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Bristol - Addis Alem schools
Before travelling to Ethiopia in October 2004, St Josephs school in Bristol presented us with some lovely drawings drawn by their students...
Village travels in 2004
Tigist and Rob visited Addis Alem in October 2004. See what they found and what work has been done...
Village travels in 2003
Ride alongside Tigist as she researches the conditions and problems facing modern-day Ethiopian villagers on a trip to her Grandmother's ancestral home...

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Just before Christmas I set off to Ethiopia and identified an area where we could investigate ‘in the manner of Robert Chambers' (as anthropologists would say): going within a society and just listening to what the people have to say. Those whom I met were indeed good hosts, willing to share their produce with me, and here I give a little insight into their lives and how I felt when I saw their situation first hand:

In the evening it was tour time. The fire was being lit and the coffee brewed, so we got the full guided treatment. When we returned, the coffee was accompanied by fresh wheat-grain, hot and delicious, roasted right in front of us.

When you have no pen, no camera, no reminder to indicate that you are ’different’, they feel comfortable and talk - just the adults: children are listeners. They talk of their problems, of clean water, the health centre, a school nearer to their homes. They certainly know how to talk and why things need to change, but there are many hurdles to jump to put things right. And the actions of powerful officials both abroad and at home certainly affect them directly – of which they know nothing.

They talk of their dry land which no longer produces without fertiliser, even if their prayers for rain are heard. And they talk of the rise in price of this fertiliser, but remain innocent to what makes it so. Little do they know that the World Bank is the culprit, attaching conditions to the 'Aid' they give and encouraging the cutting of public funds to ensure that debt repayments are met. The government acts in the interest of the giant globalisers and lifts the subsidy from fertilisers in response to a command from above...

Some have no land, some have no man to plough. There is a mutual understanding that a widow will get help from the young landless farmer and in exchange he gets to share the produce.

As it gets late the entire house seems to gradually fill - gathering men and women, children and pets all in one room. Some have been out for as long as 12 hours, young ones shepherding the cattle and taking them to graze far away.

The young boy who was working for our host family was around 10 years old. He gets up early in the morning to take the cattle to drink and graze. The poverty must be truly terrible in that area for his family to allow their son to work for as little as 100 Ethiopian Birr (L8) per year. He gets fed twice a day and has a roof over his head. He is like a son – indeed, he calls the farmer father and he is called son. However, I cannot help but tell myself how unfair life is and how hard it must be for him or all the children in that area to wake up at 5am and go out for the day with just a cup of coffee and a bit of bread.

They will each have a few roasted grains in their pocket and they share water with the animals they care for. The only time they get to rest is in the evening as the lack of light forces them into idleness. But the irony of all this is that no matter how hard they all seem to work they still live in poverty. Not enough to eat, no local health centre, no electricity or road, no clean drinking water and no local school for the children.

The nearest elementary school is at least 2 hours walk away, as is the health centre. As for secondary schools, they can't go unless they leave the village and move to a bigger one. Some boys have made progress by doing so and are now teachers or in some sort of job. But for that they need either relatives who live in a bigger village or the money to pay for accommodation and food. This is especially true for the girls – after finishing their elementary school they can't progress further as the distance is too much of a constraint. "They need a hostel", was the response I got from a secondary school director. He suggested that if there was a safe house for the girls to stay in the bigger villages it would be a great help to the girls who wish to study at secondary school.

We sleep and dreams come to replace the problems and the hunger. But people need more than dreams…

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