Visiting the Horn of Africa – one year on
Living in Australia, it’s easy to feel disconnected from other parts of the world. Even for those of us working at the ChildFund office in Sydney, while you know you’re part of an organisation doing really great work, it’s not always easy to understand how your part in it is helping and what it actually means to the children and families who are benefiting.
In the case of the Horn of Africa drought last year, we knew the situation was bad from the reports we were getting from our staff in Kenya and Ethiopia. Along with other aid agencies, ChildFund staff worked hard to raise awareness of the situation and were absolutely blown away by how generous the Australian public was in donating money to help families they’d never met in their time of need.
But it was hard to really understand what it was like to be a mother or a child or a family in that situation – to literally be without food and completely reliant on the goodwill of others to help you survive.
When I had the opportunity to visit Ethiopia almost a year after ChildFund launched our Horn of Africa appeal, it was the best education imaginable. We spent a week in Siraro district, where ChildFund has been providing emergency assistance, interviewing children and families affected by the drought. As I’ve blogged previously, we didn’t expect this area to be so stunningly peaceful and beautiful – because you just don’t see the positive side on the news.
We spent some time with 30-year-old mum Beyenech, who was pregnant during the drought and feared for the health of her baby. Initially she just wanted to thank everyone who helped provide support when they needed it most. She told us that they had reached the point of completely running out of food and were only able to get by with the emergency supplies distributed by ChildFund. Happily, this food aid provided the nourishment her family needed to stay healthy and she has since given birth to a gorgeous baby boy, Dagmawi.
After spending more time with Beyenech, she gradually opened up about just how difficult it was for her during the drought. To have your crop fail when you’ve got three young children to feed. To be left alone, pregnant, with your hungry children while your husband leaves the village in search of work. To be in tears because you fear death, for yourself and your children.
But we also got to see what an incredible woman Beyenech is. Like many other women in her community, she got her family through the toughest of times. She can also see what’s needed to make life better for her kids in the future – they need to be educated to become something other than a subsistence farmer. She says there’s just not enough productive land to sustain so many farming families.
Spending time with Beyenech really brought home just how connected we really are. While it may not always be easy to feel that connection, when we’re going about our lives in Australia as she goes about hers in Ethiopia, it’s clear to me now that the choices we make here have a real impact on others around the world. We can choose to ignore or we can choose to engage – it’s that simple really.
I hope everyone gets the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia one day and to see beyond the media stories of despair and problems. Yes, the country is facing some challenges but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s an absolutely beautiful country, full of ancient traditions and culture. The people have much to be proud of and they’re very happy to share it with anyone who takes the time to ask. Many people speak English, particularly in the capital Addis Ababa, so you can really have some great conversations and get to know more about this fascinating part of the world. I can’t wait to go back.