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Mehoni School Project: Phase 2 Almost There

The second and largest phase of our Mehoni School Project is heading for completion in the coming 2-3 weeks. This construction phase has been hugely challenging, especially in the framework of the shocking drought which has affected our project region over the past 9 months. Thanks particularly to the tireless efforts of our local project manager Melkamu Abate and project leader Lesley Stephenson who has spent more than 2 of the past 5 months on site at the project, considerable improvements in building quality have been secured. The pictures above show clearly that constant attention to detail has been worthwhile.

A huge thank-you goes to all our donors who have supported the work on Phase 2 over the past 12  months, and to those who are currently assisting us to raise money for the furnishing of the new buildings. As the school will break for semester ‘holidays’ at the end of June in the Ethiopian calender (mid-July in ours), the official opening of the school will take place on October 6th, a week after the new school year begins. Members and donors still have the opportunity to join our delegation to the school at that time, and to assist us and the school staff in transferring both materials and students into the new school facilities. If you are interested, please contact Lesley Stephenson for further details:

2015 yearly report now available…

Geschäftsbericht 2015Thomas Baumann has recently completed the yearly report on Ethiopian Enterprises’ activities in 2015. The richly illustrated report provides a detailed overview of all that EE achieved in its sixth year in Hagereselam and Mohoni. Click HERE for pdf-file (only available in german language)

The good, the bad and the ugly

Lesley Stephenson and Thomas Baumann have returned from a challenging working visit to Mohoni. Lesley describes the local situation as follows:

‘First of all, the good news. Mohoni had repeated rainfall in the 2 1/2 weeks we were there. As you can see from the picture of the students taking school garden produce to market, things are looking wet and green at the school. If the rain returns in the main wet season of late June/July/August, we will have a harvest in September and that will help to break this terrible region-wide drought.

However, the green look of the school grounds is deceptive. In areas just outside Mohoni, there has been no rain at all, still! The government is frantic, they were in meetings the entire time I was there. We did have one meeting with the head of the Woreda, a real privilege under the circumstances, and they are doing all they can to deal with our specific issues, i.e. ensuring that the DHL shipment finally gets through. However, the letters we badly need to get the boxes to Mohoni have still not been signed, and this is understandable. When people are dying, a shipment for a special school is just not a priority. However, we expect  this issue to be resolved in the next fortnight, and will keep you posted.

The government asked us if there was anything more we could do to help them with the emergency they are facing as their budget is more or less depleted. Federal wheat aid of 15kgs per family per month is inadequate to keep people alive. As you know, we are already supplying monthly emergency aid to over 460 severely drought-affected kids and their families, but of course there are thousands more. A truck of wheat or grain from Addis to the most affected regions costs about CHF 7’000 (this is for about half a ton) and they are looking for sponsors for these additional supplies.

We cannot go down this path as we have neither the resources nor the mandate. This would only be possible if individuals or companies here in Switzerland were willing to finance special support through us. We would coordinate such efforts and guarantee that the money and food was properly organised and delivered, but that would be our limit. Please let us know if you have contacts to individuals or organisations who would have the resources and interest to help in this way.

However, there is something else we are trying to do just within Mohoni until the end of the school year in June. Thousands of the kids are affected by a brutal skin rash, which is likely scurvy or other nutritional-deficency-based problem. They haven’t had fresh food for months – Vitamin C and A are likely to be severely deficient. The teachers went beserk when they saw me externally treating the worst affected kids at the school as they claim it is contagious. But it’s not. It’s a widespread nutritional disorder in a large population which has been close to starving for months. It’s clear that it’s widespread!

The wounds reacted well to cleaning, disinfecting and creaming. But the kids urgently need Vitamin C. We are currently pricing supplies of oranges from the market in Mekelle as the markets in Mohoni are depleted due to the drought. If this is feasable, we will take one last emergency support step before the end of the school year and finance some fruit transport to the area. We have also bought a large supply of disinfecting soap which has been parceled out to the most affected kids’ families so that the open wounds where they have scratched the rash can be kept clean, a real challenge in this environment.

