Archive for the ‘On the job’ 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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How could I resist the call for a self-starter who is self sufficient, self motivated and looking for an exciting opportunity? A year ago I would not have envisioned myself packing my suitcase for Ethiopia once again but now, after 17 months away from the Horn of Africa, I am pretty much set to leave (Cuso paperwork, medical, vaccination and police checks all in order, sub-let arranged) on January 10th for 10 weeks of sunshine (a second summer, why not?) and new challenges (and why not yet again?). Yes I am indeed excited to be going back to the place I called home for 3 years!

IMG_2362A recent trip to India made me realize how much I love riding in “Autos” or “Bajaj” as they are called in Ethiopia…and I am looking forward to the thrill of the ride again soon!

Based in Addis Ababa but venturing to two southern regions of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumz, I will be one of two  Cuso International program development advisors supporting the new Cuso International office that is being established in Ethiopia in their development of a 5-year Ethiopia RMNCH (reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health) program in conjunction with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. I will be involved in SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities), gender auditing, establishing baseline indicators and identifying placement and partnership opportunities. Of course as always I have been alerted to the possibility that “These may be subject to change” once I am on the ground; that goes without saying in this type of development work. It is indeed exciting to be in on the start of what could be a significant contribution from Cuso International and future Canadian volunteers to improve the health status of Ethiopian women and children in these regions. My work will be done partly in conjunction with the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association, a group I worked with briefly in spring 2013 and I am looking forward to re-connecting with these able professionals. Ethiopia has a very high maternal and infant mortality rate and this program will offer some much needed support to the Ethiopian health care workers who continue to work diligently to improve women and children’s health, despite very challenging conditions.

While I am unlikely to have time to blog about my experiences in ten short weeks, I hope to provide an update on my efforts and the program development once I get home. In the meantime I have a request for your help. Cuso International is  Canadian NGO that relies on fund raising to support its volunteer programs and while funds come from several sources, including government and private donors, volunteers are also expected to do their part to raise funds when embarking on a project. In the past friends and family have been generous in helping me toward my fundraising goal and I am hoping that some of you will consider a donation at this time.


It would mean a great deal to me to know you are behind me! As a thank you, I plan to buy everyone who donates, whatever the amount, a beautiful Ethiopian scarf from an Ethiopian NGO that assists women fuelwood carriers to supplement their meagre income by weaving scarves.There are an estimated 20,000 women who scour the hillsides of Addis, gathering fuelwood to sell to support their families, carrying very heavy loads and risking harassment in the forests from men and dangerous animals such as hyenas.


Here are my two scarves. I often receive compliments on them. You can let me know if you want solid or striped and the colour (s) you prefer and I’ll pick one out and send it to you.

IMG_1292A sampling of some other colourful options!

IMG_1291To me its a triple crown opportunity – you support Cuso International and a local Ethiopian NGO (through my purchase of their scarves) and you give me a boost of encouragement to do this work. Oh and you also get a scarf and yes, a Canadian income tax receipt for 2014 if you donate by December 31st or a 2015 receipt if you donate in the new year. Why that amounts to a win-win-win-win-win -WOW!IMG_1207

I hope you’ll be behind me as I head off to a new year and a new adventure in 2015. Thanks for reading!


Please note: Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author and not Cuso International

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On March 15, one week after International Women’s Day, I was amazed to receive an email from Atota Bedane announcing that a group of 5 teaching staff at Mada Walabu University had put together a gender proposal and were seeking the support of our Gender Directorate.

atota me and kedir at M oEWe would like your overall support, at least professionally, your knowledge, skills and expertise/experience on the issue. As a result, we want to recruit at least 2 experts from the Ministry Gender Directorate, including Marian Dodds, as trainers.”

