Posts Tagged With: Ethiopia

Give a Gift with Purpose from the ONE Shop

598430_509984075689869_726163983_nThere is still time to order #GiftsthatGive for Christmas and Hannukah from the ONE Campaign’s Shop — including the gorgeous scarves made by fashionABLE in Ethiopia exclusively for the ONE Campaign pictured above.

Read about the women weavers from fashionABLE who make them HERE.

Happily, fashionABLE is completely sold out of their inventory for the year (which means, among other things, the organization/company has been able to hire three more women since I visited their factory in Addis Ababa with ONE Moms in October!)

So the only place you can still order fashionABLE scarves in time for Christmas is the ONE Shop. Woot!

Please enjoy a special ONE Moms | ONE Dads | ONE Mums Friends and Family discount of 25%. At checkout, use code: ONEFRIENDS25

*Discount expires 12/21/12 at 11:59 pm ET
Ground=$6.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/19
2-Day=$10.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/20
Next Day=$18.99 order by 3 pm ET 12/21


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Mother Africa: Weaving a Hopeful Future

When I think of weavers, what comes to my mind are the ladies in the back of the knitting store in my Southern California hometown, the ones who hang out on weekend afternoons with their handlooms – weaving cloth shawls, blankets, or the occasional modern tapestry.

Here, weaving is, by and large, a pastime. Some would call it an art form. The ladies in the back of the knitting shop are craft weavers. We might consider them “artisans” and laud them for mastering the truly ancient craft.

In the West, machines do most of the commercial weaving, not people. In Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the developing world, handloom weaving is most often an occupation for men and one that isn’t usually heralded for its artistry. Weaving isn’t a prestigious job and, by and large, those who weave are the working poor.

Traditionally, men are the weavers. I’ve heard what felt like an odd gender role (from my American perspective) explained as merely a function of physiology. Handloom weaving requires the strength – and therefore the physical mass – to batten, which is the term used to describe moving the beater (a long metal or wooden bar that is used to keep the weft thread or yarn in place).

Women spin the wool or cotton into thread that’s loaded onto spools and then strung onto the loom’s warp (lengthwise thread) and weft (the thread that weaves in and out of the warp thread.)

The sound of handloom weaving is unmistakable. The shush of the Flying Shuttle – a small missile-shaped object, often fashioned from dogwood, that holds the weft thread – as it’s thrown through the shed, or warp threads. The slam of the beater. The click of the heddles.

In Addis Ababa last month, I could hear the weavers at fashionABLE, a faith-based non-profit that has partnered with a local organization that helps women exploited by the sex industry to change their lives.

(Learn more about fashionABLE’s story in video form HERE.)

Founded by American Barrett Ward, who spent a year in Ethiopia after launching in 2005 his Mocha Club – a cadre of activists who pledged to give up the cost of two mocha drinks (or about $7 a month) to fund relief and development projects in Africa.

While living in Addis, Ward, who now lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters adopted from Ethiopia, encountered the Women at Risk organization and saw how effectively it worked to restore dignity and health (mental, physical, spiritual) to women trapped in prostitution. An estimated 150,000 women work as prostitutes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capitol, alone – and about 75 percent of those women are HIV-positive.

When Ward learned that one of the mightiest challenges to keeping women off the streets and out of the clutches of the sex industry was work that paid a living wage, the idea for fashionABLE was born.

Working hand-in-hand with Women at Risk, which boasts a 90 percent success rate (i.e. non-recidivism) among the more than 350 women who have passed through its 12-month rehabilitation program since 1996, fashionABLE teaches former sex workers how to spin, dye, and weave cotton into truly beautiful scarves (I’m wearing one as I write this) that are sold in the U.S. at high-end retailers such as Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif.

FashionABLE exports to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which permits the export of certain African goods to the States, duty-free and quota-free. (Under AGOA, Ethiopia has exported $13.8 million worth of goods to the U.S in 2011 – primarily textiles, apparel, and agricultural products such as coffee and khat.)

Each scarf created at fashionABLE bears the name of the woman who made it. It’s a small but radical act, a thread in a new garment the women are trying on for size, a future with ample hope and grace.

