Keeping a corner of Ethiopia ‘evergreen’

As part of CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme, Sophie Bray has been spending the past two weeks with communities in Ethiopia. She talks about how access to a reliable water source and renewable electricity is transforming one community and giving hope to many others.

The group in Ethiopia.

The group in Ethiopia.

It was during the first week of February on our journey through Northern Ethiopia, when we travelled to a rural town in Mekelle called Lemlem.

After meeting the people who lived in the village, it soon became clear how access to a reliable water source and renewable electricity is transforming their community and giving hope to many others.

Lemlem, whose name locally translates to ‘evergreen’, seems almost ironic on the bumpy drive to the village. When I looked out the window, I could see that the land that surrounded the village was dry and barren.

In Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si’ he asks everyone to listen to “the cry of the earth” and to “the cry of the poor”. Journeying to these communities who are suffering as a result of vicious weather patterns, it is clear to see that these cries are one in the same.

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Yet, once we arrived at the village, none of us could believe our eyes. A vivid green sat amidst a background of rock and sand. The fields were host to an array of crops including onions, bananas, cabbages, coffee, oranges and sugar cane. The land had been transformed into an oasis of abundance and fertility.

The view of Lemlem.

The view of Lemlem.

The children who ran around the village whilst their parents reaped the benefits of the plentiful harvest looked healthy and strong. The joy of the community was unmistakable.

This vast change in the land was incredible and it was all due to a project which helped to water the community’s fields; the benefits of which have proven immeasurable.

CAFOD partners Adigrat Catholic Diocese Secretariat (ACDS) explained how they helped create the irrigated fields by diverting water from a constructed canal. Now, despite five months of no rain, the water remains.

It is incredible how just a little bit of water can make such a huge impact. Women and young girls no longer have to carry water for miles. The now prospering fields create work for local people. This has helped break the destructive cycle of illegal youth migration and the resulting human trafficking in search of work. Young people can now stay in the village and earn a good wage. The success of this project has given not only one, but many communities, hope for a better future.

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Walking amidst the freshly irrigated fields and seeing the transformation of the land, I thought about how my actions can have a direct impact on communities on the other side of the world, how leaving a light on or driving instead of walking uses more energy and can contribute to the problem of climate change – which is felt most keenly by vulnerable communities.

onion-fieldethiopiasmall

 The onion field is now irrigated so the crops can grow successfully.

However, for communities like Lemlem, leaving the light on is a luxury they do not have. In rural areas of Ethiopia, the use of wood for lighting is the only option. Women and young girls struggle daily to collect this wood, carrying 20 kilos by themselves which is dangerous to locate and takes all day. This task keeps thousands of young girls from their studies and is increasing the impact of deforestation.

To keep their houses lit at night, many families are forced to use kerosene lamps. These lamps release smoke and fumes which are not only damaging to the environment but are potentially harmful causing respiratory and eye problems.

CAFOD partners ACDS are working tirelessly to provide these communities with access to renewable energy, which is not only better for the environment than using traditional fossil fuels but which also eases the burden on the women and children of the family, who are disproportionately affected.

When in Lemlem, I spoke to a local mother, Nigiste, whose life has been transformed with access to renewable energy. Before ACDS’s intervention, Nigiste and her two children used kerosene lamps at night. She explained that the “fumes and smoke made us sick.”

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Two months ago, she was provided with a solar lamp which has transformed her life. She said: “the children can do their homework at night now and I am able to use this light, no problem, without hurting the environment.”

An Ezy stove.

An Ezy stove.

ADCS have also been able to provide Ezy Stoves for many families in the community. The Ezy Stove is a cooker which can cook a whole meal using only two or three sticks. This makes it three times more efficient than an open fire and it produces only a fraction of the emissions. One woman we met called Desta, who had just had an Ezy Stove fitted in her home, said: “I have been suffering from smoke in my eyes before, now it is so easy.”

Both the Ezy Stove and the solar lamp are simple house accessories. Yet, the impact of these items is indescribable to the families they benefit. They provide these communities with more than just lamps or stoves, but with hope. A hope that is unbounded and slowly becoming a reality. A hope that means Lemlem will remain Evergreen.

 

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Step into the Gap: “Water is life”

Sophie Hull is currently taking part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap Programme and she reflects how Ethiopian communities are adapting the changing climate and the projects that CAFOD’s partners are implementing to help bring about a positive change.

In Sebeya with the school children.

In Sebeya with the school children.

Before coming overseas, I only had heard about climate change and the impact it has on communities. Now, I have seen with my own eyes the realities of climate change.

We had just visited a community in Adigrat, a village that had been supported by access water and renewable energy by CAFOD partners, Adigrat Catholic Diocese Secretariat. Having access to these things had transformed their community, but I was soon to learn that access is not the only barrier communities face when they are impacted by climate change.

We were now set to travel to the town of Sebeya, in the North of Ethiopia. This village has been specifically linked with communities in England and Wales in a programme called Connect2. This programme, which started two years ago, hopes to support and empower local people to build reservoirs and water pipes to keep the fields green and improve the harvests, which have been severely impacted by a changing climate.

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Before setting off we had a briefing with Tesfay, the coordinator of the programme. He began by telling us that the communities are given 5,000 to 10,000 meters of square land to grow their crops.

Tesfay and sophie looking at the water pump provided by CST

Tesfay and Sophie looking at the water pump provided by CST

He then went on to explain that one of biggest consequences of climate change is human trafficking when people from Ethiopia are forced to migrate to the Middle East as they can no longer farm the land in their hometowns.