Atota had participated in several gender workshops I had done over the past couple of years in his role as a Higher Diploma Leader so that’s how he knew me. A well thought out proposal was attached to his message outlining what they had already done – amazing! I replied that I would be pleased to assist and asked when would they next be in Addis to discuss the plan.

half the sky signAtota told me that he had some students pose and computer science students made this design to include on their proposal; later it was made into attractive banners

A week or two later Atota and Kedir arrived at my office to discuss their plan. Why do you two guys care so much about gender issues? I was simultaneously amazed at their initiative to draft an ambitious proposal to “Engender Higher Education Curricula to Ensure Equity and Quality of Education” and curious at such passionate concern for gender equality by two well educated young men (both have Masters degrees). One said he had attended a lot of gender workshops and had realized how important an issue it was for the country’s development. Both had seen female relatives suffer from lower expectations and opportunities. As University instructors they also wanted their female students to be successful.

Robe shopYoung women outside a shop in Robe, Oromia

The statistics speak volumes. Imagine the uphill struggle for an Ethiopian girl to make it all the way to grade 12 graduation, then be assigned a faculty and university, not necessarily her first choice of studies and likely far from home, only to be put on “warning” due to low grades and in some cases dismissed after the first semester?

Currently the MoE Gender Directorate is preparing a new Gender Education Strategy for the Education and Training Sector and the issues have become all too familiar to me after months of discussions and feedback sessions with educators working on the ground. The entire education system from policy level to the academic environment to physical infrastructures (think segregated hygienic toilets with locks and water available – only a dream in most schools here) present extra challenges for female students and staff.

abigiya and key message signMWU Gender Officer Abigiya poses in front of a banner that reads “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainability and building good government”

The slogan “A country cannot develop without the full participation of all its’ citizens, both females and males” appears to have become the rallying cry and since about 96% of the academic and management staff are male, it is men who are often leading the way. The World Bank estimates that if Ethiopian women were fully integrated into the economy the GDP would rise by 1.9% per year, contributing much to poverty reduction. For universities, the key challenge is to make all campuses “Female Friendly” despite resource shortages.

madawalabu sign

Twice Atota and Kedir made the 800km round trip from Mada Walabu University to Addis to meet with me to share their ideas and gather resources as their plans evolved. I helped connect them with others in the Ministry, including my director Mekdes Eyoel who offered advice, encouragement and support to move things forward. Their flash drives were filled with gender resources from my computer. Despite Internet challenges they managed to email me drafts of their plans and I sent them feedback. Their university president was fully behind the plan and the requisite bodies approved enough of their proposed budget to allow them to complete the gender sensitization process and begin action planning for students and staff before the end of the academic year.

At the 11th hour the MoE could not supply a car and driver so they overcame bureaucratic challenges I don’t even want to imagine to arrange for a car from their university to collect me and my MoE colleague Zaid and to bring us back! Kedir even made the trip to Addis with a terrific driver named Daniel just to ensure it all went smoothly.

black smoke pollution

On June 17th I was happy to be on the road and moving away from the pollution of the congested highway out of Addis…!

breakfastBreakfast stop at Mojo – Zaid, Daniel the driver, Getema and Kedir (L-R)

camelsAlong the Rift Valley lowlands we encountered a huge group of camels, likely on their way to the market

3 onion boysEthiopian road trips invariably involve a stop or two to buy some of what’s in season – in this case onions!

After our buna break at Shashemene the landscape began to shift to narrower and more winding roads and the mountain climbing began, a suitable metaphor for the work ahead. I don’t imagine many people are invited to assist an entire university in “Engendering the curriculum” and I felt fortunate to be invited to help. Weeks earlier I had wondered if we would overcome the assorted challenges to pull this training off so, as I inhaled the fresh mountain air, I was especially pleased to be on this road trip 430 km southeast of Addis to Mada Walabu University in Robe, a town of about 70,000 in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

baboons ahead!Suddenly a baboon family appeared on the road ahead

baboonsUnexpected delights of the journey

agora betTraditional houses dotted the roadside

big nyalaWe saw nyalas off in the grassy areas

nyala close up

high road and valleyAnd climbed higher and higher into the mountains

lush crops patchworkAbundant fields of wheat, barley and maize – delightfully lush patchworks of colour

gari donkey and mosqueMany more mosques in this part of the country

man standing up on gari

Standing up on garis seems to be common practice here – must have pretty good balance!

looks like rain aheadLooks like rain up ahead as we get closer to out destination

park sign

Warmly welcomed by Atota and Kedir, Zaid and I settled into a great hotel they had arranged for us in the nearby town of Goba and the team met over dinner to finalize the plans for the next day’s session, planned for about 10% of the 400 instructors at the university. Mada Walabu is newer university with about 5000 students. It is 6 years old and most of the construction is complete – they are fortunate to have a large ELIC/HDP building with offices, open space and a classroom.

