HOPe in Ethiopia Video Promo

HOPe in Ethiopia — This short video looks back on the people I encountered on my trip to Ethiopia and highlights the important projects HOPe funds.

The articles that follow highlight the many challenges facing Africa’s rural poor and puts a human face to the statistics. I feel privileged to have experienced the people of Ethiopia from this close and personal perspective. Thanks to everyone who helped out with the project and most of all, thanks to all the people who shared their stories. You won’t be forgotten.

HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia — Three Decades Later


Maura Kelly

ETHIOPIA: In mid-April I traveled to Ethiopia and zigzagged 1000 miles across the rolling hills and towns of the northern Amhara region on behalf of the HOPe Organization. I came here to better understand the current specter of HIV/AIDS and to assess an education and development project that HOPe funds with partners, CVM (Comunia Volontari per il Mondo) and APA (Aids Partnership with Africa). For the next ten days we visited convicted women in prison and met orphaned street children, reformed sex workers and young girls – many living with HIV. While we witnessed crushing poverty, we also experienced generosity and felt the hope and strength in the people we met.

The first case of AIDS was reported in Ethiopia in 1984. Now three decades later the impact of HIV/AIDS continues to tear away at the social fabric of the Ethiopian community. The country’s history of man-made and natural disasters: multiple wars, poor governance, famine and drought fueled the spread of the disease and kept resources at bay. According to USAID, Ethiopia has an estimated 2 million people living with HIV – one of the largest populations of HIV infected people in the world. The government has made some strides over the last decade but the Ethiopian people, especially the poor in rural communities still face high rates of death and disease.

Our guide and partner on the journey was Marion Lambert of CVM. An Irish-born nurse by training, Marion has worked in Ethiopia for over 30 years. Traveling with her around the countryside was akin to traveling in a time capsule. Everyday we encountered a parade of humanity on the roads. Barefoot women and girls carried enormous bundles of wood on their backs; boys balanced long eucalyptus branches on their shoulders, and shepherds guided their precious livestock to market. Life in Ethiopia has a unique rhythm and the people are in constant motion. But in this land filled with reminders of the past, communities are fighting for survival – fighting the HIV/AIDS crisis. “AIDS is like a drought in Ethiopia – it is an emergency,” says Marion Lambert of CVM. “People don’t pay much attention to HIV/AIDS if they don’t have food and shelter. All areas of development are involved in the pandemic.”

In the fight against HIV/AIDS, HOPe and CVM realized it was not enough to deal with the health consequences of the virus alone. They recognized HIV/AIDS is also an economic problem. With a total population of 73.9 million (50.5% male), Ethiopia is one of the 10th poorest countries in the world according to USAID and has an economy largely dependent on the agriculture sector. More than 80 percent of those infected in Ethiopia are between the ages of 20 and 49 – the country’s most economically productive age group. HIV/AIDS is also a gender and human rights problem. Often, women and girls are vulnerable to infection because of their low position in the community. Exploitation, early marriage, and abuse fuel the spread. When women and children cannot afford to eat, they are more likely to engage in sex work to earn money. And when children lose their parents and must look after younger siblings, they don‘t attend school. Then HIV/AIDS becomes an education problem. Clearly, HIV/AIDS is a significant contributor to Ethiopia’s systemic poverty on many levels.

From the onset, HOPe made a commitment to support a major initiative to educate, train, and empower the most vulnerable people in the community; namely women and girls, orphans and street children. Throughout our travels with CVM we saw a multi-sector development model in action – many years in the making. Each regional program was community centered with local ownership – in collaboration with the regional government, the Orthodox church, and local officials. The stakeholders worked together and HOPe and CVM played a key facilitator role. The success of the campaign was clearly in local hands.

For ten days we ventured into mud huts, shanty towns, and classrooms to meet people
who are reclaiming their lives. We witnessed the use of micro-loans to fuel small businesses, and the use of drama and peer education to promote AIDS awareness and prevent its spread. We listened to young housemaids who had dreams of  escaping extreme poverty and early marriage at home to earn a living in the city. One after the other, the girls recounted stories of abuse, exploitation and non-payment at the hands of their employers and family. To combat this human rights violations CVM helped organize Housemaids Associations (now legally recognized by the government) to empower girls to stand up for their rights, demand work contracts and time off.

