Reflections on the Ethiopia 2012 June Trip - Janet Demro

The trip to Ethiopia in June was truly a mountaintop experience - both literally and figuratively! The wells are mostly located in remote areas and required long and often difficult treks to reach them. Those treks were reminders that getting to fresh water and sometimes any water is no easy task for the women and children tasked with that job every day. The smiles on their faces as they use the new wells speak volumes about improved lives. It was a blessing to share in their joy as they welcomed us to celebrations of completed wells and allowed us to work alongside as they labored to finish wells in progress.

It was also a pleasure to meet W2T's in-country partners that work directly with the communities in well-project development. The dedicated folks in those organizations spend many hours with the people and make the trek to their communities many times. Making those walks one time was challenging and they do it often.

Another great pleasure was the chance to see and learn about the culture and history of Ethiopia. Our guide, Alem, answered so many questions with patience and enthusiam. His love for his country was evident at every turn. He went above and beyond when he accompanied Jill and me to a monastery at the top of a mountain. While we rode mules a good part of the way, he walked every step of the 14 kilometer round trip. The trip to the top of the mountain was truly worth it. In addition to seeing the treasures of the monastery and learning more about the Orthodox faith, the view from the top was absolutely spectacular.

As I said at the beginning, the trip was a mountaintop experience, both literally and figuratively! Ameseganaloh to everyone who made it possible!


Reflections on the Ethiopia 2012 June Trip - Clarie Streng


"Give me strength"
This was my prayer mantra
as I walked over the
rocks and climbed the
225 steps to see
a Rock Church.
For me the Biblical stories,
both Old and New Testament,
came alive and really, truly
happened as I experienced
the "land" of
Seeing my first "well"
which I had anticipated seeing
from the photos in
Water to Thrive brochures
brought tears to my eyes.
This was the real thing!
There was clean water flowing
into the containers of people
who had walked long distances
to get water.
The reason I felt called to go on this journey
was highlighted when an elder
interrupted the ceremony at a new well
 to tell us that others had promised
clean water and nothing happened
so he was suspicious of this project
and viewed the digging with questions.
Now, seeing us there in person,
he knew they will have clean,
safe water.
"God bless you for coming!"

Reflections on the Ethiopia 2012 June Trip - Dick Moeller

 After several trips to Ethiopia, I am always amazed by the people, the people of the communities we serve and the local people of our NGO's (non-government organizations) that make our work possible on the ground with the are some of the adjectives that popped in my mind along the way this time.......resilient, spiritual, dedicated, connected, caring (especially for their neighbors), thankful, dedicated, beautiful, tough as nails, committed, enthusiastic, hard working, changing......and the list could go on.  As it has been true on other trips, I return feeling like I have received a lot more than I have given.

A couple of moments on this trip are particularly memorable for me......the picture of the elderly woman above gathering water by herself, slowly scooping dirty, nasty water out of an almost-dry stream is burned into my mind.  We saw her on the way to one of our project areas. She didn't know we would drive by and we didn't know she would be there, but it so poignantly captures the daily struggle of the women and children of rural Africa in their quest to bring water to their family that I will never forget. Her life and her commitment to the daily task of gathering water drives our mission at Water to Thrive and motivates us to do more.
The picture above reminds me of how desparately the communities we serve want and need clean, safe water.  That rocky, steep path (total elevation change of almost 600 feet) is the way down Mai Abate, one of the completed projects that we visited.  It took us almost an hour and half to get there, but upon arrival we see a beautifully completed well project. It is a beautiful site, but what we don't see is the incredible amount of manual effort the community invested to make it possible.  The community carried every bit of the cement, sand and gravel that was needed to construct the well down the very same path that we took. It drives home the true meaning of "sweat equity" for our traveling group!
As always, it is an honor and blessing to represent the thousands of W2T supporters on these journeys. Without your support, these life changing projects could not be possible.....and we bring back to you the heartfelt thankfulness & gratitude of all the communities for making the blessing of clean water possible.


Reflections on the Ethiopia 2012 June Trip - Eleanor Reinhold

 Slowly recovering and reflecting on the experiences with new friends, Ethiopia and culture, and most of all the effect W2T has on the women and children to have a well to pump clean water.  Clean water is essential to health.  Sad that the culture does not involve the men in carrying the water and spending the time to be involved as the women and girls are involved. 