2 signs outside the meeting hallNext morning we arrived to see the key message of the events announced on a giant banner!

the team with bctf buttonsThe planning team: Kadir, Tesfaye, Kefale, Abigiya and Atota (L-R)

This dedicated team has a plan to educate and activate the university community (600+ students,150 instructors,450 administrative support staff and 50 top managers)  to effect changes that will advance gender equality and make MWU a model for others to follow…

Atota opening speechAtota opened the training day for the instructors with an outline of the project stating that the gender issue is a burning issue that is on the global, national and institutional agenda. He said that gender equality is a key to poverty reduction, sustainable development and good governance in any society. Next he introduced the university president who is very supportive of this work

Dr Ketma Meskela MWU President

University President Dr Ketema Meskela spoke clearly and directly about the importance of gender equality to the university community and noted the key role played by instructors in moving things forward. I later learned over dinner that Dr Ketema spent four years in China doing his doctorate and can speak Mandarin!


Tesfaye presented data on attrition rates of female students to provide concrete examples of the current situation

Then we got down to a series of mini-sessions aimed at highlighting both the issues and actions that are needed to address gender equality at their university with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. Three enthusiastic young Peace Corps volunteers working in the region were also invited to participate and may be able to offer additional support, especially for the female students as the project moves forward.

yes or no?A yes/no survey warmed things up. Do you prefer a son to a daughter?

women instructors yes-noDo you think it is possible to achieve equality? Of the 400+ teaching staff, only 17 are female

Abigiya with proud to be teacher buttonTeam member Abigiya is one of them! She has a Masters degree in Biology

equal oppotunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground

Equal opportunity but not equal access on the real issues on the ground – lesson learned about the difference between equity and equality from group discussions using the story of the fox and the crane

Zaid, Tesfaye and Kedir at lunch cafeLunch break in Roba town at their favourite cafe – serving raw meat and shekla tibs (beef cooked over charcoal)

instructors develop action plansGroup work on language use – a discussion on proverbs was especially popular

action plan

The afternoon ended with action plans being drafted and evaluations completed. The day was rated highly and many needs for further training were identified by the participants

While I summarized the evaluation forms and we further refined the plan for next day’s managerial staff training, my colleague Zaid took time to discuss the work of the MWU Gender Office

Abigiya and Zaid in gender officeAbigiya and Zaid discuss her work in the gender office – the MoE Gender Directorate offers support and encouragement for such initiatives to increase the success of female students. Abigiya explained the sign designed  to celebrate high achieving students

top students displayThis sign, initiated  by the Gender Office, is displayed on a library building to celebrate the highest achievers at the university; there are a number of female students in this category to be role models for others who follow!

The gender office has a plan to add a photo banner each year of the highest achieving students to be seen as an inspiration to all the students on campus.

On Thursday we conducted the training for the managerial staff

panel presenters

The morning training for managerial staff began with a panel presentation by the team explaining the results of the student training the previous week and a sobering analysis of the data on females students at Mada Walabu University. Higher attrition rates for female students, the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) identified by students on campus and the lack of gender responsive pedagogy set the backdrop for the managers to begin a deeper analysis of the issues and identify opportunities for actions to improve the situation within their respective portfolios.

managers listeningManagerial staff listen closely

My PowerpointI presented a “gapped lecture” titled “Gender policy background, gender issues and gender mainstreaming at higher learning institutions in Ethiopia” with time for mini-discussions after each topic

managers discussingDiscussing information presented as it applies to their area of responsibility be it finance, clinic, support staff, public relations, etc.

managers at work on actionsDrafting some initial action plans to mainstream gender into their work. The feedback was positive and hopeful with a request for further training at the end

team in front of signA final team picture!

By the end of June this part of the project will conclude with a training for administrative support staff on the issues and the roles that secretaries, guards, cafeteria workers and others can play in creating a safe and secure environment for all. No doubt the team will be submitting a proposal to further the initiative in the next academic year.