The school itself has progressed well in many areas, and I’ll be coming back with pictures and an update on this shortly. Thanks to all members of our community for their support and encouragement’.   

They’re on their way!

P1000302Phew! After weeks of collecting books, and 2 weeks of cleaning up, covering and packing the books and other urgently needed school materials, the first transport phase took place this morning. The boxes are now on their way to Zurich airport, and the EE office is looking strangely empty. We are all relieved that the giant preparation phase has come to an end, and want again to thank the many helpers who contributed their time to getting everything ready, and all those who donated books or other school materials. Special thanks to Mothering Matters who helped with all aspects of the book drive right from the beginning, and of course to DHL and their partners who have made this undertaking possible.
Peter Rabbit has been following progress throughout. He’s very excited that books about him are included in the sending, and hopped into the transport truck this morning in the hope that he could drive the books to the airport himself. Our friendly driver had to tell him that this wasn’t possible, but let him take a quick turn behind the wheel.  Now he’s hoping that he can fly with Lesley to Ethiopia next week to meet ‘his’ books and all the others when they arrive in Mohoni towards the end of April. We’ll keep you informed of our progress!


Books for Lemlem Baro School Mehoni

On Saturday, April 2nd, the office of Ethiopian Enterprises was a hive of activity. With our DHL transport deadline for Mohoni just 10 days away, a group of volunteers from Mothering Matters joined Mehoni Project Leader Lesley Stephenson to prepare the many wonderful books we received from our Lemlem Baro School book drive. As well as books from a number of kind individual donors in Switzerland and the UK, we also received books from Zurich International School and the Inter-Community School in Zumikon. In addition, Mothering Matters made a valuable donation of new books to the school.

500kgs is a huge amount of material, and this allowance will allow us to send other school materials as well. DHL is providing the transport free of charge, which is very generous indeed. We will be keeping track of the transport’s progress for you in words and pictures, right up until it reaches Mohoni in late April. Lesley will be in Mohoni to  supervise the arrival and unpacking of the sending.

Our thanks to all who buzzed with us in Langnau yesteday, some of whom are even returning for a final round of work next Saturday!

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The worst drought witnessed for 31 years…

IMG_1598 IMG_1594‘Whoever decides the order of things should reconsider their views. Does anyone think the TV is strange when they play around with bad news? A bank being robbed of rich peoples’ money or a cricketer’s broken hand, outshines the death of a thousand children in a drought-ridden land.
Whoever decides the order of things should reconsider their views. Does anyone think that the papers are strange when they play around with bad news? A politician smiles or a retiring footballer’s tears outshines the death of a thousand children pleading for food, no one hears.’ Michael Stewart

After spending the past month in the drought-ridden region of Raya in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, Michael Stewart’s poem from his anthology Kidz stuff has taken on a new meaning for me. It’s only the number of hungry or dead children which is horribly understated.

Raya is at the epicenter of the worst drought witnessed in Ethiopia for 31 years. Not since the famine and drought in Mekelle during the dictatorship of Mengistu has Ethiopia faced a drought of this length and intensity. And while the death toll is unlikely to reach the horrific heights witnessed at that time due to changes in mindset in the farming population and at least minimal nutritional support from the federal government, it is on the rise.

15 kilos of wheat are delivered each month to the most needy families. For those families of 5-6 who have no other source of income or food, or who are too weak to work, this is too little to survive.

As Ethiopian Enterprises has been working in this badly affected region for the past four years, we have built up a good and open relationship with the local regional government of Raya. Due to the emergency nutritional support which we have been supplying in addition to our project costs since the drought escalated at the end of last year, we have been privy to unusually open information. Ten days ago I was driven out into some of the most badly affected rural villages or ‘Tabias’ in the Raya region to witness the devastation of a failed harvest last autumn for myself. And, quite frankly,I wish I hadn’t seen it. In Erba, in the hamlet of Hadesh Qegnit, we met Ayete Hadush Debesay. He is the father of five children under the age of 14, the youngest just 3 and a half. A week earlier his wife had died of hunger-induced weakness, leaving him to care for their children. In their small hut (pictured) there was no water at all. A cooking pot (back left of the photo) sickled over an open fire. Inside were about 2 inches of a wheat mush broth. This was supposed to last the family for several days.