Today I am wearing a white scarf with various stripes and textures woven near the tassels at the bottom. The woman who made it is Bezuayhu. She’s 19.

“My parents had passed away and I used to live with my aunts and grandparents,” Bezuayhu says on the organization’s website. “They always wanted me to work and not to go to school. So, I came to the city, and there I came to this life of prostitution.Now, it feels so good to get up in the morning and say I am going to work. It feels so good to have a scarf named after me. I’m so proud to be called a scarf maker.”

Her tag reads: Because of you, I am ABLE to look forward to my future. Thank you.

I had the pleasure of meeting Saba, a beautiful young woman with a warm smile who made the purple scarf I gave my son’s godmother as a gift upon my return to California, at the modest fashionABLE compound in an industrial area of Addis.

With Women at Risk’s founder Serawit “Cherry” Teketel serving as translator, Saba spoke (in her native Amharic) about her life before and since arriving at fashionABLE. Listen to Saba tell her story below:

The message on Saba’s tags?

Because of you, I am ABLE to feel pride in my work. Thank you, Saba

At Muya Abyssinian Crafts, a fair-trade company in Addis that employs about 150 weavers — both men and women — who make high-end textiles for European and American designers, including Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede’s Lemlem line at J.Crew, I learned something fascinating.

Muya, which means “talent” in Ge’ez, the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, also employs potters who make various earthenware vessels, such as coffee pots and intricately hand painted guinea fowl figurines.

Jacques Dubois, a native of France who has lived in Ethiopia for more than 40 years and is co-owner of Muya, told us that when the company first approached the potters about making exportable goods, they balked at the idea. They saw no artistry in that work, Dubois explained, and could not believe that anyone outside of Ethiopia would want to buy them.

The coffee pots and urns were simply utilitarian and those who made them — the potters — at the low end of the pecking order in Ethiopian society, Dubois said.

Why? Because they work with fire and fire is, according to tradition, he said, associated with the devil. Ergo, potters are practically outcasts.

On the wall of the room where several women crouched at their work stations, painstakingly painting white dots on large black guinea fowl figurines, polishing dappled vases, or weaving long grass through the edges of a decorative plate the color of polished onyx, were posters and framed renderings of Christian icons, including the Virgin Mary, who seemingly bestowed their blessngs on the artisans as they worked.

Muya is the first Ethiopian company to obtain membership in the World Fair Trade Organization and is deeply committed to social responsibility, Dubois explained. The weavers and other craftspeople employed by Muya make substantially more than their counterparts elsewhere, and the company helps enroll workers’ children in better schools. The company subsidizes its employees meals so that they can save their money and spend it to feed their families, and also runs a training program for female prison inmates, teaching them spinning, weaving, and other marketable skills so that when they’re released, they can better support themselves.

Dubois proudly introduced me to one of Muya’s “master weavers,” 24-year-old Solomon, who has worked at Muya for more than six years. The middle child of seven, Solomon told me about what weaving at the fair-trade company has meant to him — and his family.

“I am the spinal cord of my family,” Solomon, who grew up and still lives about 1 km from the Muya factory. “It’s not just me,” he said, explaining that the work allows him to support his parents as well as his siblings, three of whom are enrolled in university. His younger brother earned a degree in engineering and is now a teacher.

An obviously bright young man who is tremendously proud and grateful for the work he does at Muya, Solomon is also aware of the tangible effects of the global marketplace and efforts to level the playing field, such as AGOA, have on his life.

“I am grateful to the Europe and North America because now there is a market,” he told me. “I need to work, but I need a market, too.”

Listen to more of my conversation with Solomon below.

Muya’s products are not yet available for purchase online, but you can browse its collection HERE or at J.Crew.

FashionABLE’s scarves are available for order online HERE.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Last month, Cathleen traveled to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos, video and audio by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Categories: From, GODSTUFF, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Smell. Sip. Sacrament.

Of all the exotic aromas and experiences from my sojourn in Ethiopia, it’s the frankincense I miss most.

