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Millions face starvation in Ethiopian Tigray

There’s an old English expression which suggests that disasters rarely happen one at a time. How true this is for the Ethiopian state of Tigray, which right now is facing a humanitarian catastrophe of proportions which will likely outdo the shocking famine of the 1980s.

An estimate appearing throughout the world’s media this week suggests that a full 91% of the population of Tigray (over 5 million people) have reached starvation level. Covid 19, locust plagues, civil war, and the complete absence of the small rain which should have fallen in March/April means that yet again millions of the world’s most fragile citizens are facing death through starvation. Our hope that the very real emergency aid we have provided over the past year could come to an end when the rain fell in March has been shattered by the unexpected hot and dry weather of the past two months. We are receiving daily calls from our local government and our wonderful manager about the situation which is now far, far worse than anything we have experienced in our 14 years in Tigray.

Can we stop the huge death toll which – without international support – will eventuate, and which is already mounting? No, we can’t. However, we have been asked to do the following and we will try to provide this help. For the next four months until the wet season begins we are asked to ‘adopt’ the families of the students at our school. This will keep those 1500 students and their families alive and in return their parents will ensure that they return to school NOW. Our school will reopen its doors this week under government mandate but due to the problems in the region over the past year the incentives for students to return are understandably low.

Can you help us? Keeping a 5-7 person family alive over the next four months will cost CHF 200. We cannot promise to get photos of all the families but we will at least be able to give you names. And you can rest assured that every cent of that CHF 200 – or whatever you can afford – will go to that family in the form of food and water. We have an excellent and experienced team in place which has been delivering food aid on our behalf for a year now and they are able to manage this.

One of our donors has offered to double the amount we can raise in family sponsorship up to CHF 5’000.- That is 25 of the roughly 900 families which make up our school community. Please help us find sponsors for at least the first 25 families in the coming days so that we can take advantage of this generous offer to support a further 25 families. For further information, you can contact our project leader Lesley ( who was back in the region in February and is well informed about the current situation.

Donation platform (please specify ’emergency support Lemlem Baro’):

Newsletter March 2021

Lesley finally made it to Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray, in February! In our newsletter you will find the latest news about the status of our projects and the general current situation in the Tigray region.

Download the full Newsletter here: EE Newsletter 2021-03 e

2020 Annual Report available

In the last few days, the detailed and richly illustrated 24-page Annual Report 2020, prepared by Thomas Baumann, has been published. In it you will find a detailed description of what Ethiopian Enterprises has done and achieved in the past difficult year in Mehoni, as well as many extensive details about our projects and the situation in Ethiopia. HERE you can find the complete Annual Report as pdf-file (only available in German language)!

Newsletter November 2020

Unfortunately, for various reasons we cannot travel to our project area at the moment. In our newsletter you will find the latest news about the status of our projects and the general current situation in the Tigray region.

Download full Newsletter here: EE Newsletter 2020-11 e

Ethiopians pray for peace

In this past week, there has been a grave escalation of political differences between the Ethiopian federal government and the state of Tigray. The conflict which has accompanied our work increasingly in the past two-three years, and which reached a climax with the postponed elections in August during the Corona lockdown, has erupted in the past days.

This week military action has begun on both sides of the conflict, and we have had to postpone Lesley’s planned return to Mehoni next week. Prime Minister Abey Ahmed has declared a state of emergency in the country, and there is currently no way for us to know when we can return. We are grateful that we were able to see and interact live with our community last month, especially as all communications via email and telephone in Tigray have now been blocked. Ethiopians are reporting that the country is ‘at war’ but it is impossible for us or journalists to get exact information with no communication channels open.

Ethiopia’s stability in the last years has played an important role in the Horn of Africa. Destabilization at this time would be a disaster. We hope that the efforts by international bodies to help resolve the differences peacefully will be successful. Rural communities in southern Tigray such as ours have had enough tragedy this year with Covid-19 and plagues of locusts. If Tigray becomes a fully fledged battlefield in the coming weeks, the suffering of the rural Tigray population will be hard to imagine. We are continuing to pack our materials for our next return visit and hoping that this will nevertheless soon be possible.

A word about donations…

Finally, a word about how donations to Ethiopian Enterprises are allocated to our various projects:

Currently Ethiopian Enterprises finances four separate activities.
1.  Lemlem Baro Elementary School, with its new Early Learning Center currently under construction
2.  Marsa Elementary School, our second elementary school, currently under construction.
3.  Raya Scholarship Program
4.  EE Emergency Fund (emergency food or water distribution, emergency health care, etc.)

