Checking in with Cover Girl Bethlehem

Oct 30, 2020

Kokobe held up the magazine with wonder, a huge smile breaking out across her face. As she quickly passed it around to other family in the room, their excitement was clear. Bethlehem was on the front cover.

It was February when I had the opportunity to visit Bethlehem again, the cover girl from World Vision’s gift catalogue last year, at her farm in rural Ethiopia. It was a chance to share a copy with her proud parents, but more importantly, I wanted to find out how Bethlehem and her family were doing. And to also check up on the five chickens they received from generous Canadian donors. To see the difference those chickens have made on their lives. 

It had been about 18 months since I met the family for the first time, when the cover photo was taken. As we veered off the main road onto a bumpy dirt track that cut through green fields, I began to see some familiar faces. And as we pulled up to their tree-lined laneway, I saw Bethlehem and her mother, father, brothers and sisters waiting outside their modest farmhouse. When they welcomed me with smiles and waving hands, it felt like I was visiting old friends.

As we exchanged greetings and they began ushering me inside, I glanced around the farm. Their property was the same, but things just looked better. There were a number of small improvements, but what really caught my eye was the new, larger chicken coop. Judging by all the clucking and hopping inside, it was easy to see their flock had multiplied.

From inside their sitting room, the family looked better too. I could also see a lot of other changes. There was still an earthen floor, sprinkled with fragrant grass to welcome a guest. And they still did not have electricity. But there was some new solid wood furniture and the kitchen looked like it had a reno. 

As Kokobe began roasting coffee beans over a small fire, she gave an update on the family. She shared that for Bethlehem, or “Betty”, as the family affectionately calls her, the clutch of chickens have proven to be a godsend. By carefully managing those precious, feathery resources, Kokobe was able to supplement their meals with protein-rich eggs, while carefully growing the flock to increase production. 

An Ethiopian woman holds a pot full of fresh eggs.
Kokobe holds a pot of fresh eggs gathered from the chickens she received through World Vision. Photo: Brett Tarver

“Because of the chickens from World Vision, I was also selling the eggs at the market and then using the profit,” Kokobe told me. “Then I was able to buy seeds for different vegetables, like onions, to grow our farm. And with the money, I can buy clothes for my children and I can afford to send them to school.” 

As we sat and sipped fresh coffee from small porcelain cups, Kokobe talked about extra nutritional training she’d received to improve the health of the family. And the formation of a community savings group, like a bank, that teaches about investment and financial planning. Two additional benefits of living within a World Vision area development program funded by Canadian donors. 

To my amazement, I learned that since my last visit, the family had built enough savings to buy a new home in town that they were renting out. All starting with just five chickens. 

Soon it was time for lunch. Injera bread was unrolled across large platters. Fresh vegetables from the field and lentil stew were heaped in healthy dollops as we gathered around. As a last touch I was thrilled to see golden scrambled egg, placed on top like a crowning achievement. As we broke Injera to scoop up the bounty, I could see, smell and taste the improvement in their lives.   

a plate covered in Ethiopian ijera, veggies and eggs.A delicious plate of Injera with lentil stew topped with scrambled eggs from the chickens Kokobe is rasing. Photo: Brett Tarver

“Things are very different for Betty compared to when I was her age,” Kokobe told me. “I didn’t have an education, we were very poor and we didn’t eat very well. All of that has changed because of these improvements,” she said as she gestured around the room. The area development project would soon close, I learned. The community was healthy, and it was time to restart the model in an area where the need is greatest. “We don’t want World Vision to leave,” Kokobe said. “But we’ll take what we’ve learned and continue it. We’ll be alright.”

When I asked about her hopes and dreams for her children’s future, Kokobe’s eyes mist over. “I need them to be better than me, I need them to lead a better life.” 

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