by Kristie McLean
In October 2010 I traveled to Ethiopia with SalaamGarage to profile the childbirth injury of Obstetric Fistula. I was touched by the stories that I heard at Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa and by the Ethiopians whom I met. I wondered what solutions might be possible for the women with the saddest stories, especially those whose fistula repair surgeries were not successful. These women have little hope for a viable future.
One of the important connections I made on that first journey was with a man named Tsega whose workshop manufactures and installs hydro-powered turbines. These water mills grind grain like wheat, barley, and tef and provide great assistance to rural women who otherwise would need to do this backbreaking work by hand. Each mill helps about 800 families (approximately 3,500 people) so has significant positive impact on women in rural villages. I asked Tsega if it might be possible to build one of these mills where the profits were specifically designated to help fistula patients. He told me it had never been done but agreed it was a good idea.
In October 2011 I spent a month in Ethiopia on my own exploring this option as well as a plan for an additional income-generation center to provide fistula patients with more new options. In the community of Begi in Western Ethiopia (Tsega’s hometown as well as the location of an existing fistula program upon which it was possible to build) I asked questions, met with key stakeholders, and navigated through tricky discussions of budgets, politics, sustainability, and international donors. It was frequently frustrating and disheartening, but I believed in the idea.
Once back home I began fundraising in earnest toward a $10,000 goal. Crooked Trails stepped in to serve as the project’s fiscalsponsor allowing donations to be tax-deductible. Over the past year through generous support from friends, family, churches, and other donors the money trickled in. Miraculously, the goal was reached, and the construction of the mill is now nearly complete. To be part of a process of making tangible something which was once just a thought is unbelievably inspiring. To know that people, sometimes complete strangers, have stepped forward to help from every corner of this country and across Ethiopia is humbling beyond measure.
In less than two weeks, the mill is to be complete, and in October 2012 I will be leading a trip back to Ethiopia on behalf of Crooked Trails and SalaamGarage to visit the project and to continue education about this preventable childbirth injury and support of fistula survivors who are still suffering. In some ways it is a full-circle from what began as a stray thought two years ago. In other ways it is the beginning of a new path, a co-created relationship with Ethiopians in the community of Begi as we work together to forge new possibilities.
There are still lots of questions, and I’m grateful for the ongoing support of an advisory team and others who express interest: what is the best way to provide ongoing help for the women who need it? Is a permanent compound and training center with courses in self-esteem, hygiene, literacy, money management, and self-sufficiency (which comes at a high price tag and relies on donor money) necessary, or are smaller income-generation projects that can be funded by the water mill’s income the better option?
I trust that another journey to the Horn of Africa will bring more answers, even as I know it will bring more questions. But I’m heartened by the progress, by the support, and by the journey itself. And the confluence of intention, resources, and action? It’s where I’m finding true fulfillment. Come join me!
Want to join Crooked Trails and SalaamGarage on the team trip to Ethiopia this October 21-November 3?
Please click HERE.
To contact Kristie directly, please email: Kristie@travelpoet.com.
Photos © Kristie McLean