In the same hamlet, we met Azeka Sameal and her four children. Azeka is a widow. Her youngest child had just been removed from the house with suspected TB, and was unlikely to return. Her hanging head and those of her other children tell the story all too clearly. Children’s immune systems collapse in the face of extreme hunger, and Ethiopian hospitals are not places to recover from malnutrition.

On that day I saw dozens of families like these. My guides urged me on to see more and more of these saddest of sights, but at one point I had to stop. These people were desperately hoping for help and action, certainly not pity or tears. But after three hours of heartbreak, I had worn down every fibre of my composure. My friends, this simply cannot be.

The suffering I saw that day has encouraged me and the board of Ethiopian Enterprises to organise additional fundraising activities to support these wonderful people at this time of desperate need. While the mandate of Ethiopian Enterprises is officially to finance and mentor long-year, sustainable rural projects with model potential, and while we are not a food-aid organization, it is simply not possible for us to stand back and posture about sustainability while people in our project region are dying of hunger. And since the only aid forthcoming in the past few months from NGOs active in the area have been several thousand exercise books and hundreds of pairs of childrens’ shoes, I personally cannot hide under the convenient cloak of an official mandate. When people are starving, you get them food and water. Bakka. You can’t eat either shoes or exercise books.

At a follow up meeting with the government, it became clear that Ethiopian Enterprises has been the only ‘charity’ working in the Raya region who actually thought to ask the regional government what sort of help they most needed at this time. Haven’t we learned anything about meaningful and effective aid in all these years?

Now I can understand that this issue may seem like a distant black spot at the end of a mighty long microscope. A problem far away, minimalized by distance. And in any case, we all have enough to deal with here in the face of massive refugee migration, right? But think about it. Shouldn’t at least part of our support be going to a crisis in a country where people actually want to stay at home? Ethiopia is not one of the countries from which people are fleeing. Ethiopians love their country and want to stay, and Ethiopian Enterprises’ projects are designed to help thousands of them do just that.

Please donate to our emergency relief fund, or join us on April 7th at our fundraising dinner at the Fork&Bottle in support of the emergency fund. Event details on this page in the coming days.

Lesley in Mehoni…

EE board member Lesley Stephenson arrived in Mehoni a week ago and has sent us a sad report. Although our Mohoni School Project is flourishing, thanks to the water infrastructure on which the school is based, the community in the Raya Azebo region in which Mehoni is situated is facing a perilous situation. The drought under which the region has suffered since last summer has escalated, and the death toll is rising. Lesley has reported this week on the situation as follows:

‘The situation in the rural areas surrounding Mehoni township is desperate. The drought is considered to be the worst in 31 years, i.e. since the famine of 1985 in Mekelle with which Bob Geldorf made his name.  The death toll is rising, especially babies and small children, which is just shocking.

I was invited to a meeting with the head of the Raya government yesterday, as Ethiopian Enterprises has been providing emergency nutritional support to over 200 of the worst affected children in the area since January. While nutritional aid is not part of our official manadate of financing only sustainable projects, it would be more than cynical if we were just to stand back and watch the situation deteriorate. I, for one, can’t. We have won the government’s affection and respect for our efforts and are the only organisation working in the Raya-Azebo region to be invited to a personal briefing on the situation. The government described the situation as ‘a matter of survival’.

The situation shows just how important our intervention in Mehoni and  Hagereselam over the past five years has been, with sustainable water collection  at the core of both projects. Ethiopian Enterprises has established an emergency fund to support young children at risk in the area, and we are monitoring the situation carefully. Lesley will report back to us next week when she has visited some of the worst affected Rayan communities.