The trip was all that I expected and anticipated.  Some days were exhausting for all after riding on dirt that could hardly be called roads or trails!!!However, it served to remind me of the brutal walk one made daily just to get drinking water.  Sad that it was nearly an insurmountable challenge to bathe and wash clothes!!! Visits to the health stations were a reminder of the medical needs of the people.  The lack of water to practice clean conditions is something that is taken for granted in the USA.
Each country has its face of poverty and my heart continues to break each time I see the poor conditions.  Clean water is the big solution along with nutrition and education and health care.

Elem and the drivers were special and so eager to share their country and culture with us.  The worked so hard to help us see and enjoy their beloved Ethiopia

Reflections on the Ethiopia 2012 June Trip-Jim Sorenson


                I was gasping for air, trying to fill my lungs with the oxygen I knew my muscles needed. It was on the three-mile walk (climb) back to the car from the inauguration celebration of a new well in Senglamon, Tigre. As I had descended, I knew there would be this climb back up, but had hoped for a mule to carry my 75 year-old body up most of the way. The mule never came! They said, “The mule is lost.” Resting about every ten meters, I became more familiar with the faces and countenances of those around me. One older man held an umbrella over me as I walked, shading me from the fierce sun. One woman took my hand and led me some of the way. Boys silently waited for me to catch up; perched upon the very rocks we all had to climb over.

                At my age, and at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, I was thankful that I could even maneuver! The celebration of the ribbon-cutting of this well had been exhilarating. There had been music, dancing, speeches of thanksgiving, and food—popcorn, ambasha and injera with shiro. One of the speeches included pleas for their neighbors; those just over in the next valley.

                It is these rural people of Ethiopia, those who have never had clean, safe water which make Water To Thrive’s mission alive. Witnessing their joy and thankfulness helps me to know that our mission is so worthwhile. I am enabled to continue to seek donations from those who have enough. I am enabled to help people see that until everyone has enough, that we are not fulfilled in our relationship to God and His people. 


June 23 – Gheralta Lodge and Addis Ababa

 The Gheralta Lodge, about ½ between Axum and Mekele, provides a very nice oasis stop on our trip. The Lodge was designed and is owned by Silvio Rizzotti, a retired Italian businessman who was born in Ethiopia. It is intended to offer a family style resort– but with impeccable standards of finishing, maintenance and cleanliness – and good, simple cooking prepared with local products.



The lodge is constructed with techniques and local materials traditionally used by the farmers of the Tigray region: stone walls, wooden ceilings, thatched or stone-made roofs. The internal furnishings are modern and functional. The design of the individual rooms is such that it allows maximum privacy and solitude, but with a central building for gathering and eating.



The lodge is situated so it does not to interfere with the rare natural beauty of this African site, in pleasant, beautiful surroundings. The view shown above, visible from the Lodge, is toward the Gheralta Mountain chain, across a valley covered with farming tracts.  While it looks arid now, we are just at the start of the rainy season.  By September/October, this same view would be bright green, covered with crops ready for harvesting.



We enjoyed another treat while at Gheralta. We meet with Andrew Tadross and Brittany Franck (pictured above), both Peace Corps volunteers working in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Dick and Andrew connected through mutual family friends in Houston.  It was great to hear their stories of service while here in Ethiopia.  Brittany has been here for 14 months and Andrew for 8.  W2T will help Andrew connect with the team at REST to evaluate the potential water solutions for a school in his service area.  As our traveling group is nearing the end of our tour, we all gather our left over American snacks and share them with Brittany and Andrew to enjoy later.



One of the highlights of our visit to Gheralta is the opportunity to share our daily devotion study together, overlooking the Gheralta valley. It is a quiet, serene natural amphitheater, allowing everyone to enjoy one of God’s beautiful gifts. This is a good opportunity to thank Jim Sorensen for creating our devotional material and leading our study each day.



The picture above shows our group, with Andrew and Brittany, behind a stone altar, created by group as part of our devotion.  Our stones that comprise the altar honor someone who has impacted our faith journey.