Not the puffs of smoke emanating from a thurible swung by priest walking the center aisle or blessing a high altar. What I miss is an even more specific scent: the unmistakable mélange of frankincense and roasting coffee beans over a charcoal fire.

Frankincense and slow-roasted beans are the sacramental elements of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony – a rite at once ubiquitous and quotidian, transcendent and sacred. (This is where I wish there were a digital scratch-and-sniff function so you could experience the aroma I’m describing so anemically.)

Everywhere we went in Ethiopia, without fail a coffee ceremony had been arranged meticulously to welcome and honor us. Such ceremonies, we quickly learned, are an integral part of Ethiopian culture.

According to

The long involved process starts with the ceremonial apparatus being arranged upon a bed of long scented grasses. The roasting of the coffee beans is done in a flat pan over a tiny charcoal stove, the pungent smell mingling with the heady scent of incense that is always burned during the ceremony. The lady who is conducting the ceremony gently washes a handful of coffee beans on the heated pan, then stirs and shakes the husks away.

When the coffee beans have turned black and shining and the aromatic oil is coaxed out of them, they are ground by a pestle and a long handled mortar. The ground coffee is slowly stirred into the black clay coffee pot locally known as jebena, which is round at the bottom with a straw lid. Due to the archaic method used by Ethiopians, the ground result can be called anything but even, so the coffee is strained through a fine sieve several times. … The lady finally serves the coffee in tiny china cups [editor’s note: a cross between an Italian espresso cup and a Japanese sake cup] to her family, friends and neighbors who have waited and watched the procedure for the last half-hour. Gracefully pouring a thin golden stream of coffee into each little cup from a height of one foot without an interruption requires years of practice….

In most parts of Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony takes place three times a day — in the morning, at noon and in the evening. It is the main social event within the village and a time to discuss the community, politics, life and about who did what with whom. If invited into a home to take part, remember — it is impolite to retire until you have consumed at least three cups, as the third round is considered to bestow a blessing. Transformation of the spirit is said to take place during the coffee ceremony through the completion of Abol (the first round), Tona (second round), and Baraka (third round).

If memory serves, only once during our stay in Ethiopia did I have that third cup (and, it would seem, it’s accompanying special blessing.) I don’t know about blessing, but it did keep me especially awake and alert for the rest of the day (and much of the night.)

Ethiopian coffee is rich, spicy, earthy. It is also the nation’s primary export and foreign capital generator, topping $840 million in 2010. It’s said that the best Ethiopian coffee is exported and the lesser quality beans kept in country. That may well be true, but the coffee I drank in country was far better than any Ethiopian Yirgacheffe I’ve ever tasted at a Starbucks or similar purveyor stateside.

Maybe that’s because of how coffee is not just tasted and consumed in Ethiopia, but how it is experienced.

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Next to the small charcoal fire, over which the beans are roasted, is a vessel containing frankincense in its natural resin state. Frankincense comes from the dried sap (or resin) of the Boswellia sacra tree – a hearty tree that can grow in the most extreme conditions, in rocky soil, on cliffs and the steep sides of ravines.

One more than one occasion, the vessel holding the burning frankincense resembled a chalice, the kind we might find on a Christian altar during Eucharist, “Communion,” or (for lower-church folks) the “Lord’s Table.”

The first night we were in Addis Ababa, we went to a traditional restaurant in town where we happened to be seated next to the beautiful young woman whose job it was to continually prepare the coffee ceremony for all the customers. The aroma emanating from her little enclave [pictured at the top] was nothing short of intoxicating.

I kept leaning further in her direction until one of my traveling companions said, “Cath, let your hair down and just go over there and let the incense get all over it.”

I had tied my long, oft-unruly locks into a bun at the end of a long day. But like a penitent Rapunzel, I let down my hair, shook it out, and waved it over the incense.

Instantly I was reminded of the story from the Gospel of the woman (some say Mary Magdalene, who was, according to tradition at least, also a redhead) came to Jesus during a dinner, opened an alabastron of expensive oil (perhaps even frankincense, although more likely spikenard), anointed his feet (or his head, depending on which Gospel account you’re reading) with it, and weeping (or not, again depending on which account), wiped his feet with her locks.

