Impressions of Ethiopia - Dr. Kirsty Pettit
This article was written by Dr. Kirsty Pettit, who is a Trustee of HOPE International in the UK, and visited some of HOPE’s projects in Ethiopia in 2004.
I went to Ethiopia at the end of September 2004, to see some of the water projects and HIV/AIDS work that Hope had been doing. I had never been to a developing country before, so my impressions of those 10 days were vivid.
From Addis Ababa, we drove south for 2 days to reach Arba Minch, where we stayed, and then drove on for a few more hours to reach Gidole, in the Special Woreda (administrative region) of Derashe, to see one of HOPE’S water projects in progress. In my diary, I wrote ‘people walking walking walking’, as that is what you see everywhere, in the cities and in the country. We were met all along the way by shouts of ‘firenge’ (foreigners) from the children, smiling faces, and waving hands. Everyone seemed to want to shake our hands through the car windows. We walked through muddy earth that stuck to the bottom of our feet in large balls, making walking a precarious balancing act, and saw capped springs pouring clean water out of pipes that were waiting for connection to taps in the village. We saw children with red eyes from infection, a child with a severe kyphoscoliosis, a man with filiariasis, and a young girl carrying a water jug so heavy we couldn’t even pick it up. They were all smiling and happy, and thrilled to be part of the improvements. We were treated like royalty.
The next day we drove for 5 hours along a road that the villagers of Bole and the surrounding communities had constructed, to allow the lorry carrying the spring capping equipment to reach them. We got a flat tyre (despite being in a Toyota Land Cruiser), and were not allowed to help change the wheel, as we were the guests, and it would have been almost insulting to help. We met women and children who had never seen white people before, and laughed with them at their genuine shock.
Bole was what westerners learn to expect as the archetypal African village – semi-clad children, women busy working in the background, mud huts, and heat and sun. We were swamped by children, had the palms of our hands stroked in amazement (because they are so white), sang songs, and were dragged panting and sweating one kilometre up the mountain to see the reservoir the villagers helped to build, in which to store the water. The spring is 3km further up the mountain, and flows via pipes into the reservoir, then is stored until the villagers turn on the taps in the settlement below, providing easy access to the water they originally had to trek several kilometres for.Everywhere we went we were treated so well, and speeches made, which always ended with "and we thank you". We met villagers who have been learning what to do with clean water, how to wash, how to keep their goats separate from their cooking area, and finished off with a poetic speech from a local man: "before HOPE came we were living like dogs. Now we know about clean water, personal hygiene, family planning, and we thank you".
On the last day of our trip we visited the HIV/AIDS project supported by HOPE in Addis, and met women widowed by AIDS, and children abandoned as a result of it. We had previously cried over dinner while reflecting on things we had seen, such as the girl who had to carry such a heavy water jug, but here we just cried in front of everyone, as the pain and loss these children showed just swept over us. We saw the utter despair of a young mum dying of TB and HIV/AIDS, whose children (the same age as my own) would soon be orphaned. As a doctor, I felt totally frustrated that the same woman, in the UK, would have received free treatment for these conditions, state benefits, accommodation, and support from both friends and professionals. In the slums of Addis, she was dying alone on her bed. Then we met another woman who was receiving the friendship and support she needed via HOPE, and again she "thanked us".
I was 15 when Live Aid happened. Visiting the place the UK has happily supported for the last 20 years, I was horrified to see how little had changed: in 2004 the rains had failed, and we saw fields of maize standing scorched and dead, rivers dried up, but privately funded banana fields, growing food for export, flourishing due to irrigation systems. HOPE’s work, like all the other NGO work, is vital, to keep people not only alive, but healthy. Please support it.