One of the most memorable meetings we had was in Bahir Dar with Bishop Barnabas, the Orthodox Patriarch of the West Gojam Diocese. The Church is a major influence in the political, cultural and social sector and in 1994 Marian and CVM made a strategic decision to partner with its leaders. Our meeting lasted one hour and ended with a request for the church and priests to work with HOPe and CVM to help the housemaids. The Bishop, a saintly figure in his early 80’s quietly listened to the hardship stories that were happening in his diocese and without much hesitation said he would help. A day later the church spokesperson told us the Bishop requested a series of workshop for priests and deacons on the issues.

We visited rural women with AIDS who organized the Persons Living With HIV/Aids Association. Now they receive antiretroviral drugs and micro-loans to start small businesses. During one of the visits, I had the privilege of meeting Mebrat, a former sex worker who is now the proud owner of three sheep and two bicycles– all income generating. 45 year old, Merbrat used her small loans to buy the sheep to fatten up and sell for a profit, and she purchased two bicycles that she rents out. She now makes enough money to support her son and her orphaned nephew. Before joining the Persons Living With HIV/Aids Association, her life involved staying in bed all day. Today she has her dignity back, her health is stable and she is contributing to the community.

The trip started as a journey to evaluate the HOPe project and hear from the Ethiopian people. It turned into a greater understanding about what life is like for the millions of Ethiopians in rural communities fighting HIV/AIDS. The crushing poverty, the hospitality, the pain and the pride are images we will not forget.

HOPe-Charity (Helping Other People) is a humanitarian agency that works with extreme poverty in the developing world. For more information or to donate, visit www.hope-charity.org.

Photo 3 courtesy of A Davey

Working Girls

By Joe McCarthy

12 hours ago I left Ethiopia for Rome. We have a stopover here to unwind before the trip to the States. However, my mind is still in Ethiopia. A running panorama of pictures play and parade in my head. The poverty, the hospitality, the ongoing struggle are images seared into my soul.

In my last report, I mention that the most emotional and impactful experience I had was with the young women who were former housemaids and the “bar-girls” of Debre Marcos. We meet the former housemaids in a little hut. We stand in an empty room devoid of any chairs. The only furniture is a mattress on the floor. Garimone, our constant companion and interpreter, introduces us and tells them why we are here.

 Two of the young women have little babies about 6-7 months old tied on their backs. One young women with a baby recounts her experience, She tells us that the house in which she was “employed” was next to another house. A man who recently moved into the nearby house broke into the house, dragged her off and repeatedly raped her.

 As she tells her story in a quiet voice, she becomes embarrassed at sharing this horrible trauma. She begins to cry softly as tears stream down her face. The other housemaids begin to weep reliving their own devastating experiences. The second women with a baby shares her own heartbreaking, horror story. The babies on their backs are the result of these brutal attacks. Standing there I feel the need to say something. I struggle with my emotions and can barely speak. I simply say, “Our hearts are crying with you!” We stand in silence for a few minutes.

The silence is finally broken when an older woman says, “Now we have a new life!” They are part of an Association of Former House Maids who received training from HOPe/ CVM. The training consists of AIDS/HIV prevention, business skills, and micro-financing. They each receive a small amount of money and start their own ingera making business. Ingera, a staple of the Ethiopian diet, is a large thin-like pancake made from wheat like grain. Part of the instruction they receive teaches them the nuances of saving money in a cooperative banking enterprise. They live and work together, supporting each other in their new way of life. They are in a much better place and know it.

Late that night we go with Marian Lambert to meet and speak to the “bar girls” on the dirty, dust streets of Debre Marcos. Marian courageously advocates for their rights at all levels — from local to the highest regional and central, government offices. The “bar girls” who are basically sex workers willingly share their stories, fears and apprehensions. We see girls as young as 12 and on average – 18yrs old. Marian, in her quiet manner draws them out with her gentle questioning. The love Marian has for the young women is maternal and obvious.

 I look up at the foreboding sky above. A huge black cloud hangs over us. Lightning flares up in the sky on the horizon. Marian is oblivious to nature’s changing mood. Her focus is on the girls.

