Our long-year watershed rehabilitation project in the farming community of Hagereselam notched up its 8th and final year in 2017. Financed by Ethiopian Enterprises and executed by the team of Helvetas-Swiss InterCooperation in Ethiopia, the project in Hagereselam was slowly ‘phased-out’ throughout the past year in mutual agreement with the relevant stakeholders.
Highlights of the phase-out year included a perma-garden workshop run by international expert Peter Jensen which was financed by Ethiopian Enterprises. A group of Hagereselam’s ‘entrepreneur’ farmers attended the training and were able to implement Permagarden digging and planting techniques in their own garden plots.
During the project’s final weeks, a comprehensive survey was carried out by a company hired by Helvetas Ethiopia in order to see just what had been achieved over the duration of the project. The survey reflects both the successes and shortcomings of the project and is a very helpful document. Should further collaboration between the farmers of Hagereselam and Ethiopian Enterprises prove appropriate in the future, the survey document will provide a basis for monitoring the community’s progress between the end of 2017 and any future starting point.
After a challenging 2017 in Mehoni, the good news is that the year ended on a positive note. After nearly a full year without a school principle due to a desperate shortage of school staff in rural districts, our project school Lemlem Baro Elementary School acquired a new and experienced headmaster at the start of the new school year in September. At the same time, the challenging and disruptive building work required to stabilize the school compound and protect the school buildings against flooding and erosion drew to a close. The compound landscaping work was completed in December, and the Swiss flag now flies proudly on its flagpole in the compound along with the flags of Ethiopia and of Tigray.
Ethiopia will celebrate its Christmas on the weekend of January 6th and 7th, which in the Ethiopian calendar is the end of December. School starts up again later in January and we are looking forward to a new semester of progress at the school in which the focus will be on maintenance of the school’s new buildings and the improvement of academic standards.
Thomas Baumann has recently completed the yearly report on Ethiopian Enterprises’ activities in 2016. The richly illustrated report provides a detailed overview of all that EE achieved in its seventh year in Hagereselam and Mohoni. Click HERE for pdf-file (only available in german language)
Lesley Stephenson and Thomas Baumann made it back to Switzerland just before the Easter Bunny after organizing and participating in two special training workshops in our project sites in Hagereselam and Mohoni.
The workshops introduced participant groups to the ‘Permagarden’ concept designed by US Global Nutrition Garden Training Specialist Peter Jensen who has worked throughout Africa for the past 20+ years in agricultural projects addressing the challenges of climate change. Peter Jensen developed the PermaGarden method over ten years ago, and has since trained hundreds of groups throughout Ethiopia and other African countries in this effective method. By applying special garden-protection techniques to deal with the management of excess water in the wet season, as well as unique digging techniques and soil enrichment procedures, Peter helps his participants ensure that the quality of their gardens and the food they grow is far beyond that which can be expected from most ‘normal’ gardens.
In Mohoni, the training was attended by teachers and parents from 6 different schools, and these participants now have the mandate to create a Permagarden in each of their own schools. As at Lemlem Baro, the produce from the gardens will be used exclusively to raise resources to cover school maintenance costs. Teachers are also expected to use their school gardens as teaching models for their wider school communities. The teachers and parents were thrilled with the training, which they described as ‘our best training ever’.
Peter Jensen, creator of the PermaGarden concept, is an internationally recognised acute climate change and nutritional garden expert. He has worked all over Africa, and now lives in Ethiopia. Lesley met him in Ethiopia 4 years ago and has since linked him to our project partners in Hagereselam and to the schools in Raya.
A bare site at the back of Lemlem Baro School was selected for the Permagarden site.
Teachers and community members from six schools attended the training.
2 1/2 days of hard work was expected from the participants, theory and mainly practical work. Participants learned the crucial advantages of ‘double digging’ the gardens which means that the gardens require far less watering, a huge benefit in drought-prone Tigray.
The completed garden has been planted with beans until the wet season begins. Then maize, pumpkin, and other vegetables which require more rain will be planted. The garden is dug and designed to allow water to be held at its corners, and to flow off in other areas. In other words, the form of the garden manages the rainfall.
EE president Thomas Baumann and Mohoni School Project leader Lesley Stephenson have arrived safely back in Zurich this week. As so often in the past, they appear to have taken rain with them to Mohoni and Hagereselam – at least that’s what the local people are starting to believe! The day after they arrived, the small rainy season (which hadn’t eventuated for the past 2 years) started almost a month earlier than usual. Mohoni had full rain showers for several days which served to refill the school rainwater collection tanks substantially, and greatly please the local farmers.
