Botanica Ethiopia

Fiche community making the most of new land

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Etse-Fewus (Healing Herbs) Association members  are combining their resources to get the most out of land they were given by the Fiche local government last year.

During a recent visit, committee members told Botanica Ethiopia they plan to establish a small honey-production operation alongside their medicinal herb plantation, and that they hope to share their project as a working demonstration garden for the whole community.

“After they got this land, what’s really important that has happened is that they’re planning a new way of thinking for their business and their lives,” says Tessema Bekele, Director of Ethiopian NGO Emmanuel Development Association and Liason Officer with Botanica Ethiopia.

“They said: ‘Wait, some of us have our own beehives, why don’t we bring them here, work together and plant sweet flowers beside the herbs to help our income’.”

The fenced plot of land, almost the size of two Olympic pools, sits high above Fiche town on a sloped ridge of the Great Rift Valley. It’s flanked by thin young eucalypts and backs onto a rocky stream, which we’re told runs fast in the wet season.

Bekele says the government gave priority to Etse-Fewus because it was so impressed with the group’s commitment and vision.

“Many business owners asked for that plot but the government gave attention to this group because of their energy and motto to change their whole lives by themselves,” he says. “They were supposed to get only 1,200 sq metres, but the officials observed they had capacity to do much and gave them 2,000 sq metres.”

The group now have their own bank account and operating licence; officially registered as a herbal medicine and production cooperative to grow, harvest and sell herbs ‘to empower our families, livelihoods and community.’

“In this country, if a cooperative has a licence, they’re given attention,” says Bekele. “Since Etse-Fewus became organised and is now legally recognised, the members have become more exposed to communicating with local government and asking for services that they have a right for. I go with them regularly to talk to government about their ideas, water and such things, and they are so energised to make this land work.”

Scarce water is still a major problem in Fiche.  For emergency supplies, the group are working on costings to run a line of pipes from a tap on the ridge to the garden plot below.  But with the rainy season around the corner, they’ll first dig a small dam with plastic sheeting to capture and preserve water from the stream when it runs, what they call ‘water harvesting.’

“After September you will see a lot of change, you will see very productive land and all the herbs growing well,” says Etse-Fewus member Gule.

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A model self-help group

In his role with the Emmanuel Development Association, Tessema Bekele travels throughout Ethiopia to help organisations like Etse Fewus develop community improvement and micro-enterprise initiatives – what he calls ‘Self-help Groups.’

“What surprises me is that we always underestimate the poor people. They lack chance but once you give them chance and some back-stopping support like Botanica Ethiopia has done, they are really very aggressive to think about their own affairs,” he says.

“When I’m in the community, I learn a lot that I couldn’t get from my masters or bachelor degree; when I talk with them I learn innovations.”

Bekele sees his role in Fiche as helping to bring people together, and to listen.

“We ask them: ‘what can we do here?’ and every issue and idea came from them, and we develop those ideas with the project,” he says. “Maybe they are technically not very equipped – we’re here to provide technical assistance – but the rest? We have to listen to them.”

“They have the knowledge and experiences. Development starts with their own thinking – not from ours – from their own society, culture, norms and values. And In the end, they are the ones to see success and say: ‘This is my project, I have done this, this is my own brand.’”

“Fiche is one of the model self-helps groups in my eyes. They have done it for themselves.”

Botanica Ethiopia will continue to support Etse-Fewus to improve their land by facilitating permaculture and herbal conservation training for Association members.

Lizzie wins Rotary award for Living Pharmacy project

Lizzie with Rotary District Governor Keith Roffey in Sydney.

Lizzie with Rotary District Governor Keith Roffey in Sydney.

We’re very happy to announce that Lizzie was presented with a Rotary International award for her work in Ethiopia at the Foundation’s annual dinner in Sydney recently.

Lizzie spoke on the night about Botanica Ethiopia, her research and involvement with the Fiche community over the last three years.

“I am very honored to receive this award from Rotary; a fantastic organisation doing so much good in the world, with many successful projects. It also brings attention to a small group of people in Ethiopia who are really doing some amazing things for themselves, and I appreciate that.”

“Thanks must also go to Blackmores, to the kind individuals who have donated their money and time, and to Australian non-profit organisation Global Development Group, who recognised the good foundations of the project and have provided partnership and ongoing support.”

Lizzie was named a Paul Harris Fellow ‘in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among the peoples of the world.’

Alemayehu, Lizzie and Michael at the Rotary awards night

Money raised will be used to buy wheelbarrows, watering cans and hand tools for the newly formed ‘Etse Fewus’ medicinal garden Association, in Fiche, Ethiopia, which Lizzie will be visiting next year.

Botanica Ethiopia: A living Pharmacy (J655N) is an approved development project of Australian NGO Global Development Group (GDG).

Sponsor $1 for each gruelling kilometre!

Go to the Botanica Ethiopia Fundraising page here.

For more info about the 2012  Blackmores Sydney Running Festival click here. 

Congratulations to the Etse-Fewus ‘Healing Plants’ Association in Fiche. The kebele local government has just granted them 1,000 sq metres (1/4 acre) of land to build a community medicinal herb garden!

The herbalists and householders – who have been part of the Botanica Ethiopia project from the beginning – formed their own association earlier this year to support one another in growing medicinal home gardens. As one member, Ato Abi, said at the time: ‘You can’t tie a bundle of sticks without a tie, can you?’