My journal would not be complete without saying something about Marian Lambert. She is the founder of CVM, a non government organization in Italy. She is from County Wicklow in Ireland and met her husband, an Italian man, while working in Ethiopia a number of years ago. She is a bumble bee of activity, constantly on the go, leading, supporting, encouraging and challenging. She has worked in Ethiopia for more than 30 years. Two of her three sons were born in Ethiopia. A nurse, by profession, she told me she felt called to do work in Africa. She has a Mother Teresa like persona. Gentle yet strong, determined and motivated, focused and driven are some elements that describe this remarkable women. Our adventure comes to an end! Thank you Marian!

Photo 1  courtesy of Hiro008



The Two Faces Of Addis Ababa

by Maura Kelly                                      

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (April 20, 2011) – It feels like we’ve been in Ethiopia for a month instead of 10 days. We’ve covered so much ground on this journey; experienced much beauty and witnessed systemic poverty. Today we are preparing for our departure to the US with a late night flight to Rome at 12:40am. We have the whole day to explore Addis.

Addis Ababa is Africa’s 4th largest city and the diplomatic capital of Ethiopia. It is also a city of contradictions. One Addis exists for the international businessmen who jet in to transact deals. World Embassies dot the skyline and honky tonk nightclubs full of rural sexworkers cater to the titans.  The other Addis is a bustling marketplace full of  day merchants who cater to the locals. Rural shepherd’s crowd the dusty streets guiding their livestock to the town center. This is where the poverty stricken majority resides. Cars and sheep, businessmen and street children live side by side in this incoherent metropolis.

As we drive around we see many homeless street children idling about. Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world – 4.6 million children – many of whom were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Many of them eventually make their way to Addis in an attempt to earn a living.

In Addis Ababa, according to a recent UNICEF report, more than 30% of girls aged 10-14 yrs are not living with their parents. 20% of these girls have run away from early marriages and 12% work as housemaids. Overall, they are young and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in a city that has little heart.

We decide to have lunch at the Sheraton Hotel; we hear it’s the best hotel in Addis. Upon entering the lobby its clear we’ve entered a parallel  world. A world of well dressed business leaders, Arab Sheiks and seasoned travelers. This elite establishment is outstanding and seems somewhat obscene in this environment. Our driver, Birmani tells us the hotel boasts several individual palaces on the grounds for visiting presidents and foreign diplomats. It is in stark contrast to the bristling poverty on the corner.

Lastly, as relates to CVM, it’s main administrative office for Ethiopia in is Addis. Run by Anna and a team of committed locals, all of the projects are planned and managed here. However, CVM  does not conduct any actual programs in the city. There are already over 45 NGO’s in Addis and Marian feels strongly that the need in the Amhara region is greater.

We already miss the people we’ve met along the way as we get ready to depart for Rome.


Hope for the Future

By Joe McCarthy

Today we begin to retrace our path back to Addis Ababa. Our first stop is at a hostel for poor rural girls. Twenty-one girls who have potential are selected from various towns. The lucky ones are identified by their teachers and with help from local leaders gain admittance. We visit with three girls in a tiny room that measures 8 feet by 8 feet. Two sets of bunk beds dominant the room, while a small table occupies the rest of the space. The room is so small that there isn’t enough room for everyone to sit. The room is sparse and primitive.

The girls tell us their heart wrenching story. Woven into their dreams is a melancholy account of their daily lives as students. Driven by a determination to succeed, they simply say they are here to study. The attractions of 21st century teenagers are not part of their daily existence. Though blessed to be in this primitive abode, one listens with a sense of how much we, as Americans, are so fortunate. The crushing sense of poverty and the fragile thread of hope that fills the room is palpable and moving.

The girls talk about their dreams of “going to university.” They proudly state that their favorite subjects are biology, chemistry and information technology. Although shy and tentative, all three girls speak English. My futile attempt to speak Amharic is a small effort to connect with the beautiful people of Ethiopia. These girls put me to shame.