The disciples were indignant about the woman “wasting” the precious oil on such an act. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

Jesus greeted his disciples grumbling with one of the most disconcerting and contentious verses in the New Testament when — according to Mark 12, Matthew 26, and John 12. I like Eugene Peterson’s The Message para-translation of John 12:8 the best of all the synoptic accounts, which translates the verse as:

 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

That verse has been used for centuries by many Christians to justify not working to alleviate poverty and its suffering. Jesus said we’d always have the poor, so what’s the point?

But I don’t believe that’s what Jesus meant. I believe he was pointing out that sometimes the choice is not between moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, but rather between moral and necessary.

Jesus knew he would be gone – physically, at least – soon. The woman’s choice to spend her precious oil the way she did wasn’t a moral choice. It was a necessity. She wouldn’t be able to do it later, after she’d helped the poor by selling her vessel of oil, because Jesus would be gone.

I can’t help but hear echoes of that in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Is it a moral, practical, or ethical choice to burn frankincense whilst roasting coffee beans by hand? Surely not.

But, the Ethiopians seem to be saying (without words), it is necessary. Because who knows when we’ll be together again? So let’s honor the time we have together, bless it, mark it as sacred – a sacred meeting of souls.

Back home in California, we recently purchased one of those one-cup-at-a-time Keurig coffee makers after running through two high-end traditional coffee machines in 18 months. (Two writers in one house equals a high rate of coffee consumption.) While I think it was the proper choice for us – we waste less coffee this way, and have bought one of those reusable pods so that we’re not always using recyclable-but-still-plastic-and-not-terribly-ethical disposable pods pre-filled with the coffee of our choice.

I brought home a pound or so of ground coffee from Ethiopia and we’ve tried to get the amount of grounds and water pressure just right to replicate the drink I’d had in Africa.

Nothing doing.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony a la Kuerig is too fast, too easy, and much too weak in myriad ways.

In coffee ceremonies back in Africa, the beans were ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. They’d be uneven. Chunky. When steeped, the coffee needed to be sieved over and over to make the final product perfectly potable. It took time, patience, and a practiced hand. It also required a different kind of regard for the act itself: the woman preparing the coffee wasn’t simply making a beverage. She was presiding over something humble and holy.

Two of my ONE Moms traveling companions — Asha Dornfest and Liz Gumbinner — toast each other with Ethiopian coffee in Addis Ababa last month. Photo by Karen Walrond for ONE.

Even if I could replicate the grounds (I do have a Le Creuset mortar and pestle that mostly serves as decoration on my kitchen window sill), and sieved the elixir until it was just right, it still wouldn’t be.

Why? No frankincense and all the sacred intention that comes with it.

But it doesn’t need to be so, I try to remind myself. It all depends on how I view the act — sharing a coffee with another person or a group of people, even if they’re just strangers biding their time before an early-morning flight out of LAX.

With or without incense, hand-roasted beans; steeped in an earthenware vessel, a French press, chrome percolator from the 1960s; served in tiny porcelain cups, big hearty mugs, or in a paper cup in the narthex of a church or in its basement at a 12-step meeting, coffee is a sacrament when it is shred.

Two souls. Two cups of coffee. One Spirit. And a sacred meeting, one sip at a time.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Last month, Cathleen traveled to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners unless otherwise indicated.

Categories: From, GODSTUFF, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Fiscal Cliff: Mommas Said Knock You Out

A young mother and her child outside a health post in rural northwest Ethiopia last month. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

By the time President Obama walked off the stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after delivering his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, pundits already were screaming HERE COMES THE FISCAL CLIFF!

And while it might have been a nice idea to take a collective breath after such a divisive election season before new screeching began, the pundits were not wrong.

Be warned: The Fiscal Cliff approaches. On Jan. 2, 2013, to be exact.

Now, I am many things, but an economist (or even a person remotely comfortable with numbers) is not one of them. So let me explain to those of you who are like me, in the simplest terms possible, what this proverbial cliff is all about.

In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis last summer, Congress and President Obama agreed to enter into negotiations to enact a 10-year deficit reduction package in excess of $1.2 trillion.

