Botanica Ethiopia

Fiche community making the most of new land


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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Inspiration from within: a meeting with an extraordinary Ethiopian

Lizzie with Tessema Bekele of the EDA

Last week we met with Tessema Bekele, the Ethiopian founder and now Executive Director of the NGO Emmanuel Development Association.

Tessema told us his inspirational story of starting from humble beginnings with a small project idea, to what is today management of a large number of highly successful projects with international funding and support.  The focus is on marginalised youth, school dropouts, orphans and business skills training, as well as helping to empower women, who are a marginalised group in themselves.

I asked Tessema what led him on this journey.

“My father, a Coptic Orthodox priest, died when I was very young.  My mother had to look after me, my sister and brother and it was very difficult.  I was lucky enough to be sent to priest school.  One day, I was running home from school and I hurt myself, cutting my toe.  My mother is cleaning it for me, and she says; ‘My son,your father wanted you to be successful.  He died three years ago, Tessema, do not be discouraged.  You see those children who are your neighbours, they are 11 and 12 years old and they have not gone to school.  You are six, and you go to school. You must work hard and help others.”  This was his inspiration.

He went to university, and after working some time in the air force, he went to work for World Vision.  In 1996 he applied to the government to set up a charity, and after some discouragement  (his plans were considered too ambitious), he was eventually given a licence.

Today the Emmanuel Development Association has grown to  provide education to 146,000 children in Ethiopia, establishing 40 junior primary schools and 8 elementary secondary schools. It relies on 175 office staff (volunteers from overseas),  75 local professionals and  4 project officers.  The Association has handed over 25 schools to the government, which uses the education template they have set up.  In addition to education, they’re involved in alternative energy programs, urban “trash to cash” projects and microfinancing to women’s groups. 2,750 marginalised women are now engaged in co-operatives and business activities.

“Do you have herbal medicine gardens?” I asked.  “No,” said Tessema, “but it is a good idea and we would support it.”

When I asked his views of the Botanica Ethiopia project Tessema was very encouraging. “We were small when we started…this is a good and important project,” he said.

He emphasised the importance of engaging community, something which is a major aim of Botanica Ethiopia, in order to sustain project benefits well into the future. Tessema’s story is one of optimism; we have much to learn from his experiences – not only how to do things, but more importantly, how to avoid some of the mistakes that can easily be made by those who are well-intentioned but sometimes lacking in experience and local knowledge.  It is a good story of a local who has had vision and enterprise, not to speak of persistence, in overcoming the difficulties and pitfalls which can stand in the way of a good project. And for the Botanica Ethiopia project, some useful and pertinent advice.

Despatch from Addis

Lizzie shares her first few days back in Ethiopia with the Living Pharmacy project.

Stepping out from the sanitised chill of the airplane into everything that is Addis Ababa, feeling the thrill of returning here mixed with anxious anticipation of all that we hope to achieve in this second visit for Botanica Ethiopia; this is the start of another journey.

I am travelling this time on my own from Australia, but met up in Dubai for a connecting flight to Addis with Kristin Gomes, a multi-skilled and multi-talented aid worker from America who has volunteered to spend a month with me overseeing the activities and bringing her wealth of knowledge to bear on the project.  Kristin also has the task of being Director of Photography with the filmwork documenting our progress.

We hit the ground running. Once we had settled into the guest house in the city, we set out to orientate ourselves.  This is my fourth visit, the Amharic language is coming back to me and is always useful to create a bit of hilarity wherever I go.  The sounds, the images, comfortingly familiar; this means I can get to work the next day quickly without too much distraction.  A few telephone calls later, some meetings arranged, and a quick email back home to the family to let them know of our safe arrival.

My first meeting was with Dr. Zemede Asfaw of Addis Ababa University, who helped to supervise my research at Fiche.  Warm reunion greetings over, Dr. Zemede introduced me to Abiyu Enew, the postgraduate student in Ethnobotany whom he is supervising to replicate my research and to conduct a wider ethnobotanical survey of the area.  Abiyu has done a great job, collecting specimens of many plants in the area for depositing in the herbarium at the University.  We arranged for Abiyu to join us on our trip to Fiche in a couple of days’ time where we will be talking to the women householders and to the herbalists to gauge their interest in establishing household herbal gardens.  We will be visiting the main Doyu-Armon garden to see the herbs that have been planted and to see Lakew’s work in improving the soil to support their growth.

Dr. Zemede also introduced me to a doctorate student from Cornell University in the States who is conducting agroforestry research in the northern part of Ethiopia.  Every time we meet with people here, more possibilities arise for Botanica Ethiopia and it is my job, and Kristin’s, to ensure that we stay on track in getting the fundamentals right.

Kristin’s words of caution come from experience:  “Lizzie, all these ideas are wonderful possibilities.  Now, put them on the shelf ready to bring down later…”  This is good advice –  a major focus of this trip is to make sure that what we are doing is sustainable, and to do that a solid foundation has to be built.

We are well on the way.  Our second meeting was with Lakew to organise our field trip to Fiche. We will travel there on Tuesday to spend a few days with the householders and herbalists, to determine their interest in developing individual household herbal gardens and to see how we can support them to do that.

Coffee with Solomon and Kristin in Gofa Sefir