Archive for the ‘Celebrations’ Category

Finally! The blog becomes a book. Why did I do it? Initially I simply wanted to print my blog from start to finish in hard copy, to be able to reflect on to my experiences as recorded over three significant years of my life. What started out as a straightforward idea grew into a book project. I intended to make a few copies for family and friends, but with the cost of making more copies lowering the average price per book, my sister Kat urged me to go big.  “Print a lot, have a book launch and see what happens!”

Good things happened…


Book titleIt was a challenge to get it done so quickly, but when Cuso International Ethiopia invited me back in January 2016 to assist in the orientation of their first group of Assosa volunteers, I asked graphic designer extraordinaire Terry if he thought it was possible to get the book finished in time for me to take copies with me for Ethiopian friends. Over the past year and a half we had been working on it at a leisurely pace with no firm end date in mind. Suddenly with a deadline looming in two weeks, we worked at a frenzied pace to finalize the design and finish the edits. Thanks to the excellent support of Bond Printers, 150 copies of Spider Webs Unite – My Volunteer Experience in Ethiopia were delivered three days before take off!

With my two bag allowance to Addis Ababa via London, I managed to squeeze in 17 copies of the 1.25 kg book. And despite a few typos that slipped through, I am delighted with the result. Most gratifying is the response of my Ethiopian friends and colleagues. “You did not forget us” they said as they pored over the 1710 colour photos in the 246 page book. Over the next 6 weeks I was able to enjoy many reunions and gift them their book. It made all the time, energy and cost worth while.IMG_1395

Here Henok receives the first copy of the book in Addis Ababa in the gardens of the Ghion Hotel on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon in February.

IMG_1410Zerefa was thrilled to get her copy and also able to take 3 to Woldia – one for Asrebab our landlady and one each for the Teachers’ College where I had worked for the year and one to the new Woldia University where many of the instructors I had in my HDP class are now teaching.





Yasabu from the Ministry of Education where I worked for two years accepted a copy and was pleased to see the photos of his family included.


Ruth from VSO Ethiopia accepted a copy for the office


Wendwossen from the new Cuso Ethiopia office flips through the book


When I called my friend Hiwot to tell her I was back and had a surprise for her she said “Well I too have a surprise – I have a baby girl!”


What a delight to meet the miracle baby and share coffee at her home!


I met artist Abiy Eshete for juice and he spent an hour poring over every page, thrilled his two paintings are featured at the beginning and end of the book . He was impressed with the graphic design. Terry had suggested we put a colour screen behind the photos on each page based on the cherubs from the famous Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gondor along with the Queen of Sheba design.

yellow background

For fun we chose to code the years from 2010-2013 with the colours of the Ethiopian flag – yellow, green, red and blue. Yes a lot of TLC went into this production.

blue background

I couldn’t wait to visit my old compound to share the book with my Addis family – Kifle, Almaz and the kids growing up so fast – Sami about the complete grade 12 and younger siblings Meron and Eyob…



Returning home to Vancouver my official Canadian book launch was April 10th, complete with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony thanks to my friends Alganesh and Akeberet. They used the fresh green coffee I brought back from Assosa to scent the air, enabling many friends to experience their first real Ethiopian coffee ceremony and to sample Ethiopian food.


Akeberet performs the coffee ceremony.


Alganesh was a great support, roasting coffee, assisting in the ceremony and  with the food.


At the Book Launch with my sister Kat, the one who encouraged me to publish the book!IMG_5085

Friends got creative with Ethiopian finger food…

This May the book came along to England and Ireland when I visited family and reconnected with former VSO volunteer friends. Just this week I got a lovely message from someone who had read it in Ethiopia at Wini’s Gourmet Corner cafe near the Mulmul Bakery in Addis Abeba and earlier I had heard from fellow volunteers who had seen it at Susan’s Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela. Next week I’m giving a book talk at the Gibson’s library on the Sunshine Coast. I only have a few books left and most are spoken for but am looking into other options to make it available. Meanwhile if you are interested in what I had to say in the my Afterword read it on page 11 in the recently published  BCTF Social Justice Newsletter.


A lot is changing in the political landscape of Ethiopia as I write this post. All I can do from afar is light a candle for peace and stability to all the good people I care about in that world so far away. I continue to feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend 3 years of my life living and learning in Ethiopia and hope the intelligence, strength and resilience of the people I got to know will see them through their current challenges.

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Trudging through soggy maple leaves in my Vancouver neighbourhod today I had to face the fact – winter is approaching and it is my first one in three years! How will I cope? Fortunately, near perfect weather since my return has smoothed my “re-integration process” as it is called.

leaves on sidewalkTruly magnificent colours this year!

lions with snowBut just this week I saw snow on the “lions” – yes our very own mountain lions, sculpted by nature

I would call my re-entry into my “culture” idyllic so far. Many people have been asking “ Do you have culture shock after living 3 years in Ethiopia?”

trut lake view with red reflections

Trout Lake is about a kilometer walk from my place and yes, I am “shocked” by the beauty of the natural environment here, even in the big city!

No, I say, so far I am just very happy to be enjoying life back home in my beautiful city in what, by all accounts, has been the best summer and autumn in many years. And yes, I was ready to come home, was looking forward to my return and planning ahead for it. Having a knee ligament problem without proper medical interventions was a challenge this past year and I knew I needed to see a medical expert and put a physiotherapy and exercise plan in place. Thankfully I am now on the mend.

Of course, there have been some jarring juxtapositions and tugs at my heartstrings but overall these past three months have truly been a delightful “honeymoon period”.

 What was most “jarring”?

  • At first I was hyper sensitive to different smells and sounds – walking along the street inhaling aromas of Indian, Chinese, Mexican,Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and other foods, not to mention the heavenly scent of bacon. The sounds were so different; musicians jamming in the park across my street, the roar of motorcycles and swoosh of cars, noisy crows and gulls contrasted with what I had become accustomed to – a soundscape of barking dogs, donkey he-haws, the occasional hyena at night, coffee being pounded in a giant wooden mortar and pestle, twitterings of finches and cooing pigeons, the unique calls of hawkers passing in the Addis lanes, being immersed in Amharic speaking crowds
  • Food frenzy: This year’s super food is kale. Food TV is worse than ever with a focus on gluttony and competition. I have always loved to cook and entertain but this competitive cooking and search for exotic ingredients seems crazy to me. And the food demonizing has gone beyond silly – the current evil food is gluten. Is that meringue you made gluten-free? someone whispered to me at a party – well yes it is, I said. Good thing the hyperglycemia fad is over or it would have been deemed toxic! Read a blog that summed it up – these “rich white people’s diseases”. Inviting people over these days involves negotiating a minefield of allergies, restrictions, special diets and obsessions. And I wonder – are they any happier or healthier?
  • Technological advances leave me breathless in this “fast forward culture”. Everyone is pretty much connected to a personal device at all times and I am not immune – it is a double edged sword and I wonder if I could give up my iPhone or computer for a even a day… Socialize with people and inevitably someone will look things up online to get an answer or tidbit of information, or be reading their emails or texting. Being a pedestrian is much more hazardous due to “distracted driving” by people using such devices, causing more accidents. Homes are bursting with bigger, better, faster – the latest everything. I almost shrieked with surprise when a shiny giant refrigerator spit out ice cubes and cold water from one of its doors. A bit different from my water filtering and boiling process in Ethiopia! Shopping for new appliances is exhausting and disheartening; a salesman admitted to me that the old stoves are simpler and last longer. Will this planned obsolescence and the resulting pollution ever end?
  • Choices: Wisely I avoided big box stores for the first couple of months, though I did venture into a medium sized store to buy a toothbrush early on and was overwhelmed by the selection. Really, do we need all these options? I still prefer to shop at small neighbourhood stores within walking distance of my home. Being a consumer in this culture is hard work, not to mention very expensive. On the other hand, I appreciate more choice in newspapers, CBC radio, uncensored Internet independent media and the chance to speak freely about politics without fear.