If an agreement could not be reached, a mandatory, across-the-board reduction in spending (also known as “sequester” or “sequestration”) would occur. All discretionary and entitlement spending — with a few exceptions — would be subject to sequestration.

Half of the reductions would be drawn from defense funding and the balance from non-defense and entitlement programs. The idea behind the sequestration threat was that it would make the political price so high for both sides that surely Congress and the president would find a common solution.

Unfortunately, no deal has been reached and the United States now faces said “fiscal cliff,” due to sequestration, the expiration of the 2001/2003 tax cuts, and the expiration of other large and expensive programs. There is little doubt that going over the fiscal cliff would plunge the U.S. economy back into recession.

So there’s that, i.e., nobody wants a recession. But we can’t fix this problem by increasing poverty — particularly among the poorest of the poor.

Many of you know that I recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia with ONE Moms, a project of the ONE Campaign that brought a dozen mothers from the U.S. and Europe to visit projects, funded by international aid (much of it from the U.S. and the U.K.) that have made significant and lasting impacts for good on the lives of women and girls.

Ethiopia is one of Africa’s greatest success stories in terms of turning things around after the devastating famine in the mid-1980s. You can read a bit more about that HERE.

Under sequestration, the U.S. foreign aid that has made such a tremendous difference in Ethiopia and in the lives of countless millions of desperately poor Africans (and others) is in grave jeopardy.

At the request of Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a report in mid-September outlining how it would implement the sequester. The program cuts are estimated to be:

  • Defense discretionary: 9.4 percent

  • Medicare: 2 percent

  • All other non-defense mandatory programs: 7.6 percent
  • Non-defense discretionary (including the International Affairs Budget): 8.2 percent

The foreign aid I’m talking about falls under that last category – the International Affairs Budget or IAB. Before I throw more numbers at you, it is important to understand that the U.S. budget for foreign aid programs, such as The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (aka PEPFAR), the U.S. government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative known as Feed the Future, and other global health initiatives (that have had such an enormous effect in turning the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa of a decade ago into “just” an epidemic) comprise less than 1 percent — only .75 percent to be more precise — of the overall U.S. federal budget.

In other words, we (the American people) are not spending very much on foreign aid to begin with, so cutting any of it is a big deal to the poorest of the poor, or the “least of these,” as Jesus so eloquently put it.

For the IAB, OMB estimates that the cuts would total about $4.7 billion in FY2013. No exemptions for IAB are anticipated and there is no flexibility permitted to protect certain programs (such as PEPFAR, Feed the Future, etc.) by cutting other programs more deeply.

Those $4.7 billion cuts would mean:

  • Global Health programs would be cut by $670 million from FY2012 levels.
  • USAID’s development programs would be cut by $207 million.
  • MCC would be reduced by $74 million.
  • Feed the Future agriculture and nutrition programs would be cut by $98 million.
  • Emergency food aid would be reduced by $120.2 million, and McGovern-Dole Food for Education by $15 million.
  • The 8.2 percent cut also would be applied to U.S. contributions to multilateral programs such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, and GAVI.

While we cannot predict exactly how cuts to IAB funding will play out in programs on the ground, we do anticipate that cuts of this magnitude would have a significant impact on international aid programs across the board that would only deepen over time. Sequestration would be applied through FY2021 — leading to continuing deep cuts each year. Congress would have to cut discretionary spending 5-8% each year for the next decade.

According to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), the effects of sequestration “on the ground” could mean:

  • HIV/AIDS treatment for nearly 400,000 people would not be available, potentially leading to 63,000 more AIDS-related deaths
  • 124,000 more children would become orphans by losing their parents to HIV/AIDS.
  • 112,500 fewer HIV-positive pregnant women would receive Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) services, potentially leading to more than 21,000 infants being infected with HIV.
  • 1.3 million fewer pentavalent vaccines for children would be available through GAVI, leading to 14,000 more deaths from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenza type B, and hepatitis B.
  • 2.5 million fewer insecticide-treated nets would be available, potentially leading to 6,500 deaths from malaria; and 3.6 million fewer people would receive treatment.
  • 88,000 fewer TB patients would receive treatment, potentially leading to 11,000 more TB deaths.
  • 1 million fewer families would have food security and income gains.
  • 690,000 fewer children under age 5 would benefit from U.S. nutrition programs and suffer decreased nutrition, many of them facing irreversible developmental damage (stunting) as a result.