Donors are welcome to specify an activity for which they would like their donation to be used when making their donation. The latter will then be dedicated to that activity. Donations can also be made without a specific target activity which allows us to dedicate that donation to where it is most needed. But no matter whether a donation is specifically dedicated or not, one thing remains the same in all cases: all donations are channelled in full into our fund. There are absolutely no exceptions to this as our board members cover all administrative expenses of our association privately, and pay all expenses involved in project visits themselves.

If you would like to cover a specific item yourself, or give a friend a donation as a Christmas gift, here are just a few of the items we urgently need and the unit cost price. Every item donated helps us and our community greatly.

1.   50 exercise books for orphans: CHF 18
2.   20 teachers’ marking pens: CHF 25
3.   Kindergarten student chair: CHF 28
4.   50 kilograms of millet to feed a family of 5-6 people for a month: CHF 35
5.   Primary school integrated desk and seat for three students: CHF 85
6.   Kindergarten table for 6 students in our Early Learning Center and 1st grade classooms: CHF 140
7.   Work table for teachers’ staffroom: CHF 85
8.   Cupboard for Early Learning Center: CHF 95
9.   Climbing bars for playground: ca. CHF 100
10. Fruit day for 1500 students (each student receives an orange or banana): CHF 400

Report on Food Allocation in Cher Cher

While she was back in our project regions of Mehoni, Raya and Cher Cher last month, EE board member Lesley was involved in a multitude of activities. One that made a deep impression on her was her participation in the allocation of emergency food aid in the region of Cher Cher, an hour’s drive to the south east of Mehoni over largely unsealed roads. We are sharing her report of the allocation below.

‘The millet for the final allocation to the high risk families in Cher Cher had been weighed and packed into the appropriate coloured bags before I arrived in Mehoni. The work had been done at Lemlem Baro school by a group of casual workers so it was all ready to be packed onto the lorry along with cartons containing bottles of cooking oil, and bars of soap. But on Wednesday morning when we were due to leave for Cher Cher, the lorry we had ordered was no longer ‘available’. Fortunately our manager was up at 4 am overseeing preparations and contacted the construction team from our new school. There was a lorry at the site and the driver agreed to make the delivery for us. By 5 am a group of young labourers had packed all the remaining grain onto the lorry and it was on its slow drive to Cher Cher with two of our teachers from Lemlem Baro accompanying the load to check that there were no ‘mishaps’. Two hours later, we followed them.

On the way, I saw a number of the mud/branch houses which are typical for the Cher Cher region which often have beautifully decorated ‘eaves’ under their rooves. In some cases there were animals lying contentedly in front of the houses and I would have loved to stop and take more pictures. But on this morning there was no time. By the time we arrived at the site, the bags were already being laid out at intervals over a large field. On one side of the field there was a group of soldiers who were very surprised to see me getting out of the van. Actually they were surprised at the whole scene as they had been planning some sort of military exercise on the site and had not been informed that it was reserved for us that morning. Fortunately, a short discussion was all that was needed to solve the issue, helped by the fact that we had government officials from Cher Cher with us.

While we were adding the oil bottles and soap to the bags of grain, the recipients arrived. It took a long time for them to get their names checked on a register and to be allowed to sit on their bag. Part of the problem was that many of the older designated recipients were too weak to even walk from their home to the field and had needed to send a neighbour or family member to collect for them. These had to be checked as well. Our workers helped many of the older, ill people to carry the grain to their homes.

For now, this was EE’s final allocation. Since the closure of markets in April we have raised close to CHF 100’000 for emergency help from two foundations and dozens of our private donors. We have literally saved thousands of lives in our regions with these allocations and our manager Melkamu Abate must be thanked yet again for the huge extra workload he has had. In addition, our school teachers Haftom Niguse and Fitsum Woldesenbet have contributed to these allocations made throughout our project zone, as have other workers from our school.’

Teddies in Raya and Corona in Ethiopia

Yep, our first load of teddies travelled with Lesley to Raya in mid-September and are now safely packed in our storeroom ready for the opening of our Early Learning Center. Here you see our manager and the son of our guard with a small number of the 40 which made it down on this trip. They did well, and it is exciting to see them there ready for their new little friends. The remaining teddies needed for the opening will travel down in November.

Travelling back to Ethiopia for the first time in 7 months was an eye-opener. Ethiopia is convinced – rightly so – that COVID-19 was brought into the country by foreigners. As a result, the Corona precautions at the airports are stringent. In Addis Abeba Lesley almost missed her connecting flight after being forced to have a second Corona test on arrival. She had had the mandatory test for airline passengers in Europe shortly before she left and had written proof of a negative test. However, this was not accepted as she could have been infected along the way to Mekelle. Once she had had the test she was allowed to get onto her domestic flight.

