In this series, we introduce you to the four inspiring Ethiopian women with recipes to teach and stories of hope and courage to share.
I walk across a hilltop through a dense forest, my arms dappled by the sunshine peeking through.
Below me, a river valley cuts through the landscape. I hear the soft rumbling of water flowing off into the distance. Farmers’ fields and gardens. I smile to know they’re getting the hydration they need.
I have visited those fields and gardens. The soil there is rich and black. The first shoots of spring are poking up, hinting at the abundant harvest to come. The land feels lush and fertile and prosperous.
There’s a little bit of the environmentalist in most Canadians. Growing up in a country filled with fresh water, rolling prairies and vast forests, how could you not develop a healthy respect for protecting such beauty?
The lush woods I’m walking through today feel a lot like Canada. But I’m actually in Ethiopia, visiting a community of people who have learned just how valuable trees can be at sustaining life.
What happened on the hilltop
It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, this hilltop was bare and barren. The community was plagued by alternating cycles of damaging floods and devastating droughts. Its people suffered from extreme poverty.
Kemal is the leader of a forest co-operative organized by World Vision. I'm pictured with the group above. The co-operative is now managed by the community. He tells me of a time when the land dried up, soil eroded and there was a shortage of water for crops. People’s farms looked like barren wastelands.
“In my grandfather’s time there was a large forest of ‘Zigba’ trees in these hills. The hard wood was used to make the thrones of kinds, and the land was plentiful,” he recalls.
Kemal stands on the hillside overlooking new growth of trees. Photo: Brett Tarver
But, the trees were slowly cleared for firewood to feed stoves all around the community. It took an intervention of tree-planting by World Vision (funded by child sponsorship), and a lot of hard work from the community to bring the earth back to life.
“Now, the wildlife has returned,” Kemal explains. Leopards, wild pigs, hyenas, foxes, monkeys and birds have come back to live in the replanted forest. It’s an incredible abundance of species. But these woods are also nurturing people.
“There are also ‘Chocho’,” says Kemal, with a glad smile, describing medicinal plants that the community can forage for to cure ailments.
Debabash the park ranger
One of the hard-working community members who’s been involved in the revitalization of her local landscape is Debabash, entrepreneur and mother. We're visiting her house for a delicious and nutritious lunch.
Debabash’s life was vastly affected by the deforestation in her area. The trees that were cut down left the river by her home prone to overflowing and led to the cycle of drought and flooding.
“We either had too little water or too much,” she recalls. “We couldn’t grow enough food, there wasn’t even enough water for animals. When the rains came, we were hit by floods that put my home and family in danger.”
Debabash’s home bears witness to her story. The base of the wall is still buckled inwards from one of the terrifying floods that nearly washed her mud and wood house away.
“World Vision came in and taught us the important of replanting the trees and managing the forest,” Debabash tells us.
Now, “Deb” is a park ranger who is cultivating and growing the forest above her home. I realize how stereotyped my vision of park rangers has been! Deb has never attended college, but her understanding of this land runs deeper than the trees’ roots.
“The trees hold the water in the ground to prevent floods, the soil has built back up again, the spring has come back and there is steady water to battle drought,” she says.
A woman on a mission
The results to Deb’s farm are obvious. She is growing healthy food for her children and has even planted onions as a cash crop, with highly profitable sales.
“My older children grew up in very difficult circumstances. We didn’t have enough to eat, and we couldn’t afford to buy them clothes,” she says.
“But now, my younger children are happier and healthier thanks to World Vision. We have support for school materials and uniforms, and I can provide them with food and shoes,” Deb says, smiling.
Deb making us a delicious lunch in her bright kitchen. Photo: Dennis Prescott
Her children are thriving, thanks to Deb’s hard work. “One of my children is studying agricultural science. Another is a nurse, and another is getting his driver’s licence to be a truck driver,” she tells us with pride.
This businesswoman has earned the respect of her children, and community. Her home is decorated with beautiful wood furniture. She has big plans for continued growth of her onion business.
When Debabash calls me a gentleman, I blush with pride at being complimented by such a powerful community leader.
A way of life restored
World Vision has now handed over the management and nurturing of the forest to Debabash and her community. But the story doesn’t end here. Deb, her friends and neighbours are paying forward all they’ve gained.
People from other communities have come to see and understand the success in these woods and learn to replicate it.
Amongst these trees, I’ve been given a lasting memory to carry home to Canada. I have seen first-hand that forests aren’t just beautiful, they’re critical to the well-being of people everywhere.
Experiencing what Deb, her community and World Vision have accomplished here, fills me with hope for a hunger-free Ethiopia. And a hunger-free world.
Do you believe in a hunger-free world? Find out how you can contribute, here.
By Brett Tarver