We need to tell Congress that in any agreement on deficit reduction, programs (domestic and international) that serve the poor must be exempt from cuts.

Saving ourselves from careening off the fiscal cliff by throwing the poorest of the poor over first is simply not a moral option.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a statement released last year by the Circle of Protection about the urgency of protecting the poor and how our budgets are a direct reflection of the condition of our soul as a nation.

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up — how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected.


Click HERE to find your U.S. Representatives or Senators and tell them directly via email or phone.

Click HERE to send an email to the White House, or phone the White House directly at 202-456-1111.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Last month, Cathleen traveled to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners. Photos in the video by Karen Walrond for ONE.

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Ethiopia: How Foreign Aid Has Helped a Generation

A local woman walks past a field of corn, in a village near Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

LALIBELA, Ethiopia — You know the images you have in your mind of Ethiopia from 27 years ago? The ones from the nightly news reports on TV about the famine in the Horn of Africa as the death toll and horror stories grew.

Scorched, cracked earth. The carcasses of emaciated, dead cattle lying in the baking sun. Hundreds of thousands of stick-thin refugees wandering in the dust, hoping to have enough strength to make it to a camp that might have water and food. The babies and children with orange hair and distended stomachs — indications that they were in the advanced stages of malnutrition and starvation.

I am happy to report that the Ethiopia of 2012 is not the Ethiopia of 1985.

Thanks to global efforts (Live Aid, etc., back in the day), foreign aid, and the very real efforts of the Ethiopian government and people themselves, the land I saw earlier this month looks nothing like those old images in my mind. In fact, parts of the country that we traveled through were so verdant and lush — farmlands rolling out in various shades of green like a St. Patrick’s Day quilt  — that if you’d blindfolded me when I got on the plane and taken the blind of when I stepped of the bus in the rural area outside Bahir Dar near the Sudanese border, I might have thought I was in Ireland’s County Kerry rather than Ethiopia’s Amhara Region.

Ethiopia is beautiful. In every way. Its people. Its resilience. Its ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. In the way it cares for its land and its people, and the way they care for each other and their visitors. There is a spirit in Ethiopia I’ve experienced elsewhere only rarely.

In a word I’d call it HOPE. But it’s a hope not based on daydreams and fairytales. It’s a hope based in hard work, smart planning, and forward thinking.

The ONE MOMS/ONE MUMS group I traveled with to Ethiopia this month spent a few days out in the northwest of Ethiopia, visiting hospitals, clinics, agricultural collectives, demonstration farms, and a remarkable group of women bee keepers (but I’ll save that for a future post.)

What those few days in the Amhara region put regal faces, calloused hands, quick minds, strong backs, and busy feet to the statistics we hear so often about foreign aid to the developing world — Africa in particular — and what financial resources from the U.S., U.K., and the rest of the G8 (and their posses) can and cannot do on the ground half a world away.

Let me tell you what I saw: A lot. Epic change. Hope for the future. Plans to avert disasters — “natural” or human-made.

In 1992, the proportion of the Ethiopian population that was undernourished was 69 percent. Today, the percentage of undernourished Ethiopians is 41 percent. That’s still a lot of hungry people, but it’s a dramatic decline in 20 years. Infant mortality in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world (68 per 1,000 live births) — but that rate dropped 39 percent between 1990 (when the rate was 111 deaths per 1,000 live births) and 2010, according to UNICEF.

Ethiopia also has reduced the under-five mortality rate by 47 percent between 1990 and 2010.

“These achievements are largely a result of Ethiopia’s investment in a community health system and a cadre of 35,000 health workers who provide front-line care,” Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), wrote in the May/June issue of Frontlines magazine. In a nation where only 10 percent of births occur in health facilities, community health workers — skilled in birth attendance and equipped with affordable tools to save the lives of mothers and newborns — serve a critical role.

