Where I come from, Adigrat in northern Ethiopia, the landscape is dry and rocky. When the rain comes, it is heavy and destructive, so we rarely see the bright green landscape I have experienced here.
One of the reasons I am so interested in the topography of different areas is because I am a water and sanitation engineer. In Ethiopia, the topography of an area directly affects a community’s access to water. This is where I contribute; by looking at what the landscape has to offer, and building reservoirs, canals and springs to bring water to people, animals and crops.
As an example of what can be achieved in water engineering, I often tell people the story of a young girl called Rigiaet. Before I built a spring in Rigiaet’s village, this six-year-old had to walk a long way each morning to collect water for her family. Rigiaet told me, “I wake up at 6am to fetch water before I go to class. Sometimes I am late to school. I fetch water three times a day with my ten-litre container. The water is not clean.”
Although Rigiaet now has access to a clean water spring, the same is not true for many young girls in Ethiopia. Seeing how my input in developing irrigation and water supplies is improving the lives of people living in dry areas is what makes me happiest in my job.
It is these stories that I have been sharing over the past three weeks as part of CAFOD’s Thirst for change campaign. I have travelled all over England, talking in schools, colleges and parishes about water and sanitation in Ethiopia.
The people I have met have surprised me with their never-ending hospitality and their desire to fulfil my every wish, in particular my love of spicy food! Everywhere I go in England, I eat Vindaloo. It’s hot, but I like it!
But I am not the only one to have been surprised during this visit. Many people I have met have been surprised by my story; as a female engineer, I am a rarity in my country. I’ve wanted to be an engineer ever since I was a child and I have always worked hard to achieve my dreams. So I studied hard and the government sponsored me to take a university course.
21 women started engineering in my class at university, but only four of us graduated. The rest failed their exams. In my opinion, engineering is not just a job for men; it’s for anyone who is hard-working and interested in the job.
It’s important to have a woman on the team. If the community sees the participation of women they encourage their daughters to follow my example. I want to be a good example for women. I remind girls that they have brains, the same as boys, so nothing should hold them back from achieving their dreams.
Many people in England have told me that I am a determined person, but I have myself been inspired by the determination and dedication of the CAFOD supporters I have met. I have never seen such generosity.
When I heard that over 60,000 actions had been taken in support of the Thirst for Change campaign, I was shocked. I imagine thousands of individuals wanting to help people like Rigiaet and I feel hope. I have been particularly impressed by all the young people who want to help communities without water. That means a lot to me.
Among the highlights of my trip, there are two that stand out. The first is seeing the sea. Ethiopia is surrounded by land, so I have never had the opportunity to see the sea, and I wasn’t sure I ever would. So, even though it was very cold and windy, I loved seeing the sea.
My second highlight was handing in the Thirst for Change action cards to No. 10 Downing Street. This was a great honour for me and the perfect way to end my trip. Taking all the action cards, droplets, messages and drawings to No. 10, I felt the force of 60,000 actions behind me. I hope your Prime Minister recognises that too.
With CAFOD’s support, I can bring water to thousands of families. But my dream is bigger; to bring clean water to all communities in Ethiopia, to fill the landscape with crops and animals.
And just like becoming an engineer, when I dream for something, when I have a goal, I work very hard to make sure I achieve it.
About the author: Lemlem Berhe is a water engineer with CAFOD partner the Adgirat Diocesan Catholic Secretariat. She was visiting the UK between 28 April – 15 May.