Always smiling and waving…
I am out in Ethiopia with Midge Ure and his daughter Kitty. It’s 25 years on from the Band Aid movement and Michael Buerk’s first report on the famine in Ethiopia and we are here to see what has progressed and to find out why we still need to help.
We arrived in Addis at 7.30am on Monday the 26th of October, tired but expectant. Neither Kitty or myself had ever been to Africa before so we were filled with Intrigue. I especially wanted to get out and see our work in the field as this was something I had yet to experience.
Addis was bright and bustling. As we drove towards the centre it got busier and busier filling up with cars, people and the odd donkey. One thing that stands out the most was the development that you could see all around – a little like you see in places like Dubai. I have a feeling that despite Ethiopia already being called the capital of Africa it is only going to get bigger and better.
The next day we had a 4am start to catch a flight to Lalibela. Wiping the sleep from our eyes we stumbled out of the airplane to brilliant sunshine and an everlasting landscape. The scenery was breathtaking. Despite our sleep deprivation we stayed awake for the whole two hour bumpy drive to see all the smiling, waving children we drove past.
These children have nothing and yet they smile, laugh and play. The contrasts between the huge goats, cows and camels that tower over these tiny children who look after them is bizarre. They should be playing or at school not having to walk the animals further as climate change has caused all the crops to dry up.
One group of children stopped the car and hurried towards my vulnerable open window! ‘highland, highland, highland,’ they shouted. I asked our colleagues at Save the Children what they meant by this? They answered, ‘highland spring – they want your water bottles’ I quickly handed them over and watched the gleeful boys covet their new prize possession. Things that are discarded in England can be so precious out here.
I can already see the effect that climate change is having on the land. The crops have dried up and much of the land is arid. We eventually arrive in Meket to visit one of Save the Children’s feeding centres. As soon as we approach all the women and their babies you can see just how small and fragile they are. Children that are 3 or 4 are much smaller than they should be. Already suffering from stunting – an effect of malnutrition.
One of our nurses puts the screaming babies into some scales and places a measuring band round their arm which is clearly in the red zone – meaning severely malnourished. They are then issued a weeks supply of plumpy nut, a bit like peanut butter but with lots of vitamins and nutrients. They devour it with, as usual, a smile on their face. It is so good to see the positive work that is already being done out here.
I awake again the next day at 3am and then 4am for the call to prayer that blasts outside. My alarm then goes of at 5am I fight out of my mosquito net that is wrapped around me and hit the lights – they don’t work, not unexpected up here in the northern highlands – we should be lucky to have electricity in the first place out here.
I then place my feet on the floor only to bring them straight back up again. There is about two inches of water on the floor that has flooded in from anther room. I grab a candle from reception (of course I forgot to bring a torch) and stuff all my belongings into my day bag.
Today we went out to visit some villages and go out to see a farmers crops. Sadly, as anticipated, everything has dried up. As Midge asks one farmer what he will do if the food aid does not come he replied ‘It is in the hands of God’. I am not sure that that is enough to rely on. Save the Children need to keep on providing aid although mostly our work focuses on preventative measures like disaster risk reduction. Storing the rain when it does come and planting more robust crops shows just how much we are progressing.
Save the Children predicts that 175 million children a year will suffer the consequences of natural disasters like cyclones, droughts and floods by 2030.
Those that have no responsibility for climate change are bearing the brunt of it. We are not out in the field for long before the children come flooding towards us. Like the other children I have met, they have nothing but still they have happy smiling faces. The drive to the airport meant that I left Ethiopia with a positive attitude, not only because of the great work I have seen but also a result of the children smiling and waving.
Please donate to Save the Children’s East Africa Appeal at savethechildren.org.uk/eastafricacrisis.