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.

Oregon State Students Give Over 200 Pairs of Shoes to Families in Ethiopia

In July 2012, 13 Oregon State University students traveled with Holt to Silti, Ethiopia. While they came to build homes for families in Holt’s family-strengthening program, they also brought with them over 200 pairs of shoes to distribute among the families. For some, these would be the first pair of shoes they had ever owned.

This holiday season, give gifts with heart and “sole”! Click here to gives shoes or other Gifts of Hope to families and children in need.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Silti is a peaceful farming community at the westernmost edge of the Great Rift Valley. With breathtaking mountain views and a patchwork landscape in eye-popping shades of green, life in this fertile valley of southern Ethiopia is easy to romanticize.

In many ways, Silti is an idyllic setting. Here, children run barefoot through open fields – safe from the dangers of the city. Everyone knows everyone’s child, and the whole community is looking out for them. There are no factories in Silti. No cars or parking lots. No power lines, no landfills. No one has paved this paradise.

Silti, Ethiopia

In other ways, life in Silti, Ethiopia is not so ideal. Silti is rich in culture and natural beauty. But in the strictest definition of the term, the residents of Silti are achingly poor. They do not choose to live without electricity or running water. Most would prefer to live in homes made of brick, not of mud and dung. And it’s not just children playing in summer who go barefoot. For many of Silti’s residents, even shoes are a luxury. Continue reading “Oregon State Students Give Over 200 Pairs of Shoes to Families in Ethiopia”

Holt and OSU Ethiopia Trip Featured in the Eugene Register-Guard!

In June, 13 extraordinary student-athletes from Oregon State University traveled to Ethiopia to build houses for families in Holt’s family preservation program. But that’s not all the did… An excerpt from the Guard story:

“In Silti, the community the students visit, both of the families to receive new homes are headed by women. As women in a traditional Muslim village, they can’t build the homes themselves. Gender roles dictate what they can and cannot do. They work in the fields and wash the clothes and cook the food. They pump water from a borehole and carry it home in 20-liter bins, often with a baby strapped to their back.

But they never, ever build houses.

Ironically, nine of the 13 student-athletes who signed up for this trip are, in fact, women. Over six days, as they climbed roofs, hammered nails, sawed wood, and stomped and plastered mud onto the walls of the two houses, they would be quite the spectacle — defying entrenched social norms. And to everyone’s surprise, the community would not only embrace it, but love it — cheering the young women on, laughing joyously when they inevitably got into mud fights, and helping to rinse the mud off their feet at the end of the day.”

Click here to read the full story in the Eugene Register-Guard.

Click here to learn more about our work in Ethiopia and how you can help families and children we serve there.


Emily’s Ethiopian Adventure; A Student Blog

In June, 13 Oregon State University (OSU) student-athletes* and two adoptive parents traveled to Ethiopia to build houses for families in Holt’s family preservation program. Upon arrival home last week, OSU softball player Emily Richardson posted her personal blog from the trip. Click here to read Emily’s blog in full.

Here are a few excerpts from her first day in the village:

Emily, looking back as she leaves the village.

Today was our first work day, and also my birthday!!! This is definitely one of the most memorable and unique birthdays I’ve ever had! …

The arrival into the village was NOTHING like I could ever have expected. It was the greatest experience and more than I could have asked for on my birthday. The dirt road into the village took about 10 minutes, and as we would pass the villagers they would run after our vans and the older women did the “call of joy”. It sounds like the call Native Americans make when they put their hand to their mouth and yell, but the women just use their mouth and it is faster paced. This is their way of welcoming us and showing us they are very happy we’re there. It was amazing to see the kids and women run and seem so happy to have us in their village. Once we got out of the vans the men and women all gathered near us and began a dancing ceremony. Some of the women had  drums and they were making a beat and dancing. This went on for about 10 minutes, and we all joined in and danced with them. It was so fun, and many people in the group were tearing up at this amazing welcome. I MAY have even shed a tear or two…

