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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ethiopia: Going to ends of the earth for clean water - on foot, if necessary

In late spring, HOPE International Development Agency completed a memorable health and sanitation education series in six communities in Dereshe, the southern district where for the last decade we have focused our efforts to bring clean water and basic health to Ethiopia’s poorest villages.

As we approached full clean water coverage for Dereshe district this year, the communities we helped were increasingly remote. The poverty in these villages is exacerbated by their geographic isolation; inaccessible by roads, they are forgotten the rest of the population. Whatever political voice the rural poor might have does not carry over these distances, and so villages furthest from urban centers tend to be the most neglected, the most destitute.

HOPE exists for the sake of the poorest of the poor—an overused expression, but in the case of these villages, a very apt one. Because of this, our Ethiopian staff were more than willing to meet the challenges entailed in serving these far-flung villages of the south.

In order to provide the villagers with the health and sanitation training that is such a necessary component of the clean water program, our training officers walked long distances over all manner of terrain. There are no roads to make the trips by car, and the people in these villages live up on hills and farm in the valleys below. So, in the words of one Ethiopian staff member, “climbing up the hills for up to 10 kilometers round trip for a day’s teaching was a regular day at the office for our staff.”

He went on to remark that “It is a testament to their commitment that they were able to complete their work on time. The equally impressive commitment and hard work of the communities was essential to the success of the project. Each community brought out up to 50 volunteers daily to contribute their labour. This community participation and sense of ownership is the cornerstone of our project.”

He is correct: without this spirit of participation, of passion, of commitment, the task of providing the poorest of the poor with a measurably higher standard of life would founder. We see this spirit again and again in our staff members as well as in the families that actually benefit from the work. It is something that never fails to secure our admiration—and gratitude.

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