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

Hyperbole Magazine – Winter 2014 December 10, 2014

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


Hyperbole Magazine – Autumn 2014 September 8, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 07:22
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The latest magazine from VSO Ethiopia volunteers and staff.

**Hyperbole Autumn 2014**

Articles include information about Ethiopian New Year, surviving in Afar region, schools in Tigray, a volunteers’ lessons learnt, and the power of music and gardening.  Plus a lot more (including comic language moments, one of which is mine….).


Volunteer Stories June 23, 2014

Filed under: development — debzif @ 08:13

Recently there was a leavers workshop for all the volunteers who are soon to be heading home.  I happened to be in the office at the same time, and was lucky enough to have them share some of their amazing stories with me.





You can overcome and actually thrive, not just survive






I came to Ethiopia because I needed to regain my confidence after a stroke.  This place has healed me totally, to the point where people before my stroke now don’t know me.  They say I’m a different person, which I count as a success.  I’ve got myself back and the old me is here.  You can overcome and actually thrive, not just survive.





That was the first time they had ever seen a patient resuscitated and they did it completely themselves




One of the things that I’m most proud of that we’ve done in Hawassa is teaching all the nurses how to perform resuscitation, and to convince them that resuscitation actually works.  Many people think that CPR is futile in the developing world; why would you perform CPR if they’ve got so sick that there’s nothing you can do afterwards?   But actually the commonest causes of cardiac arrest are quite easy to treat here, there’s oxygen, fluids and antibiotics all available.  I think the thing that worked the best was doing training courses; we went through the reasons why a patient might become critically ill, how to assess them and how to resuscitate them.  They were working together and they got really into it and really loved it.

The nicest thing that I noticed was that one day there was a really sick patient I was dealing with, and across the way another patient went into cardiac arrest.  The nurses started resuscitating the patient straight away, correcting each other and showing each other what to do, and they were doing it really nicely.  The patient was successfully resuscitated and the nurses were amazed!  For many of the nurses that was the first time they had ever seen a patient resuscitated and they did it completely by themselves.  All day they were telling everyone what they had done, they were so proud.

This is a tiny change in the grand scheme of things, but by showing the nurses they can be really good and making them proud of their work, the care of their patients has improved.  For me, this has made my volunteering experience worthwhile.





if you help even one person in your time here, for me, that’s enough





I want to tell a story about an Ethiopia girl who I saw in hospital in Hawassa.  She had a cyst in the liver which had ruptured and spread into her lung where there was a lot of fluid.  She’d been in the intensive care unit for a period of 1-2 weeks on the correct treatment, but was not progressing in any way, shape or form.  She was becoming progressively more and more sick.  She was thin, malnourished and I had major concerns she wasn’t going to survive.  They don’t offer chest surgery in Hawassa, so she needed to go to Addis, and getting her there was both expensive and challenging, but we managed to organise it.  We ended up staying in the emergency department in the Addis hospital for 5-6 hours, desperately trying to get oxygen and a bed for her so she would survive.  Luckily she got admitted.

That was 6-7 months ago and about 2 weeks ago she popped back into the hawassa hospital to come and say hello, looking the picture of health.  She’d had 3 operations, they had cleared the infection, they’d repaired the defect in her diaphragm, and she was completely better.  For a patient who I fully expected to die, it was incredible for us, and to see her and her family again and to see her doing so well was really uplifting.

Going from that, and to the general scepticism that exists about development work, there’s a lot of emphasis on measuring outcome, but for health volunteers certainly, if you can make the difference to one person’s life, I don’t know how you can ever measure that outcome so that you can send a report to a development agency.  But even if you help even one person in your time here, for me, that’s enough, and that makes the whole volunteering experience worthwhile.


jenny (2)



I know that many Ethiopians appreciate what VSO has achieved within this agency, and I know it makes a difference in Ethiopia




Almost 10 years ago, a volunteer called Bob Campbell teamed up with Dr Tesfaye, who is still the director of the Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency, which looks after evaluation and development of HE across Ethiopia.  He started a placement to found this agency.  It’s the first time in Ethiopia that such an agency has been brought into existence.  He laid down the very best kind of foundation stones and he’s spoken of in terms of very high praise by everyone in the agency, and everyone I’ve encountered in HE across Ethiopia who’s ever met him.  His working practices have continued to this day, and I would say they constitute the best, the most efficient, the most productive approaches to work, that I’ve come across in 2 years in Ethiopia.

The task that this agency is undertaking is a huge one; the rate of expansion of HE in Ethiopia has been astronomical – in 15 years they’ve gone from 3 universities to 35 universities, and over 70 colleges, some of which have university status also.  So understandably, the quality has taken a serious dive, and everybody acknowledges that.  So this agency that aims to extend the relevance of the programs that these universities offer and assure the quality of the education that they provide, is really crucial.