A surprise on our last afternoon was a trip up the Bale Mountain National Park to the Sanetti Plateau where Kafale, Abigiya, Zaid and I enjoyed the fresh air and awesome views at around 4000 meters.

hareCan you spot the hare?

Described in the Bradt Guide as “The world’s largest expanse of Afro-alpine moorland…renowned for supporting the most substantial extant population of the Ethiopian wolf … other mammals are the Abyssinian hare, the endemic giant molerat, and a number of other endemic small burrowing rodents.” I got a fleeting glimpse of a wolf, managed a snapshot of a hare and side stepped many rat holes while wandering around exploring the plateau.

KefalePsychology instructor Kefale was thrilled to have his first visit to this plateau and I delighted in his exuberance as we hiked past giant lobelia trees

me hugging lobelia in wind:coldAs a true Canadian, I couldn’t resist the urge to hug a tree! It was very breezy and bracingly cold.

dead lobelia trunkDead lobelia trees make lovely sculptures

lake at senattiI was surprised by how many small lakes there were…

Kefale at senattiA painters dream landscape…

ground cover plantsThe ground cover presented fascinating miniature worlds and the air was filled with birdsong

blue flowers close up Lovely wildflowers lichen on rock close upLichen covered rocks

red foxLook hard and you’ll see a couple of the endangered Ethiopian red foxes – this was a rare sighting, thanks to the park guard in the back of the truck who spotted them as we headed back down the mountain

red fox painting in President's officeThis is what they looked like in the President’s office!

I wish I could have hiked there for a few days. Other parts of the park can be enjoyed on horseback and rough camping is available with several simple mountain shelters with guards. Tourism in this area is in its infancy with huge potential for growth. The university offers Eco-Tourism and Tourism Management degrees. I met the Director and hope to connect him with counterparts back in BC who might be interested in sharing ideas.

The road home on Friday was another delight with an abundance of warthogs, some baboons, plenty of nyalas and even the surprise of a very large spotted hyena loping along the roadside in broad daylight as we traveled through the Rift Valley lowlands.

warthogWhy did the warthog charge across the road?

2 warthogsMaybe to meet up with his friend?

agora bet and cavesWe passed this dramatic rock formation full of caves at Sebesebe. The region also has the Sof Omar Caves to explore, reputedly the largest network of limestone caverns in Africa

mraket carts on way homeIt was market day in some small towns along the route and as the journey progressed we passed many donkey carts loaded with people heading home

horse riderThere are a lot more horses and riders in this region than I have seen elsewhere in Ethiopia, including women riders

deribe driver at lunch in shashemene

We took a lunch break in Shashemene and great driver Deribe had some tasty skekla ground beef with injera

MWU logoMada Walabu University – an inspiring place to visit!

I have to say this was one of the best weeks of my time here as a gender adviser; I felt I was doing what I had dreamed I would be able to do when I signed on and, as I promised the group at MWU, if they email me when I get back home to Canada in a few weeks, I will do my best to continue to offer technical/academic support based on what they identify as their training and research needs.

Though their climb is steep I believe they are fit for the challenge and I wish them all the best. I deeply appreciate the hospitality and enthusiasm they shared; this will be a lasting great memory of my Ethiopian volunteer experience!

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Rocky the pup, snoozing as usual on my doormat, perked up when he saw my packed bag at the door. He looked at me as if to say “and just where do you think you are going and who will be giving me my morning biscuit?”Rocky at my doorThe phone rang. Meseret was calling to say they were en route to get me.

collecting addisuShortly after her call the MoE SUV collected me and  we headed to Arat Kilo to pick up our colleague Addisu. Plans had changed and we were behind schedule but “expect the unexpected” is the norm around here so I sat back to enjoy the passing parade and take photos, as is my custom!

meseret and tshomeNext we backtracked to the Ministry of Education office to collect Ato Teshome from the legal department and he squeezed into the back with Meseret