Progress at Mehoni School

EE board member André Cardinaux has made a short film (10’49”) showing the opening of the first new school buildings at Lemlem Baro School. What a difference!

Water Action in Mehoni

With the drought in many parts of Tigray continuing, particularly in the area of Raya Azebo in which Mohoni is situated, EE’s emergency support for the community is continuing. Water is being delivered at regular intervals to the town’s five schools so that the children can drink at least enough to function. The following letter from EE project manager Melkamu Abate shows how the community has reacted to our help. EE board members Lesley Stephenson, Thomas Baumann and Tatjana Meier will fly to Ethiopia this evening to monitor the situation in the coming days and to discuss other emergency action with the local government. Watch this space for their reports in the coming days.

Melkamu Abate’s letter:

“Dear Lesley and Thomas,

I am writing to tell you about the water supply activities accomplished so far and a message from Kiflom regarding EE’s recent support action to resolve the water shortage the Mehoni community has faced.

As we discussed over the phone these last ten days, I have been trying to reach schools in Mehoni area that have serious shortage of water due to the lack of rain. I have now reached out to the three elementary schools and the two high schools in Mehoni town. We have so far provided all these schools with a total of nearly 50,000 liters of water. Because of the smallness of containers/water tanks/ available in two of the elementary schools, we have been forced to transport water there every two to three days using containers. We are providing these when their tanks are running out of water. All the schools have appreciated the actions EE has taken to help the school children to get drinking water.

In our latest meeting with him, Kiflom has asked me to provide the following THANK YOU message to you. He also asked me to remind you to pass it on to all EE members who are involved in this very human action. He has told me to sincerely express his gratitude and thanks on behalf of the Raya-Azeba woreda people, particularly the people of Mehoni town and its surroundings to all members of Ethiopian Enterprises for the compassion and the wonderful support that came just in time for the children. According to his point, the supportive action EE has implemented in the schools is helping them to avoid a dreadful crisis, and to get time to focus on a better solution which the local government is undertaking in collaborations with the Tigray regional government authorities. He said that they are working day and night to bring about a fundamental change for the water shortage they have encountered. He still requests your continued support in the forthcoming struggle they are making against this challenge until they get back on track.

Let me stop here for now. I will report you the developments we come across as we go about the work.

Thank you for your help and for everything you are doing.

Melkamu “

Tigray threatened by ongoing drought

For the first time in the 8 years we have been working in Tigray, there was virtually no rain at all during the July/August ‘wet’ season in several parts of the province, including Mohoni. During our visit a month ago, there was one day of very good late rain, but this was not enough to fill the new rainwater tanks or to make up for an entire missed wet season. To make things worse, two weeks ago some of the pipes at the town water source broke due to wear and tear. This meant that the drinking-water tanks we installed at the school last year simply ran out of water. While the local government is doing its best to handle this additional crisis, there was a complete lack of water at the school and in the community for several days. We all know how serious this is in a harsh, dry climate. Small children cannot survive without water for more than a very few days.

Ethiopian Enterprises reacted fast to this news.  With the help of our wonderful donors we were able to finance the transport of water to Mohoni last week from a reservoir in another, less affected area. The water tankers supplied the children at ‘our’ school as well as at the four other schools in the area – a total of over 8’000 students – with drinking water supplies which would last for several days. This emergency measure was facilitated by our local project manager, Melkamu Abate, as well as members of the regional government.  As the drought continues, however, we will clearly have to repeat this action several times in order to ensure that children don’t literally die of thirst before the town can mend its system and/or the next rain arrives. 

If you’re able to help us  finance this crucial additional support for Mohoni during the drought, you can make a donation to Ethiopian Enterprises earmarked ‘Mohoni water’.  Three of our board members will return to Mohoni next week to monitor the situation as well as to deliver training workshops for both teachers and students.  As always, they will pay all their own costs for the trip and their stay in Mohoni as all donations to Ethiopian Enterprises go fully to our projects.

Klick HERE for donations!

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