What do you miss about Ethiopia?

 My Addis home and “family”

·         Recently I got an email from my VSO friend Judy reporting that Titi had 7 puppies and that made me homesick for the Addis compound…but I expect pictures will be sent to me once they come out of protective hiding. I imagine Sami, Meron and Eyob watching the pups in their basket and feeding them their first injera mush!

dogs jumping upYes I do miss them, but not their barking!

Animals on the streets and lanes

bull statueNo bulls (or sheep, chickens, donkeys or goats for that matter) wandering around Vancouver – just bronze facsimilies

Being famous

  • I no longer stand out in a crowd and people on buses or walking by on the street don’t strike up conversations with “Hello ferenji” and kids aren’t shouting “You, you, you” when I walk by, though some advertising campaign with “You! You! You! ” on the sides of some buses (sadly, didn’t get a picture) made me laugh out loud in August

My tips for easing into life after volunteering

  • Leave in bad weather and travel home in the best season – I returned to the most beautiful August in years. With every day a sunny day, the cold rainy season I had left in Addis quickly faded from memory

3 graces at sunsetThe sunset view from my condominium. What I call my “three graces” trees are still dancing gracefully in the park!

  • Have a sister who plans a warm welcome

kat on deck

 Kat took excellent care of me as I got over my jet lag

welcome home cakeA welcome home cake concludes the feasting at Kat’s place

cake for breakfast at katsCake for breakfast on the deck with fruits I had not tasted in a year – why not?

  • Have a happy family reunion at a fairy tale wedding on a lake in the BC interior

canoe6Arrival of the bride by canoe – how Canadian is that?

windy sceneThe Kootenay Lake wedding of my niece Lea to Ryan was a three day fairy tale extravaganza

siblings2And a chance for all four siblings (Father of the bride Ken, Me, Eric and Kat) to spend time together!

I remembered how to driveAfter three years without driving I rented a car and drove (slowly) through the Fraser Valley and Okanagan to the Kootenays, pleased my driving skills came back to me within a few kilometers

Similkameen River at Forbidden FruitMarveling at the beauty of my Canada

Kat at Copper EagleKat fuels up for the road at Greenwood BC

  • Avoid all large manifestations of consumer culture until acclimatized
  • Walk in nature

ethiopian flag coloursTaking a walk to enjoy the leaves, I realized that the green, yellow and red trees echoed the Ethiopian flog colours of my scarf; in Ethiopia I had been collecting examples of flag colours for a blog which never got written, everything from flag underwear elastic to flip flops to sides of building in the patriotic colours, and here, back home, they appeared again!

  • Get a pass to the Vancouver International Film Festival and binge on films for two weeks, taking a baggage free world tour to put things in the global context
  • Attend events at the Writers’ festival, including hearing how Amanda Lindhout, who was kidnapped in Somalia for 460 days has re-framed her life’s purpose in helping Somali women and children get an education – and thank my lucky stars I escaped such trauma
  • Spend long lunches, dinners and coffee times with friends, getting updated on their lives and sharing thoughts on the state of the world
  • Stock my bedside table with library books! Re-join my 2 book clubs and start catching up on a lot of great reads
  • Savour the flavours of foods I have missed, knowing I don’t need to go overboard as they will still be there for the forseeable future
  • Continue online courses for my UBC Certificate in International Development. The timing was superb these past 6 weeks as Monitoring and Evaluation in Development helped me to put my volunteer work in perspective, appreciate how much I had learned from my various experiences and imagine ways I could move forward with what I now understand
  • Continue daily writing in my journal to track my thoughts and feelings and reflect on what I continue to learn in life
  • Drink Ethiopian coffee and keep connected with Ethiopian friends and volunteers

Issyas and zerefa fundraiserAt the end of September I attended a fundraiser for Zerefa’s NGO and got a chance to wear one of my outfits – here I am with Zerefa and her husband Issayas. This week she returned to Ethiopia to continue her work to support orphans in Woldia

  • Help my sister with book sales – I am very pleased to announce that Kat has a book out – Picturing Transformation, with sumptuous photographs by Nancy Bleck. Written in collaboration with Nancy and Chief Bill Williams, this book documents the ten year long “Utsam/Witness project” involving camping weekends attended by ten thousand people that saw indigenous people from the Squamish Nation, artists, environmentalists and a spectrum of BC citizens unite to peacefully protect the land at Sims Creek in the Upper Elaho Valley of BC from logging. It is an example of how welcoming people to the land in a traditional witness ceremony, and having them experience its spiritual and physical wealth transforms thinking and mobilizes people to protect the land for future generations. Its a testament to the power of collaboration and an inspiring lesson in the possibilities for resolving conflict peacefully.
  • Sign up for a Returned Volunteer Weekend – Cuso International offers a “re-integration” weekend for volunteers and I look forward to this opportunity on November 22-24th in Ottawa to meet other returned volunteers, share insights and experiences and talk more about development, especially as I see international development at a major crossroad right now. By the time I get to Ottawa, the snow may have reached the ground. Yikes! Stay tuned for an update when I return…

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The preparations began weeks ahead with the setting of the date (Saturday, June 15th) and invitations issued. This past week involved a flurry of provisioning and baking. Meron and Eyob offered to decorate and Sami appointed himself the music man. Peter kindly agreed to let us transform his larger salon into the indoor party place since the rainy season is early this year and the forecast was metfo (bad) with thunder and rain predicted.

meron and etob decoratingMeron and Eyob get into decorating mode

kifle eyob and almazCooking up chocolate cake, pumpkin pie and lentil curry in my kitchen! Even Ato Kifle came in to watch – he is the expert sheep selector!