A lot of activities took place during this visit, including the orientation meetings for the Triple S (Self-Supporting Schools) Rainwater-Collection Project. This project has been initiated by Lesley and is strongly supported by the local government and the other schools involved in the pilot project. We will be explaining this sub-project in full at our information apéro on May 18th (open to the general public), but basically it will allow us to share the vital committee and rainwater/garden components of the Lemlem Baro School Project with 5 other schools in the Raya region. This will add considerably to the sustainability of the entire program, as additional focus and pressure on these schools will be applied to ensure that creating school resources for maintenance purposes becomes a top priority.
In addition, meetings at government level took place, and Lemlem Baro had it’s semester prize-giving last Saturday, always a very large event at the school. And there was an exciting presentation. The Raya-Azebo Bureau of Education (BofE) with whom we have excellent relations received a long hoped-for gift. Due to scant resources, BofE members have had to rely on public transport to make their school visits to over 170 schools in the region! Even when there is a local bus, they are dropped somewhere on the main road and have to walk literally for hours on the dirt roads to reach some of the schools. But not any more. An EE donor has covered the costs of a sturdy motor bike which can carry two Bureau members to the schools outside Mohoni in a fraction of the time, saving wear and tear and allowing for better school supervision. Bureau members are thrilled and have formally agreed to use the bike only for BofE business.
We will shortly begin our compound consolidation project at Lemlem Baro School, a next and crucial step designed to protect our new school buildings from the effects of heavy rain and flash flooding during wet seasons. A new girls’ toilet block is also foreseen in this next construction phase.
As always, we urgently need further funding for these new projects. If you are able to help us with fund-raising initiatives of any size, please contact us so that we can provide you with any relevant materials/support from our side. And of course, we look forward to seeing you on May 18th for the info-apéro in Zurich-Thalwil. Details to follow.
What a year 2016 has been for our projects in Tigray! Our long-year Hagereselam project has reached its maturity and will be slowly phased out in 2017, and the Lemlem Baro School project is progressing well. Our Phase 2 construction ended in autumn and the new buildings were opened in a festive ceremony on October 5th. All our students are now in new classrooms. Then last week the school enclosure was completed, ending a multi-month struggle to settle school- and farming land rights. This was a most important step for the school and the local community. Now the real work begins.
The board members of Ethiopian Enterprises: Thomas Baumann, president; Tatjana Meier, vice president; André Cardinaux, actuary & social media; and Lesley Stephenson, Mohoni School project leader, would like to extend their grateful thanks to all those who have supported us and the projects this year, not only with donations but with that most precious commodity: time. In this context, our thanks go to the members of our fundraising committee Karin Mathis Broeckelmann; Tatjana Meier and Cathy Kennard and their many helpers. Thank you, too, to Mothering Matters with Andrea Snashall and Carol McGinty-McDonald and their book team; to Ben Nordemann for his terrific initiative in raising money for the Mohoni water emergency at the end of 2015 – early 2016; as well as Mark Diethelm, Stephan Vollert, and Julia Vollert. Huge thanks go to Simon Quinn and his team at DHL for their support and patience with the book sending earlier this year. The Mohoni community is greatly indebted to all of you.
Since it is Christmas time, we want to end with a little story which shows how people have been touched by our work in Mohoni even if they do not attend Lemlem Baro School. For the first 6 months of 2016 we were able to assist the regional Raya-Azebo government during the terrible drought with extra financial support for several hundred students from over 30 schools in the region, including the 7 schools in Mohoni town. While such help is not part of the official EE mandate, we simply couldn’t stand by and watch these children drop out of school or -far worse – become severely ill due to malnutrition during the drought. Many of you helped with this special effort, especially those who attended our sold-out Fish’n’Chips dinner in May.
Our help was limited to 6 months, January to June, and helped many students not only to survive but to stay at school and complete their end-of-year exams. Here is a sequel to this help, related by Lesley who was in Mohoni last week:
‘While I was walking down the main street in Mohoni, I was approached by two young men who I recognized immediately: Leuel and Brhan. They were two of the students from the preparatory school where the brightest kids go after high school and from which they can graduate to a university. I recognized them because they were two of the students we had helped during the drought. Like many students attending school in Mohoni, they live more than half a day’s walk from the town and have to stay in town during the week to attend school. During the drought, their parents were not able to pay for their room rent and food, and the money they earned working when they were not at school was not enough to get through. Like many of the students, they were falling asleep at school from exhaustion and hunger and thirst. They were about to drop out when we intervened.
Anyway, last week they greeted me with big smiles on their faces and said they had been looking for me as they had good news. Leuel explained that they had topped their class in June and had received summer workshop scholarships to Mekelle University in August. Now they were back in their final year of preparatory school and would be going to university in 2017. They both hugged me and thanked me and asked me to pass on their thanks to EE. ‘We will never forget what you all did for us’, said Leuel. ‘We would have had to leave school if we had not had your help. Now we will have a good future’.
