|by Kate Jongbloed|
|Published on: Sep 5, 2007|
|I didn’t know what to expect as I got off the plane in Ethiopia, ready for my 10-month internship with two development organizations, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) and CAPAIDS. I was ready for poverty and famine, vivid pictures from World Vision advertisements in my head. What I saw instead totally blew me away, forcing me to restructure my understanding of Africa.
One of my first assignments was to travel to the field to photograph and interview the people involved in their projects in two of Ethiopia’s rural areas. After passing through hundreds of small towns and villages that I couldn’t tell apart, we arrived in Gohastion, located just before the Blue Nile Gorge. The next day, armed with my notebook, camera and masses of sunscreen, I found myself in a 4x4 along a rocky cliff towards an isolated village where CPAR was involved in food security and water/sanitation projects. I breathed in, prepared for the most intense poverty I’d ever encountered.
We walked towards the first small compound, surrounded by farmers’ fields, and saw a tall man in a Fedora hat striding towards us. He’d heard our car (as they’re few and far between in those parts) and came to welcome us. We were ushered into the main hut on the compound, but not before we’d witnessed a cow and a bull, busy in the act of copulation. The development agent that I was with explained to me that the farmer had received the bull from CPAR, and the cow belonged to another farmer in the village. By ‘lending’ his bull, our host was helping other farmers in his community to maintain their cattle stocks, which in turn allowed them to either consume or sell more animal products. Either way, the continuity of cattle made the community more food secure, and better able to access goods and services requiring cash, such as medical care and education for their children.
We continued on and stopped to have a drink at a beverage shop owned by a woman active in CPAR’s microfinance project. A year ago, she’d received a small loan from the organization, through a community-run Savings and Credit Organization. She’d used the loan wisely, built up her small business by purchasing a donkey to transport her goods, and used the profits to construct a new hut for her and her daughters. Inspired by the impact the loan had had on her, she joined the Savings and Credit Organization committee, and now works to help other women achieve the same success. She told me how much of a difference it made in her life- her children now are able to attend school, and she’s moved from poverty into middle class.
Back in Addis Ababa after my field visit, I met with participants in one of CAPAIDS projects in one of the city slums. The young woman had received training to become a hairdresser and now worked in a salon, earning enough money to provide for her and her daughter, as well as to move away from her abusive husband. She also worked as an outreach worker in her community, helping individuals diagnosed with HIV through home based care and referrals to medical centers.
As I visited each of these people involved in projects conducted by different non-governmental organizations, I realized that each person who’d participated turned around and gave back to their community in some way, thereby multiplying the impact of a single project. Discussing with fellow interns living in Ethiopia, I heard this echoed again and again, “…participants becoming development actors in their own community…” Far from my expectations of poverty and famine, and the dependency ensuing from humanitarian intervention that I’d heard about in school, here was a country of people very active in their own development