This revelation really surprised me, as I did not understand why people would want to move if they were given land to generate income. However, I was soon to discover that even though people had access to land, some people were still unable to make a living as their once fertile land now lay dry and barren.

The journey to Sebeya was incredible; the sun shining was down on the rocky mountains in the distance, and the land seemed almost overwhelmingly beautiful

We were welcomed in Sebeya with the loving arms of Abba Solomon who thanked the communities in the UK for their support, as their generosity was “positively changing the lives” of the people in his community.

Read about the placements available in 2017

The children from the parish greeted us with a coffee ceremony and a song with a line which really stuck with me: “with Jesus Christ, there is no darkness”. This song seemed so fitting as I soon discovered that it was their faith that kept them so strong. I witnessed this when they showed us inside their church and began to pray. In the midst of the silence, I could see that these children deeply felt the presence of God.

Sophie Hull with school children.

Sophie Hull with school children.

After being in the church with the children we went outside to relax and play. When speaking to the young people about the challenges they face in the community they said: “A challenge is water, dryness and the dust as it constantly in the air”. Yet, even with these challenges, they still love the environment they live in and play happily. In fact, a young person said to me “Sebeya is great because Sebeya is home.”

During this time, I had the opportunity to share messages from my local community in Manchester that they had written to the children. We also gave them green hearts with pledges from our home community of how we can work together to prevent climate change. The young people were very grateful to receive these messages because it connected them across continents.

After leaving Sebeya, we stopped at various points where other projects have implemented hand dug wells, irrigated terraces so that soil is not washed away by the rain, hail and erosion. The various hand dug wells in the community each provides 75 families with access to clean drinking water.

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I find this remarkable as it especially gives female-headed households the time to take rest, drink coffee and see their children go to school.  Additionally, this has great benefits for the children, particularly girls, as they now do not have to travel miles to collect 40 litres of water for their family.

Tesfay emphasised that “water is life” and with the support of the parishes in the UK, it gives more possibilities to develop further ways to adapt to climate change.

As Pope Francis quotes “let us be protectors of creation, protectors of gods plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.’ Will you join me in protecting our common home?

 

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Step into the Gap: Thank you for wanting to help the Khmer people

During her visit to Cambodia, Lizzie Haydon, who is taking part in the Step into the Gap programme, spent time with a Cambodian community and spoke to a family, who have worked with CAFOD partner Srer Khmer, to receive training and resources.

Lizzie talks to Samorn about life in the community as she weaves traditional fish traps.

Lizzie talks to Samorn about life in the community as she weaves traditional fish traps.

During our second week in Cambodia, we visited rural communities supported by CAFOD partner Srer Khmer. One of the communities Srer Khmer work with is Lvear village in Pouk district, Siem Reap and we were honoured to be able to spend the night in the village, getting to know the villagers and understand their lives that little bit better.

On our first day, we met with the village chief, helped to plant seeds and met with families who have already been supported by the ‘Socio-Economic Empowerment of Rural Communities’ project funded by CAFOD and Caritas France. The village made our stay a celebration, dancing the night away to traditional Cambodian music performed -by members of the community.

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The next day we joined in a community meeting, with villagers creating community action plans. After lunch, we split into two groups; James and I stayed in the village to meet with a local family who had been part of the Srer Khmer project.

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Step into the Gap: Working together to weave change in Cambodian communities

James Ronan, who is currently taking part in CAFOD’s Step into the Gap, talks about the village communities he spent time with in Cambodia where local organisations are empowering communities to change their lives for the better.

Step into the Gap volunteers walking through now flourishing fields

Step into the Gap volunteers walking through now flourishing fields

Cambodia’s long history, most recently the civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime, has “left many communities broken”, said Singha, one of the founding members of CAFOD partners, Village Support Group (VSG).

“The communities are like a broken basket, it needs reweaving. VSG was founded to help support and enable communities to strengthen capacity and weave change to support themselves.” And from what I have seen from my short time in Cambodia, local organisations really are making an inspiring difference by helping to empower communities across Cambodia.

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The first village we travelled to was an agricultural village in Ou Breus, an agricultural village, where we heard from the village committee about the issues of water scarcity and the impacts of climate change. The Ou Breus community suffer water shortages lasting six to seven months in the dry season. We heard about the community’s development plans with the community working towards greater access to water year-round.

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Step into the Gap: Strength in adversity

Bridgid Duffy, Sophie Bray and Sophie Hull, who are all currently taking part in the Step into the Gap programme, share their experiences of meeting an inspirational business woman in her bustling Ethiopian café.  

Sophie Hull, Hannah, Lemlem, Bridgid and Sophie Bray in Mekelle.

Sophie Hull, Hannah, Lemlem, Bridgid and Sophie Bray in Mekelle.

After a long journey, we arrived in Mekelle. Before we had even left the bus, we were greeted with open arms and open hearts and welcomed into the home of the Daughters of Charity.

After the inspirational time that we spent in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, we had travelled up to a beautiful city in Northern Ethiopia called Mekelle, located in the Tigray province. We were staying with CAFOD partners, the Daughters of Charity, and were planning to meet some of the people who the charity has been supporting for many years with their HIV and AIDS livelihood projects.

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One of the Daughters of Charity’s main focuses is enabling the empowerment of women. During their time in Mekelle the Daughters of Charity have committed to challenging gender inequality in the region, an issue which is prominent.

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