Their social lives are non- existent. Although academics and study occupies their time, I have a strong feeling that social and emotional learning does not play a factor in their lives. We talk about their connections to their families and how often they get home. I sit stunned when each girl tells us how long it takes for them to get home. Their only way to get there is by the sole means of transportation that the majority of Ethiopians use each day: they walk!! One girl walks 8 hours, the second one 3 hours, and the third one 2 hours! After talking with them for about an hour, we join the rest of the girls in their classroom. They introduce themselves in English, tell us how old they are, and what grade they are in and then the ritualistic coffee ceremony takes place. We have participated in this age old custom on every stop, from the poorest farmer to the meetings with CVM staff. This warm, sensitive sharing is a fixture of Ethiopian life.

An exchange of information takes place. One revelatory moment occurs when two-thirds of the girls say they have lost their parents to the scourge of Aids. Every stop we make, the grim reaper of Aids rears its ugly and deadly scythe! The presence of this scourge dominates the discussion and continues to decimate the fragile flower of Ethiopian humanity.

Marian Lambert, who is the inspirational leader behind the many CVM initiatives in Ethiopia, challenges the girls to help each other, to work hard, and to focus on their goal: to get into university and come back and help other girls like themselves. I tell the girls “to dream their impossible dream.” I recount the success of Barack Obama, whose family came from Africa, and who is now president of the United States. I tell them his slogan was ‘Yes, we can!” I echo that refrain and they take up the chant of “E-challa” – “Yes, We Can in Amharic”!

The goal of hostel initiative (in pilot stage) is to increase the capacity of rural girls and provide them with an opportunity of education and support. Hopefully it will be successful and will be replicated throughout the Amhara Region.

Our next two stops provide another window into the lives of Ethiopian women: Housemaids, brutally treated, who have broken the shackles of serfdom, band together to start their own income generating business, making and selling ingera, an Ethiopian staple. We hear two stories of repeated rape and unexpected children by age 16 and our hearts break. Next we visit the “bar girls” who candidly tell us about the deplorable and degrading lives they live. These two encounters were the most emotional and heart wrenching of my trip. I will address these experiences in another report.

Photo 1 courtesy of Hiro008

Palm Sunday

by Maura Kelly

Today is Palm Sunday in Bahir Dar and the temperature is around 100 degrees. So far we have managed to avoid the mosquitoes using “Deep Woods Deet” (50% deet is recommended) in the evenings and consuming a daily Malerone pill to ward off malaria. Our hotel overlooks Lake Tana so we know the insects are out there.

Ethiopians like to refer to Bahir Dar as their Rivera with its wide boulevards, colorful orchids and swaying palm trees. Its proximity to Lake Tana with many mystical monasteries draws thousands of tourists yearly. However, with shanty towns right outside the hotel this is still a large poverty stricken area.

At 7:30am we venture out to St. Michael’s Church which is near the CVM office. The mass starts at 5:30am and will end at 9am. As we walk along the dirt road and enter the church grounds, we encounter hundreds of women, men and children cloaked in white from head to toe. Religion is a very important part of Ethiopian life. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church dominates with 50% of the population practicing Christianity; Muslims make up 32%. The Church continues to influence the political, cultural and social scene and that is why in 1994 Marian and CVM made a big effort to partner with its leaders. The Bishops and priests support has been critical to the success of the HIV/AIDS prevention and education program.

At 8am hundreds of people sit outside under trees and hundreds more huddle inside the actual Church. We are ushered up the stairs and given coveted seats just outside the door. It would be inappropriate for us to enter the main building. While there we spotted the Church administrator we met the day prior. He is a powerful gatekeeper who works closely with the Bishop on diocesan matters. We are thrilled when he tells us the Bishop has proactively taken up the housemaid’s plight and mentioned the issue at evening prayers the night before. He also tells us the Bishop is interested in conducting a workshop for the priests — to educate them on the issues and the work of the housemaids associations. This is positive news and we know his help will move the campaign forward.

In the afternoon we take a boat ride on Lake Tana, the largest body of ground water in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. While there we visit two amazing monasteries on two different islands — both built in the 13th century. Many wonderful conversations with the Monks who quietly guard the treasures unfold. Sunday was a much needed day to relax and reflect.