The decorating started early and continued all afternoon, using up all the balloons, ribbons, candy wrappers and tape I had squirreled away for the occasion of my last hurrah!

eyob and meron at work on watermelonSaturday morning we get down to serious preparations. Here are Eyob and Meron – the watermelon team!

meron and I with our art!Meron and I show off our creations!

a touch of canada olives and cheddarCanadian content – olives and cheddar on flag toothpicks.

night sheepWhen I got home from having a pint at the Pride after my last (yipee!) Volunteer Committee meeting on Friday evening Sami immediately introduced me to our sheep!

very attractive sheepNext morning I thanked the sheep and assured it that it would be memorialized on the internet  for its contribution to the party

dogs wait from a distanceMeanwhile these three waited from a safe distance in hungry anticipation! I am happy to say that they behaved very well at the party, no one was nipped or even threatened – I think they were too full! Rocky the pup seems to have had a positive effect on his parents!

sheep and butcherThe butcher arrived late morning

slaughtered sheep hangingBloody business…but close to the bone;after all, if you eat meat, this is as close to the source as it gets

cutting up sheepAlem, who is staying with us now and has been working in the middle east off and on for the past 8 years, assisted with the meat cutting. She is an awesome cook and helped out a lot this week! I think she should open her own cafe..

amazon and alem with lots of meat!Amazon and Alem have plenty of chopping and cutting on their hands!

adding more meatAlmaz, Amazon and Etenu ( and Alem) all got involved in the tibs preparation

goodbye signPeter’s walls made a good backdrop for goodbye messages in both official languages

table and decorations in  peters place with me and eyobSami decided it was time for a photo when we began setting out food

sami the music manMusic by Sami. Peter decided he has a future s a DJ!

sami's pumpkin pieSami proudly shows off pumpkin pies squares he has decorated with Canadian maple syrup cream and walnuts and then says to me “I think it is time for you to change”…

me in woldia dressSo I put on my Woldia party dress!

sizzling tibsMeantime the tibs continued to simmer and scent the air wonderfully

cooking the tibsI recently found out that Almaz had a cafe before Sami was born – no wonder she is such a great chef!

sandwiched between 2 peters!Peter K was first to arrive so we decided it was time for a glass of wine with me sandwiched between the “two Peters” in Peter’s salon (he is on the left). Peter K told Sami that all British men named Peter come with beards and glasses!

peter and endashaw - my neighboursThis past year Peter Cheer and Endashaw have been my friendly compound neighbours

anjeli mike and endashawCanadian doctors Anjeli and Mike along with Endashaw, also Canadian, are all heading home soon

suzie and judySuzie and Judy share a moment!

tucking in to appetizers and conversationThe crowd grows and the skies threaten but hold off so we can enjoy the open space

food is served by almazTibs, gomen and lentil curry are served with injera!

howie abiy and samiHowie, Abiy Eshete (artist) and Sami share ideas

henok and meronHenok and his sister Meron arrive!

lovely smiles - merson and edanWonderful support staff from VSO Meron and Eden enjoy the scene. Missing Selamwit in this picture – she is a true gem and was off elsewhere enjoying the party – so glad they all could come!

Selamawit receptionHere’s a picture of Selamawit!

These three young bright talented women deserve gold stars for all the hard work they do for volunteers!

liz and biruk reunion!More arrive and greet old friends – lots of out-of-towners came too!

kate barbara helen and danKate, Barbara, Helen and “Big Dan” enjoy the  buffet

eating tibs!

howie and shvetaFriend Shveta who works at MoE as a consultant arrives to join the fun!

me and difo dabbo!I must pose with the special Difo Dabbo Almaz made for the occasion

judy with lit cakeSurprise – a birthday cake because on Sunday I turn silsa arat. Thanks to Judy!

trick candles again!Oh no  – its those same candles from last year that keep re-igniting no matter how hard you blow them!

sami and sun light fireworksYes Sami, it is finally time for the fireworks! Sun from China (where fireworks were invented)  helps him get them started

difo dabo on fire!Good show! There were small sparklers too handed around by Eyob, just for fun

dr brian meets henokCanadian Dr Brian finally gets to meet Henok who is a student at Black Lion Hospital medical school where Brian is working to set up a family medicine specialization program

edith and danielEdith and Daniel, Kenyan volunteers sharing a laugh!

eyob me kifle shveta and almazTime to pose with Eyob, Kifle, Shveta and Almaz

mary may move into my houseMary is from the Philippines and also works at MoE; she hopes to end up with my tiny cozy house when I go in a month!

meeting the artistThe rain held off till quite late and then we were indoors. Abiy had brought some of his small paintings to show people and they were much admired and some were sold!

crowd sceneThe rains ended quickly and we were again able to enjoy the compound atmosphere. Many others leave Ethiopia very soon; about 30% of all the current volunteers are finishing up so this moment was a time of farewells for many of us

eyob's tributeEyob decided to do a tribute to me -so sweet!

I feel blessed – thanks to all who came and others far away who sent good wishes.  Good memories of my time in Addis center on the sense of shared community; the VSO/Cuso volunteer community and the amazing support in our compound community of Kifle, Almaz, Sami, Meron, Eyob, Amazon, Etenu, Alem and Peter to pull this off! Not many 64 year old Canadians can say they’ve celebrated their birthday two years in a row with a sheep feast in Ethiopia but, thanks to Cuso International and VSO, I am one who can!

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The bus touts swarmed us at the Woldia manaharia (bus station) but we were experienced enough to play it cool. Whenever foreigners appears in Woldia they are accosted by shouts of “Lalibela, Lalibela”. This is the main reason anyone passes through Woldia – to visit the 11 rock-hewn churches of this famous UNESCO world heritage site and likely accounts for a large percentage of Ethiopia’s tourism income. But that was not our motivation to visit this time.

My travel strategy involved seeking out a bright looking English speaking young man who appeared to be trying to get on the same bus

“Hello, are you going to Lalibela?” I ask

“Yes I am”, he replied in good English

“Great, so are we, can you help us out?”

“Of course”,  he volunteered.

True to his word, he made sure we got seats and then helped us negotiate the second bus once we arrived in the chaos of small town Gashena. Turns out he is working for a German NGO that is involved in saving the endangered endemic Ethiopian wolf.

stradling 2 vansWe squeezed onto a mini-bus going to Gashena  on the ashphalt road (aka the “China Road”) and hoped for the best…after all, these roads were more straightforward with fewer hairpin curves up the mountainsides

The last time Shelagh and I had done this trip we had taken a bus that diverted to a “short cut” gravel road where we had to ford a “small river” washout with 50 others on a 24 passenger bus. This time this one proved a better option…the road was good and the ride not bad, only a couple of stops to ditch extra passengers prior to the traffic police check and then collect them again a few kilometers ahead – they appeared to have sprinted through the fields to catch up. Well, Ethiopia is famous for its’ runners after all!

next bus to lalibelaThe second mini-bus from Gashena to Lalibela, fated to be stopped twice by the traffic police and once for onions!

buna breakTaking a buna break in Gashena while the mini-bus gets a tune up, Steve and Shelagh are anticipating meeting their Plan foster girl the next day in a small village near Lalibela

