I’ve just got back from a three week trip to Ethiopia. It’s always great to go back to Gondar and see old friends and to see what is happening with the Meketa projects.
To see that families who had nothing, lived in dirty run down houses and looked thin and hungry, are now looking healthier and happier and living a little bit better than before is just great. If that also means they are standing a little straighter because we have helped them stand on their feet and earn a reasonable living then it also means I feel that even if I don’t come back next year I can know they will be better off from their own earnings.
It’s always a hard call as to whether we should just help someone with regular financial support or whether we can get to a situation where they can help themselves. That has been my dilemma this visit. I met a family with two parents in their 30’s and 5 children all living in one room. The father left school after grade 2 and the mother had no schooling at all. That is probably because they grew up in a village where the local school was too far away, and at a time when education was not available for everyone or understood well. The mother makes baskets at home and earns less than 50p a day by selling them, and the father works as a day labourer on the roads when he can get work, which is probably once or twice a week.
So their joint income just about covers the rent and maybe a small amount of food; they are dependent on others’ generosity or luck to cover anything more. The dilemma for me was what we could do as a charity to really help this family. Neither parent has the knowledge or skills to start their own micro-business, but casual work as a day labourer is too scant to be able to get it every day. Simple jobs like washing up in the restaurants goes to friends and relatives of the owners, and never gets advertised in the open market. So how do you help such people get regular employment? I started to talk to Ambanesh and Muluken, our field workers about the option of setting up a small workshop or cooperative, to try to provide regular employment for such families – simple but regular. Watch this space!!
In addition, I was involved in the second annual review of the after school club. In a series of meetings, the teachers discussed what was going well and what we needed to do better. The club faces a number of challenges and new decisions as it expands, from whether we are targeting the children most in need, to how to engage parents better, to whether we should provide personal, sex and health education. It was encouraging to see the teachers suggesting their own ideas and discussing solutions: Ethiopian schools tend to be governed top-down by the director, but we believe that our teachers have the most useful experience ‘on the ground’ and so they are the ones that can come up with the answers!
Certainly the exam results showed our after school club children are doing really, really well. There’s a class of about 60 children at the local school where 8 of the top 10 children are from the after school club. Impressive!!
Then there were building repairs to organise, new books for the library, a visiting Israeli doctor and later a dentist visiting the community, matzah-making in the synagogue compound, visiting Israeli volunteers from the group Fighters for Life. There’s so much going on, it is always a pleasure to be there for a couple of weeks and be part of the action. A really big well done to our community workers and to the after school staff for keeping everything moving so well.