Photo courtesy of gkamin

Photo courtesy of Marc Veraat


Adventures in Bahir Dar

By Joe McCarthy

This morning I wake up to the chattering of birds outside my window. They provide a melodious, Ethiopian wake up call to start the day. Situated on Lake Tana, I look out my window and I am struck by the beauty of this azure, blue expanse of water. Flowers, trees and bushes create a Bronx Botanical lushness. This lake is Ethiopia’s largest, covering over 3500 sq.km. These waters are the source of the legendary Blue Nile and flow north, approximately 6000 miles to the Mediterranean sea.

We are in the city of Bahir Dar this morning, the capital of the Amhara Region. A city struggling to become more modern, it still has the feel of a 18th century town with flourishes of more modern times. However, the juxtaposition of cattle strolling the streets, goats darting between the occasional car, and tiny blue and white taxis competing with sheep, hens and donkeys gives the lie to this struggle to break free of the past. Some streets are paved, but most are dirt roads spitting up dust, pebbles and rocks as we shake, rattle and roll in our overland vehicle.

Today is Saturday. Our schedule today is more tourist-like and does not have the intense, packed full agenda of the past week. However, our first visit is with Bishop Barnabas, the Orthodox Patriarch of Bahir Dar and the West Gojam Diocese. He is dressed in black robes with a dash of purple. A silver cross hangs around his neck. His face, chiseled in ebony, is dark and gaunt. He has been fasting in the approach to Easter.

We quickly get into the reason for our visit. The Bishop has been working with CVM since 1994, as an integral partner to prevent the spread of Aids and to stop the discrimination of those with Aids and the HIV virus. Training of priests and deacons have been part of this effort. A major break through occurred a few years ago when they discovered a number of people dying from Aids who had stopped taking their medication. Literally, people were dying in the streets surrounding the churches thinking that the holy water they drank at church would save them. On the heels of this disaster, the Bishop was instrumental in getting the Holy Synod to publish guidelines integrating medicine with the holy water. Our meeting took about 1 1/2 hours and ended with our request for the church and priests to work with us to help the housemaids. He was quiet and listened and without much hesitation, he said he would help. The kindness and humility of the bishop was evident throughout the meeting. I left with a strong feeling that we were in the presence of a very holy man!

Then we head to the market. The bee hive of humanity is overwhelming. Vendors selling everything under the sun create a movie-like set, mirroring the ancient markets of biblical times. Haggling over prices is the currency of the day. I join the action and delight in the frenzy of the moment. Bloomingdales, it is not!

From the market, we journey to the Blue Nile Falls. We drive to the Blue Nile River and take a “boat” across the river. As I get on board, my auxiliary Coast Guard training kicks in. No life jackets, no safely lines, no anchor, just an open boat with poor propulsion, a disaster waiting to happen. However, being the intrepid travelers we are, we launch into the legendary Blue Nile River. Off the starboard side of the boat I spot a hippo lying in wait for the proverbial accident to happen. Submerged in the water like a deadly U-boat it waits for its prey. I say nothing to the others on board for fear they may panic and tip the boat. We finally reach the safety of the shore. I am greatly relieved!

Then we start our trek across the land heading for the Blue Nile Falls. We hear the falls before we see them. I feel like a goat without sure footedness trying to keep my balance. Then as we clear a rise we see the powerful, white blanket of water exploding downward crashing into the rocks below. One cannot be impressed with nature’s drumbeat of power! In Amharic, the name of the falls means “the water that smokes!”

I quickly lay down my bag and start to take pictures. I scamper closer and closer to the falls to capture its majesty and power. All of us are caught up in this dramatic landscape. Finishing video and picture taking, we return to our bags and find an invasion of fire ants crawling everywhere. I bend down and the ants start crawling up my hands, over my sneakers, and up my legs. I grab my bag and beat a hasty retreat, slapping the ants off as I run.

We return to our boat to repeat our passage across the Blue Nile. I don’t see the hippo, but crocodiles, lurking below the water are also known to prowl these waters! When we finally reach shore, I breathe a sigh of relief.

On our way back to Bahir Dar, one of our guides suggest we stop at a local house that sells their version of potteen, called aracke. After our rather adventurous afternoon, a spot of the local brew sounds good to me. We stop, receive a warm welcome from the family and extended family, and enjoy the warmth and conviviality of the local people. It is a day that will be etched in my mind forever!!

Photos courtesy of Marc Veraat via Flickr