So I want to pay tribute to my VSO colleague Bob Campbell, and to two or three other volunteers who have contributed in the ten years also, and say how much I appreciate what VSO has achieved.  I know that many Ethiopians appreciate what VSO has achieved within this agency, and I know it makes a difference in Ethiopia.





they’re all working towards bringing more engineers into Ethiopia




I’m Ted Murray and I work up at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology.  I was asked if I could make contact with the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London to work closely together to develop engineering ideas in Ethiopia.  I was also asked to see if I could recruit more engineers.  I contacted the African representative of ICE.  I eventually contacted Bryan Dacal who is the area manager for Africa.  It turns out, he used to be a VSO volunteer!  I asked him where he worked, and he said Addis Ababa!  It turns out I am now living in the house he lived in while he was here!

Because he’s had this contact with VSO he’s keen to work with them, and we are arranging meetings in Nairobi with the ICE president, other African Civil Engineers associations, VSO, and a component of the United Nations might also be present.  Things look like they’re progressing, so they’re all working towards bringing more engineers into Ethiopia as well as other parts of the world.  It’s all working towards the ethos of ICE which is primarily that engineering is the improvement of society, for people.



Hyperbole Summer 2014 June 9, 2014

Filed under: culture,Out and about,work — debzif @ 13:20
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Want to read about what it’s like to work in a hospital in Ethiopia?  Or a knitting club in an Ethiopian university? An interview with the Deputy Country Director of VSO?  Or what it’s like dealing with celebrity status as a ferenji every day?

Here is the latest edition of the VSO-Ethiopia magazine!  Click the link below:

**Hyperbole Summer 2014**

Some of the articles probably might not be of interest to those of you outside Ethiopia/VSO, but I hope some of the articles will be.  Full contents on the first page.

Happy reading!



Changes June 8, 2014

Filed under: work — debzif @ 18:56
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A quick post – in a recent VSO Education (and IT) workshop, we were asked to think about the biggest change that we had made in our placement.  In the picture, on post it notes, are our answers.  You might have to click on it to zoom in and scroll around.

Although I like the one that says getting students to shout “hello” rather than “you!” (well done that person – difficult change!), my main favourite is definitely “not brought about any change – yet!  Need to acknowledge that change takes time”.   Not that we shouldn’t try, and there are some great changes being seen around the country, (lots, actually) but if we perhaps expect to make ground breaking shifts in our short time here, then we may well leave disappointed.  Changes are and will be happening, but attitudes and reasoning and learning most definitely take time.



Anti-Aid? Pro-VSO! May 13, 2014

Filed under: development — debzif @ 12:54

Anybody even vaguely interested in international development will have no trouble coming across the plethora of arguments about aid.  There’s enough reading material to last you about a gazillion lifetimes.  There really is no such thing as an easy solution of “helping the world”, or even a full agreement if it’s actually a good thing to do.  Of course it’s a ridiculously complex issue, but by living in one of the highest receiving aid countries in the world, I have come across and seen first hand some of the problems that ‘trying to help’ can actually cause.

**HOWEVER!**  I do, fully, support VSO.  Of course, as with anything, there are pros and cons with it, I know it’s not perfect, and I also realise I’m probably a little biased.  But here’s why I think it’s a positive form of development:

–          Volunteers, not money – It doesn’t give handouts.  To the occasional dismay of locals, we don’t come with our pockets brimming with cash or materials.  VSO sends volunteers to work with the local community.  We want to work, and we encourage those around us to work also.  This hopefully means we don’t foster a culture of being handout dependant, or give materials that no one actually knows how to use.

–          Local knowledge – We live and work with locals, in the local community.  We get to understand exactly what factors are at play, and listen to the colleagues who often have more insight than us when working on projects.  We can see for ourselves exactly what works and what doesn’t in practice.  The real world is often much more complicated when you get to know it, and programs designed from an office in the capital don’t always work because they don’t know all the ins and outs.  But we do!

–          Living like a local – as volunteers, we’re not “paid” but thankfully we get an allowance to live on – I think being self-funded is a massive sacrifice.  However, we don’t “earn” like other NGOs, we receive enough to live a basic life only.  Although it would be nice to drive around in a flash car and live on imported food, I think the fact that we don’t means that we get to know the area better.  We meet more local people, get to know the difficulties, frustrations and also benefits of living a local life, and I think, at least hope, that the locals appreciate us more because we do in fact live like they do.  We also don’t cause chaos to the local economy by paying ridiculous amounts for local produce, meaning the price goes up, so locals can no longer afford it.

–          No hidden agenda – volunteers are recruited from a whole range of different countries (UK, Netherlands, Kenya, Philippines, China, Ireland…) with no criteria of age, sex, or religion.  VSO is not promoting a particular viewpoint or philosophical standing, other than that of fighting poverty.

–          Long term projects – not all, but most projects are long term, meaning that volunteers can really get to know the people, the place and what and how things can realistically be changed within that time.  More so than with shorter projects at least.

–          Skills and attitude – volunteers undergo quite a lengthy assessment process.  We’re professionals in our careers, and need relevant skills and knowledge that may useful within the placement.  Also though, is the necessity to fulfil personal criteria of flexibility, sensitivity to others and willingness to learn.


Famous Friends June 18, 2013

Filed under: work — debzif @ 18:25

VSO Ireland recently came to Ethiopia, and met with three VSOers here.  Together they made some short promotional videos, advertising the work they do here.