MoE sign on SUVWe were on our way! Turns out that there was an issue with vehicles (as is often the case) so we were doubling up and taking Addisu and Teshome with us to drop off at Debre Zeit before we headed down the road to Adama. I sat back and enjoyed the views…reflecting on the dramatic juxtaposition of tradition and industrializtion

candle seller in wheelchairA typical scene in Addis: selling tapers to women wearing netellas of loose cotton who are on their way to church

road buildingHeading out of Addis, (likely this way for the last time since I leave in 2 months) I reflected on the rapid development in Ethiopia. Here road construction is a constant reminder of ambitious infrastructure projects, including a light rail system in Addis to help ease the congestion of almost 3 million people.

street cleanersModern transport systems are under construction but labour intensive garbage collection remains basic!

small shopsSmall shops setting up for the day

high loaded tuckFully loaded trucks crowd the streets

fully loaded donkeysAlong with fully loaded donkeys!

paint factoryPassing the paint factory and anticipating the dusty road jammed with lorries that leads south past many factories I was glad I had my usual scarf to hold over my nose when the bellowing black smoke/fumes got to me

egg truckYes, we are heading to Adama, the land of farm fresh eggs!

yegna bus“Look, its a Yegna bus!, I exclaim, seeing the Ambessa bus “wrapped” in the soon to be very familiar logo that is the brand of Yegna.

A few weeks earlier I had attended the launch of Yegna and just last week I had participated in a workshop organized by the Girl Hub Ethiopia intended to link up NGOs and agencies working on gender projects focusing on adolescent girls. Meaning “ours” in Amharic, Yegna is a weekly half hour radio drama, followed by a half hour talk show being piloted in Addis and the Amhara region. The show targets girls from 12-19 and is 70% entertainment and 30% educational messaging about girls’ empowerment. The five girls in the drama become friends because they share a love of music and each episode will have a new song. Funded by DFID (the British Development Department) and the Nike Foundation, Girl Hubs are doing innovative projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Rwanda using social media to reach out teenage girls and encourage boys to support gender equality at the same time.

buyilding with scaffoldSkeletal buildings abound as more and more hotels, office buildings and factories go up. The scaffolding is made from fast growing eucalyptus trees that were introduced about 150 years ago from Australia by Emperor Menelik.

addisu and tshome chacking inAt Debre Zeit we drop off Addisu and Teshome for their meeting

They are spending a few days with a group to develop sexual harassment policy for colleges, based on the already completed model document designed for universities. Eventually all levels in the school system will have sexual harassment policy. The next challenge will be enforcement as, by all reports, sexual harassment is widespread and a threat to girls staying in school. As the Ethiopian proverb goes ” Slowly, slowly the egg will walk”. This is a first step…

cows along roadPast Debre Zeit we breathe more freely as the congestion clears a little and I enjoy the landscape of the south as we head down the Rift Valley toward Adama

wrapped water containersAn innovative idea – wrap plastic jugs in twine to create a cooling thermos for truckers to store their water for long haul trips

industiral zoneA Chinese built “Industrial Zone” reminds us of the large investments China is making in Ethiopia

industrail zone buildingsAlong the route we pass steel and marble tile factories, tanneries, flower farms, food processing plants…

mojo portAnd choke our way through hundreds of lorries near Mojo, a “dry port” stacked with containers going to and from Djibouti

biscuit factory signAnd now a colourful sign for a Flour and Biscuit Factory – we are in Oromia and the language is Afan Oromo which uses the familiar alphabet but for some reason, they are big on multiple vowels!

adama signArriving in Adama ( also known as Nazreth) Meseret explains to me that this sculpture represents the “womb” and is meant to indicate that Adama is a growing town where many developments are being “born” at the numerous workshops, meetings and conferences that are held here

work roomOnce we get over the usual hotel room wrangle we meet late afternoon to begin our task – to complete draft #2 of a module on Gender Responsive Pedagogy (aka GRP) to be used in Universities and Teachers’ Colleges to train all primary and secondary teachers to be gender responsive as we like to say here in the “teaching-learning process”.

