Debbie goes to Ethiopia! A VSO volunteer in Assosa. Here is my blog.

Besu Eji Microfinance January 14, 2015

Filed under: development — debzif @ 15:40

One thing I learned and experienced a lot while living in Assosa, was seeing the impacts and effects of international aid organisations, both positive and negative aspects.

Two very close friends of mine run a non-profit microenterprise development organisation in Assosa, which I personally think is one of the most influential ways of helping people to develop their lives. They give interest free loans to people who don’t have the assets to access banks, and the money helps them to develop their own businesses. This is a video of their organisation, giving more information on what they do, and the clients’ stories.

You can find out more on their website


Power and Possibilities December 14, 2014

Filed under: development — debzif @ 14:07

I’m very proud of being a VSO.  I love the fact that as a volunteer, we live in and among the community, getting to know it, and living similar (ish) lives to many of the locals.

It’s now though that I feel the real imbalance.  The mere fact that I am leaving, is a huge possibility for me that’s not a possible reality for others.  I can get a passport.  If I work hard I can afford to book flights.  I am not restricted on how many USDollars I can take out of the country.  Other countries will open their doors to me, often with few questions asked, and I have a multitude of countries that I can live and work in.

This is not the case for many Ethiopians.  And saying good bye to some of them is devastating – meeting them again is dependent on me coming back, there are many that don’t even have email.  I’d love to be able to give to them what they have given so kindly and freely to me over the past 2 years:  I’d show them around the UK, invite them to my house, meet my friends, introduce them to new and exciting food, show them a different way of life that they’re not used to, and discuss the strangeness of it all.

But, most likely, they’ll not get the passport, they wouldn’t be able to afford the flight, the country will limit what foreign currency they can take out of the country, and the chances are, they wouldn’t get the visa anyway.

Freedom, power and possibilities.  It’s a lottery where you’re born – sometimes I feel like I won it, simply by being born in UK.


Hyperbole Magazine – Winter 2014 December 10, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 10:50
Tags: ,

**Hyperbole Winter 2014**

Above is the link for the latest VSO Ethiopia Magazine.  Some of the articles include:

  • International Volunteer Day
  • A visit from the Irish President
  • A day in the life of a Volunteer Obs Gynae Doctor
  • Setting up a dairy farm business
  • Addis Ababa from the perspective of a newbie
  • Bolivia and Ethiopia – similarities and differences
  • Plus much much more……..!!!!!!

This was my last edition as one of the editors, sad times!  I’ve really enjoyed working on it, good luck for the future, team!


NICUs December 4, 2014

Filed under: development,work — debzif @ 08:10

The two biggest areas that VSO work in are health and education.  I’ve always held heath professionals is very high regard, but even more so while living in Ethiopia.  There is such a need for improving the current available health care – sickness and death are most definitely not uncommon, especially for things that we in the UK might consider completely treatable, or at least not life threatening.  I imagine it must be so frustrating for volunteers to see the available resources and the standards of care.  In education, if there are no resources and the classroom is under a tree, at least noone dies.

Adigrat - NICU (19)On the positive side, I recently was super lucky to be able to go and visit some fantastic work that VSO have been supporting.  I should probably explain what a NICU is (I didn’t know for a long time…) – it means Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Basically, a place for premature or sick babies to go and recover.  VSO have helped set a number of these up across the country, providing both the equipment, as well as volunteers to give training to the staff in the hospitals.

I visited two newly established NICUs in the north of Ethiopia, in Axum and Adigrat.  It was incredible to be able to speak to the nurses, the doctors and the hospital management, and hear them talk about their work and the changes they’ve seen.  It was also amazing to be able to see the current baby patients, and chat to the mothers in the next room.

Axum MD Zekarias (3)Zacharias, Medical Director of Axum Hospital: After we established the NICU, the neonatal mortality rate has reduced a lot, with improved neonatal morbidity and mortality rates.  Another impact is the reduced rates of infection transmission. Before, the neonates were cared for in the same room as the other children, where infections could be more easily be transmitted.  Now that the neonates are cared for separately in the NICU, this has reduced infection transmission to new born babies. The training that has been provided alongside the establishment of the unit has had very positive changes.  Previously, the babies would have been cared for by nurses with general medical training, but now the nurses in the NICU have had specialist training in managing NICU patients. We are now able to manage the patients better. The successes in the NICU have been recognized across the hospital, and have been a springboard for changes in other departments, as they can see the gaps in their own care provisions.  We have built a new recovery room and an adult ICU so that we can provide similar care for other patients.