My motivation was to cut down travel time back to Addis by taking this route and flying back the next day. At the same time I would get to see our Scottish friend Susan who now has a flourishing restaurant, Ben Abeba, on top of a mountain in  Lalibela. Shelagh and I had seen it half built two years earlier and I had been back in January 2012. Since then I had sent countless other volunteers there to be nourished by Susan’s good home cooking and always got happy reports of her superb hospitality. I wanted to spend one more evening on the top of the world with good friends!

minibus from woldiaLooks like there’s room for a few more in here…

lowland townTypical scenes along the way

two goatsSometimes it is just easier to sling a defiant goat over your shoulder!

dirt road to lalibelaYes the woman (and the donkey) usually carries the bigger burden here…

boys looking at us in busWhenever a bus stops children instantly appeared to stare in at us and beg for pens, money and candies. I tried to get a good photo of girls but every time I made an attempt boys would jump in front of them with a grin. Yes indeed there is much gender work left to do here…

Heartbreaking as it is, when confronted by these kids, to hand out trinkets would result in literally dozens more appearing out of nowhere and demanding more. In Ethiopia there is never enough and, especially where tourists abound, the children have learned that begging often yields results. As development workers with concerns about long term solutions to poverty the challenge always is to balance compassion with pragmatism. I find that smiles and jokes, asking them some questions (what grade are you in?), some attempts at broken Amharic and showing them their photos on the camera screen works for me…

In the Bradt Guide author Phillip Briggs makes a good point  in his piece on responsible tourism: ” The thread that runs through my opinions is that you should never give things to people who ask just because you are a foreigner. The give-me, give-me, give-me attitude is prevalent enough already in Ethiopia;responding to it will only reinforce it.”

In Lalibela town itself the kids are trained to say “Welcome to Lalibea” and not to beg overtly. A favourite scam though is the one that goes like this: “I really want to learn English – would you please buy me a dictionary?”  The naive tourist is taken to a shop, pleased to support some poor kid’s education. The same dictionary has been sold hundreds of times, the shopkeepers are laughing all the way to the bank and the kid pockets few Birr as well! He could have been in school instead.

boys with ballShowing off their hand made ball

loading onionsRed onions skins drifted past my open window and scented our luggage as five sacks of onions added a weight to the roof that I though might cause it to cave in!

Our bus had several long unscheduled stops on the gravel road from Gashena to Lalibela. While it is only 60 km we spent time loading 5 sacks of red onions at one point and a hour long pause while the traffic police issued the driver with what looked like several tickets and smacked him in the face while half the passengers stood around and weighed in on the situation. Someone took an air filter hostage so the bus could not take off. In situations like this, the only smart move is to stay put and quiet and allow things to resolve. Eventually a fine was paid, the filter returned and we were on the road again.

looking downFinally at about 4 PM we chugged up to the top of the mountain in Lalibela. 175 km, two mini-buses and 7 hours travel time. Oh well – it took Thomas Pakenham 4 days on a mule from Dessie to Lalibela so things have certainly developed since 1955!

me and susanAfter a deliciously decadent hot shower at the Top 12 Hotel set on the nearby cliff, we finally met Susan for our reunion at Ben Abeba –  Salut!

During her 6 years living in Lalibela Susan has opened a school and a restaurant and shows no sign of stopping with plans for accommodation in the works – not your usual retirement! Ben Abeba employs 32 cheerful young people who are being taught hospitality industry skills in cooking, serving, finance, management and customer service. I have no doubt this initiative will ripple out for years to come and improve the lives of many more Lalibela citizens.

kitchenThis is likely the most beautiful kitchen in the country! The girl in the foreground in scrubbing out giant pan for the film set…

Ben Abeba gets great reviews on Trip Advisor and has made it into the new 2012 version of the excellent Bradt Guide to Ethiopia – only problem is they raved about her Shepherd’s Pie so now they are obliged to make it every day; one night they served 20 portions! Steve and I enjoyed it too while Shelagh opted for the meatballs and pasta.

movie set and habtamAnd here’s a surprise – we are on a film set!

Susan’s Ethiopian business partner Habtam shows off the film set – turns out an Irish-American co-production is being partially filmed at Ben Abeba and the new flowers and plants will remain as a garden legacy. Titled “Wild”, this Lalibela love story is expected to be in theatres in about a year.

ben abebaMore railings and a glassed in area have been added since I last visited

wifi at ben abebaAnd yet another surprise – Susan has Wifi!

down pool ben abebaGardens and future sites for some small tukuls to rent out

dining on top at sunsetBen Abeba at sunset – a destination well worth the effort!

sunset with railingAfter a long and lovely evening reminiscing and catching up, we said our farewells and headed off to the Top 12 Hotel where I sunk into a decadent mattress with springs – foreshadowing what’s to come when I get home in two months after three years of VSO foam!

lalibela quiltTucked under a heavenly Lalibela angels quilt for a great night’s sleep…

Next morning Shelagh and Steve were collected by Plan officials to meet their foster girl and I chatted with two couples staying at our hotel en route to the airport who had enjoyed hiking in the mountains. The Swiss couple plan to visit Vancouver in the fall so I invited them to look me up there! He has been working with Medicins sans Frontiers in the Somali region for a while with interesting stories to tell. You never know…

fields from planeFlying home over freshly planted fields

ploughing with oxenAll these fields are still being ploughed by oxen – I was reminded of this as we walked past the Woldia Primary School on the way to the college

airiel viewBright green teff fields and small rural villages

simien mountians entrancePassing by the Simien Mountains our Ethiopian Airlines flight touched down briefly in Gondor and then smoothly took us to Addis Abeba

view from planeDeep gorges. No doubt about it – Ethiopia has stunning landscapes and rich potential

diggy welcomeHome sweet home to the usual welcoming gang and then back to work the next morning after my 5 day adventure packed journey with good friends and two destinations that touched my heart.

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“Oh” said Shelagh “I think he is holding that air filter hostage!” We were enjoying a return visit to Woldia and Lailibela and the usual bizarre and at times hilarious adventures along the way reminded me of our ten months sharing a volunteer life at Woldia College of Teacher Education in 2010-2011.

steve and shelagh at selam busSteve and Shelagh ready to board the Selam Bus at 5:30 AM to go to Dessie. They had come from Nottingham for a visit and I joined them for the Woldia-Lalibela part of their trip since it was my last chance to see the folks I know in Woldia and Lalibela before I leave in July

My companion at the window seat turned out to be an interesting fellow. A Protestant, he explained his work as a religious educator and I got some insights into his world view that helped me better understand the rising trend toward Protestantism in Ethiopia. I also felt refreshingly able to share my own perspectives with this obviously intelligent and committed man. We talked about the work they are doing to help the poorest members of their congregation and those infected with HIV, using the government 1:5 model that also is used in workplaces. In this model people are organized into small groups of 5 with one being the leader. In his context he felt this  model helped them not only teach religion but also identify those in need. He seemed appreciative of my suggestions on how to infuse some critical thinking into their work..quite an stimulating 6-8 AM conversation indeed!

debre sina vendorsDebre Sina! When Shelagh and I were en route back and forth we usually texted each other when we reached this half way point to Dessie, that is the usual 30 minute stop. Persistent sellers offer a wide range of specialties including kollo (roasted barley with a few peanuts), dried oregano, sugar cane, fruits in season – this time small plums, oranges and mangoes.

