BWOB Ethiopia: The Next Chapter

In January 2012, a special medical team traveled to Ethiopia to provide health care services for families and children in the southern region. Ladonna Greiner, one of Holt International’s directors of donor relations, traveled with the team. En route, Ladonna stopped in Silti to visit the families the Beavers Without Borders built homes for the previous June. Here, she shares an update on one of the families — the same family featured in the Summer 2012 Holt Magazine.

by Ladonna Greiner, Director of Donor Relations

As we travel south toward Shinshicho, we take a detour off the main highway to visit the homes built last year by a group of student-athletes from Oregon State University. In June 2012, the students traveled with Holt as part of the Beavers Without Borders, a service organization developed by the athletics department of the OSU Beavers.

The Beavers Without Borders team members stand in front of the house they built Zahra.

A cloud of dust rolls behind our Land Cruiser as we navigate the narrow roads. The ride is relatively smooth for the first kilometer. As we drive further into the countryside, the driver weaves between deep ruts and washed out roads, often slowing to a crawl to more easily navigate the rough terrain. We bounce past huts with smoldering cook fires, children carrying Jerry cans of water, and cows grazing on patches of grass, clinging to the seats as the driver winds his way to the homes of some of Ethiopia’s poorest families.

Young children shyly wave and smile as we pass their homes made of stucco-like mud – the same material the students used last June to build houses for families in Holt’s family strengthening program. We drive past fields of grass and enset, a staple of the Ethiopian diet.  It seems like we’ve driven miles, yet we’ve covered less than 2 kilometers when we arrive at Zahra’s* home.

She heard us coming and is waiting at the door.  The Holt social worker introduces us with the Ethiopian handshake and nod.  Zahra is eager to show us her new home.  When the students left, the house wasn’t fully finished. While they managed to complete the structure and plaster the walls of two homes during their six-day trip, the mud would have to dry before putting in windows and doors. Today, we tour an immaculate home with a new tin roof, wooden shutters on the windows, a solid wood door and three clean but sparsely furnished rooms. Zahra’s family no longer has to endure leaks from the roof or cold breezes blowing through the gaps in the walls. It’s easy to see the pride and appreciation in Zahra’s eyes as we admire her home.

Zahra’s house today.

Zahra’s entry into Holt’s family preservation program began with a gift of 2,500 birr, which she used to purchase an oxen. Zahra used the oxen to plow the fields and grow crops to eat and sell.

Today, we learn Zahra has sold the oxen for 3,500 birr.  A wise and savvy woman, she used the money to buy 2 young oxen and 2 goats.  There are now three goats, which produce nourishing milk and cheese for the family and extra income to sell on market days.

The livestock no longer share the same house as Zahra and her children; during the night, all the animals are penned safely in Zahra’s old house, which now serves as the barn. Sharing a living space with livestock can expose the families to disease, and building them a new home is one way in which Holt is helping families to improve their sanitation, health and hygiene habits – a significant part of Holt’s family preservation program in Ethiopia.

Zahra’s daughters during the Beavers trip in 2012.

Zahra and her younger children, ages 7 and 15, continue to raise enset, greens and other vegetables in a garden plot near the house.  Enset plants look similar to banana plants, however they don’t bear fruit.  The trunk of the enset plant is used to make kocho, a common Ethiopian dish, and the remainder of the plant is food for the oxen.

Through an interpreter, Zahra tells me, “For the first time, my children are in school and I am able to buy the medicine needed for my daughter.”  Her 7-year-old daughter is in grade one and her 15-year-old son is finishing grade four.  Her oldest daughter cannot attend school due to health issues, but with the medicine her mother purchased she may eventually be able to resume her education.

Zahra’s son with school supplies provided by Holt.

“Holt’s program has taught me how to use my assets,” Zahra tells us. “It has blessed my family. I am very grateful for all I have learned and for my new home.  I am trying very hard to be smart with my money and the things I learn from Holt.”  The gratitude is evident in her beaming smile and the lively gleam in her eyes.  Although her life as a single mother is difficult, her outlook is much brighter now.  “My children have a future and better health,” she says. “They are learning in school and work hard to help me when they are home.”

As we leave Zahra and her children, I know this strong African woman and her children will continue to prosper and I eagerly anticipate the next chapter in her successful journey.

LaDonna poses for a photo with Zahra inside her new home.

To learn more about Holt’s work in Ethiopia, click here.

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