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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