On arrival in Mekelle, soldiers ushered all travelers onto a guarded bus ready to drive to a quarantine hotel in Mekelle. When Lesley left the terminal building she was met by soldiers with automatic weapons who wanted her to join that bus. Only her letter of recognition from the Rayan government and the persuasive arguments of our manager allowed her to go in the bus organized to meet her. However, she was not allowed to travel to Mehoni. She was driven to another quarantine hotel in Mekelle where she immediately received her 2nd Corona test in 4 hours. Then she was confined to her room until her test came back negative 24 hours later.

We welcome and understand the precautions around the airports which are designed to avoid visitors carrying the virus around town and cities. However, we want to note that once Lesley moved into rural Ethiopia and our project region, masks were rare. Firstly they are not widely available in our region and, secondly, members of communities in places like Cher Cher couldn’t buy them even if they were.

However, the question begs: is the stringent control at the airports part of the reason why the virus has not spread widely and has to date claimed so few lives? This may be part of it. However, we believe that two other factors are responsible for the mild progression to date of COVID-19 in Ethiopia. Firstly, it is possible that the virus has different forms, i.e. that it has mutated to something milder there. This is to be hoped, given the lack of medical facilities. Secondly, we consider it highly likely from our decade of experience in rural Ethiopia that the immune systems of Ethiopians are dealing differently with the virus than ours can. This is the country where citizens drink water, milk, home-brewed beer and raw yoghurt which would come close to killing most of us (we have experienced this ourselves!). In any case, our manager’s prediction that hunger would be the greater killer in Ethiopia during this pandemic has proven true so far.

No news is not good news

We’ve been silent for the past three weeks. Unfortunately, the old addage that No News is Good News does not hold true for these weeks. During this time, ethnic unrest in Ethiopia has escalated following the murder of a popular Ethiopian musician, and rumours of military intervention in the state of Tigray by the federal government are growing. The latter has kept the internet blocked for the past three weeks and during that time we were forced to communicate with our manager by phone.

During this period, things in our region have gone from bad to worse. The first deaths due to starvation have been registered, and the lists of high-risk families are getting longer and longer. Our last emergency food allocation was completed by our team last week – teachers Fitsum and Haftom from Lemlem Baro School, our gardener Wolde, our construction foreman Abreha, our headmaster Nigus and helpers from Mekelle have again rallied to assist our manager Melkamu Abate. The allocation process is becoming increasingly traumatic for the team as hungry folk who are not on official lists are joining those who are, and the scenes of desperate begging at allocation points are pitiful. In the past few days, a bajaj taxi driver brought two elderly and clearly weak citizens to our school and told our manager that their relatives could no longer feed them. He asked that our team do whatever they could to help them and otherwise to let them die there in peace. We didn’t sleep the night we heard this story, and this is no isolated event. Orphans who have been supported by relatives or other families are in many cases now without support while families struggle to keep themselves alive. We now have people camping outside the school as they have heard that grain is being stored there and see this as their last hope. Rural governments around the country have no budgets to help and appear paralysed; no official national or international emergency aid organization has entered our region since lockdown in early April despite our repeated requests. We are shocked about all this but being shocked doesn’t help.

There is some good news at least. The long awaited rain has started and there should be a reasonable harvest in September/October. Our scholarship students in Mehoni who cannot leave the area and are officially now on holiday are coming to Lemlem Baro in small groups to help out. We greatly appreciate this sign of their solidarity and their wish to ‘give back’. And while Corona spreads, the death toll so far according to experts in the country is surprisingly low. We believe that the immune systems of most Ethiopians which allow them to drink water, raw milk and meat which would kill most of us may be better able to deal with the virus than we can. We hope it stays this way. In any case, as our manager rightly warns, it is hunger which will be by far the bigger killer in Ethiopia during this pandemic.

We are now collecting for our next allocation: a truckload of 300 tons of millet and 1’000 bottles of cooking oil will help 5’000-6’000 more people to survive the coming 4-5 weeks, and costs CHF 20’000. We need to continue aid as regularly as possible until the new harvest arrives. While we well know that we can’t help everyone and that the death toll will continue to rise, we are doing what we can. Grain for a family of 5-6 for a month costs CHF 50. Please send this link to your friends and see if they can help us to continue our relief work for the next few weeks. The cost of a family picnic at the local pool here in Switzerland would keep at least two families alive for several weeks. There are no picnics In Raya.

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