and old ladies carrying 25kg water containers on their backs, and clambering barefoot up mountains that I could barely manage wearing my sturdy walking boots!

The inaccessibility of these areas in the north has to be seen to be believed. Getting around by car is almost impossible at times, and in many places travelling by foot or donkey is the only option. The people here eke out their living from the land – life is hard.

Yet despite living in extreme poverty, the people don’t just want hand-outs, they are resilient and hard-working – and want to help themselves and build sustainable lives.

People like Getu, who had received a container of potato seeds from Concern and planted them all himself in one day. He proudly showed me his field, and told me his first priority was to feed his family, with any surplus being sold at the market.

Or like Shewaye, the young mother whose children were treated for malnutrition by Concern last year, and who wanted to display her newly-acquired knowledge of breastfeeding with an impromptu practical demonstration.

Of course I’ve found some of it hard going. Two bouts of horrendous food poisoning had me floored for weeks, and wishing I was back at home, and the poverty I’ve seen on the streets of Addis is distressing. But I can’t really complain . . . I’ve never had to walk for four hours to get water, then carry it barefoot back uphill, and I’ve never worried about where my next meal is coming from.

The rainy season here is now in full swing, which makes going out difficult at times,  and I’ve never really gotten to grips with the staple food injera, a sort of sour pancake eaten at every meal. But there are many things I will miss now I’m leaving: hearing hyenas howling in the distance when I am dropping off to sleep, my daily commute through a bustling market whilst negotiating donkeys, chickens, goats and shouts of ‘farangi’ (foreigner), the hordes of children keen to practice their English and shake my hand; and of course, the people.

It has been the Ethiopian people who have made the real impression on me, particularly Concern’s Ethiopian staff.  Generous and friendly, and rightly proud of their country, my colleagues work long hours in remote areas, travelling on foot to help people because there is simply no other way.  The staff in Bugna have to drive for almost three hours to the nearest town just to use the internet, which certainly put my office IT problems into perspective.

My Concern Ethiopian colleagues are true humanitarians.  The work they do here makes a huge difference. They are saving lives – helping people to help themselves out of poverty, feed themselves and their families and make a living.

I’m proud to have been a part of the work they do, even for just a short time.

Photo by treessfts via Flickr

Similar articles –  Meet Esther DufloGrow for Food Justice, An Avoidable Injustice, The Largest Refugee Camp in the World

Meet Razia Jan

Afghan born Razia Jan moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1970, where she ran a small tailoring business, and served as President of the town’s Rotary Club. Following the September 11th attacks, she arranged to send 400 home made blankets to the Ground Zero rescue workers and went on to organise the sending of 30,000 pairs of shoes to Afghan children.

Razia then set up the Ray of Hope Foundation, raising money to build a school for girls in Afghanistan, and in 2008 moved back there to run the school.

Razia and the school have faced numerous difficulties and threats, the same day it opened another girls school in Kabul was attacked with hand grenades, killing 100 of the girls.

Before her school opened Razia was visited by four men who gave her ‘one last chance to change this school into a boys’ school, because the backbone of Afghanistan are our boys,’ to which she replied ‘Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.’

Winner of numerous Rotary Peace Prizes, and now nominated as a CNN Hero, Razia and her staff continue to provide education to girls in Afghanistan, hopeful of creating a more equal society and a better future – one girl at a time.


Photo from The Ray of Hope Foundation

Similar articles – Meet Shane ClaiborneMeet Ellen McArthurMeet Dale VinceMeet Jessica JackleyMeet KT TunstallMeet Toby Ord Meet Julia Butterfly HillMeet Doc HendleyMeet Tammy Strobel, Meet Narayanan Krishnan

An Avoidable Injustice – Not an Inevitable Condition

A guest blog by Natasha Adams, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer for Concern Worldwide UK. Concern is an international humanitarian and development charity that operates in 25 countries. Natasha works on Concern’s Unheard Voices campaign, which champions the cause of smallholder farmers and works to reduce global hunger.

It’s clear the global food system is in crisis.

We live in a world where an astounding number of people go hungry every night, the latest estimate from the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) is that just under one billion people don’t have enough food – one in seven of us.

Even more than this suffer from malnutrition as they don’t have access to properly nutritious food. And these figures don’t take into account acute crises -in the Horn of Africa, more than 13 million people have been affected by food shortages since last year, and now 13 million more are at risk in the Sahel.

We get bombarded with these numbers all the time, yet they’re too big to make sense of.

Even if we stop and reflect that these statistics represent individual people – each with families and hopes like everyone else, the scale of the suffering is still unimaginable. To get my head around it, I try to imagine one in seven of my friends or family members as the ones who don’t have enough to eat. It’s can sometimes be easy to forget about hunger in far away places, but aren’t the values of human lives across the globe of equal worth? We may have got used to hunger in ‘Africa’ (although there are actually more hungry people in Asia), but it still matters and it can be changed.

It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way. We live in a world of plenty – farmers the world over actually produce more than enough food for everyone. As highlighted by Next Starfish, in wealthy countries like the UK, we throw away £20 billion worth of food a year, while one in seven humans go hungry because they either can’t grow enough food, or they can’t afford to buy enough.

Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet to end global hunger. The problem is complex, and so are the answers, but workable solutions have been found on many levels and these solutions could be implemented if the public and political will was there.