Once we came back from lunch, we went to the second house and did the same thing-began nailing in the eucalyptus boards that would become part of the walls. I got another birthday surprise- the kids sang to me in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. They sang “Happy Birthday- to your 23rd year” over and over- after that 3 of the kids came up and shook my hand and gave me their necklaces! I got two of the same necklace that had an Ethiopian flag design, and one strand of Muslim prayer beads. It was so awesome!!!!! …

Continue reading “Emily’s Ethiopian Adventure; A Student Blog”

Holt and OSU in Ethiopia; A Photo Essay

In June, 13 Oregon State University (OSU) student-athletes* and two adoptive parents traveled to Ethiopia to build houses for families in Holt’s family preservation program. Last week, the students flew home. Many of them got emotional as they left the village where they had spent the previous six days, constructing homes of mud and straw and bonding with their teammates, the local carpenters and the community. Many of them also say they feel changed by the experience — changed in their outlook on life, their view of developing countries, and for some, maybe even their chosen career paths. 

While in Ethiopia, Stephanie McGregor — an OSU gymnast and all around awesome young woman — documented the trip for the NCAA’s “global perspectives” blog.  Due to limited internet access, Stephanie could not post her blogs until returning to the U.S. earlier this week. Click here to read her blogs on the NCAA website.

Also watch for the summer Holt magazine, which will feature stories and photos from the trip. Here is a preview:

Continue reading “Holt and OSU in Ethiopia; A Photo Essay”

A Gymnast Helps Set the Bar High in Ethiopia

From swinging golf clubs in Oregon to swinging hammers in Ethiopia, the Beavers Without Borders crew create quite the entertaining – and inspiring – spectacle, using their unique athletic skills to complete the houses for families in Holt’s Family Preservation program.

This week Holt Senior Writer Robin Munro joins 14 Oregon State University (OSU) athletes traveling to Silti, Ethiopia. On this exciting trip, the athletes — volunteers with OSU’s Beavers Without Borders — will build homes for struggling families in Holt’s family preservation program. Initiated by former OSU football player Taylor Kavanaugh, Beavers Without Borders is an organization that gives OSU athletes the opportunity to travel to developing countries to help families in need.


By Robin Munro, Senior Writer

Silti, Ethiopia–It’s early morning on day two of our work in Silti, and quiet in the village as we arrive. Few people are out in their yards or on the road, and many of the children are in school. Yesterday, it seemed as though the whole village came to greet us – and many people stayed around to watch us most of the day. Today, only a few small children and a few older men have come to observe the students work.

The air feels cool and fresh and the ground is still a bit damp from the rain that fell the night before. It is the beginning of the rainy season in Ethiopia, and the community is busy planting maize, coffee and other local crops in the fields that surround the homes.

After the welcome ceremony yesterday, the students made fast work of the two houses. The local workers had already laid the foundation and raised a portion of the super structure when we arrived. This put us a bit ahead of schedule, which was helpful as the construction process required a bit of a learning curve. Namely, hammering nails proved a bit more challenging than the students might have expected. To some, the work came more naturally – in particular to Seshia Telles, one of the three Oregon State golfers on the trip. Although more accustomed to hitting golf balls, she adapted her swing from club to hammer with ease. Stephanie, the only gymnast on the team, climbed right to the top of the house, where she remained perched throughout the day – holding pieces of wood for her teammates or the local carpenters to hammer into place.

“I felt so comfortable up there,” she says later. Her flexibility and comfort balancing on high, narrow beams gave her an edge that the carpenters quickly recognized. Only initially did she have trouble communicating with them, she says. They soon recognized her value, and began directing her where they wanted her to move.

Families in the Silti area observe the Beavers Without Borders crew building houses for families in Holt's family preservation program.

Meanwhile, the villagers looked on with curiosity and amazement. In this rural, Muslim community in southern Ethiopia, gender roles are firmly entrenched. Women do not wear pants. Women do not hammer nails. Women do not build houses.

“Women don’t do that. They don’t climb up on roofs like that,” says Miruk Alemu, a Holt Ethiopia staff member who traveled with us to Silti. Although she came along to serve as translator, she quickly joins in the construction work. Continue reading “A Gymnast Helps Set the Bar High in Ethiopia”