About 10:30 am, we began our drive to Mekele, to catch our flight back to Addis Ababa. We are able to provide Andrew and Brittany a ride in our van to Mekele to save a long bus ride.



For the evening, the group celebrates our Ethiopian Journey with Diversity Tours at the 2000 Habasha Cultural Restaurant. The evening includes a wide variety of the typical Ethiopian dishes to enjoy, as well as Ethiopian dances from the different regions of the country.



Throughout the evening, some of our group got to participate in a variety of the dances. Little did she know, Jill was selected for a special one, the “Marriage Dance”.  Hmmm… can tell from the picture above who was the happiest about the “marriage”! Great fun was had by all!


The picture above is Alem Tesfaye, our tour director for Diversity Tours, demonstrating his best form of the shoulder dance.  Alem has been a great friend to W2T and has assisted with several of tours.  A special thank you to Alem and Diversity Tours for being caring, considerate and attentive hosts on our trip. It has helped to make our time in Ethiopia truly an experience of a lifetime.





June 22 – Axum Water Projects and Gheralta Lodge

 On tap for today is visiting two additional water projects in our Senglamen project area near Axum with our partners REST and Glimmer of Hope.  The project at Mai Abate is a hand dug well and at Mai Keto, it is a shallow borehole.  Both of these projects have been recently completed.



As we arrive at the area of the first site, Mai Abate, we quickly figure out that the path down to the community is a repeat of yesterday, except longer and bit more up and down valley. The path is characterized by alternating areas of relative flat terrain and then steep slopes strewn with rocks and boulders.  To say the least, challenging.  For this trek, four of our group (Jan, Jill, Jim and Dick) spend a bit more than an hour reaching the village area.



When we approach the village, near the path, we see the community’s previous water hole from which they collected their water.  It is a smallish, spring feed, area in which the community has trapped the water.  In addition to being contaminated, we learn that the water is also infested with leeches.  For such a remote location, this adds another potential health risk for the community.



As we approach the area where the community is waiting for us, we see the completed Mai Abate project. As mentioned yesterday, the area has many expert stone masons, and their handiwork is very evident here.  The rock wall protecting the project is very well done, perfectly circular and a demonstration of how much the community respects this new addition to their community. The project has been completed and functional for less than a week.



After our greeting with the community leaders, we immediately make our way to the project. The entrance is covered by a ribbon, which the W2T cuts to inaugurate the new well for the community!



Our group gets to experience the flowing of clean, safe water that will bring health and economic progress to the community of Mai Abate.




Our group gets to meet with the water committee of Mai Abate, who are shown in the picture above.  They are extremely committed to the sustainability and care of their project and already started collecting money for the maintenance fund.  We learn that about 350 people in the immediate area will benefit from the project.


We retire to a more shaded area to celebrate the inauguration of the well with the community. Joyous moments like this remind us of the spirit filled, caring character of the people we serve. While they are extremely grateful for their new project, they are quick to mention the surrounding communities near them that still suffer from the lack of clean water.  They hope and pray that some day they have the same blessing. We also learn that because of the remote location, there is no school for the small children.  Some of the older children go to a school that is more than two hours away.



The community expresses their gratitude with gifts for all the W2T group, including a framed picture of before/after the project was completed. And…



….the women of the community have prepared food and snacks for all to enjoy….



….and we are treated to local songs and dances. Jim gets to demonstrate his skill at the traditional Tigrian shoulder dance!


We had a great time with the community….these celebrations are the heart of Water to Thrives mission, connecting donor/sponsors to villages that will benefit for generations from the blessing of clean, safe water.  The outpouring of thanksgiving from both is Spirit filled.


Reluctantly, we start our trek out of the valley.  Jim was a bit winded coming in, so we requested from the community to find a mule for Jim, to ease his route out.  They say that is on the way and that they will meet us on the way up, so we set out. After about 30 minutes, we hear from the locals that the mule is “lost”. So we continue on…..



About 2/3 of the way out, two elderly men arrive with Jim’s replacement mule….They bring two long poles with a chair and suggesting that they carry Jim out on chair!....on their shoulders.  The two men are 63 and 65! Jim expresses his gratitude for the offer, but decides it is safer to walk than ride!


