Thought I'd write and let you know a bit of what I have been up to. I'm in Ethiopia with 10 other people, a mixture of church leaders and Tearfund staff, most of whom this is their first trip to a developing country.
We travelled first to Awassa which took most of the day after arriving in Addis, with a stop for lunch by the lake on the way, which was very pleasant. The first night was in a local hotel/guest house and then after seeing some local programme work each of the team were taken to the host family that they were staying with. The programme we were visiting is self help groups which have been developed since 2003. Each group has a facilitator from our partner Kale Heywet and each group starts off with about 20 people. The group starts by saving each week, then making loans to each other and paying them back with interest. The key to the groups is relationship and trust that is built up between them, which leads to a repayment rate of something like 98%. Where the relationships are not good the repayment of loans is lower and other troubles emerge. The group members save initially very small amounts, in some cases as little as 1p, but now have the equivalent of £3,000 within the group
Each of the group had a translator with them and stayed with families that are members of local self help groups. The team coped with it in different ways but a number said that it was the best thing they had done (one even said ever). It is hard sometimes to deal with very different living conditions, to realise that people with so little are so full of faith and blessing God for everything they have been given, some people also just don't like the local food! One team member had a brother of the wife in the household visit on the last morning, to see why a white man would choose to visit his sister, when as a family they had nothing to do with her, because her husband abused her and she didn't do anything about it. The brother said at the end of the visit that maybe he should review his attitude of his sister. It is so good to be able to hear stories of attitudes being challenged and maybe changed forever for this lady.
After the immersion visits had finished we had a coffee ceremony (very common in Ethiopia) to celebrate the visit and hear more stories of how the self help groups have changed peoples lives. One lady shared her story that she had dreamed of having furniture and a bed in her house, and now through the self help groups she has that, is putting her children through school, she has respect for herself and is able to speak in front of a group. It is amazing to listen to the number of lives changed and transformed for generations to come.
Next we travelled to Soddo and have been visiting conservation projects where whole hillsides have been terraced and are being or have been planted with trees, which will be coppiced and managed in
the years to come. A whole hillside in 2 ½ months done manually. We saw a 12 km irrigation scheme, and a self help group that had been going for 3 years, but had some way to go.
Today we went to church, and saw a church HIV group and then a community group of people living with HIV. The church group was interesting, probably a good word, and I'm not sure all of the attitudes were quite as they could be. Finished off with an amazing self help group that had been going for one year, it was their celebratory meeting. So much achieved and such a sense of community, enjoyment, smiles and laughter.