Later that week I learned that these two boys were currently coaching weaker classmates in the weekends, free of charge. ‘
Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you so much.
Lesley Stephenson returned from Ethiopia today after an unexpected visit to Mohoni to formally accept the new school enclosure. The enclosure was due to be finished at the time of our second building phase completion in October. However, unforeseen delays occured.
For years, the school borders which separated Lemlem Baro Elementary School from the adjacent farming land have been subject to dispute. Although a rough plan of the school land was available, this was not always respected by the farming community and in any case proved to be inaccurate. It was common for unauthorized people as well as oxen and other farm animals to cross the school compound, leaving a mess in their wake.
Our enclosure project prodded the regional government to settle the land disputes surrounding the school once and for all. This was a prerequisite for Ethiopian Enterprises to undertake this part of the project. The government fulfilled their agreement, supported strongly by our Mohoni School Project manager, Melkamu Abate. Farmers who ‘lost’ a meter here and there in the negotiations were compensated for this by the government.
The issue of the border disputes was far larger than we had originally anticipated and led to lengthy delays in the project. However, the school borders are now finalized and the enclosure has been completed. It provides security for the school and its students, and clarity for the farmers. The over-extended regional government would not have prioritized the settling of these disputes if the incentive of the enclosure had not been present.
It is standard practice in Ethiopia for schools to be enclosed and guarded. This is due to the fact that widespread poverty means that when people are desperate they will resort to stealing resources from any venue which appears to have them. The investment in this school has to be protected and is now secured. The work of the school guard has also become easier as it is possible for him to patrol the enclosed area far more effectively.
We’re very satisfied with the standard of the work, which was completed by Semere Mezgebo Building Contractors from Mekelle The enclosure, comprising a stone and cement section as well as a wire mesh section, is both strong and attractive.– .
EE board members Thomas, André, Tatjana and Lesley have returned safely from Ethiopia. For the first time ever, the entire board were in Ethiopia together to attend the official opening of the second new school section at Lemlem Baro School in Mohoni.
The opening ceremony on October 5th was attended by members of the Rayan government, representatives of the Tigray State Bureau of Education, local television and radio, leaders of both the Christian and Muslim communities in Mohoni as well as students, staff and parents. Our board members worked hard with project manager Melkamu Abate and the students to create the opening event, and it was enjoyed by all.
In the days leading up to the opening of Phase 2 buildings at Lemlem Baro School in Mohoni, all the board members could be found at the school hanging educational posters in the classrooms, sorting materials for the school storerooms, preparing lists of library books and other school materials for the regional finance department who had requested a price list for everything we had given to the school, etc. The days were long, and the evenings were helped along considerably by a very nice Chardonnay from the Rift Valley, which runs between southern Ethiopia and neighbouring Kenya. Our family-run hotel owner had plenty of Rift Valley in stock, despite the fact that the hotel is a very simple but clean affair which costs CHF 10 a night per room. The food is good and the owner looks after us nicely.
We were joined shortly before the opening by EE donor Liz McCarthy from Australia, who thoroughly enjoyed her time in Mohoni as well as our wonderful trip a couple of days later to visit our maturing Hagereselam project.
Are we finished in Mohoni now? Far from it. While a lot of the planned new buildings at Lemlem Baro are now standing, we still have further building to do, including toilet blocks for the entire school. This is urgently necessary but will require further fundraising. We are also still seeking funding for the remainder of the new school furniture.
Now the real work at the school begins. Educational standards need to be raised, and the committees which were selected last year to handle maintenance, water and gardens need to be mentored regularly. We are looking for volunteer teachers to help us with the many teacher training- and student teaching assignments which are facing us. Please contact us if you are interested.
The Mohoni School Project was always foreseen as a multi-year project. As we approach the end of the second year of the official EE Mohoni School Project, we can say that, with your help and that of a number of larger institutions, we have done fabulously well. But the real work has only just begun. We are ready for it.
Lesley Stephenson has reported from Mehoni that the rains have finally arrived in full in our school project area, after an almost total lack of rain in last year’s wet season in large parts of northern Ethiopia. For the past two weeks there has been heavy rain every day in the Mohoni area and many other parts of Raya.
‘Although everything is muddy and difficult at the school as a result of the heavy rain, no-one is complaining. In any case the children are on ‘holiday’ so it’s not a major problem. If we just get another week or so of rain, the terrible cycle of drought which has affected this region so cruelly will be broken. And there will certainly be a harvest in September. Thank you to all those who provided additional funds and support through our emergency help program over the past nine months, or during the water supply breakdown in Mohoni at the beginning of the drought last autumn. The Lemlem Baro community has asked me to send you their heartfelt thanks. They find it hard to believe that people who don’t know them were willing to support them at such a desperate time.’ Lesley Stephenson