I am delighted at last to meet with these gender experts who are also university and teachers’ college instructors to review the first draft I have prepared on our MoE GRP module. This project has been in the works for over a year and I am thrilled to at last see things moving forward. We welcome as well the chair of the FAWE Ethiopia board who has been delivering GRP trainings at Teachers’ Colleges, based on the GRP Teachers’ Handbook developed by FAWE and used in 38 African countries. FAWE is the leader on gender work for schools in Africa and I have long appreciated their “made in Africa for the African context” resources.

mom baby meserat and azmeraAs always there are surprises – yes, Helina has come with her 11 month old baby and husband, who keeps the baby entertained while we work, an excellent role model for men here!

meseret and babyMeseret takes a turn with the baby at meal time

melkam and babyAnd Melkam shows her baby amusing expertise!

tech support!Another surprise – Melkam’s son shows up for dinner and is recruited to solve some of our technical challenges – turns out he is studying computer science at Adama university

part of groupLet’s have a group photo – OK! But where are the others? Bohala – we will do another later!

driver and finance ladiesAfternoon tea break time and the driver has brought 3 women from the Finance office to sort out the per diems and of course enjoy the snacks and shay/buna

azmerat and tigistWe ate all our meals at the hotel but Azmera and Tigest invite me out one night for a juice at the best juice bar in town – very yummy with lots of strawberry!

2 smiling sistersMulu and Helina both teach at Haromaya University and their smiles gave me a clue – yes they are sisters! With a rapidly expanding tertiary education system, most university and college staff are young recent graduates. Mule is already a dean and a role model for women where the gap is still wide in terms of women in leadership positions.

During our days together we worked hard to go through the draft step by step. I was delighted by the group’s thoughtful contributions, background knowledge and commitment to provide feedback that will ensure this module meets our goal of making the theory of gender responsive pedagogy come alive through active learning, continuous assessment, reflection and action research processes.The intention is that all future primary and secondary teachers be given this preparation so that the school system ultimately becomes more “girl friendly” and that the national goal of gender equality come closer to reality. Increased enrollment of girls in schools, coupled with retention and achievement, are key targets of the Ministry plan to address gender issues in Ethiopian schools. It is a massive task but this working group showed me that there is the will to succeed.

whole group at workFinally, a picture of the entire group. Left to right : Meseret from MOE, Leilet and Setu from Gondor Teachers’ College, Melkam from  FAWE, Azmera from Axum University and Tigist from Ambo University, Mulu and Helina from Haromaya University and guess who! We retire to the dining room for a last lunch and then head down to road again…

wind farmOn the way out of Adama we pass a wind farm, a reminder of new technologies for energy being developed to supplement the hyrdo-electric dams under construction here, all intended to bring electricity to a larger segment of the population

gas stationTime for gas – and of course a chance to add to my collection of photos of flag colours – red, green and yellow are never far for view!

buying watermelonsWatermelon and pumpkins by the tonne. Naturally we had to get some…road trips usually involve some shopping on the way home

eating watermelon ion carAnd some sampling as well…

oranges and mangoes on truckCloser to Addis vendors offere oranges and mangoes

plants for sale at debre zeitDebre Zeit is famous for the plants and flowers that grow so well in this climate

I appreciated the sights and scenery on the road home, already feeling a slight nostalgia knowing that I will soon be leaving it behind. I also had a sense of accomplishment that we had taken the next step toward this module getting finished.

But I am experienced enough now, after my three years in Ethiopia, to know the road ahead for this module is still long, winding and rocky. Several more drafts will need to be done, many more experts will weigh in, funds will have to be found to pay for validation workshops and printing. Then the cycle of Training of Trainers (ToT) will kick in and the “cascade model” will be enacted to reach the grassroots. Still, we have begun the journey…and my part is soon to end. I admit I had been apprehensive about how much we could get done in Adama but I came home feeling satisfied that we had done our best. I have prepared the next draft and am awaiting feedback to complete draft#3. Once my part is done, I trust that my colleagues will carry it forward.

titi and babyNaturally my welcome committee greeted me when I was dropped off at home, though they clearly had been hoping for something other than watermelon as their treat !

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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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Out of the blue, my phone rang a few weeks ago. “Hi Marian, a VSO program manger suggested you might be willing to come to Awash to assist me in faciltating a training on gender based violence” said Dr Khasmin. “Tell me more”, I said.

