As we headed out of BahiDar, with a car full of supplies, we drove for a few hours, taking in the stunning scenery. As we approached Mota, I could see a celebration in the distance. We stopped, and I approached the group cautiously. When the priests motioned for me to join them, my heart missed a beat.
Here are a few photos of our home here in Mota, Ethiopia.
Felekech Indriss (30 years old) lives far out in the countryside in a village called Fuchucha, within the Konso region of Ethiopia, too far from any school where she can be educated. When she heard that Mercy Corps was going to start a business education center near her village, she quickly signed up. Through the PROSPER Savings and Credit Co-op (SACCO) program, Felekech learned how to run a small business. Her education consisted of five to six days of training, then an extra four days of leadership training. Through hard work and determination, her skills grew, and today she is the treasurer of the savings and loan co-op.
For years, Felekech and her village friends used to spend any money they got right away, but now they have learned how to save it for future use. Many women from her village save money so that they can buy salts, grains, small livestock, small sheep and goats, fruit and other goods from far away in Konso, so they can sell them for a small profit in villages and at other markets.
As their business grows and after some training, women have the option to join the savings and credit co-op. They can present business plans to a review group in their region and if their proposal passes that review, they can then apply for a loan. A local Mercy Corps team, comprised of Ethiopian loan officers, reviews the plan and determines whether the loan is approved. Loans range from $60-180. One side benefit from this training is a welcomed surprise: the women say they are much more patient with solving problems with respect to their business….and at home.
In addition to her other duties, Felekech is also a Mercy Corps Volunteer Community Health Worker. She teaches the women of Fuchucha village about health education: sanitation, vaccination benefits, and overall maternal health. The village women learn how to better organize their homes, balance their meals with various nutrients, and how to store their food to prevent contamination.
Since Felekech is spending more time with her small business and other responsibilities, Mercy Corps donated a fuel efficient stove to the Fuchucha village. These stoves have a 50% fuel efficiency improvement over burning wood. They also need less fuel, which means less time a woman needs to spend gathering wood.
Felekech, we are honored to meet you. You are a great influence to many.
Within Mercy Corps’ PROSPER program, the Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) project brings much confidence to women in the Konso district of Ethiopia. Once a woman has saved a small amount of money, she is able to join the savings co-op and become eligible to apply for small business loans.
Kanessa Ayano, 24, owns a shoe making business and through her Mercy Corps facilitated business classes, she has learned how to increase her profit margins by creating an enhanced product which has created a stronger demand for her shoes. The original shoe was made entirely from tire rubber. Now, she is using discarded skins from animals after harvest to make more decorative sandals.
She has also expanded her inventory to include belts and bag straps, which are also sold at the market. Kanessa is happy to report that her village cannot keep up with the demand, so they are looking at employing more people from neighboring villages. Kanessa works five hours each day making shoes, and she is very proud of her village’s ability to create something that many people love to wear.
In the Melega Dugaya village in the Konso district in Ethioipia, women take part in learning how to read and write by a Mercy Corps Livelihood Project learning facilitator. They begin by learning how to write their names, how to form numbers on a page, and how to perform simple arithmetic. This learning beginning only fuels their desire to learn more, and they repeatedly ask to learn higher levels of reading and writing. They especially want to learn how to create their own business name and know how to write it on papers, signs, etc.
Through the same Livelihood Program, many women are learning how to run a small business and how to save and re-invest earnings. They express joy that they can now read the numbers in their savings account, whereas before they had to rely upon others to relay this information.
They sit in the shade and practice writing for one hour each day, for five days a week. This is usually done in the morning, well before their daily chores begin. While they do this, their older children take care of the younger ones in order to support their mother’s education.
Mercy Corps facilitates fourteen of these learning groups in the Konso district in Ethiopia. The groups are still in a pilot phase, but each group we visited were clearly passionate about their learning, and their enthusiastic thirst for more advanced topics was apparent.
Some of the women’s children have been exposed to a bit of education. When asked about how the children feel about their mothers being educated on reading, writing and math, one woman, Korate Sagoya, was quick to answer: “My children asked me if I really was still in the first grade! They tell me: Be strong. You can do this.”
Our interpreter, a lovely man named Fasil, is attentive, knowledgeable and kind. He is a student at Arba Minch University, studying hotel and tourist management. He is also the first born of his family, and this carries great responsibility for his family, and his entire village. A village will invest in one person to get educated, and then this person must “bring good things” like schools and sources of income to the village. Fasil lost his father to a territory battle several years ago, and he takes his responsibility very seriously.