“But despite this significant progress, one in 11 children in Ethiopia do not live beyond their fifth birthday,” Shah wrote. “Development is full of problems we have few ways to solve. Helping children reach their fifth birthday is not one of them.”

Here are a few statistics (because I know some of you have an easier time getting your heads around numbers than stories) that speak to the challenges Ethiopia (and elsewhere in the developing world) still face:

  • In 2011, Ethiopia’s under-five mortality rate was 88 child deaths per 1,000 live births (and childhood mortality is higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas.)
  • 29 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 44 percent of all children in Ethiopia are stunted
  • Only one in every four children 12-23 months old has been fully vaccinated (according to 2011 statistics) — but that is a 19 percent increase since 2005.
  • Ethiopia has a high maternal mortality rate — 676 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2011.
  • In Ethiopia, 30 percent of all deaths of women ages 15-49 are pregnancy related, and only 34 percent of pregnant women receive post-natal (or antenatal, as they call it in Ethiopia) care from a skilled provider after their most recent birth
  • According to 2011 figures, the most significant barriers in Ethiopia that prevent women from seeking adequate pre- and post-natal care are the distance they must travel to the nearest health facility (66 percent), the availability of transportation to the health care facility (71 percent), and a lack of money (68 percent.)
  • 7.6 million children worldwide under the age of five die every year because they don’t have access to basic life-saving interventions such as vaccines and bed nets
  • 370,000 children are born every year with HIV, transmitted to them by their mothers

OK. So that’s the bad news.

But there’s good news, too, and lots of it, from what I witnessed in person across Ethiopia.

There is a new program, run by the Ethiopian government and funded by USAID, called the Integrated Family Health Program (IFHP). It’s a five-year program (begun in 2008) that ultimately is expected to reach half of the Ethiopian population with training and services to improve health practices both in individual households and in communities at large. One of the program’s big pushes is to get young children fully immunized. So, for instance, when a mother or parents come into a health center or outpost to discuss family planning — Ethiopia is encouraging the use of long-term contraception such as Depo Provera injections or sub-cutaneous contraceptive implants — their child or children can be immunized at the same time.

The USAID’s IFHP works side-by-side with an innovative program of the Ethiopian government itself called the Health Extension Program. The Ethiopian government had trained and salaried more than 35,000 health care providers — the vast majority of them women — and dispatched them to 286 districts in the country serving approximately 32 million people. Most of the people served by Health Extension workers live in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are few and far between. They go out to the villages and make old-fashioned house calls, providing services from prenatal exams and post-natal follow-ups to immunizations and basic health care needs.

I had the privilege of meeting some of the Health Extension workers and they are an extraordinary bunch. Young, ambitious, and seemingly tireless. Their work has been credited with the 28 percent decrease in under-5 child deaths, literally saving the lives of 560,000 children since 2005. Amazing.


Listen to one of my traveling companions, the marvelous British ONE Mums blogger Michelle Pannell (aka @michelletwinmum) talk about our visit to the health centers below as you view the slide show of my photos from that amazing day in rural, northwest Ethiopia.

At the end of 2011, a severe drought began in the Horn of Africa, leading Ethiopia’s neighbor to the east, Somalia, officially to declare a famine in June. The drought is believed to be the worst in more than 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people — echoing the emergency and images of the famine that struck Ethiopia in the mid 1980s. But this time, in Ethiopia, the story unfolded differently because of a safety net. After a severe drought hit the country in 2003, with the help of USAID and other foreign donors, the Ethiopian government launched a food security program — the Productive Safety Net Program.

This safety net “ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families,” Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, told Frontlines magazine earlier this year. “The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public works projects designed to improve communities as a whole.”

Watersheds and irrigation systems were built. Canals were dug, and schools and health clinics were constructed or rehabbed by workers who were at the risk of becoming food insecure. According to USAID, today, because of Ethiopia’s safety net program, 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way, and crises — like the famine of the 1980s — have been averted.