Axum - Nurse SelamSelamawit, NICU Nurse: I graduated a year ago, and after 8 months was transferred to the NICU when it opened.  The training given by VSO was very worthwhile.  When you treat babies for the first time, it can be a little scary.  The training was really nice to see some new things.   It has changed my position, and has made a lot of difference.  The NICU has had such a positive impact.  It must seem like an exaggeration, but really, this is doing a really really good job, it’s saving a lot of babies that could be dead.  

Axum - Ngisti and baby (3)Axum - Ngisti and baby (8)Ngisti is one of the mothers whose baby is currently being looked after in the NICU.  Nigisti required an emergency c-section to deliver her twins despite her being only 31 weeks pregnant. She gave birth to 2 twin girls, both weighing 1.3 kg. The twins were transferred to NICU where they received treatment for prematurity, low birth weight , breathing difficulty and infection. Unfortunately, one twin died on day 2 but baby Fana battled through. She had a turbulent course, where she required another course of antibiotics and developed a suspected bowel infection. However, she is now 22 days old and is able to breastfeed, but still needs support from the incubator to maintain her temperature.  Ngisti is very grateful that Fana has a survived this far, and is praying every day for her to make it home. She is staying in the Kangaroo Mother Care room, and the dad visits regularly, despite having to stay at home to look after the other children. The family is very happy and grateful for the care and support received from the NICU, and are just hoping to take Fana home soon.


New and Shiny November 24, 2014

Filed under: culture,development — debzif @ 18:47

I went to the shop, and I bought………..apples, grapes, red and green peppers, green beans, courgette, and watermelon.

Nope this isn’t a vocab memory game.  Yes, I actually did buy those things.  In actual Assosa.  I have never seen any of these items in Assosa ever ever before! And suddenly there they all were, all together, shining happily in the shop, ready for me to buy them.

For those of that are reading this in the UK, this might not be of great interest to you, especially if your Tesco home delivery has just arrived.  But I think anyone in Ethiopia, (outside of Addis), understands how exciting this is.  I presented the items one by one to my housemate, who started to scream and jump up and down at the first item, increasing in energy and pitch until both of us were on the brink of delirium.  That’s just how exciting vegetables are!

But actually, it’s the whole of Assosa that’s going under refurbishment and renewal, with new and shiny things popping up all over the place.  The reason is, in 2 weeks’ time, there is a massive celebration called Nations Nationalities Day.  Ethiopia has more than 80 different “nationalities”, and once a year, representatives of all get together in one place, and celebrate their individual cultures.  This year it is being held in Assosa.  Which is very exciting!  But Assosa also has to be ready for it.

A massive new stadium is being built.  Every wall and fence is being given a new coat of paint.  The roads are being resurfaced.  There are flags adorning the roundabouts.  There are lines being painted on the roads, including zebra crossings, and police blow a whistle at you if you don’t cross in the right place.  Rubbish is being burned everywhere.  Weeds and gardens are being tidied.  The central reservations have been given a proper barrier, with painted concrete barriers and trees and even lanterns in the middle.  At night, there are moving fairy lights that look like falling rain.  Massive four storey hotels are being built and painted in record time, and stand proud , dressed up and ready to go, above the skyline.

It’s all very exciting – off the charts of my excitements post, and I should definitely have waited to photograph the walls, they’re so much better now!  Nobody quite knows whether the renovations will stay and be upkept  after the celebrations.  It’s fascinating seeing the changes.   Easing me back into how life will be in UK in a few weeks? Or making the reasons to leave fewer…


Awra Amba November 7, 2014

Filed under: development,Out and about — debzif @ 19:41

On the road between Bahir Dar and Gondar is a small community town called Awra Amba.  If you ask many Ethiopians about this community, they perhaps know the name or have heard about it, but maybe are questionable and unclear as to what it actually means or stands for.  Perhaps suspicious of it, also.

The reason is, this village is so different from the reality of life in the towns and villages in the rest of Ethiopia.  As soon as you enter the village, especially as a foreigner, you can feel the difference immediately in the atmosphere and way of life.

