by Rebecca Smyth, Trócaire Volunteer
In February 2014, Rebecca Smyth travelled to Ethiopia to visit Trócaire projects in the remote southern region of Boranaland. Here she shares her experiences.
Travelling to Ethiopia with Trócaire brought it home to me that small changes make a big difference and can transform lives for the better, as well as just how similar we human beings are around the world! This was so evident when I visited a water project funded by Trócaire.
We travelled for four hours (of which two hours were off road) through the beautiful, red earthed and dusty landscape of Boranaland in the Southern most part of Ethiopia to visit the remote, rural community of Webb.
Travelling to Webb I was very aware of how hostile the landscape and climate is in this region. With the area gripped by drought as recently as 2011 it reinforced just how vital Trócaire’s work really is here.
When we arrived in Webb the first thing we saw was the Ella, or ‘singing well’ which is traditional in this region.
Visiting the singing well in Webb, February 2014
The Ellas are deep, deep holes in the ground. Before the well was restored, it required a human chain of about thirty people on a rickety rope ladder to draw up water who sing in order to keep in rhythm (hence ‘singing wells’).
This system was both inefficient and dangerous: it is time-consuming, it is laborious, and I heard tragic accounts from some of the women in Webb on members of the community who lost their lives falling from the ladder.
With the help of Trócaire’s partner organisation, SOS Sahel, the local people made the well safer and more accessible. We could see with our own eyes how life has been transformed for the community.
Now, rather than a precarious human chain of thirty or so people, there is a gentle slope down to an open space with troughs for the animals (cattle, goats, donkeys and camels) and separate reservoirs for the people.
Only six men are needed to bring water up from the well to fill the troughs and reservoirs. There is now less animal-human cross-contamination since the water sources are separated which has cut massively the rates of water-related diseases.
What also struck me is that water is time. By having a safe water supply, the people (mostly women and children) have been given their time back.
Teresa Hill (left), Barso Djirmo, the Abba Herega or ‘Father of the well’ (centre), and Rebecca Smyth (right)
They do not need to spend as much time fetching and carrying water and so can attend literacy classes or school, or take part in cooperatives.
Not only does this reduce gender inequality, it also diversifies income.
Rather than households being solely dependent on livestock – as is traditional with the Borana people, who face intense pressures due to climate change causing more frequent drought – they now have other forms of income, such as the incense and gum cooperatives.
This in turn has facilitated the reinstatement of the traditional ‘social welfare’ system: the extra money earned goes into a collective fund used to support families in difficulty, to send children to school, to university. Their lives have been truly transformed!
As we drove away from Webb in the midday heat, I was struck by the conversations I had with the women in the village. Just how similar our hopes and dreams are for good health, security and a better future for the next generation. Every human being deserves these things.
I suppose that’s what working for a just world is all about.
Read more about Trócaire’s water projects in Ethiopia