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An Ethiopian Experience

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The projects are self-sustaining and Self Help's aim is to build so the people have a chance to do things for themselves. I believe that Self Help are not only giving the people a chance to make a living but giving them back their pride.

Kim Murphy (St. James VS, Athboy) tells her story of where she travelled to Ethiopia with Self Help Development International to increase the awareness of Irish youth of third world issues.

My name is Kim Murphy and I am a 5th year student. I recently had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with Self Help Development International as part of a pilot scheme to increase the awareness of Irish youth. I was priveleged to be selected as a participant based on an essay submitted to a competition in my school St. James Vocational school, Athboy, Co. Meath.

From the start this trip was unlike anything I had experienced before. Travelling with a group consisting of my teacher, Miss Angela Crowcock, eight of my peers from around the country, their teachers and two of the Self Help staff, our travel guide and a reporter from the Irish Times. On the 28th of February we set out and landed in Frankfurt airport to await an early flight the next morning to Ethiopia's capital city Addis Ababa. It was 9pm on the 29th as we touched down in Addis and my first expectations of Africa took a hammering. As the door opened instead of the heat we expected, it was quite cool with a light drizzle and I will never forget the sound made by millions of crickets. We drove silently through the city, whether due to tiredness or the poverty that we passed in the grimy streets I don't know. When we arrived at our Hilton hotel which was unbelievably rich in decor we all felt relieved, if not somewhat guilty, that we were not living on those streets that were another world from this beautiful hotel.

The following morning we headed out to Ziway which was going to be our base camp for the next week, and was close to both the project areas we were to visit (Merecko and Meki). As we arrived at our new hotel we all commented on how pretty the flowers around our doors were. On entering our small dark rooms we knew it wasn't the Hilton but, by the end of the week these rooms with their cockroaches, broken windows and small but noisy geckos started to feel luxurious. Soon it turned into a home as each day the poverty of the people was brought home to us.

We had a beautiful welcome at the Self Help project office where flowers were spread on the floor for us to walk on. There we learned a little about the sights we would see and the people we would meet. From there we headed straight to Koshe and a small overcrowded school where the students were expecting us with a banner to welcome us, and a slow handclap (a sign of respect towards their guests) coming from the lines of smiling students. The conditions in this school would be on a par with a small rural school 150 years ago in Ireland. We were shown into one of the classrooms where the walls that had at one time been painted yellow were now a dirty mustard colour. Believe me, we in Ireland have little to complain about regarding the state of our classrooms. Two very strange teaching aids that we found in the school were a dead snake in a bottle that was to be used for nature study and biology, and a human skull which we didn't ask about. I am guessing that it may be used for Hamlet! We played a friendly game of soccer, Irish students against the school football team, and we were soundly whipped. The funny thing is that not one of us minded losing to them. We said our goodbyes and moved on to our next port of call.

The next day we went to a 'satellite' centre where a group of services (such as a flour mill, a medical centre and a school) are situated near each other. These centres will eventually become villages as people migrate to the services. At the flourmill I talked with a girl of about my own age. She told me she had been married at twelve. Although she often helped her mother grind the flour by hand, she found it took up a lot of her time once she was married and had other duties to carry out. So she thought of the mill as our mothers might think of a dishwasher - it was a godsend. My thoughts on this conversation were that this girl should still be enjoying her youth and not trapped in a life of drudgery, but she seemed happy and I hope she is.

We were shown many things on this trip including farm-input shops and associated irrigation schemes, medical centres filled with people and a hospital which was completely empty of people and furniture still waiting on supplies that will be given by Irish Aid.

We learned so much from this trip about the lives of the people there and about our own lives and insignificant worries. Ethiopia is a country of sixty million people of which one in three people have Aids and female circumcision is carried out widely. However, we were struck by the happiness of the people their willingness to survive in a harsh environment, and found out that the one true international language is a smile.

The work Self Help Development International are doing really does make a difference. Ethiopia was the first country that they got involved in but since then they have expanded to countries such as Kenya, Malawi and Eritrea. Their projects are implemented only after talking to the people of the area and finding out what is needed most at that time. The capital that is collected here in Ireland is recognised by many authorities and because of this every one pound that is raised in Ireland is matched by another five from organisations such as the UN and the EU. The projects are self-sustaining and Self Help's aim is to build so the people have a chance to do things for themselves. This means the organisation is able to move on and inject funds into a different area and a different project. I also believe that Self Help are not only giving the people a chance to make a living but giving them back their pride.

The things I will remember most are the sounds of the crickets; the little girl that put her hand in mine as her mother showed us around her home; the way the person next to you can disappear from sight thought a haze of dust that the wind has plucked from around your feet; a woman called Ababa who works for Self Help; our drivers and the project managers who are much better than any grand prix drivers and; most of all the students who like us have dreams but have to work a lot harder to achieve them.

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