The village is basically a cooperative of people living together alongside the following five principles:

  1. Respecting the right to equality for women.
  2. Respecting children’s rights
  3. Helping people who are unable to work due to old age and health problesm.
  4. Avoiding bad speech and bad deeds, such as lying, theft, insulting, cursing, quarrelling, killing, conflict etc. Instead improving practices of cooperation, peace, love and good deeds in general.
  5. Accepting all human beings as brothers and sisters, regardless of their differences.

These principles are lovely.  And I guess not too far removed, if at all in fact, from the ideologies of the principles in villages all over Ethiopia.  But it’s the practice that is different.  The village is still Ethiopian, in the scenery, the look of the people and the town, the style of houses and things like that – for some reason I expected something radically different.  It is recognisably ethiopian, but somehow also has a radically different feel.  The two main noticeable things for me were the status of women, and the role of religion.

Firstly, the role of women and men.  There’s no doubt that across Ethiopia, men and women have different roles within the community.  But in this village, there are no clear roles, and, as they say themselves “we should avoid work division based on gender and rather divide work depending on our ability”.  Not only is this well said, but in our brief visit, it seemed that this was in practice, also.

The second most noticeable thing for me was the impact of religion.  Religion and religious beliefs, and strict and outward showings of faith I think are an inherent part of daily life of many/most of the people where I live.  Although I thought, (and Bradt states) that Awra Amba is an atheist community, I don’t think it actually is.  It states it believes in one creator, (current world religions just assigning a range of names), and questions the need for a place of worship if that creator is omniscient and omnipresent.  Belief and praise to the creator is “conveyed by doing good deeds”, and living to the golden rule (which is present in most major religions across the world) of treating others how you would want to be treated yourself.

Other noteworthy things include the weekly community “charity-day”, where everybody able in the community works, but the money earned goes to support people who are unable to work.  There is an elderly support centre where the elderly can live and rest and be looked after.  Another interesting thing was a specially designed stove for each house, made of local materials, but designed to be fuel efficient, reduce smoke in the living space, and be safer for wandering young children.   There was also a fabulous library.

The man behind the idea of this village is Zumra Nuru, who apparently questioned the things mentioned in the 5 principles at the young age of two.  He is still alive and living in the village and it’s very impressive what he has established; it would be interesting though to see what happens to the village when he dies, but I hope, and think, that the community is now well established for it to continue.

I’d love to spend more time in the village, perhaps as an Ethiopian speaking fly on the wall, finding out somehow what the current residents truly truly think of it.  There’s a great information book about the village you can buy for 25 birr, where it details things such as no big marriage ceremonies, and the expectations of limited grieving periods after bereavement – I’d like to know how these pan out in reality.  I’d also like to know what other Ethiopians think of it, being so different in practice to their usual daily life – I think the lack of overt religion would be something difficult for many to deal with.  But for me, as a visitor, it was warm, welcoming, calm, friendly, hospitable, and very very interesting.


Educational Language Policy September 24, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,work — debzif @ 14:01
Tags: ,

This is similar to a post I’ve written before, but I find it so interesting I’ve written about it again…..

There is a big drive in Ethiopia right now for supporting mother tongue.  There is also a drive for English.  And Amharic is used somewhat throughout.  This is a complicated system, with the requirement to learn three languages (3 at least – many areas have a number of different local languages used for different levels of society) really to succeed.  It is also difficult for schools and governing bodies to manage, with money needed to promote each of the three.  I have spoken before about English Language Improvement Centres in schools.  There are now many Mother Tongue Improvement Centres in schools.  Perhaps one day there will be Amharic Improvement Centres also; it’s definitely a need as many don’t speak it, yet it’s the language of the government and national administration.

Imagine this – you speak one language with your family, you hear a different language on the tv and see it in the newspapers, and you go to school and have to learn all subjects in another language entirely.  Put differently, as I’ve often seen, you’re in class learning and the book is in English, your teacher is explaining it in Amharic, and you’re discussing about it with your friend in your mother tongue.  (And you’re only eleven years old.)

So what should be the language within the schools?  This is by no means exhaustive of all of the pros and cons of each language, but should give a little insight into how complicated language policy in education can be.