Ethiopia has been on our bucket list for quite some time. It is a beautiful country with a rich history and wonderful people. We’d like to visit Ethiopia soon. In the meantime check out this blog post written by Bernd Hauser from the organisation Menschen für Menschen Switzerland, who travelled there last month.
Ethiopia - The Roof of Africa
This is definitely about one of the most beautiful countries in the world, even if it is not discovered by most travelers: Ethiopia is often called the “roof of Africa” with the edges of its highlands delivering breathtaking views into deep canyons and wide valleys.
What makes Ethiopia so special is not only the scenery. It is also the people. This becomes clear in the monitoring work Menschen für Menschen does in urban slums and rural huts. Bernd Hauser from this non-profit organisation reports about his time in Ethiopia: "We found beauty and friendliness everywhere, namely in the people we met. Even in the most miserable shelters."
"We chose the night flight from Frankfurt to Addis Abeba. The capital is situated on 2400 meter above sea level, so we took it easy the first day for acclimatization. We visited Mount Entoto, a holy mountain for the Ethiopians on 3200 meters overlooking the city with the noble St Mary Church."
"On Mount Entoto we found a nearly deserted and surprisingly modest residence of Emperor Menelik II. Awaiting visitors there is Eshatu Mekuria, 75. He has been the guard of the house for 33 years."
"Guard Eshatu told us how important Emperor Menelik still is for the identity of the Ethiopians. In 1896 he defeated Italian colonial troops at the Battle of Adua – which made Ethiopia the only country in Africa never colonized by European powers. This is a reason to be proud, not only for Eshatu, but for every Ethiopian!"
"On the way back to town we saw many women hunched under their heavy burden: They collect fire wood on the hills of Entoto and carry it down to the poor neighborhoods of Addis Abeba. One woman told us that she makes around five dollars a day for this heavy labour – which is a relatively good wage in the capital. When she made a break, we tried to lift her load – it was nearly impossible! The wood weighed at least 50 kilos."
"The encounter with the wood collector gave us a glimpse of the challenges most of the 100 million Ethiopians face every day. Next morning, we visited a project of “Menschen für Menschen” in the Arada borough."
"In Arada, the Swiss humanitarian organization founded by the late actors Karheinz Böhm feeds undernourished children. Their mothers are also trained in buying and cooking healthy meals even with a minimal budget. Many children are stunted: They look like one-year-olds but are already two because their development was set back due to lack of nutrients. Fortunately, they can catch up now!"
"The day after we hit the road north. 120 km away from Addis Abeba is Debre Berhan, which means “mountain of light”. But for many children there is more shadow than light in this busy city."
"Many families are so poor that they cannot even afford to buy pencils and notebooks. As a consequence, their children cannot go to school. “Menschen für Menschen” delivers all the needed schooling materials to the 1000 poorest children in town so they can fulfil their education."
The overall goal of “Menschen für Menschen” is to make people independent from external help. So, the organization empowers the parents (mainly the mothers) with trainings and microcredits. With a small amount of capital, they can start their own business in trading or manufacturing. With little input you can make a huge difference: One lady got a credit of around 75 US-Dollars to buy a chip pan, cooking oil, lentils and wheat. Now she leaves a self-determined life with selling samosa. How they taste? Yummy!
A very personal question: Can you imagine a life without – a toilet? Well, that is what most people face in the town of Shewarobit, two hours further north of Debre Berhan.
People have to relieve themselves into old tin cans or go down to the river – where their neighbours fetch water or wash their clothes and bodies.
“Menschen für Menschen” helps creating a sanitary infrastructure in town. With shared toilets and latrines in the boroughs. Besides that, the Swiss organization creates so-called WASH cafés. There the guests can not only order traditional food but also use a shower and toilet for a few coins. The cafés are run by cooperatives of women. Many of them are former commercial sex workers who earlier had to sell their bodies to feed their children. So many birds with one stone!
"So far, we visited towns and cities. But how is the situation in the country side? In the rural districts of Abaya and Gelana in the South the overpopulation is seen everywhere. Even in the remotest areas there are many children playing on the dust roads. They live on the many farms dotted in the surroundings. One woman gets seven children on average."
Due to an old-fashioned agriculture it is hard to feed everybody: "We saw a farmer with a simple plow. It has been used for centuries and still is the typical gear today."
People need urgent possibilities to make a living. The solution for the development experts from “Menschen für Menschen” is to increase harvest and output. The farmers are so poor that they cannot invest in their farm. With small credits “Menschen für Menschen” provides them with improved seeds and fertilizer. Others buy sheep or even cattle with the credits and make good profit after fattening the animals.
Landless mothers get the chance to organize in saving and self-help groups. They are provided with microcredits to run a variety of businesses from coffee trading to dairy production. Earning their own money makes them happy and self-assured and gives motivation for further efforts. "We leave them with the insight: If the poorest only get some little help they can improve their lives significantly and make it on their own!"
"On our way back to Addis Abeba, we passed Lake Awassa, one of the jewels in the Ethiopian Rift valley – and a high potential area for tourism. As soon as the country has overcome its worst poverty Ethiopia will definitely be one of the next tourist hot-spots, at least for the more adventurous travelers. It has everything needed: A breathtaking landscape, a unique culture and incredible open and hospitable people."
A proverb says: „Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” That´s what “Menschen für Menschen” does in Ethiopia: Empower the people, so they can overcome their poverty. Until now Ethiopia is still an absolute insider destination for pioneer travelers. But for sure this will not stay like that forever.
Thanks to Bernd Hauser for this lovely guest blog post. We can't wait to visit Ethiopia and check out those humanitarian projects too. You can follow the non-profit organization "Menschen für Menschen Switzerland" on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.
In case you'd love to support the Ethiopian people to live a better life, you can donate anytime by clicking on this link:
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Have you been to Ethiopia? What was your travel experience? Let us know in the comments below!