He also knows that it is unlikely that he will find a job when he graduates. His desire is to work in a city so he can send money back to his village.
His name is Mekkonen, and he is the village leader of a small village named Dorze, near Arba Minch, Ethiopia. He lives at the entrance to the village, where his parents and grandparents and great-parents lived for many generations. He shows the interested occasional visitor how the village uses every part of the enset (false banana) tree: for making bread, furniture, weaving roofs for their houses. I find myself lost in thoughts about how wasteful we are in other parts of the world. Imagine taking one tree in our yard, and using every last piece of it for food, shelter, comfortable chairs, food containers, and planting another tree to take its place.
The Dorze people are renowned for their cotton weaving and their tall beehive-shaped dwellings that resemble an elephant’s face. They speak an Omotic tongue, similar to languages in the Lower Omo valley, and are believed to have occupied their present highland land for at least 500 years. Every Dorze compound contains at least one loom which is constantly by a family member. The shama cloth produced here is regarded as the most desired in Ethiopia.
The Dorze house is unique to the world: the domes measure up to the equivalent to a two-story building and are constructed completely by organic materials. The base and frame aren made from bamboo sticks, with a combination of enset leaves and grass woven around the bamboo scaffolding. The spacious interior has a center fireplace for cooking and generating heat in this high mountainous climate. Around the perimeter, separate areas are set aside for sleeping, housing animals (which also generate heat), and cooking.
One Dorze hut can last a few generations. However, as termites eat the bottom perimeter or it rots from the rain, the bottom must be cut off, which lowers the size the the dome. The older the dome, the smaller it is.
Mekkonen shows us his traditional tribal wear, which is mainly used for dances and performances these days. In earlier days, it was worn for fighting or to intimidate others. Animal skins, donkey hair, a spear and a shield made from hippo skin comprise the look. Indeed, it would scare me away.
I tell Mekkonen that I don’t want the typical tourist photo…that I want to represent what really goes on in his village. The true day, the true people. He seems to like this, and jumps in our vehicle and directs us to the church. There, we encounter a Timkat celebration, and we find ourselves swept up in the joyous celebration. My trust in Mekkonen soars as he guides us about, keeping people from mobbing us. Soon, he is carrying some of my gear, and dancing vigorously at the same time. When I get a better internet connection, I will upload a video of this!
Mekkonen then takes us to a bar, where we are quickly engulfed by spirited dancing and drinking of “dej” (often spelled “tej”), a very potent drink that is served in glasses that look like beakers. Cheers, indeed!
The plane touches down in a chaotic fashion, jarring us forcefully in our seats, and waking me from a jet lag stupor. Arba Minch’s airport is small and seemingly vacant. We watch as a few men come toward the plane; doors are opened and we disembark into steaming hot air. We stream into the airport silently – no one wants to talk much in this heat – and we wait for our luggage.
Once the baggage cart is filled with all of the luggage, we are amazed to see that there is no vehicle to carry the cart to the airport. Instead, the two men we saw earlier take off in a running start and push the cart over toward the terminal, picking up considerable speed when they hit the small hill that is in front of the door. Wow.
We arrive at our hotel only to find out that our reservations were not in place, so we set about finding another place. We follow a young man who says he knows of a place, and we quickly find ourselves walking on the main street, carrying our gear, dodging trucks, tuk tuks, goats and motorcycles. Several feet turn into yards which turn into…..”How far away is this hotel?” We finally reach it, and instantly feel uncomfortable. It very well could be that our expectations have not yet leveled from our comfortable lives in the states, but this “small compound” with its indifferent proprietor and couches filled with staring men did not seem like a good option. And it was oh so hot in the barren and stale smelling rooms.
Being Timkat holiday, we know our options are slim. We reluctantly throw down 200 birr ($12) for our first night’s stay. To find a cooler place to relax, we ask our tuk tuk driver to take us up to a lookout point near Paradise Lodge and we soon find ourselves in truly a paradise haven. Standing on the edge of a mountainous cliff, overlooking treetops on the edge of the Rift Valley with views of lakes Chamo and Abaya in the distance, I get an urge to fly. I want wings! Birds whip past, taunting us with their abilities, beckoning us to join them. I wish I could.
We are told that there are sleeping rooms available on the cliff down the road, and we excitedly ask to see if any are available. Indeed, for a mere 300 birr ($18) per night, this paradise can (and will) be called home for the next four days.