We had our traditional makeeato and looked forward to the second leg of the journey, thinking we were making such good time we might get to Woldia by 4 and could certainly make it to Dessie with having to visit the infamous Debre Sina toilets. But we were in for a surprise…

collecting luggae from selam busThe bus had broken down and they started unloading luggage off the disabled beast – and we had paid extra for this relatively luxurious and safer vehicle!

Amidst the chaos we eventually got onto a minibus arranged by the bus company but our tickets were taken from us and not returned and, as is the tradition, no one explained anything. Certainly no chance of a refund. Taking a bus in Ethiopia is never simple.

camel and manHowever we headed down the mountain into the lowlands, passing plenty of camels

donkey road hazardDrivers must watch out for donkeys and lorries – all part of the journey

road cattleMore typical road hazards

shop along the road near kombolchaDropping off a Peace Corps couple near Kombolcha I snapped this colourful vignette

winding road to DessieThen we headed up the long winding road to Dessie

dessie bus stationAt last we reached the Dessie bus station, stopping at a cafe first to use the “almost as awful as Debre Sina” loo…

arab and weyela on minibusNegotiating our final minibus ride of the day

Me “Is this driver going to chew khat”

Man  “Of course not, he is fine”

Me : “Are you telling me the truth?”

Man “Yes of course, I am taking this bus myself'”

crowded bus in gashenaLets see how many we can squish in…

dessie main streetOn the way out of Dessie – the main street

khat stopFirst stop out of Dessie near Hyak the same passenger who had assured me about the khat insisted we stop and proceeded to purchase a large bouquet of khat which I later watched him sharing with the driver

My experience is that it is not possible to travel from Dessie to Woldia without going in a minibus driven by a driver who is chewing khat, despite the fact it is illegal for drivers to chew. Like so many things here, the law has been written but the enforcement steps have yet to be taken…though there are a lot of traffic police checking for overcrowding these days…

sunrise at lalibela from top 12 I foolishly chose the worst seat and spent the next 2.5 hours bracing myself so I would not be tossed out as we careened up the mountain curves, while several of my fellow passenger proceeded to discreetly vomit into plastic bags and toss them out the windows. As Lonely Planet accurately states travel on Ethiopian buses can be “Butt-clenching”!

past dessie up highBest to focus in the scenery and visualize a safe arrival – in times like these it IS the destination, not the journey that keeps me going!

a small river..The final hurdle – a small river to charge through where the road had washed out

animals heading home at duskAnimals heading home at dusk, a lovely pastoral scene

freshly ploughed fieldsWoldia at last! Total time from 4 AM wake up to arrival = 15 hours to travel 520 km!

shekla tibsWe met the Woldia volunteers and headed out for beer and skekla tibs with injera, about all that’s on the menu right now with all other items being “not available” as usual. Luckily no vegetarians in the group or they would have been out of luck

cow outside aisling's bedroomAisling the new volunteer had kindly invited me to stay with her. We awoke to discover a cow had arrived overnight and settled in under the bedroom window.Well these things happen…it’s owner recovered it 24 hours later

chocho in woldiaThat morning I headed into town in a bajaj for breakfast and there he was – ChoCho the one horned pet Afar goat lives! Though he did seem pretty old and frail I was pleased I got to see him one last timecute bajajOne thing I really love about Woldia is the easy way you can get a bajaj anywhere for about 10 cents

special ful at wawNaturally I had to have Special  Ful for breakfast at the Waw Cafe balcony and enjoy the passing parade

chechebsa at wawAnother tasty breakfast option is chechebsa – small chunks of fried bread soaked in a honey-spiced butter-berbere mixture

cinema advertising vanOh yes, I had forgotten how these buses troll the streets with really loud speakers blaring out the cinema on offer at the municipal  hall

woldia view from wawConstruction continues to boom with skeletal scaffolds above already open ground floors

beer with zelalemThat afternoon we met up with Zelalem, who had been in my class, for a beer and to catch up on all the gossip. Aisling on the right is the new young Irish volunteer working with the Woldia University Higher Diploma Program

zerefa and her sisterLate afternoon we met Zerefa and her sister dressed for the Mels of their nephew Tamrat. We were honoured to be invited to attend this event that coincided with our trip to Woldia and Zerefa was thrilled that her match making had worked out!

aisling jim and tekluWe were all graciously included – Aisling is joined by Jim, another Irish volunteer who was passing though town on a Ministry of Education road trip with his colleague Teklu on the right

wedding welcomeExcitement mounted as candles were lit and a sheep was herded into the center of a jubilant circle of people clapping, drumming and singing

wedding sheep and drumI wondered if it was to be slaughtered on the spot but then I saw the buffet so I think it was given a reprieve…


grrom and brideGroom Tamrat helps his bride Feven out of the car

wedding scene with briede and grrom and basketsA Mels happens after the wedding and is where the family of the bride welcomes the family of the groom or vise versa. The groom Tamrat is from Canada and his bride is from Dessie

buffetThe wedding party enjoys an impressive buffet

I was an honour to be included in their celebration and I wish Tamrat and Feven many blessings as they begin their married life together.

Next day I visited the new Woldia University

woldia university tea houseWoldia University is up and running in two years with 6 faculties and first and second year students, an impressive accomplishment. This round tea room is gorgeous!

woldia universityIt is astounding how fast this university went up. Two years ago it was only a plan. Last year they started using a temporary facility nearby and now they have enrolled 2nd years students amid the construction on campus – a work in progress!

sharing a laugh with balianeshIt was fun to meet old friends from our time in Woldia CTE who have moved on to work at the university. Balainesh is now secretary to our former college dean, Ato Bihonegn

friend from woldia CTE now at universityBalianesh, Tesfaw works in Finance and Ato Bigonegn is Vice President – Administration

countryside n=and jeery cans near universityWomen  with jerry cans of water near the university campus, a reminder that 85% of the population still exists on subsistence farming alongside this rapid expansion of tertiary educational facilities and that only about a quarter of adult females are literate and half of males…

Later I visited my old workplace, and was amazed at the transformation

Woldia CTE buildingsThe new Woldia College of Teacher Education is almost complete. Next step will be the landscaping

