Water provides life and dignity in Ethiopia

Ahimed Melsa and Riitta, photo Amanda size reduced more

Ahimed, an Ethiopian clan leader, describes how your support for water projects has helped his community grow enough food, access health care and send their children to school. He is photographed here with Pastor Riitta Hepomaki, assistant to the bishop in the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Photo by Amanda Thorsteinsson/CFGB

“Now I see myself as a human being. Before, we were considered animals,” says Ahimed Melsa, the chair of the Water Users Association in his community in Afar, Ethiopia.

He is summarizing the impact the Aura irrigation project has had on the lives of people in his community. Ahimed is the leader of his clan.

“Before this project, if rain didn’t come, we couldn’t stay in the area. We had to pack our belongings and move from place to place in search of feed and water for our animals,” Ahimed explains.

While wandering they ate wild fruit and milk, which wasn’t enough for survival. Grocery shopping wasn’t easily done; a shopping trip to the nearest town took at least 15 days by foot and meant that they had to sell one or more cows in order to buy food.

“Now we have good water. We have land, goats and seeds. We don’t need to travel far. We used to walk to the highlands to buy food but now people from the highlands are coming here for shopping,” he continues.

Ahimed grows maize, sorghum, sesame, onions, peppers, tomatoes and bananas in his one-hectare plot. He owns 20 cows, 37 camels and 200 goats. He is married and has 12 children.

“Now we have good water. We have land, goats and seeds." -Ahimed Melsa. Photo by Amanda Thorsteinsson/CFGB

“Now we have good water. We have land, goats and seeds.”
-Ahimed Melsa. Photo by Amanda Thorsteinsson/CFGB

“I can feed my family. Not only my family, but also my sisters’ and brothers’ families, who live in another area,” says Ahimed.

The Aura I irrigation project was started 11 years ago by an Ethiopian agency called Support for Sustainable Development (SSD), who in turn receives support from Canadian Lutheran World Relief and Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Ahimed’s community took control of Aura I eight years ago, meaning that they are now responsible for managing the irrigation systems. More than 700 households benefit directly from this project. Indirect beneficiaries number more than 1,000 households.

Even though Ahimed says he has no desire to go back to his former lifestyle as a pastoralist, the change wasn’t easy.

“Starting a new life was hard because we couldn’t see the benefit. As soon as we saw the benefit of this project, we wanted to settle. Now, I advise everyone to work hard and send their children to school.”

The Aura project is one of several SSD projects in the Afar region of Ethiopia. SSD is a national, non-religious and non-profit charity with a vision “to see the rural poor farming and pastoral communities of Ethiopia self-sustained and independent of others’ support.” SSD has diverted 15 rivers into irrigation projects. Canadians support 11 of the projects through Canadian Lutheran World Relief and Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

-by Pastor Riitta Hepomaki. Pastor Hepomaki joined the Canadian Foodgrains Bank on a visit to Ethiopia last month, where she got the opportunity to meet Ahimed and many others who are benefitting from your support

To see irrigation gifts in the Gifts from the Heart catalogue, please click HERE

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