In February of this year (2012) Rev. Dr. Faith Rohrbough joined other Canadian Lutheran World Relief Global Encounter participants on a trip to Ethiopia. Here is her eloquent report of some of her experiences.
Most interesting for me was the visit to Chenaksin where we learned about COLTA, a program in leadership training with five major emphases: Gender Issues, Education (including opportunities for girls), HIV-AIDS prevention, Peace and Reconciliation and the Environment. We then had the opportunity to witness the difference this program was making for women.
We were invited to visit a new school (one of five built by the UN/LWF program) where the students and their families waited over two hours for us to arrive to cut the ribbon. After that ceremony, that included the pledge of allegiance to the Ethiopian flag, the children streamed into the building to enjoy sitting at desks instead of on the dirt floor in the old school. We were invited to hand out awards to the ten top students. I was gratified to note that there were many girls among the crowd of students and four of the ten awards went to girls as well.
We then had the privilege of hearing from women and men who had been helped by a Micro-financing/Savings and Loan program of COLTA. This program not only made loans, it also taught financial management and the importance of saving money.
The majority of these loans went to women although there were some that had been given to men as well. Both women and men spoke of how these loans had made a huge difference in their lives, changing the relationship between men and women in their village. Women became more respected in the community for their abilities, including providing income for the families. Men were now more willing to help with domestic chores, something that before would have been shaming for them.
The big difference, however, was in people’s lives and their learning to work together. As one woman so eloquently put it: “We learned the difference between ‘push’ and ‘pull’. Before we had been pushing our way to the front of the line, pushing others out of the way. Now we have learned to pull together to get things done.” Then she spoke almost poetically about the huge difference in women’s lives: “We were dust before—that’s what poverty does for you. Now we are somebody—we have a future before us.”
I shall never forget the passion with which this woman spoke, but also the agreement and nods of heads from both the women and the men in that room. I was extremely humbled by the gratitude of these people for the difference that the LWF COLTA program had made in their lives.
Faith E. Rohrbough
CLWR Board Member