I enjoyed some brief reunions with many of the instructors who had been in my HDP class though about a third have transferred to other institutions, as is common here. Still it was lovely to sit and catch up with several in their new offices and share a thirst quenching laslasa (soft drink) in the hot sun with others. The next day I spoke to several on the phone that I had missed seeing, including Nejashi who said, “Please don’t forget us”. “I promise you”, I replied, choking up a little, “I will never forget you” How could I?

goofing around in the old HDP ELIC roomAt the College we enjoyed some silliness with masks in our old classroom, scheduled to be demolished in a month since the new buildings are all  but complete

with grads and yokosoIt was a delightful surprise to see a group of 3rd year students about to graduate – when we were there they were beginners! And the boy called  Yokoso in front with the drawings turned up too – he used to draw me a lot of lions on scrap paper I provided and he is still at it!

woldia VSOs past and presentTea time with the soon to graduate students – here you see all the volunteers in Woldia past and present lined up. Alain and David replaced Shelagh and me and have now almost completed their two years. Aisling arrived two months ago to teach HDP at the new university

Marian serke and shelaghAnd Serke has a new Shy Bet (tea house) near the primary School so we had another reunion

future teachersFuture teachers brimming with confidence!

passin scne shopI enjoyed a visit to the Adago area and said hi to a few shop owners I knew

makeato fancy cup with sayingPaused for a makeato at the Hamar Cafe – it came is a most surprising cup!

The message on the saucer read: “In the taste you may do as much as you like to enjoy an elegance and leisure. Even if there is a leisure time for awhile you still can expel sadness and oppression.” Indeed!

All too soon it was time to say a final farewell to Woldia and tackle a day of bus travel to Lalibela to visit our friend Susan at her Ben Abeba restaurant, the one Shelagh and I had seen two years earlier when it was still under construction. Stay tuned for part two, including the fate of that air filter…and a visit to a movie set…

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Visualize this – someone in a Cuso International t-shirt leaning forward with a piece of raw meat on a stick in his/her mouth about to feed  a wild hyena; the caption reads “Take a risk!” Would that grab your attention and possibly get you to read the pitch to be a volunteer in Ethiopia? Well that’s what our Canadian team came up with during the “key messaging” session at the recent VSO Ethiopia national conference…Yes volunteering can be risky and adventurous but relax, feeding wild animals is not really part of anyone’s job description. Though, for the record, no animals or humans have been harmed while taking part in the unique tourist experience of feeding hyena’s in Harar and a few vacationing volunteers have enjoyed the photo op!

Canadian group

The Canadian team at Lake Langano: Brian, Nalini, Sharmilla, Tsion, Me, Francis and Gerald with Beza in front

Volunteering really does provide challenges and opportunities along with risk and adventure. Organizing a national conference is certainly not without risk and I must admit that when I saw the email, my heart sank. Deputy Country Director Catherine had found some funds that needed spending before the fiscal year-end and issued a “challenge” to our VSO Ethiopia volunteer committee – organize a conference for 150, including all long tern volunteers, 38 short term youth volunteers and staff within 3 weeks. As chair of the volunteer committee, I knew we had to say YES and make it happen. After all, there had not been a national conference since 2010, volunteers were asking for a chance to meet as a whole and our volunteer committee had been lobbying for just such an opportunity. I also knew it would be risky, trying to please such a large and diverse group.

Thankfully when I contacted the committee, several immediately agreed to help. James was in town between meetings for the week, Gideon joined us one afternoon and agreed to be the “registrar” via email, Kate showed up for a medical appointment so we just mixed and matched meetings, keeping in contact by email and mobile with Barbara to make it happen! To avoid chaos and confusion we agreed on a clear and efficient communications strategy, using the VSOE Weekly Update for general messages with links to emails of those in charge of registration and transportation.

introductiona at vso officeComing together at the VSO office to take the bus to Langano, spirits were high. Most people had flown to Addis (or already live in Addis) so we needed 4 buses to make the journey, all efficiently organized by Eden, Judy and Beza

lake langanoThe stage is set – Lake Langano!

Location was a major issue since the budget was small and few places could accommodate a group our size. The added challenge of power cuts, unreliable phones and fax machines made getting the requisite 3 quotes take much longer than anticipated. Suddenly a breakthrough came and James and I found ourselves in Ruth’s car heading to a negotiation with a “big man” in charge of the Lake Langano property. Yes he said, I will set up a tent on the beach big enough for 150, yes I will give you the most expensive buffet for the middle price, yes, yes, yes! I basked in the Amharic negotiations and, understanding my numbers well, I even managed a few clarifying questions as Ruth used her charm to get us a great deal. Meanwhile, I secretly wondered how a small bottle of pink nail polish had made its way into the man’s desktop arrangement of pens and pencils…

With great relief, we were able to announce the location to the participants who already knew when but not where. Swim suits, sunscreen, torches and malaria medication were advised; Langano being one of the few Biharzia free lakes in Ethiopia, located in the lowlands of the Rift Valley about 270 km south of Addis.

The night before James, who had gone early to check things out called to warn me “We have a small problem”. No tent. Ever resourceful, he convinced the staff to re-arrange the dining room, moving tables and chairs into the bar and onto the deck, so we could use it for our sessions.

jenny and sheena on the deckAs soon as we arrived, the deck became a favourite place to meet new people and re-connect with others

Once we had settled into our rooms, our volunteer committee convened to iron out details and agree on tasks. We had left the evening free for people to mix and mingle and this seemed to set the right tone, as we were aiming for a good balance of free time and programmed sessions.

P1000733So far, so good! Time for a bottle of St George and sunset on the deck!

full house!The next morning we formally began, all squeezed in to the dining room converted to meeting hall!

beza and photoAfter the welcome and overview, and a short introductory activity, we  shared images of what VSO means to us.

IMG_4377Barbara had suggested we bring these images to contribute to a VSO collage, Judy volunteered to put it together and voila – we had a colourful conversation  piece/backdrop for our conference!

sharing the journey

Working in sector groups, we used metaphors to share our volunteer “journeys” and create group posters. Barbara had taken the initiative to seek out some extra funding and resources and we were thrilled to have these giant Post-It chart papers to use. This also meant that we all got new bright green t-shirts and some “beverages” for the final night’s festivities!

IT journeyThe IT group at work!

After all that creativity, it was time for tea…

peter gets birds eye view

Peter couldn’t resist a bird’s eye view of the tea table

what peter saw of the tea table

And it truly was an idyllic spot

tea table under tree

VSOE conferenceColourful birds and birdsong provided a delightful visual and audio backdrop

listening and leraning from each otherLong tea breaks and a 2-hour lunch gave plenty of time for informal conversations

ICS youth by the lakeTime with friends and time to meet new people. As well as long term volunteers, we included 38 ICS Youth Volunteers . These British and Ethiopian youth (ages 18-25) partner up to work together for 3 months contributing their skills to environmental, education, community development and health projects

three at teaFriends meet up after being spread out across the country  for some time

winne and tesfawVolunteers and staff  enjoying a chance to talk informally

tea brak on boat steps

geographical groupingsTo form regional groups for the afternoon session we lined up in direction/ distance from Addis and then we headed off to share ideas on how we could expand our regional linkages

barabara and Catherine consult on plan

Barbara and Deputy Country Director Catherine confer on the guiding questions for the regional group sessions

To involve as many people as possible, we had put out the call for volunteers to be on IT, social and sports committees and to facilitate or take notes for small groups and in the end at least half the people contributed beyond just participation.

