Sunday, 29 June 2014

Getting out there

General advice when travelling - take a few days to acclimatize. No more so than when you find yourself at high altitude; and at over 2,300m Addis Ababa is the 3rd highest capital city in the world. I had 24 hours.

Landing in Addis at 6am on Sunday morning, I spent a day sleeping and taking in some “traditional” Ethiopian culture such as lunch at the Beer Garden Inn in Bole. At 7am Monday morning we were on the road.

I was visiting a number of field offices (or ADPs, Area Development Programmes) with Itzbeth, a VisionFund colleague from the US and my guide, mentor and travel companion for the week. We had a World Vision vehicle and driver who for the next 5 hours expertly negotiated pot holes, felled trees and stray goats. Leaving us to enjoy some incredible scenery on the way to Awassa.

I was immediately taken by Awassa. The tree-lined streets full of people, traders, market stalls and Bajajas (tuc-tucs). The place is beautiful in a noisy, dusty, dirty kind of way. I was very obviously not in London any more.  Spent some time exploring the city with Itzbeth. Walking along by Lake Awassa, the small bars and street food stalls gave a buzz to an otherwise tranquil setting. We later found out the lake is known as the ‘love lake’, which explained the abundance of couples we passed.

Lake Awassa aka the "Love Lake"

What I like about visiting new places is that everything is eye opening.

One evening in Awassa I went out on my own for a walk early evening. Outside the cathedral was a crowd of beggars. A woman called out to me with her hands held out. I walked on at first, as its not encouraged to give money in these situations. She called again and I looked at her, smiled and shook my head. In response she gave me one of the biggest grins I’ve seen. Another stark contrast from London, especially at 8.30am on the underground.

The next few days were spent visiting the ADPs. Talking to the ADP Managers, Development Facilitators and Community Volunteers, it was interesting to hear about the work they were doing and how the technical approaches developed in Head Office were actually delivered on the ground. With Itzbeth taking the lead, I was able to simply listen and learn. It’s refreshing being in a situation where I’m not seen as the expert or expected to have all the answers.

We visited a coffee farmer called Jomo, whose farm near Abaya was in a hilly forested region. The 4x4 could only take us so far, the last mile we had to reach on foot. Struggling up a thick mud track we passed a group of boys playing with a makeshift football. I joined in and before I knew it, the boys and half the village, were following us up to Jomo’s farm. It was only later that we discovered they were actually Jomo’s children, all 17 of them! It was fascinating to see the farm and talk to Jomo about the challenges he faces and his hopes for the future. Having set-up a coffee business last year it was brilliant seeing first hand where the coffee beans start their journey.

Our volunteer bodyguard on the way to a coffee farm in Abaya

The next day we visited another ADP several hours drive from Awassa. One of World Vision’s key economic development approaches are the formation of village Savings Groups. In a Savings Group, a group of mostly women from the same village will save up to 10 birr (about 30p) every week. After 12 months they will hold a graduation ceremony where each woman receives their share of the savings back. The groups have their own committee, bye-laws and lending policies. We were fortunate that as we were visiting another coffee farm, women from the nearby village were holding their first graduation ceremony. We spoke to the women, asking them why they joined the group and what difference it has made. Hearing of the impact being part of the group has had on their ability to provide for their families and childrens' education, and in turn what that has done for their own self esteem, was inspiring and really quite humbling.

Graduation Day at a Women's Savings Group in Quacha Bira

My time in Africa has only just started but I’m excited about what the coming months have in store. More to come soon.


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