Support to farmers is a good place to start, because ironically smallholders make up more than half of the world’s hungry people. Concern’s report Farming for Impact demonstrates that with the right support , smallholders can grow more, eat more and better food and even go on to employ others, helping their whole communities to thrive. The report also explores how the Rwandan Governments’ commitment to spend 10% of their budget on agriculture helped to increase staple crop production, and to shield the country from the food price rises experienced catastrophically elsewhere in East Africa last year.

The most obvious role the UK can play in tackling global hunger is through continuing to provide important aid.

On May 19th David Cameron will represent the UK at the G8 summit in the US. The previous G8 commitment to provide aid to tackle hunger (the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative) is coming to an end. A new commitment to tackle world hunger is clearly needed, and the UK is in a strong position to push for and follow through on this as we will be hosting the G8 in 2013. This is a good way for the UK to use its wealth and power to try and make meaningful progress towards ending global hunger – by pledging new funds and encouraging other countries to do the same.

If you would like to support Concern’s campaign for a new G8 hunger commitment, you can email your MP with our easy e-action.

But it’s not all about aid.

The UK is still a wealthy country, and because our economy is relatively large the way we do business has a big impact globally. One important driver of global food price rises is increasing food speculation on international markets, much of which is happening in the City of London. The organisation World Development Movement is running a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and support EU proposals to limit financial speculation on food prices.

Another factor driving high food prices is the amount of land turned over to growth of biofuels, and the charity Actionaid are currently running a petition in the UK to try and change UK and EU support on this issue.

I got involved in campaigning professionally to try and play a small role to right some of the world’s wrongs, but you don’t have to be a professional campaigner to help make a change.

By educating ourselves about issues and taking small actions to show you know and care about issue like hunger, everyone can make a difference and help to build political will for genuine change that will transform people’s lives across the globe.

Similar articles – Moving Mountains: Hunger and Waste in an Age of AusterityPlay Nice and ShareScrape Your Plate, GROW for Food Justice

The Uncultured Project

Occasionally Next Starfish will feature a Spotlight post, highlighting a particular project or group that is working to improve the world, and that could do with your support – either by getting involved, by making a financial donation, or simply by promoting the project and the work they do, to your friends and network.

The Uncultured Project is really one man’s ‘uncultured’, ‘unplanned’ and ‘unexpected’ mission to simply make the world a better place. Shawn Ahmed was a student at the University of Notre Dame, and was inspired by a speech made by social justice activist and author Dr Jeffrey Sachs. In response Shawn withdrew from University, liquidated all his savings and began his work to help some of the poorest people in the world.

Shawn calls himself a bridge-builder, linking the poorest people in the world with those of us in the rich world, through the internet. His YouTube channel has now amassed over 2.8million views, and this year he won the online Davos Debates competition and got the opportunity to attend the Davos World Economic Forum.

In using technology to connect the rich world to the poor, his message is simple:

“The best people who can speak about poverty are the poor themselves.”

Take a few minutes to look at Shawn’s website and various online media channels, and if you think you might want to get more involved Shawn explains how:

“I know I can’t single-handedly end global poverty. My goal is to help raise awareness by sharing my story with others. It’s my hope that, through sharing these stories and showing the specific impact I am having, people will start to imagine the complexity behind the issue of global poverty. Despite all it’s complexity, I still believe we can be the generation that ends extreme global poverty.

I also hope that my project can change the conversation on global poverty. When I started this project, the conversation charities were having about global poverty was all about guilt. The only way people saw global poverty was through black & white pictures of emaciated crying children – with an ominous voice (or celebrity spokesperson) saying that if we don’t donate a cup of coffee worth of money a day they will die.

As I have been trying to prove with this project – there is a better way to engage people on the issue of global poverty. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do believe that what we call “social media” can be used for more than just a mere fundraising and marketing platform. I believe the real potential is that we can finally hear what the poor have to say and help them exactly as they wish to be helped – and portrayed.

This project isn’t about raising as much money as possible. If you like what you see, you can donate. But spreading the word is just as (if not more) important. If you do want to donate, you can pick between donating directly to help the poor or donating to help to sustain this project. Donations to these funds are not used to give myself a salary. Instead, I am trying to sustain myself through support from friends and some family and other income generating activities. Doing things this way (and as just a guy) is inspired by my desire to find new ways to respond to criticisms in Bangladesh against charities & NGOs – one of which being that charities and NGOs “eat the cash”.

The Uncultured Project.

Photo by Catiemagee, via Flickr

Largest Refugee Camp in the World

In Eastern Kenya, about 100 miles from the Somali border lies Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.

First set-up in 1991 to house up to 90,000 refugees from the Somali civil war. The camp is now Kenya’s forth largest city, home to over 380,000 people – spanning three generations, many still living in tents 20 years later, and reliant on the United Nations for food, water and sanitation.

In response to the ongoing conflict in Somalia, and the worst drought for many decades, thousands more refugees are arriving every week, with many dying making the journey. The Guardian have a harrowing audio/image slideshow of the conditions in Dadaab.

Oxfam Ambassador actress Kirsten Davis visited Dadaab recently, and breaks down on BBC TV describing the conditions there.

Explore the conditions in Dadaab further using Google Maps and Images.

Donations to support the East Africa crisis appeal can be made at DEC.

Photo by UNHCR