Once I heard the plan I readily agreed to travel the 250 km to Awash on the edge of the Afar region to assist in the project. Dr Khasmin Ismael (aka Khas) is an enthusiastic young doctor from the Philippines and a sister VSO Ethiopia volunteer. She’s spent the past ten months in Semera, a very hot and dusty town in the remote Afar region, working on maternal health at the Afar Regional Health Bureau. An increase in reported rapes (12) had recently shocked the community; girls as young as 5 and 7 had been raped and a 12 year old girl had died after being gang raped. Khas decided something needed to be done to assist local health providers to develop a comprehensive and coordinated response and prevention plan for gender based violence (GBV) and had applied to VSO Ethiopia for a small grant.

In her grant application Khas stated “These survivors need assistance to cope with the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of this violence. They need medical and psychological care, social support, protection, security and legal redress. At the same time advocacy for prevention and monitoring in the community must be put in place for immediate response and effective interventions.”

The resource package  Caring for Survivors of Sexual Violence we adapted was developed in 2010 by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Gender in Humanitarian Action (IASC) and the Global Protection Center (GPC), both part of UNICEF and UNFPA. It couples excellent content with participatory activities and emphasizes a multi-sectoral approach. Printing these resources for our training was supported by UNFPA.

So early last Sunday morning VSO driver Derije collected me and we headed out, picking up another facilitator, Addisu from the UNFPA, along the way. We immediately found we had lots in common to talk about so the hot and dusty trip sped by quickly.

awash road tripAs always, I am amazed at the number of long haul trucks on the roads and saw at least two overturned in the ditch. These trucks often carry cargo to and from the port of Djibouti on the Red Sea and travel aggressively fast, passing in places I would never dare. I was thankful Derije is such a great driver and that I was nit stuck on a scary mini-bus!

We got to Awash and settled into the Genet Hotel; Awash, located in the Rift Valley, is very hot and I was pleased my room came with a fan and cold water shower. Over lunch, Addisu, Khas and I had some discussions about the workshop plans and then I headed out with Derije since he had invited me to tag along for a visit with his cousin in a nearby town of Awash Arba. We crossed a couple of  bridges (photos strictly forbidden) one of which had an interesting bust of Haile Selassie’s father a mid-point.

St Gabriel gatheringOrthodox Christians celebrate St Gabriel’s day with a coffee ceremony

Derije and small girlDerije and a small girl who really wanted her picture taken!

Derije's cousin and her small boyDerije’s cousin and her baby boy

Khas had selected modules from the training package and throughout the week we juggled and adapted these resources to suit the needs of the group. Addisu is based in Semera for the UNFPA and has done a lot of effective work with communities to decrease female genital mutilation (FGM) in the region and so was able to facilitate several lively sessions on multi-sectoral approaches and community activation.

planningKhas and Addisu consult on the plans.  The Genet Hotel was a great venue with reliable water and power, thanks to a generator so we could use our laptops for Powerpoints…organizing

A full day was facilitated by Khas on the medical aspects of GBV that had the doctors, nurses and mid-wives asking many questions and offering examples from their practices. Khas has had experience in this area, working for Doctors Without Borders in other countries so has a wealth of experience to share.

Khas had also arranged for  Kidist, a lawyer from UNICEF, to speak to the group about legal issues and the justice system and they sat riveted as she presented a thorough overview and answered their many questions.

Khas facilitated several activities that got at myths and realities of GBV and we were able to provide a global picture of the issues with our own examples from the Philippines and Canada as well as Ethiopia. One of the most emotionally charged sessions of the week was viewing the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, a heart breaking documentary with women survivors of rape sharing of the horrors of their experiences and some rare footage of soldiers in the forests justifying their raping. The problem is global and while it may manifest differently in local contexts, the impact on survivors is universal.

Marian and Hiwot session

Hiwot from the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association was a participant, but when it emerged that she was a trained counselor, the two of us agreed to collaborate and lead a participatory session on communication and counseling skills to aid survivors for the group.