We reach the top huffing and puffing……the walk out takes almost 2 hours!  The distance is about 3 miles and 540 feet of elevation change.  We definitely got our aerobic exercise today!


The long walk in and out at Mai Abate puts us about two hours behind schedule, but we are determined to visit the community at Mai Keto, before heading to Gheralta.



Because this site is much more accessible, all of the W2T group, shown in the picture above, gets to see the completed project at Mai Keto.  This shallow borehole has been operational for the community for about one week.  The wall is not yet complete, but well under way, so some site finalization work still needs to be completed by the community.



Although much of the community has returned home due to our very late arrival, a number are still waiting to greet and thank us for the community.  We get to meet and speak with the three women, shown above, who are members of the community water committee.


We get a later start than anticipated, but we start our afternoon drive to Gheralta Lodge.  It is about 3 hours long and arrive about 6:00 pm.  More about this special place in tomorrow blog.



In addition to excellent accommodations, the food is always great at the Lodge.  We get to enjoy some delicious organic salads, homemade pasta and meatloaf.  The evening is capped off by a special surprise…..Dick celebrates his birthday in Ethiopia! Through Facebook, Gebresalassie from the Glimmer staff discovered that today is Dick’s birthday and arranged (through REST) for a birthday cake.  It is shared and enjoyed by all!

June 21 – Axum Water Projects and Selekleka

 We start our morning with a short (about 30 minutes) flight north to Axum.  A little after 10 am, we are met at the airport by our implementing partners, Glimmer and Relief Society of Tigray (REST).  REST has been one of our most valued on-the-ground partners in Ethiopia since the beginning of W2T…..we implemented our first 12 projects with REST/Glimmer in 2008 near Axum.  Since then, W2T has funded over 120 projects with REST, including the last batch of 70+ projects that were approved for funding in late 2011.  All of the projects that we will visit over these next two days are part of this latest funding group.



Some of the first things you notice when leaving the airport is the red dirt and red rocks….red rocks are everywhere!  Also, this area is more arid than Lalibella and Gondar.  It is only logical that the local Tigrayan people would take advantage of this plentiful natural resource. Houses for the farmers and for those of the villages are almost always built from the red stones….fences around the house and farm too.  The Tigray region has some great stone masons!  The picture above shows a typical farm house in this region, with a neat stone fence, two well made houses and several stacks of hay.



After landing and connecting with our partners we head directly to the field to visit some well projects in process.  All three of the sites planned for today are hand dug wells (HDW).  The first site we plan to visit is Sagla Mai.  As our vehicles draw to a close, we instantly see that we are high on cliff, overlooking a deep valley. Of course, the project site is deep in the valley….while it looks straight down, Danny from REST assures us that there is path.  Immediately our group of six is down to 4 and we start down the hill.  A little over a third of the way, our group of four is down to 2, as we all start to realize “Oh my gosh, we have to walk out of here, all uphill too!”  As we hear the community singing and clapping in the far distance, Jan and Dick continue the trek to greet the community.



The total walk takes about 45 minutes, but it was worth every step.  We are met by about 125 of the locals from Sagla Mai who were expressing their gratitude by music, song and clapping. They also brought ambasha bread, popcorn and honey to spread on the ambasha to share their gifts with us a way of expressing their gratitude.



After visiting their well project in progress, Jan and Dick were invited to sit with the community to share expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving.  The spot the community had picked was under a beautiful, old, weathered tree.  In the picture above, you can see one of the large branches as it over hangs our meeting while we share greetings.


The trek back up the hill was something else.  It takes well over an hour and seems straight up (of course it is not).  Jan and Dick finally reach the top, exhausted and gasping for air.  It was there that we learn from Gebreselassie’s (from Glimmer) GPS that our trip was almost two miles with an elevation change of over 450 feet (that’s a 45 story building folks!)