An idea I came up with to allow maximum skill sharing was “Open Space” at the end of each day. We issued an invitation to volunteer to run an hour long session on whatever they wanted to share and let people chose whatever appealed to them. This seemed the riskiest idea to some of my colleagues – what if no one volunteers or people don’t show up? Don’t worry I said, it will work out!

face painting It was a risk that paid off! Talents shared by volunteers included…

face paintedFace paintingcross cuitural flag faces

weaver bird nestA bird watching expedition – Weaver birds amazed us with their nest building skills

cultural dancingEthiopian cultural dancing lessons


IT viruses talkIntense IT virus discussion!

Other Open Space sessions included Meditation, Origami, Ethiopian architecture, First Aid and photography. The energy and enthusiasm were catching and next day people added more sessions – hidden talents were surfacing… and it was a lot of fun!

beach jumpingWe ended the days early to allow free time before dinner -yeah!

line up on logGoofing around on a log!

VSO staff enjoy the beachNice to see VSO staff enjoying the beach!

on the beach and in the waterSwimming and playing in the lake or simply toe dipping…

food buffetTime for dinner – all meals were served buffet style on the bar

ruth and bezaVSOE staff Ruth and Beza

early morning sunand tree

Early morning meditation enjoyed with birdsong and sunlight on the acacias

morning yogaEarly bird yoga each morning at 7, led by Catharina


Birds watch people too!

group with customized t-shirtsHappy t-shirt models!

Judy customizes t-shirtsJudy, once a textiles teacher, helped customize t-shirts for some who were willing to risk the scissors for a new look

The second morning we set up heterogeneous “cross-cultural conversation” groups to tackle case studies that represented the common issues we face – accommodation, job frustrations/dissatisfaction, misunderstandings across cultures, emergencies, etc. Since a risk of events such as this is that they can spiral down into gripe sessions, these conversations were structured to support creative and collaborative problem solving. Volunteering in another country inevitably involves the ups and downs of culture shock and, despite the preparation we are given to help us cope, sometimes we really need a good listener. Comments on evaluations showed that it was helpful for some to recognize that they are not alone and that others have overcome similar challenges.

sharing ideasCross cultural conversations mixed people up to share perspectives on case studies representing common challenges faced by volunteers – it was helpful to learn how differently others may see the same situation…and how often we leap to conclusions that miss out a lot of the pieces of the puzzle,especially when we are in another country

open space in background

cross cultural conversationsWe tried to set up groups to ensure a mix of staff, volunteers from different sectors, cultures, and regions

VSO Ethiopia currently has volunteers from England, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, Zimbabwe,Uganda, the Philippines, the Netherlands, India, China and Canada (recruited through Cuso International) as well as Ethiopian and British youth volunteers.

Philippine:india groupVolunteers from the Philippines and India. Here you see doctors, IT experts, educators and even a mechanical engineer!

Moving on from challenges to successes was the next order of business and James and Kate assigned sector groups to share their small and large successes and figure out how to creatively present them to the rest of us.

ICT sucessesIT group sharing their successes – the presentations were high energy and plenty of fun

livelihood ICSYouth volunteers shared some amazing success stories. These were inspiring to all of us, as we had previously known little about what they were up to in Hawassa and Addis…

YIuth envirnomnet workClimate change is a cross cutting issue (like gender and ICT) in VSO’s strategic plan so it was good to see the youth doing environmental projects…

group having a laughThis education group had plenty of fun setting up their presentation!

group presentation

Viv explains her give me educationThere are also 4 APs (accompanying partners) currently in country and many have gotten involved in their own initiatives – here Viv shares her “Give Me Education” project in Axum that has resulted in several street kids getting into school. Others have gotten involved in providing knitted blankets for neo-natal ICUs and one, a trained counsellor, has been working to support sustainable counselling services in his town

After another long lunch, it was time to think of taking our success stories out to the rest of the world.

wube speakingTo begin, Country Director Wube explained the key messaging strategy of VSO and gave pointers on how to effectively communicate to external audiences. Then groups set to drafting their own external communications plans including identifying target audiences, key messages, media to be used…the impressive results have been summarized and may be used for further outreach projects. I do hope our Canadian Hyena visual gets some air time!!

My “key messages” about the conference:

  • Retreats enhance volunteer motivation and satisfaction
  • Volunteers are resourceful organizers and willing participants
  • Trust the process and goodwill of people and you will not be disappointed
  • Open space is worth the risk – it works!

campfireThe last night we had dinner around the bonfire and some partied well into the early hours…

st george beer eyes

In the end about 130 people came to Lake Langano and created, through their enthusiasm and participation, a successful and memorable event that will now become a shared memory for volunteers and VSOE staff in Ethiopia in 2013.

big group photo

While it is hard to measure the long-term impact of such a gathering, the evaluation comments showed that people left feeling re-energized and supported to carry on with their volunteer work, knowing they were not alone and that everyone has ups and downs but the journey is worthwhile. New friendships blossomed, old friends re-c0nnected and ideas/experiences were shared all in a spirit of fun and creativity. Well worth the risks…

*We also had a team of about ten people taking photos during the conference and many of the photos in this blog are from the collections we shared – thanks to all these folks for sharing their talents!

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Enthusiastic dancing erupted the minute we reached the outskirts of Addis as both buses bounced with a mix of traditional and Ethio-Pop music . Everyone was in great spirits as we  headed 270 km south to Hawassa on March 7th for the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association (EMA) retreat. I had met Executive Director Hiwot in Awash at a Gender Based Violence training a few weeks back and was delighted when she invited me to assist in the facilitation of their event.

bus dancingTraditional clapping and shoulder shaking make Ethiopian dancing infectious!

dancing on the other bus!Waving to the rest of the group in the other bus who were dancing up a storm!

said reading crime and punishment in amharicMeanwhile Said enjoyed reading an Amharic translation of Crime and Punishment!

animals along the awash riverTypical scenes along the highway – grazing animals

traditional houses en main roadTraditional houses

passing small townsSmall town scene with plenty of donkey carts

kids running by roadKids playing and acacia trees gracing the dry land

arrival at lewi

Arrival at the Lewi Resort on Lake Hawassa

The Ethiopian Midwives Association was established in 1992. It is registered under the new civil society organization law and has more than 870 members. The organization is contributing to reducing maternal and child mortality and improving the quality of maternal and child health services.

lunch upon arrivalCertainly it was ime for lunch!