Back in January, Botanica Ethiopia and Etse-Fewus took their ideas to the city council and were told that if they could get their own household gardens to flourish, the kebele would look at giving them land for community use. Today we received the good news.

“This is a great achievement from the local government side to provide the association with this very important input,” said our project liaison officer, Tessema, in Ethiopia today. “Now we need to build their capacity with support such as hand tools and water facilities to implement the garden.”

“We’ll start our work at the beginning of the rainy season,” says herbalist and priest Merigeta Enbakom. The community is hoping the ‘big’ June-Sept rain starts falling soon – the February rains never came.

Here are some photos of Etse-Fewus members in Fiche.

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Interview with Tessema Bekele

In this interview in Addis Ababa in February this year, Tessema Bekele, Executive Director of Ethiopian NGO the Emmanuel Development Association (see the blog post “An interview with an extraordinary Ethiopian“) tells Kristin Gomes from Botanica Ethiopia about how the EDA welcomes skilled volunteers to participate in community development programs.

High on the agenda for our visit to Ethiopia was to make contact with the School of St. Yared in Addis Ababa, founded in 2009 by Hope for Children, an NGO supporting orphans of HIVAIDS.

Nearly 75 per cent of school-aged children in Ethiopia have no access to formal education. Hope for Children realised early on that providing orphans with loving, caring homes until they turned 18, was not enough to lift them out of a life of poverty. Without a solid education, these children would not be equipped to make their own futures.

Jacqui Gilmour, of Hope for Children Australia, was inspired by a school in Tanzania whose guiding philosophy was that the way to prosperity for a nation is via education of its children. Jacqui met Yared, a 23-year-old who grew up on the streets of Addis and knew from personal experience the difficulties faced by millions of bright street kids who have little hope of an education.

Yared had earned a scholarship to study in America, but when he and Jacqui discussed the idea of a school he was inspired to stay in Addis and help other kids, from the poorest backgrounds, to have such a chance. These smart children are a major resource for the country – if only  they can jump the obstacles in their path and access opportunities to learn.

He found a building and grounds for St Yared and is now Principle of a school with 80 Kindergarten and Year 1 students. As well as classes, the school provides children with three free meals a day; encouraging attendance by reducing the need for them to go out to work each day to help with the family income.

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A significant moment in the history of the Botanica Ethiopia programme

Watch the latest film clip which shows Fitche community members discussing the formation of an Association and voting in their Committee; City  council representatives tell them that if they can get their own household herbal gardens to flourish, then Council will look at giving them land for community use.

Having a yarn at Fitche

An Association is formed and history is made

As the car made its way out of the dust of Addis on the climb up the wooded Entoto Mountain, we could breathe the clean sharp air of the countryside on our journey to Fitche, about 2 ½ hours’ drive north through incredible scenery, now quite familiar to me and something to which I had been greatly looking forward.  What I was not looking forward to was embarking on another hair-raising dodgem-car ride, narrowly avoiding the “Al-Quaeda” (as they are dubbed locally) trucks and crazy minibus drivers.  Oh yes, I remembered this bit, and it is sobering to see the number of overturned minibuses and semitrailers by the side of the road.

But we made it thanks to Lakew’s skill at the wheel and pulled up at the Doyu-Armon Garden, now proudly sporting an entrance gate made from eucalyptus saplings, and mounds of red soil and sand ready to be ploughed in.  As I had been warned, the clay soil was cracking in the intense dry heat, threatening to crush the tender rootlets of the new plants.  Lakew said that his job over the next few days was to supervise the filling of a long stone-edged trench with the good soil so that the most vulnerable plants can be transferred until they are strong enough to survive.

Abiyu and Lakew showed us the line of Set eret (Aloe pulcherrima), surviving but looking a little burnt at the edges, and Tefrindo (Gomphocarpus purpurescens) looking quite happy.  Abiyu showed us the sap from the Tefrindo and explained how it is used to paint on warts.  Another area sported the erect pointed leaves of Wonde cheret (Sanseviera ehrenbegii), used for ear infections. We were shown other plants, looking a little straggly but protected with straw, and, with some concern, an empty borehole.  Lakew is onto it, arranging to have it dug deeper. Abiyu tells me that if the plants can be nurtured along to survive a year, they will be strong enough to flourish and cope with both wet and dry seasons.  So, progress has been made but we have some work still to do in getting the conditions right.

Lakew and Lizzie discussing the herb Wonde Cheret at the Doyu-Armon garden

We checked in to the Abiido International Hotel.  Disappointing to find that the bath didn’t work but the trickle of hot water from the shower was a surprise bonus and quite adequate to remove the dust of the drive and reinvigorate some stamina.  Heading to Shikerker’s house, I couldn’t wait to meet up with the community members who had been so generous with their herbal information for my research and it was a fun reunion.   Of course they asked where daughter May and son Alemayehu were and I had to explain that the travelling team has shrunk a little this time, but they were happy to meet Kristin who was in charge of both the film camera and (even more importantly) containing my (and Lakew’s) enthusiasm to keep us on strict track. That woman has impressive skills and increasingly I realise how much I need her to keep this project aligned with objectives and being the voice of experienced caution. Although I have to confess to that heart-sinking moment when she says (as she so often did) “Yes, Lizzie, but are you considering..?” and I was glad to see Lakew looking equally crestfallen as he is worse than I am in the Big Idea stakes.

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