After gathering our energy, we pile back in the vehicles to head to second site, Mai Kado.  As we pull to a stop at the edge of a cliff, we realize it is definitely “same song, second verse”.  We also learn from the REST technician for this site that they are preparing to blast rock in the bottom of the well shortly. No one is up to the two way journey, so we perch ourselves on edge of the cliff to watch for the explosion.  After a few false starts, we hear the loud explosion and can actually hear rocks falling around the well site, deep in valley.  If you look closely at the picture above, the well site is in the middle, where the cluster of people are peering into the well, just before the blasting.


After seeing the blast, the group decides to split.  Dick and REST/Glimmer team will visit another water project site, Mai Daero and rest of the group goes with Jim and Alem to visit Selekleka, the community where Jim and his wife Carolyn served as a medical missionary over 50 years ago.



For Mai Daero, we are more fortunate as we are able to get within about ½ mile, before starting to walk. As we reach that spot, the community is waiting for us with flutes, songs and flags to lead us to the project site. As the near the project site, we have to cross over the river bed shown above.  This is where the community is currently gathering water.  Of course the water is contaminated, because it is shared between the people and livestock, and there is not much of it even though the rainy season is just starting.



When we reach the Mai Daero project site, there are two workers in the bottom of the well (about 20 feet deep), working to remove stone and dirt that they have chipped away.  A pump/generator is running nearby, pumping water out the well, because they have already hit several underground spring that will feed the well.  This is a great sign that the community will have plenty of water.



After inspecting the well together, the community leads us to the shade for some discussion and the expression of their gratefulness by sharing some ambasha bread, popcorn and a local snack made from a roasted small, soft lentil.  As part of the welcoming group from Mai Daero, there are about 10 Ethiopian Christian Orthodox priests on hand as well.


As it seems this time of June, the dark threatening clouds have gathered, and the smell of fresh rain is in the air.  Our drivers suggest we make our way to higher ground and better roads before the rain comes.



While Dick visited the last project site, the rest of the group traveled on to Selekleka, to visit the mission station where Jim and his wife Carolyn worked over 50 years ago.  Along the way, the team picked up two of Jim’s friends who used to work for the ALC mission station just outside of town. Tsehaye used to work for the Sorensen’s when they lived here, and when Jim started the clinic and hospital. Aligas used to work as a carpenter at the mission. The school at the mission station is still being used and run by the government. But, Aligas was quick to say, “But, we still call it the Mekane Yesus school.” Sad to say, the large U-shaped building which used to house the clinic, hospital, chapel, and four living quarters for missionaries, is standing idle. Aligas told us that “they” have now they have the water running again. We could not ascertain what that might mean for any future activity. The trees are beautiful now, almost covering all the windows in the place, but the orchard of orange trees is slowly dying out because no one cares for them. It was good for Jim to see his friends, but sad that the place remains idle.



As we make our way back to Axum from the field, we are greeted by two of God’s great blessings, sunshine and rain, happening at the same time over the city of Axum.  The perfect ending to a great day!


June 20 – Lalibella: Asheton Maryam and St. Yemrehanna Kristos

 Today our group spends some more time visiting churches/monasteries in the Lalibella area.  We decide to split up today, with Jan and Jill, opting for the mule ride to a monastery overlooking Lalibella and Clarie, Eleanor, Jim and Dick head off to see another about 45 kilometers from Lalibella.



Jan and Jill head off to visit Asheton Maryam….it is located above Lalibella and only reached by a narrow, winding and sometimes steep pathway.  As you can see from the picture above, the climb to the top is a assisted by a couple of trusty mules and their handlers.



Asheton Maryam is located on Abuna Yoseph, a high mountain overlloking Lalibela. The climb up provides some outstanding views of the valley below and Lalibella.



This monastery is believed to be  associated with King Natuka La´ab. The church is carved into a cliff face of the mountain. Although beautiful in its own way, the execution is rougher than at most other churches around Lalibella.



While Jan and Jill are enjoying the views of Lalibella and mule ride, the other four set out for another monastery, St. Yemrehanna Kristos, about 45 kilometers from Lalibella. The drive takes down the backside of the Lalibella mountain into a long valley headed toward another set mountains where the monastery is located.  The drive across the valley provides an incredible layered view of the mountains ahead. The trip takes us about 2 hours, and the last 7 miles or so takes an hour by itself.  It is over some very rugged and dry terrain, with many rocks and washed out spots in the road.  The group decides this is an “African Deep Tissue Massage”!