Our participants were doctors, mid-wives, nurses, staff from regional health bureaus and university lecturers on gender. Its expected that future trainings/meetings will occur involving representatives of other sectors in order to develop an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for GBV response in the region and some participants in this workshop will also be involved in delivering training to others in the health and community sectors. The newly established Afar Regional GBV Working Group is seen as a potential coordinating body. All of these initiatives, have the potential to do much to improve response to GBV and also to support prevention programs that address the underlying causes.

Group day 2On day 2 we gathered for a group photo after tea break – a few were missing though…

tea breakTea breaks broke up our days as we enjoyed lentil sambussas (called samosas in Canada) with our delicious Ethiopian coffee while whisking away swarms of pesky flies. It was obvious the hot season approaches as each day got noticeably hotter. The Afar region is known for the Danakil Depression, called the “hottest place on earth” and some hardy tourists en route there in 4 wheel drive SUVs loaded with gear stayed a night at the hotel.

organizing Khas facilitated an in-depth day on the medical aspects of GBV that had the doctors, nurse and mid-wives in particular asking a  lot of  questions and sharing their ideas on current practice and what else is needed

designing workshopsGroup work was lively and productive

role playRole plays gave the chance to practice skills

flow to multi sector illustrationUsing string to illustrate the flow of services. Medical, police, family/friends,legal help, counsellor – who to turn to first? While this is ideal. in reality many services are difficult to access or may not exist.

discussionsI was impressed by the active involvement of the participants and the quality of their contributions

soeting out financesAn evening spent sorting out the finances – a team effort!

goat arostoThe very yummy goat arosto with hot sauces made our hard work easier to swallow though!

Teamwork!Our  “facilitation team” Hiwot, Khas, Marian and Addisu, along with mid-wife Meron who is also an expert trainer

presenting workshop draft plansI facilitated the final morning on facilitation skills that culminated in drafting training workshops in small groups. It was refreshing to have 6 women amongst the 15 participants – usually in Ethiopia the trainings are 95% men and while most are keen and compassionate, women’s voices really do need to be included and heard!

workshop draft planThis workshop is designed  for women community members. Others were for educators and health professionals

completing final evaluationsFinally,  participants completed feedback and evaluation forms and got certificates and CDs with extra resources

final group pictureEveryone made it into the final group photo, taken by the hotel manager!

Friday afternoon I headed back to Addis and collected some images of the long and dusty road home. As we enjoyed the countryside, I reflected on how blessed I was to have had the opportunity to contribute to this work in some small ways and learn more about the lives of Ethiopian health professionals dedicated to working hard for their country’s development under challenging circumstances. I also appreciated the efforts of Dr Khas to make this happen and VSO Ethiopia for funding it. Gender is a cross cutting theme in VSO Ethiopia’s strategic plan and this was an example of health and education volunteers working together. Teamwork, collaboration across sectors and involvement of Ethiopian facilitators is a wining formula.

Here are some scenes of Awash and the road back to Addis…

awash from balconyA view of Awash from my hotel room

balcony view girl and goatMy bird’s eye view into life in Awash – doesn’t that goat look yummy!

rift valley gorgeThe Awash Gorge in Awash townroaside camelsNear Awash there were plenty of camels grazing along the roadside

lake sceneThe road home involved crossing through a watery causeway in a saline lake

washed over road and trucksHere we go!

near matahara volcanic rock woman walkingThe area has much volcanic rock and it is said at night one can see flashes of activity for the mountain tops

small boysFriendly kids always like to pose- this was a pit stop to get some charcoal

charcoalCharcoal sold along the road can be bargained for a much better price than in the city

metahara cafeA stop in Matahara for a brief lunch

mounds of cropsI always love seeing the harvested crops

villages along the roadAnd traditional villages along the way…

donkeysDonkeys are so stoic under their heavy loads

awash orangesOranges were in season so I bought 4 kilos back to share with everyone!

In 2005 I remember my friend Jane returning for a UN Women’s meeting at the New York headquarters and telling me that the world’s women had agreed that gender based violence and the issues of trafficking and prostitution were top on their list of concerns. There has not been a full global gathering of the world’s women since Beijing 1995. I really think it is about time we had another United Nations Women’s Conference and I certainly plan to advocate for one and to be there, wherever in the world it might be!

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