Our group visited a USAID-funded project — Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) — that compliments the Ethiopian government’s food safety net program in Lalibela, a rural district about 150 km from the urban center of Bahir Dar. The program, focused on women and their children, strives to improve nutrition and financial stability by teaching new agricultural and nutritional skills.

We visited what is called a “demonstration farm,” nestled in the verdant rolling hills and farmlands, where goat, sheep, and cow herders passed by on their way to and from pasture land. At the farm, ENGINE workers have planted new crops — such as beet root, cabbage, carrots, chard, and other greens — that are rich in nutrients and vitamins in the hopes of getting local mothers to introduce them into their everyday menus.

Women from the surrounding villages come to the farm for classes, learning about cultivation, nutritional values of the new foods, and, perhaps most importantly, how to prepare the vegetables ways that preserve their nutritional content best. This led to one of the more enjoyable outings of our sojourn in Ethiopia: a food demonstration where mothers (many of them with a toddler at their elbow and an infant nursing at their breast) watched as ENGINE workers showed them how to prepare the traditional porridge — a starchy staple in Ethiopian diets, particularly among children — with a nutritional and protein boost by adding legumes to the grains, and then stewed or chopped carrots, greens, beets, etc., to the mix to give it flavor and more vitamin power.

Baby food! It was so simple and yet so brilliant. By adding a handful of ground beans and a soupcon of Swiss chard and mashed carrots to the porridge, children would receive a complete protein in one dish.

At the end of our visit to the farm and baby food cooking demonstration, I was asked to say a few words to the villagers — mostly mothers and girls, but a few men looking on from a safe distance, too. I told them (in English, as a USAID guide interpreted for me) that while we may look different and sound different than they do, we are essentially the same. They are our sisters. Their children are our children. And we care for them, want them to be healthy, and succeed, just as we do our own children.

I said it was an honor  — a blessing, realy — to meet them, that we would share their stories with the rest of the world so that other mothers in other countries who are struggling to make ends meet, feed, and care for their children, would be encouraged.

And I told them that we would remember them and pray for them.

I hope you might join me in that effort, praying for their continued strength and tenacity, and giving thanks for the same. I also hope you will join me in reminding our politicians in this election season that U.S. foreign aid does make a difference. It saves lives. It changes whole communities and can help transform a whole generation.

Let’s do what we can to make sure foreign aid stays safe and that our budgets aren’t balanced on the backs of — or by mortgaging the lives of — the poorest of the poor.

Below you can see a few images from the farm and cooking demonstration.

They are such beautiful people — in every way.


Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

What Americans Think About Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Categories: From, GODSTUFF, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Americans Think About U.S. Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Children outside the Anbesame Health Center in rural northwest Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

In an OpEd that appeared on POLITICO Monday, Mike Huckabee, the former Republican governor of Arkansas, and Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas — who together co-chair ONE Vote 2012, a non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in the 2012 presidential election, wrote about the importance of maintaining U.S. foreign aid to the developing world that has helped make significant improvements in the health and sustainability of myriad nations, including many on the continent of Africa.

They wrote:

We recognize that Americans today are suffering at home from one of the worst economic recessions in modern history. We understand that there might be temptation to cut back on U.S. humanitarian programs and investments abroad. However, the cost of cutting back on such programs is not worth it. Not even close. It would affect too many peoples’ lives and damage American economic and national security interests at a time our world is more interconnected than ever.

It might come as a surprise to learn that less than one percent of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign assistance. It might even be shocking to discover that, despite this relatively small amount, these funds are literally saving millions of lives and improving the lives of many more millions of people.

For example, American investments in cost-effective vaccines will help save nearly 4 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea over the next five years. We’ve also helped to deliver 290 million mosquito nets to Malaria-stricken countries, and put 46 million children in school for the very first time. And thanks to the leadership of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, 8 million HIV/AIDS patients now have access to life-saving treatments, up from just 300,000 a decade ago, making an AIDS-free generation a real possibility within our lifetimes.

A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us.

Read the post in its entirety HERE.

Our friends at the ONE Campaign spent 48 hours asking everyday Americans what they thought about US Foreign Aid.

(Source: The ONE Campaign)

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Categories: From, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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