When we arrive at the village near the monastery, we realize we have quite a climb ahead of us.  The monastery is located up a gorge, about halfway up the mountain overlooking the village.  Fortunately, a good pathway with steps has been constructed to lead our way.



Clarie and Eleanor get two gold stars today for making it to the top….with a little help from our guides and several rest stops, they reach the top (shown in the picture above) in great shape…..all 225 steps!



According to local tradition the church was built by King Yemrehanna Kristos about 100 years before the other churches were built by King Lalibella. It was built within a cave rather than excavated or carved out of stone. It sits atop a foundation of olive wood panels, floating on some marshy land. The design of the church features alternating layers of olive wood beams and stone covered with whitewashed plaster.  No nails were used in the construction of the church!


On our drive up to St. Yemrehanna Kristos, we are provided a poignant reminder of the true mission of our travels.  A short distance from the road, we see a solitary elderly woman, carefully filling her jerry can from a contaminated stream.  There are no houses or village around, so we can only guess how far she will carry that jerry can back to her family.  This scene is repeated countless times each day all over East Africa.  We give thanks for the thousands of supporters with a caring heart that have helped W2T to bring the blessing of clean, safe water to those in need.


June 19 – Lalibella’s Rock-hewn Churches and St. Michael’s Festival

 We depart Gondar today on an early morning flight bound for Lalibella.  Lalibella’s fame is based on the 13 monolithic, hand carved churches that were commissioned by King Lalibella in the 12th Century. Eleven of the 13 are in a stone’s throw of each other near the center of the town.



The churches are truly a marvel.  They are hand carved out the granite mountain, and each church is free standing. In each case, roofs, columns, arches, floors and decorative carving are all from one piece of granite. Legend says that King Lalibella constructed the churches over a 26 year period, using 40,000 workers. The King created the churches as a “New Jerusalem” pilgrimage location for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church who could not afford the time or money to travel to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage.  All of the churches are staffed by priests and are in use today.



Since the churches are located close to one another, they are inter-connected by an intricate set of pathways and tunnels, many of which are narrow and steep. Since all the churches were created below ground level, you would expect major drainage issues at the sites during the downpours of the rainy season.  But this is the other engineering marvel of these sites.  They are interconnected with a water drainage and diversion system that quickly handles the water and keeps the churches from flooding.



As we drew near to the city on the 25 kilometer winding road from the airport, we immediately noticed the thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian worshipers, dressed in white, making their way toward Lalibella’s churches. We learned from Alem, our tour manager, that today, June 19th, is an important festival day in Lalibella, celebrating the St. Michael’s and St. Lalibella’s Festival. The festival is celebrated by the priests in all of the city’s churches, and will last most of the day.



As the celebration and festival continues, this is one of the rare occasions when the High Priests remove the replica of the Ark of the Covenant and carry it through the crowd for everyone to see.  It is carefully completely covered with a cloth, because, by Old Testament tradition, no one is suppose to look directly upon the Ark. Our group was close by when one of the priests was carrying the Ark back to the Holy of Holies of the monastery after he had carried it outside for the worshipers to see.  In the picture above, the replica of the Ark is underneath the red cover.



Denoting the importance to Christianity and Ethiopian culture, the churches at Lalibella have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in order to improve the preservation of this precious asset. UNESCO and the European Community have organized an international competition to build temporary shelters (seen in the picture above) to protect the churches from the rain and further erosion. Restoration of some of the churches has begun and more will be done as budgets permit.



One of the most visited and photographed churches among the group is St. George’s, shown in the two pictures above.  At this church, you get a great perspective on the work of the stone cutters.  You approach it from the top, so you see the outline of the church (a cross). The church is contained in the center of 75 feet by 75 feet hole.  You descend about 90 feet to enter the church at the bottom of the monastery. Although hard to see in the picture, the church is slightly smaller at the top than at the bottom, so as to create the loads to allow the columns inside the church to support it completely.


What a wonderful opportunity it was for our group to witness some of the culture of the local Christian church as wells as see some beautiful treasures of Ethiopia.  We definitely felt the presence of God on our journey today.



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