kitfoEthiopia’s version of steak tartare, Kitfo is a very popular dish of raw beef accompanied by soft local cheese and cooked greens. It is served with injera and a special bread made with false banana (enset) .  Kitfo can also be served cooked lightly or even well done (my preference!)

fish goulash and doro watI chose fish goulash and others had doro wot (chicken and egg stew). All delicious!

cheeky monkey in treeCheeky monkeys, having assessed the menu from on high, got very bold and snatched food off the tables

meeting room set upIn the late afternoon we convened in a very elaborate board room for an introductory session and then were taken to check in to out hotels. It was a great plan – enjoy the resort for the meetings , lunches and evening BBQs but sleep at more affordable hotels in town.

bonfire and sparksThat night we enjoyed a traditional BBQ and campfire on the lake shore

meron the MCMeron, one of the energetic mid-wife trainers, was an amazing host, revealing her immense talents as a stand up comic and fabulous dancer!

group dancingAt the end of the evening we were all dancing

major project presented by MengistuThe next morning our program involved an overview of the current projects of the EMA and another session on the mission, goals and objectives of the organization. This was the first time so many staff and board members had been together and served dual purposes of information sharing around the strategic plan and team building.

While the retreat was a lot of fun, the underlying work is serious and the staff very dedicated to improving mother and child health in Ethiopia. And the need is great. Here are some statistics from the recent Ethiopia Demographic and Health survey 2011

  • The  birth rate in Ethiopia varies from 2.6 in urban areas (17% of the population) and 5.5 in rural areas where most people live
  • Less than 10% of Ethiopian women give birth with the assistance of a health care worker
  • Maternal mortality in Ethiopia is very high at per 350 deaths/100,000 births
  • Infant mortality is at 59 deaths per 1000 live births, representing a 23% decrease  since 2005
  • The good news is that incremental improvements are being made thanks to increased education, health services and vaccination and sanitation programs

EMA enjoys a good working relationship with the Ministry if Health and is supported by funding from 16 donors, including the Clinton Foundation, Packard Foundation, UNICEF, USAID, among others as they work toward realizing Millennium Development Goal #4: Reduce Child Mortality and Goal #5: Improve Maternal Health.

TAD tower I introduced a team building activity that got people competing to build the highest tower

tall towerWith only newspaper and masking tape…people can be pretty creative

towerThis experiential activity provided an opening to reflect on task and process roles in groups

apple towerA leaning tower!

presenting towerProudly introducing their tower before the collapse!

Good teamwork is part of what EMA is developing to achieve its’ visions, mission and objectives. With an Addis head office and five branch offices; in Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, SNNPR and Somali regions, EMA is engaged in:

  • Capacity building for staff, members and leadership to support full engagement in sexual and reproductive health. Both pre-service and in-service education reaches midwifery students as well as professionals already working in health institutions
  • Advocacy in health sector development through supporting efforts to achieve health development targets indicated in the national plan of the government.
  • EMA promotes midwives and the midwifery profession through professional standards and advocates for the health of women and families by increasing access to quality, integrated and sustainable sexual and reproductive health services and rights.
  • Through creating partnerships EMA maintains mutually reinforcing relationships with the government, professional associations, donors, members and the community at large.
  • Research, monitoring and evaluation activities are geared towards informing policy and programs.
  • Work is done through modeling best practices, improving program outcomes through evidence based practice and use of data and information for decision making.

time mangement sessionWe moved our afternoon session on time management outdoors to be cooler…

monkey and breadWhich meant some monkey business was added to the mix!

tensae and t-shirt

Taking time to reflect on time management

me and hiwotEnjoying the ambiance with Hiwot at Lewi Resort after the end of the first day’s sessions

aster and group workNext morning we discussed stress management – the causes, effects and tips. Being a mid-wife is stressful for sure!

holly explainsThis was followed by a session on advocacy, including internal and external communications. As part of this session, Australian volunteer Holly introduced media tools and gathered some stories to integrate into the communications strategy she will be working on for EMA – she arrived 6 weeks ago and will spend the year volunteering at EMA. Holly  feels very fortunate to be working with such a great NGO!

peter explains websiteThen my neighbour and fellow VSO volunteer Peter reviewed the EMA website and asked for feedback. As an IT volunteer, he will be assisting EMA with a re-design/updating of their site and also hopes to build the IT  capacity of staff

peter at teaPeter at tea break enjoying the gardens of Lewi resort!

speechesFinally it was time for appreciation of exemplary staff and celebration of the successes of the organization

board member speaksWise words for a board member, who was also quite a great dancer by the way!

gift scarf for MeritA gift for Sister Marit, one of the original founders of EMA who remains on the board and now works at the Hamlin College of Mid-Wifery that she helped to establish. A tireless and dedicated woman she said  “Give me work till my life ends and give me life till my work shall end.” reminding us the “70% of the world’s people came to life at the hands of a mid-wife.”

with my shawlI was given a beautiful scarf and a certificate of appreciation. I think this photo shows how just how betam destanya (very happy) I was to be part of this weekend!

asters dirty jokeThen,  full of mischief,  board member Aster ended the formalities with a raunchy joke!

condom truckNext morning as we prepared to leave for Addis,  I noticed this colourful condom truck was parked at our hotel, a fitting image I thought to remind us of our health goals. Millennium Development Goal #6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

hiwot and boat at parkOn the way out of town we enjoyed a visit to the park on Lake Hawassa

traditional house wovenComplete with a traditional woven house

colobus monkey in treeChances to get up close to Colobus monkeys

maribou storksWatch gigantic maribou storks fight over fish

wimmer jumpsBoys diving into the lake

dancing boysAnd some more traditional dancing!

pit stop shopEn route home we had a pit stop for water and snacks

children and traditional houseAnd took a turn 20 km off the road at Lake Langano to visit the Bishangari Eco-Lodge to relax and have lunch. We were all pretty excited as none of us had been here before!

kids at busMeeting some children while we waited for the mini-bus to collect us for the final 10 km of very rough dirt road to reach the lodge

langano raftingAt Bishengari some enjoyed rafting on Lake Langano, one of the largest Rift Valley lakes

kaldikan and holly at lake langanoOthers preferred wading

hammock timeAnd some enjoyed the hamocks!

bishengari lunchLunch served!

under giant treeGiant trees at a tree top lounge area

over full busThen we crowded into the minibus to get back to the main road

road hazardsAvoiding a series of the usual road hazards – donkey carts, donkeys, goats, sheep, cattle, kids…

traditional coffee break at ZiwayBack on the main highway, we paused at Ziway for a cup of traditional Ethiopian coffee and then settled in at dusk for the final stretch to Addis – the end of a 12 hour return trip full of good times, new sights and great energy!

group photo

To me the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association exemplifies an outstanding NGO. Well organized, staffed with professional, dedicated and well qualified people who are clearly committed to their work and very good at what they are doing to improve the health and well being of Ethiopian women and children.

On top of that they really know how to laugh, dance and work together as a team – well done!

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